April 28, 2016
By Randy Ulmer
If you're serious about bowhunting, you need to be very thorough in choosing, building and maintaining your arrows. I'm extremely fussy about my hunting arrows, because I usually only get a few shots a year at big game, and when I do I want to be confident of two things: First, that the arrow hits where I aim it, and second, that it arrives there with plenty of energy to get the job done.
I've chosen my current hunting arrow based on a lot of years of tournament competition and many more years of bowhunting experience. In my opinion, there are several qualities needed in a hunting arrow. I'll list these characteristics and discuss them one by one. As you will see, many are interrelated.
This is the one attribute of an arrow that most profoundly affects accuracy/grouping. The straighter the arrows, the more consistently they'll shoot and the better they'll group. You can determine the straightness of a certain model of arrow by looking at the technical specs on the manufacturer's website.
Straightness is typically measured in thousandths of an inch, with the typical deviation in straightness ranging from as much as +/-.006-inch to as little as +/-.001-inch. Generally speaking, the straighter the arrow, the more expensive it will be. Buy the straightest arrows you can afford.
Most big-game animals don't see color very well, if they see it at all. However, they can see things that shine in the sunlight, and they can quickly differentiate light colored things against a dark background. So, with that in mind, make sure your arrows don't glint in the sun, and don't use light-colored fletching such as white or yellow.
If you need to use brightly colored fletching for some special reason — so your arrows are visible on camera or if you just like to see your arrow in flight — cover the fletching with a camouflage sleeve while in your quiver.
"If you're serious about bowhunting, you need to be very thorough in choosing, building and maintaining your arrows."
It's also important for your arrow to be quiet in flight, because deer, antelope and the occasional elk will "jump the string" (unfortunately, I know this from a lot of personal experience). So, avoid feathers unless you use traditional gear, because they are noisy in flight and noisy in your quiver. For the same reason, use the smallest fletching and the smallest broadhead that will get the job done well.
The smaller these turbulence-creating arrow accessories are, the quieter the arrow will be in flight. Also, don't use broadheads that rattle in the quiver. Lastly, use a heavy arrow. Using a heavy arrow will do more to silence your bow than anything else.
You need to use large enough fletching to get the arrow spinning quickly and provide enough drag to control the broadhead. An arrow needs more wind resistance on the back end than on the front; its center of pressure needs to be well back from the center of the shaft.
When it comes to controlling the broadhead, more fletching is better. However, the longer and taller your fletching is, the more surface area it will have and the more your arrow will drift in the wind. It will also lose speed more quickly and make more noise in flight. So, you have to balance broadhead control with these other factors.
Using a very streamlined broadhead with little turbulence-producing structure (less wing) will allow you to use much smaller fletching. The less turbulence you create on the front of the arrow, the less steering you need on the back of the arrow.
I've found that if I use short vanes with maximum offset, I reduce the surface area of the fletching while still getting the control of a larger vane applied with less offset. Applying the vanes with a helical clamp seems to help as well.
In all the testing I've seen, small-diameter arrows penetrate better than larger-diameter arrows of the same weight. Though the stiffness of a carbon shaft may play some role in penetration, diameter appears to be the greatest reason that small-diameter shafts do so well in these tests. A smaller surface area reduces resistance as the shaft slips into the target. So, use the smallest diameter arrows you can get away with.
Because small-diameter arrows have less surface area, they drift less in the wind. They are also quieter in flight and they require less fletching and less energy (compared to a larger-diameter shaft) to get them spinning.
Smaller-diameter arrows also maintain better downrange speed. Arrows slow down as they move because of friction with the air. The greater the surface area of an arrow, the quicker it slows down. At 40 yards, small-diameter arrows lose much less speed than a larger-diameter arrow.
I know from experience that the difference between large-diameter and small-diameter arrows grows even wider beyond 40 yards. It is not a huge difference, but bowhunting is a tough game, and I'll take every advantage I can get.
In The Perfect Hunting Arrow - Part 2 we'll consider additional elements that make for the perfect hunting arrow.