Each year, as bowhunters switch over from shooting practice tips to broadheads, I see many of them come into our archery shop in a total state of panic. Even though they have been practicing all summer and their bow was sighted in, their hunting arrows are shooting to a totally different point of impact, or worse yet, won’t group at all.
In a game of inches, it doesn’t take much of a difference to result in a missed or — even worse — a wounded animal. Every bowhunter needs to ensure that arrows tipped with broadheads are sighted in before heading to the field.
Hunting and practice tips fly differently for two primary reasons. First, the aerodynamic properties of many broadheads and practice tips are drastically different. The exposed blades of many fixed-blade broadheads act as planing surfaces, similar to control surfaces on an aircraft. Any time the arrow wobbles and the blades of a broadhead encounter more airflow, the arrow responds by changing direction.
As arrow speed increases, this effect is greater, and it takes less wobble to cause more variation in flight because the air pressure on the blades is higher. Today’s faster bows and crossbows make this even more likely. If your bow isn’t properly tuned and your arrow isn’t flying straight, your broadheads won’t shoot properly. Mechanical broadheads minimize this problem by reducing or eliminating the blade surface that is exposed — one reason why they are so popular.
Another reason broadhead-tipped arrows fly differently is that broadheads typically are longer than practice tips of equal weight, causing them to stick farther out from the center of the arrow. This changes the arrow’s balance point or front-of-center ratio, the measurement of what percentage of an arrow’s total weight is forward of the center point of that arrow. This is one reason manufacturers are producing shorter-ferruled broadheads with steeper blade angles.
Adding lighted nocks or arrow wraps to the back of your arrow will also affect FOC as well as the total arrow weight and stiffness, so be sure to have these on your practice broadhead arrows when you check your sights if you will be hunting with these installed.
Because of their different aerodynamic properties, broadheads also respond to shooter input more. Any flaws in your form or flinches at the shot will be exaggerated; typically, broadheads will not group as tightly as field points. Even so, I do not recommend shooting more than one broadhead at a time into a target. Because most broadheads have a diameter of at least 11/8 inch, and your fletching stands out from the shaft, your group doesn’t have to be spectacular to result in a damaged arrow.
Sharp broadheads are a must, and nothing less than perfect will do here. Just one shot into a target with a broadhead makes it unethical to hunt with that particular head unless you replace the blades or re-sharpen them. For this reason, I designate one broadhead arrow as my “practice” hunting arrow, and I keep it separate from my hunting arrows.
In my opinion, there are three keys to good broadhead flight. First and foremost, your bow must be properly paper-tuned. By shooting through paper and achieving a perfect hole, you are ensuring that your arrow is leaving the bow flying straight. This prevents broadhead planing.
Second, your arrows should be fletched with helical or offset fletching. These types of fletching cause the arrow to spin or rotate faster. Any projectile, be it a bullet, a football, or an arrow, is more stable and flies better when it is spinning on its axis. At the same time, spinning helps prevent directional planning.
Last, insure that your hunting tips are spin-balanced and not wobbling. Lots of shooters worry about aligning their blades with their vanes, but I don’t feel that to be necessary. What is critical is that the broadheads are aligned with the center of your arrow shafts. A misaligned broadhead will cause your arrow to wobble in flight, and this can cause horrible accuracy. This can be noticed by either spinning your arrow on the tip of the broadhead, or the easier and safer way is to use an arrow spinner. Eliminate any broadheads or arrows that won’t spin-balance from your quiver immediately.
With a few simple steps and some minor changes to your setup, most broadhead flight issues can be easily resolved. Understanding the forces at work during your arrow’s flight will help you to make these corrections. A quality archery pro shop will be glad to help you, and can save lots of time and frustration. Don’t let an avoidable mistake cost you a trophy this season.