Every veteran bow hunter has had a range of experiences with broad heads, much like people we all have dated: some have been good, some have been bad, and some were just plain ugly. I may have blamed a lost animal or two on a broadhead when the real problem was my lack of proper form. I also have attributed my success to certain broad heads, when any head that would have stayed in one piece could have cleanly killed the animal. For a lot of hunters, choosing a broadhead is a very emotional subject, and I really do not know why. I have never gotten into a heated argument in hunting camp about which bow is the best, but I have certainly been in a number of them when it comes to choosing a broadhead.
There are two basic types of broad heads: mechanicals and fixed blade. Mechanical heads open two different ways. There are over the top deploying and then there are rear deploying. Both have their followers, and both are solid choices. Personally, I shoot the Rage two blade rear deploying broadhead. Accuracy is the most important goal of any shot. That has to be priority number one. Accuracy equals dead animals on the ground. I have talked with many people over the years, and even those that didn’t use mechanical heads stated that any broad heads that stay more or less in one piece will kill a deer-sized animal if you hit it in the right place. Well…duh. So then, hitting the deer in the right place is obviously a big deal, or should I say, the biggest deal?
There are many fixed-blade heads that fly nearly as well as field points under a wide range of conditions. This was not always true with mechanicals. This is a relatively new thing, as only a decade ago this was not so true. It was just impossible to achieve any sort of accuracy with anything but a fixed blade head. Achieving accuracy with fast arrows was a huge challenge. I spent many days each year tweaking and making tiny changes to improve my accuracy.
When I first began trying mechanical heads, taking them to the field to use on live game was a no-brainer. My accuracy was so much more consistent; my confidence surged. Knowing you will hit where you are aiming is huge.
More than three years later, I am sure that I have shot more than enough big game animals (I shoot does everywhere I hunt) with mechanical heads. My recovery rate has been very high. I can’t think of a single shot that I would take again with a different head. I have never had reason to question the effectiveness of the mechanical heads I have used. I’m sure there are situations where they are inferior to fixed-blade heads, but I have not encountered those situations personally.
Any time you put a wing at the front of a projectile, you have the potential for steering. That is exactly what you are doing when you attach a fixed-blade broadhead to your arrow. You work hard to figure out how best to shoot a bow, and you tinker with the tuning until you have great arrow flight. Now, the last thing you want is an arrow that decides for itself which way it will go once it leaves the bow. With a wing at the front, there is always that potential. The larger the wing is, the larger the potential problem. I’m not saying a problem is guaranteed. When you have a well-tuned bow and a perfectly straight arrow with a nock, insert, and broadhead all in alignment, and when you hold good shooting form through the shot, you will shoot most fixed-blade heads accurately. But if any of those elements breaks down, you will have a wind-planning issue. And the faster it flies, the more it will wind-plane, and thus move further off target.
If you remove the wing from the front of the arrow, or reduce the size of the wing, you eliminate or reduce the possibility for a problem. The goal then becomes a combination of two tasks. First, make the wing as small as possible. Second, get the bow, arrow, and your shooting form as good as possible. The smallest wing is no wing, and that is the only reason to shoot mechanical broad heads. Your choice in broad heads will end up being as much an emotional decision as a scientific one.
A lot of guys want a small mechanical head that opens to roughly 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 inches. This is perfect for young archers because if you hit the shoulder bone on the shot, you will get better penetration. You need to be able to kill a deer that you accidentally shoot in the shoulder. With a smaller head, you increase the odds of a clean kill due to the increased penetration. I prefer to use the larger Rage two blades that open to two-inches, or more. My arrows possess enough energy to shoot a mechanical that opens up to six inches, like a pair of steak knives. Ultimately, you need to shoot what you feel confident with. I feel confident with Rage Broadheads.
When a mechanical head opens from the back forward, it acts more like a fixed-blade head on impact. Less of the arrow’s energy is needed to open the blades, and more of it is available to penetrate the animal. If the blades open from the front back (the way most of them do), the shorter blades used in the smaller designs will not rob as much energy.
Mechanical heads are definitely a good choice for those who want the most accurate possible head, but they aren’t as durable as fixed-blade heads. Because the blades of a mechanical head are unsupported, it is easier for them to break off on a bone hit. You can expect to replace them twice as often as fixed bladed designs.
We need to go back to the analogy of the wing on the front of the arrow. If we make the wing smaller, it has less potential to steer the arrow. I like the new category of fixed-blade heads also for beginning hunters that have dominated the market during the past three years. They have short, compact blades with high blade angles. Like mechanical broad heads with short blades, they create more of a chopping effect than a slicing effect.
Most of us can live with a chopping effect as long as the head hits where we aim. That is the strength of these heads: by reducing the amount of blade surface area, they fly better under a wider range of conditions and at higher arrow speeds.
Here are a few examples of this style of broadhead. There are many on the market now and I will probably miss a few, but you will at least get the idea. Look at the New Archery Products’ Nitron, Muzzy MX-3, Slick Trick, American Broadheads’ Sonic, Wac’ Em, Aftershock Maniac, Steel Force Sabertooth HP, Tight Point Shuttle T-Lock, Rocky Mountain Blitz, Grim Reaper Hades, G5 Striker, Rocket Bunker Buster, Wasp Boss and Innerloc Stainless Extreme. Cut-to-the-point versions include the Magnus Stinger and the NAP Hell Razor.
These are just some of the heads on the market. The above list is in no way comprehensive. There are literally dozens of different fixed blade broadhead models. Not only can you choose between several different styles of replaceable blade heads, but you can also choose between several different styles of cut-on-impact one-piece heads. The choices can seem bewildering.
As mentioned, you can choose between one-piece cut-on-impact heads or replaceable-blade heads. Both styles have their advantages. Recently, the cut-on-impact heads have really improved to the point where they will fly well, even from fast compound bows. There is no reason not to try them. It is the perfect choice if your number one goal is penetration. A two-bladed cut-on-impact head will penetrate better than anything else on the market, bar none.
Replaceable-blade heads are obviously easier for the majority of bow hunters to use because you don’t need to sharpen the blades. When you shoot them, simply replace the blades with new ones. Most replaceable blade heads have three blades, some have four blades, and a very few have two blades.
Cutting diameter creates another tradeoff. A large cutting diameter means more surface to potentially steer the arrow offline if you are using a fixed-blade head. However, on impact, especially with soft tissue, having a large cutting diameter increases the chances for quick kill. Each person must make this tradeoff for themselves.
The more blades the head has, the less it will penetrate. This is because every blade encounters resistance when it cuts into the animal. The more blades, the more resistance. Beyond a certain point, you gain very little tissue damage by increasing the number of blades. I don’t see much value in shooting heads with more than three blades, the only exception being cut-on-impact heads with two primary blades and two smaller bleeder blades. In this case, a four-bladed head makes sense.
If you know you are going to make a perfect hit, the broadhead you choose isn’t important. It has only to be sharp. However, making a perfect hit is where the challenge lies. First, you need to figure out how you will make it, and then you have to reduce the downside if you don’t. Those are the two big issues when selecting broad heads.
Your goal should be to choose a broadhead that lets you zip your hunting arrows just as accurately as your field point tipped practice arrows. While accuracy is priority number one, it is never guaranteed. If you choose carefully, you will also end up with a head that offers all the penetration you need to make good on a shoulder hit.