The problem with modern arrows is that they pretty much all look the same. Shafts that run $200 per dozen are nearly indistinguishable from arrows that might cost one-third as much. But they will perform differently, just as brand new arrows will probably out-shoot your old reliables from five years ago.
And when it comes to arrows, performance is key. Provided your bow is properly tuned and your shooting form is spot on, you shouldn’t have any problems getting your broadheads to group with your field points. That, unfortunately, isn’t always the case. Sometimes it requires an assessment of your archery ammo to diagnose the issue and remedy it. Here are five of the most common accuracy-robbing issues that bowhunters face.
Shafts Aren’t Square
This is a favorite of mine, and it simply involves the front and back end of the arrow. Whether they are factory cut, cut in a pro shop, or cut at home, it’s easy to get arrows that don’t have a perfect 90-degree angle from the shaft to the inserts. If your arrow isn’t square, your nocks or inserts won’t be either. In either case, bad arrow flight is just about guaranteed.
To address this, buy an arrow squaring tool and a silver Sharpie. Color the ends of your shafts with the marker, and then roll the arrow in the tool until all of the silver is gone. You’ll often see that the silver doesn’t get sanded off uniformly, which means the shaft wasn’t cut perfectly flush. If you do this to each arrow, you’ll ensure every shaft shoots like the last.
If you don’t want to buy a squaring tool, swing by your pro shop and ask them to take a look. It’s be a cheap way to have peace of mind that everything is cut as it should be.
Incorrect Vane Placement
I was told by an archery expert that the reason most factory-fletched arrows have straight or slightly offset vanes is because the first fletching machines were built that way—long before we understood the benefits of a helical alignment. He said it would be a major expense for some arrow making brands to replace the old machines with new ones that could put three degrees of offset on countless dozens of shafts, so they likely won’t be replaced any time soon. This also means that if you buy a dozen arrows that come fletched, you’re already at a slight disadvantage, depending on the brand.
According to world-renowned archer and mule deer slayer Randy Ulmer, this is a big problem—especially if you shoot micro-diameter shafts.
“Skinny arrows have so many advantages,” Ulmer said. “When they are fletched with little to no offset, they’ll produce great flight with field points. But, when you screw a broadhead on, you’ll realize that you’re being robbed of accuracy and forgiveness. The best bet here is to take the time to learn how to fletch them yourself and use a jig that offers enough helical or offset to produce really good broadhead flight.”
One Vane Short
If fletching your own arrows isn’t appealing, consider buying shafts that offer a factory four-fletch. Hunters often write off four-vanes because they’re concerned about arrow drag, but that shouldn’t be the case. Sure, if you’re a Western hunter that occasionally flings 80-yard arrows, you might see a difference in windy situations. But if you’re a whitetailer that mostly takes shots inside of 30 yards, you won’t notice more drag or less speed.
What you will notice with four vanes is great arrow flight due to the back-end stability and quicker overall flight stabilization. I’ve messed around with four-vane arrows a lot in last few years, and what impresses me most is how often I have a true dozen that all fly perfectly with broadheads. Rarely does that happen with three-fletch arrows, which almost always include a couple of wild fliers.
Here’s the reality on arrows and broadheads: You get what you pay for. It’s kind of like buying a well-bred hunting dog. You might find success with the occasional budget pick or used option, but there’s a much greater margin for error in quality.
When it comes to arrows, not only do better materials cost more, but it’s also more expensive to laser-check straightness, consistently match spine, and to produce shafts with tighter tolerances in weight. Just like with match-grade ammo, arrows that are built to the same specs will group better than arrows with looser tolerances. There are ways to go cheap in bowhunting, but your arrows (and broadheads) are not the places to skimp. If your flight is consistently inconsistent, it might simply be a matter of upgrading to a higher quality dozen.
When we think of spine, or the stiffness of our arrows, we imagine flex. Watch a slow-motion video of an arrow launching out of a compound bow and you’ll see what I mean. But there’s also dynamic spine, which involves the sudden force on the back end of the arrow from the string. This means that your arrows, with every shot, are being stressed to bend and flex. The same goes for when your arrows hit dense targets and stop suddenly. All of this can lead to spine degradation, which is basically impossible to diagnose with the naked eye.
What it boils down to is that the more you shoot your arrows, the more the structural integrity will degrade. Eventually, even though this can take several years, they won’t carry a broadhead as well as they used to. The best indicator that your arrows are breaking down is if they’re not grouping now like they were a few years ago. Assuming most everything else is the same—form, bow, string, broadheads—you can deduct spine degradation in looser groupings. Good on you for wearing out your ammo though, because most hunters don’t maintain arrows long enough to do so.
If that happens, take a trip to the pro shop and walk past the budget section. Get your arrows squared up and fletched up, and you’ll be ready for another couple seasons of quality flight.
Feature image via Captured Creative.