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Which Broadhead is Right for You?Words by Darron McDougal
Technology propels the archery industry, and while some bowhunters keep and use the same bow, arrows and broadheads for years, many of us annually look for products that “ride a little smoother.”
Arguably, the single biggest decision bowhunters contemplate is selecting a broadhead. And it’s no wonder, considering it’s the broadhead that actually does the dirty work necessary to move a buck from field to freezer.
Perhaps you’re currently hunting for a new broadhead to use this fall and find yourself perplexed by the dizzying breadth of styles and designs. It’s confusing, I know. But don’t panic; this article’s sole purpose is to help you explore your options and confidently choose a broadhead that complements your setup.
Let’s start by reviewing various broadhead styles and the considerations you must weigh before purchasing your next pack.
Fixed-blade broadheads are like salt and pepper, withstanding the tests of time. Most designs are problem-free, delivering unmatched reliability and excellent penetration. As the name implies, they are also free of moving parts.
This simplicity — and reliability — is the fixed-blade head’s claim to fame. Basically, what you see is what you get. A good example is BloodSport’s Wraith System. It’s incredibly versatile, offering options for every application.
One handicap fixed-blade broadheads have relative to other options is that most create moderate wound channels, which can make tracking more difficult, particularly on marginal shots.
In a perfect world, bowhunters would make only perfect hits, but we’re only human. Still, if placed well, fixed-blade broadheads kill as effectively as any mechanical head.
Another challenge with fixed-blade broadheads is they sometimes fly sporadically. In flight, fixed-blade heads have more surface area exposed to the air, which can cause planing, especially during windy conditions or if your bow isn’t properly tuned. Still, with a properly tuned bow, fixed-blade broadheads reliably do the job.
As a general rule, women and youth shooting vertical bows with minimal draw weights do well with razor-sharp, fixed-blade broadheads with a cutting diameter of around an inch. Shots must be kept inside 20 yards on broadside or slightly quartering-away deer.
Many crossbow users and able-bodied adults pulling 50 to 70 pounds also look to fixed-blade broadheads for reliability. Based on experience, however, I’ve found that tuning fixed-blade broadheads becomes trickier with longer draw lengths and/or higher draw weights. Higher speeds magnify any tuning issues your bow has, which can toss your broadheads off the mark.
I’m quite fond of mechanical broadheads. I’ve shot and killed dozens of game animals with various models, and I’m continually impressed by the results. I’m by no means a blood-and-gore type of guy; I don’t thrill over gushing blood or guts hanging out of an animal.
However, I do like to rest assured that if I place my arrow well, I’ll find my deer. I’ve followed plenty of skimpy blood trails, and they’re not fun. Thus, I routinely look to large-diameter mechanical broadheads — think cutting diameters of 2 inches or more — for devastating wound channels that maximize blood flow for outstanding blood trails. They don’t let me down.
Mechanical broadheads also fly like a dream, and several broadhead manufacturers now include a practice head of simulated weight and profile with each pack. This allows you to test for accuracy without spending one of the three hunting heads.
I’ve rarely had trouble getting mechanical heads to fly equally with my fieldpoints. They’re deadly accurate and extremely consistent. One great example of a mechanical broadhead is BloodSport’s Night Fury.
When considering mechanical broadheads, look for designs with as few moving parts as possible. These are most reliable. For that reason, I mostly shoot over-the-top, jackknife-style models.
Understand that not everyone can — or should — shoot large-diameter mechanical broadheads. I worked 10 years for an archery pro shop and matched hundreds of bowhunters to broadheads respective to their setups.
For women and youths shooting at least 40 pounds of draw weight, I didn’t hesitate to recommend a small mechanical head with a cutting diameter of 1 to 1¼ inches. Feedback from these bowhunters suggested beyond desirable results on close-range shots at broadside or slightly quartering-away deer.
In contrast, mechanical heads with large cutting diameters must be reserved for more powerful setups. My personal hunting bow produces an arrow speed of 285 feet per second (fps), and I’ve used mechanical heads with cutting diameters up to 2½ inches with impeccable results.
My “go-to” models have 1¾- and 2-inch cutting diameters. They deliver a deadly dose of penetration and a huge cut for easy-to-follow blood trails.
Enter the Hybrid
In recent years, the bowhunting community has witnessed the rise of a new beast in the broadhead ranks. These new offerings — commonly referred to as hybrid heads — seek to combine the best attributes of fixed-blade and mechanical broadheads for a wham-bam impact.
As we’ve already discussed, with fixed blades, you’re assured reliable cutting on impact, no matter what. Meanwhile, the expandable blades create maximum devastation, which promotes blood flow and offers added lethality on marginal shots. One example is BloodSport’s Gravedigger.
Because the fixed blades create a pilot hole for the expandable blades, the expandable blades deploy once inside the animal as they impact flesh and bone to unload energy and produce shock. That alone could kill, but the gigantic lineal cutting edges create hemorrhaging that further expand the design’s killing capabilities.
The only real challenges shooters face with hybrid heads is their length and exposed surfaces in flight. Generally, the longer the broadhead’s ferrule, the more important ultra-straight arrows become. If the ferrule is machined to tight tolerances, that’s good, but you must also tune your bow and build precise arrows. Long broadheads magnify any tuning problems your bow and arrows have.
I strongly recommend shooters use hybrid expandable broadheads only if shooting sufficient draw weight. With colossal cutting surfaces, maximum energy is needed to drive these monsters deep. Any bow 60 pounds or higher with a heavy arrow will perform.
Making the Choice
While working for an archery pro shop, bowhunters commonly reported broadhead failures. Phrases such as, “My broadhead didn’t open,” or “My broadhead didn’t hit where I aimed,” ran rampant. When I questioned one bowhunter how he knew his broadhead didn’t open, he reported he’d seen that it didn’t open.
The argument was ridiculous. One cannot possibly see blades open from a distance as a fast-traveling arrow impacts a target. Furthermore, testing proves expandables open on impact, regardless. Some testing examples include super-gluing and welding blades shut with full-deployment results.
Accuracy complaints often result when bowhunters don’t shoot their broadheads before hunting. Yes, this simple miscue robs bowhunters of trophies every year. I cannot stress enough how important broadhead practice is.
Yes, I know many broadhead manufacturers claim their models “fly exactly like a fieldpoint.” And they might be right. Then again, they might not — at least when those broadheads are screwed onto the end of your arrows. Shoot your broadheads before you hunt to avoid any surprises when you can least afford them.
The truth is, the vast majority of broadhead-failure stories are false. Unrecovered game is more often the shooter’s fault. Either they fail to practice with their broadheads, or they simply didn’t zero in and pick a spot, which resulted in the poor hit.
Bowhunters too often choose broadheads based on opinions rather than facts. Unless the one recommending a broadhead is an expert, you’re better off following independent broadhead tests than listening to opinions.
Another thing you can do is purchase multiple broadhead types and conduct a broadhead test with your bow. This can be done with ballistic gel, plywood or various other materials. The results won’t lie, and you’ll then confidently choose the broadhead that performed best.
Avoid the broadhead debate and heed these better broadhead considerations to choose a broadhead you can trust during your next whitetail hunt.
Broadheads for Everyone
BloodSport has been a leading arrow manufacturer for a number of years, and the company has more recently expanded its broadhead lineup with a diverse selection of models that offer options for all bowhunters, regardless of personal preference.
BloodSport’s Wraith ($29.99 per 3) features a proprietary “scooptail” ferrule, which aids in both accuracy and penetration. Plus, it’s universal and accepts all Wraith System blades, so you can match it to the game you’re hunting. The oversized, cut-on-contact tip and larger ferrule base help pilot the arrow shaft through hide and bone with reduced friction. Hardened steel blades are designed to eliminate curling, and a self-centering insert ensures a precise arrow-to-broadhead connection. The Wraith is available in five models — Deepcut, Treestand, Widecut, Turkey Body Shot and Turkey Lopper — all designed for specific hunting applications.
BloodSport’s Gravedigger ($39.99 per 3) boasts a cross-opening blade design, which deploys with less energy than traditional jack-knife mechanicals. The Gravedigger also features an exclusive fixed-blade mode, which allows it to be shot as a 1-inch fixed main blade with 1⁄2-inch bleeders simply by tightening the setscrew on the kick-out blades. The mechanical blades can be adjusted to open easier or harder depending on the hunter’s draw weight. The Gravedigger touts a patented blade-retention system, which keeps blades closed in flight but ensures they open on impact every time. This no-fail broadhead gives hunters the best characteristics of fixed-blade and mechanical broadheads, and it’s available with chisel and cut-on-contact tips.
Night Fury broadheads from BloodSport ($39.99 per 3) combine optimal accuracy with outstanding devastation in a clean and trim design. The Night Fury’s patented, cross-opening blade design conceals more blade surface in flight so the broadhead truly flies like a fieldpoint. Led by a bone-splitting chisel tip, the Night Fury is set to tackle tough game animals. Its patented blade-retention system — no rubber bands or O-rings here — keeps blades closed until impact for unparalleled reliability. The Night Fury is available in 100- and 125-grain models and delivers a colossal 1 7⁄8-inch cut. Blades are sharpened to the tips, so Night Fury shooters can expect maximum devastation.