“Oh man, I shot just underneath his belly!”
How many times have you heard this excuse from a bowhunting buddy? Or how many times have you uttered those words yourself when describing an unfortunate encounter with a buck during bow season?
Play this crazy game long enough and you’ll experience that sinking feeling in your gut as you watch the fletchings on your arrow harmlessly tickle the white hairs of a deer’s underside just before the arrow plows into the earth and sends the deer scampering off to live another day. Maybe you dropped your arm. That’s something only time on the practice range can fix.
But maybe your range estimation was off by a couple of yards. Maybe the deer was 33 yards from your stand, and you aimed as if he was 30. Depending on how fast your bow spits out an arrow, that’s enough of a difference to cause a low miss.
So the answer is to buy a new bow, crank it up to 90 pounds and shoot a super-light arrow, right? Not exactly. You need to have a draw weight that you can comfortably pull and hold for a minute or more, if necessary. And for some of us, that might only be 50 or 60 pounds. And while a super-light arrow definitely will fly fast, that doesn’t mean it has sufficient knockdown power to push through hide, tissue and bone. The best hunting arrow is one that is light enough to fly fast, yet carries enough weight to punch through a deer
Rob Kaufhold, owner of Lancaster Archery Supply in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and a bowhunting and target-shooting coach, recommends bowhunters follow the International Bowhunting Organization’s minimum standard for arrow weight of five grains per pound of draw weight. If you shoot a 70-pound bow, that means you want an arrow weighing no less than 350 grains.
“And that’s as low as you should go,” Kaufhold said. “For maximum penetration, you’re better off with something in the 425-grain range.”
No matter what bow or arrow they’re shooting, most of the bowhunters Kaufhold deals with could get more speed out of their setups with just a few tweaks here and there. Pay close attention to what you put on your arrows and your bowstring, Kaufhold says, and it’s possible to pick up anywhere from one or two feet per second (fps), or even 10 fps or more.
To illustrate how speed can be gained and lost, we conducted a series of tests under Kaufhold’s direction. And here’s what we found.
“Everything you put on the center two-thirds of your bowstring — brass nock sets, a kisser button, string silencers — makes the string heavier and robs you of speed,” Kaufhold said.
We shot a 444.8-grain arrow from a Hoyt RazorTec set at 70 pounds. For the first shot, we placed two cat-whisker string silencers on the string, along with a kisser button, string loop for the release and a peep sight that connects to the cable via a length of rubber tube.
With those common bowhunting accessories on the string, the arrow left the bow at 258 fps. For the second shot, we removed the peep sight and rubber tubing, and replaced them with a peep that is simply tied into the string and is not connected to the cable. We also removed the kisser button and the two silencers. The same arrow then left the bow at 262 fps — an increase of 4 fps just by removing and changing some string accessories. We probably could have gained even more speed, Kaufhold said, if we had reduced the length of the serving — a line wrapped around the bowstring at the point where an arrow is nocked so that the nock doesn’t damage the bowstring.
If you’re shooting an arrow that’s the proper weight for your bow, the noise the string makes at the shot shouldn’t be excessive, which means you don’t really need any silencers. But if you feel your bow is too loud at the shot, opt for small rubber discs to employ as silencers. They weigh less than the cat whiskers and cause less drag when you release the string.