I get jacked about arrows. Why? Innovation, mostly. Today’s shafts boast technologies that allow them to fly fast and quiet, cut the wind, deliver pinpoint accuracy and hit like a ton of bricks. Plus, when you build your own shafts, you can tinker. I like to tinker. Three fletch or four? Wrap or no wrap? Stiff high-profile vane or a longer low-profile one? Lighted nock or standard? Add a heavier insert like brass, or stay with aluminum? Arrow customization is limitless.
Technology blended with customization equal performance. I build arrows for the game I’m chasing and being much of my fall is spent 20-feet up a tree, I have a special blend for whitetails. You may have your own recipe. If it’s working, great. If you’re looking to experiment or are on the hunt for a new whitetail-worthy build, read on.
I live out West. I’ve made 60-plus-yard shots on pronghorn, mule deer and elk. Not whitetail. I learned years ago a weary buck or on-pins-and-needles doe can duck and whirl in the blink of an eye. When it comes to whitetails, I’m in the 40-yards-and-in camp. For this reason, the speed of my shaft means very little to me. My first goal is to make my arrow quiet. It’s my belief that whitetails hear the sound of the arrow and not the bow. Sure, a noisy bow is bad, but if your bow is hushed and your arrow is loud in flight, that’s worse. A heavier shaft absorbs more of the bow’s energy, which quiets it in flight.
Finding a heavier shaft isn’t rocket science. Of course, using your arrow manufacturers spine chart is a must. Matching spine size to your bow’s poundage is crucial. Take it a step further, though. Do some online reading and search for a shaft that has a gpi (grains per inch) rating that will give the arrow some added bulk.
Example: My current rig is set at 67 pounds of draw weight and 28.75 inches of draw length. My pronghorn/mule deer arrow is an Easton HyperSpeed Pro branded with a .400 spine and a gpi of 7.4. Total arrow weight is 387.4 grains. My fps (feet-per-second) with this shaft is 296. When you crunch the numbers, I get a kinetic energy rating of 75.28 foot-pounds. I blow through pronghorn, mule deer and even elk with this arrow. Yep, it will work for whitetail and I have used it, but it’s louder in flight than my traditional whitetail arrow. When it comes to whitetail, my go-to is an Easton 5MM FMJ with a .340 spine and a gpi rating of 11.3. Total arrow weight is 480 grains. My average three-arrow fps is 279, which gives me 82.95 foot-pounds of kinetic energy.
When shot head-to-head, the heavier FMJ is noticeably quieter in flight. Finding this out is easy. Set a high-definition microphone to the left or right of the path of the arrow and place it at the halfway point of your shot distance. I use my Rode microphone with Rode DeadCat Go cover and it works awesome. Just pick a day with limited wind. You will hear the difference.
A heavier shaft will also penetrate deeper if your FOC (front-of-center) is solid and the shaft is of the micro-diameter type. My whitetail arrow has an FOC of 12.23 percent. Simply put, 12.23 percent of my arrow’s total weight is found in the front-half of the arrow. An arrow with an F.O.C. between 11 and 15 percent will fly more accurately and penetrate deeper. Test and tinker with the FOC of your arrow. It’s fun and super simple.
Take a fully finished arrow that sports the nock, vanes, wrap, insert and broadhead you plan to hunt with. Measure from the bottom of the nock groove to the end of the shaft and divide by two. Mark that spot on the shaft with a Sharpie. Now find the arrow’s balance point — where it will teeter on the edge of a table without falling off. Mark that point with a Sharpie. Measure between your pair of Sharpie marks, take that number and divide by the arrow’s total length and multiply by 100. Bingo! You have your arrow’s FOC.
In addition to FOC, outer arrow diameter should be considered. Many of today’s arrows look thin. Guess what? They are. That doesn’t mean they’re brittle or sport a too-thin wall. Manufacturers have gone to great lengths to make shafts thin and still maintain spine. An arrow that’s thinner in diameter provides the archer with less left/right wind drift and tracks easily behind the broadhead without creating friction. This results in maximum penetration. A couple seasons back, I shot a massive-bodied quartering-away 8-point at 37 yards. I hit a tad further back than I wanted. The arrow went in the buck’s flank, passed completely through the stomach and shattered the off-side upper-leg bone. I was shooting from an elevated position, which provided serious downward trajectory.
Part of what makes archery fun is experimenting. I get asked about three- and four-fletch arrows all the time. My answer: Fletch some arrows with both, shoot at various distances and see how your group. I’m still a three-fletch fan. I get less drag, and because my arrow FOC is ideal for my setup, I don’t want to add any weight to the back of the shaft. Another 2.1-inch Bohning Blazer adds exactly, according to my Hornady GS-1500 electronic scale, 6.5 grains. Adding weight to the back of the shaft decreases FOC.
The same holds true for those wondering whether to run a standard insert or a brass break-off insert. If during your testing you find your FOC percentage is too low, you can boost it by adding weight to the arrow’s front end. A heavier insert is a great way to do this.
Now that you’ve got an arrow you think you’re happy with, go test it. Of course, the noise test is a must, but I’d also find some bone. I know it’s gross, but feedlot dead piles or those created by ranchers are a great place to find scapula bones. Make some calls and go get some. I like to position the scapula about five yards in front of a fresh-sided Block target and send a broadhead-tipped arrow. See how the arrow performs on bone and how deep in penetrates into a fresh target. Testing and tinkering builds confidence and come deer season, you’ll have a quiver full of whitetail killers.