July 27, 2016
Having the confidence of knowing that you have properly tuned your bow, arrow, and broadhead setup will go a long way toward ensuring a successful outcome.
It's the moment of truth: all summer long you've put in your time at the range and in the field scouting for this fateful moment.
Hours upon hours of effort is now condensed into an adrenaline-pounding few seconds that will make or break your hunt of a lifetime. With your mind trying to process tons of information that lead up to an accurate shot, the last thing you need is any hint of doubt in your setup or equipment.
Unfortunately, archery is far from a plug-and-play sport where any combination of arrows and broadheads will perform well when fired from any bow. While that seems like common sense, if you've ever researched articles on building the perfect combination it likely left you dazed and confused.
Luckily, it doesn't have to be as complicated as many make it sound. Here are five easy steps to produce a setup you can be confident in when you head to the deer woods this fall.
Is Your Bow in Tune?
The very first step to perfecting broadhead flight is making sure that your bow is properly tuned. Hopefully you've already been shooting for several weeks and have done a thorough inspection of your bow, but there's a good chance that a trip to your local pro-shop is in order to make sure your string hasn't stretched or your bow's timing hasn't changed. This is particularly important for fixed-blade broadheads, which tend to be more finicky to tune.
While you can tune a bow by yourself, I always find it's much easier with the help of a professional who likely handles hundreds of bows throughout the year. I like to have my bow tuned a few weeks before the season, and then again following the season, before my focus shifts back toward target practice.
Paper and "Walk-Back" Tuning
Finding the center shot, or making sure that your nocking point and arrow rest are aligned, is a critical component of the tuning process. Most quality pro shops can help paper tune your bow to determine if either your rest or nocking point are slightly off, based on how the paper tears when the arrow passes through it.
As a finishing touch, I like to do what's called a "walk-back" tune, which helps determine horizontal alignment at varying distances. To do this, stretch a piece of tape vertically on your target and place a small circle near the top to use as your aiming point.
Start at 20 yards and then "walk back" in five-yard increments, again aiming at the same point. How the arrows stack up in relation to the tape will tell you if minor adjustments are needed. Ideally, all of your shots should fall on or very close to the line whether the shot is from 20 yards or 40.
Choosing the Best Arrow
When picking arrows, your focus should first be on finding a match for your setup. Many hunters make the mistake of shooting the wrong spine, which is a measure of stiffness, and this will most certainly cause flight issues. Faster bows require a more rigid spine, while slower ones will perform better with a more flexible spine. The lower the spine rating the stiffer the arrow is, so a 400-spine arrow is more flexible than a 340-spine arrow.
Most arrow manufacturers provide charts right on the packaging to help you make the right decision, and if you're still unsure, don't be afraid to pick up the phone and contact them directly or consult with your local pro shop.
Once you're sure you are shooting the appropriately spined arrow, it's time to consider what you hope to accomplish and the kinetic energy that will be required to do the job. For this example, I'll focus on a setup that is capable of easily dispatching an adult whitetail. It is generally accepted that it takes between 25-40 pounds of kinetic energy to kill a deer, and calculating kinetic energy is pretty easy: arrow speed x arrow speed x arrow weight / 450,240 = kinetic energy
For this example I chose the all-new Bloodsport Evidence model with a 400 spine to complete the calculation. These arrows weigh 9.1 grains-per-inch and my arrows are 28 inches long. The broadhead is a Gravedigger Chisel Tip fixed-blade-mechanical hybrid in 100 grains. The weight allowance for the R.O.C. outsert, fletchings, and nock is 68 grains for a total arrow weight of 423 grains. My arrow speed is 280 feet-per-second. 280 (speed) x 280 (speed) x 423 (weight) / 450,240 = 74 (lbs. kinetic energy)
Not only does this setup put me well above the range necessary to kill deer, it's also capable of taking down grizzly bear or moose while not sacrificing much speed. If speed is your thing and you want to shoot flatter at longer distances, there is plenty of room to drop to a lighter arrow.
Switching from Field Points to Broadheads
I can remember when I first started archery hunting in the late 1980s there were very few broadheads to choose from, and all were fixed-blade models. Boy, how times have changed. There seems to be a countless number of manufacturers today and most have several models to pick from in fixed-blade, mechanical, and hybrid designs. So how do you know which is right for you?
One of the most hotly debated topics among archery hunters is fixed-blade versus mechanical broadheads. I shoot both, but for deer hunting I have been using mechanical heads exclusively for the last seven years. I have yet to have a single malfunction that caused me to lose an animal, and nearly all were pass-through shots. Mechanical heads tend to fly more consistently while offering a wider cutting diameter, which results in better wound channels and easier-to-follow blood trails.
For those who are still a bit nervous about mechanicals, fixed-blade broadheads eliminate the worry and they also tend to hold up a bit better with better blade strength and the lack of moving parts that are more prone to breaking. If you want the best of both worlds, Gravedigger broadheads offer a fixed-blade at the tip and cross opening curved mechanical blades at the rear. They come in both chisel tip and cut-on-contact designs.
In terms of weight, there is no need to go beyond 100 grains for deer hunting and the addition of another 25 grains won't make much difference when the shot is properly placed. Staying at 100 grains provides what I believe is an ideal combination of speed and energy allowing for flat arrow flight further downrange. Some hunters will go as far as to weigh each broadhead to check for consistency, but with today's manufacturing standards I don't find it to be necessary.
Now that your bow is tuned and you've decided on a broadhead, it's time to head back to the range to hone in your setup. Whether you decide on a fixed-blade model or a mechanical, chances are pretty good that you're going to have to do some adjusting.
For the most part, I have found that mechanical heads fly very close to, if not exactly the same, as my field points. Still, this is not something you can take for granted.
Even if your impact point is just an inch off at a short distance, that error multiplies further downrange, which could mean the difference between a kill, clean miss, or worse. You owe it to yourself and the animal to make sure you are dialed in as close to perfect as possible.
While I have had fixed-blade broadheads match my field points right out of the package, that is generally the exception. You can expect to make some slight adjustments, but if you're having trouble with consistent flight, that's a sign of tuning problems that must be revisited. This is why it's important that you not wait until the day before the season opener to sight in with broadheads.
Finally, even though many broadheads come with practice points, I believe it's worth the extra money to shoot an actual hunting head to ensure accuracy. I'm also not a big fan of sharpening dull blades on my own and instead opt for replacements that come directly from the manufacturer.
It doesn't matter how much time you put in to get yourself in the right spot at the right time if you are unable to seal the deal when your opportunity finally comes. Remember, your arrow is the only element of your entire setup that actually impacts the animal, and this is the last place you should seek to take shortcuts or save money by purchasing low-grade products.