Should you shoot fixed blade broadheads, mechanical or a hybrid?
It was now or never as the pin settled on the Kansas buck, stopping briefly to eye a fidgety doe ahead. The Mathews No Cam HTR launched the broadhead-tipped arrow flawlessly and the blood-stained arrow stuck in the dirt beyond as the buck bolted.
Surprisingly, he kept on bolting right out of sight and an internal debate began. Should I follow up immediately or give the buck some time?
What would the world be without debate? The news media would be lacking in political coverage and hunting camp would be less lively. One of the biggest camp debates continues to be the use of fixed-blade broadheads over mechanical models.
To stir the discussion further, hybrid broadheads have been entering the market. In addition to a fixed nature they deploy a devastating swath of additional slashing creating a wound channel that's hard to clot.
Fred Bear enthusiasts embrace the fixed-blade blueprint, but it's hard to ignore bowhunting experts such as Randy Ulmer and Chuck Adams who have come in favor of mechanicals, even on huge animals like mature bull elk. Innovation with mechanicals has really become rocket science. For example, the Gravedigger series has a 1-inch flight profile, but opens effortlessly with a "drive key" that deploys 1 ¾-inch of cutting upon impact.
There's no debate that you need a razor-sharp head to quickly kill a whitetail or any animal with archery tackle. It bears repeating: broadheads kill by hemorrhaging and bullets kill by massive, hydrostatic shock. For broadheads to create the most bleeding possible they have to be surgical sharp.
Next, broadheads need to penetrate. The design has much to do with that and today most broadheads either sport a cut-on-impact design, or a chisel tip whether fixed or mechanical.
Whether you prefer the cut-on-impact or chisel makeup of a broadhead is almost a "six-of-one, or half-dozen-of-the-other" position. Most testing proves that either penetrates well with modern equipment. The only option that has slowly been phased out are heads with a conical design since testing proves they deflect with more regularity, especially on quartering shots.
Companies such as Plano Synergy, with its Bloodsport line of archery equipment, understand the hunting-camp debate. They've also done the research on what works in the field over marketing temptations. To appease all litigants Bloodsport's lineup includes six big game models of broadheads, both fixed and mechanical.
The real "talk of the town" is the Gravedigger series, both with a cut-on-contact head and a chisel-head version. This broadhead features a fixed-blade arrangement, but employs a mechanical side.
If you want to shoot it as a true fixed head you simply tighten a set screw and the head includes a 1-inch fixed blade with ½-inch bleeders. Leave the screw in the factory setting and the bleeders will deploy in a "cross open" design for a 1 ¾-inch cut. A patented blade-retention system takes the worry out of midair deployment. Mechanical blades are sharpened to slice through the hide and open inside without eating critical kinetic energy.
More Than The Broadhead
If you really want to engage in the broadhead debate you can't ignore several other factors that drive killing performance. Another top contender influencing broadhead performance is energy, specifically the kinetic energy your bow is capable of producing.
What exactly is kinetic energy?
Kinetic energy is a measurement based on an arrow's speed and weight. This determines the broadhead's penetrating ability and ultimately, killing effectiveness.
You measure kinetic energy through a mathematical formula. To determine your bow's kinetic energy take the velocity squared and multiply it by the weight of your hunting arrow. Next, divide that result by 450,240 and you'll have the kinetic energy of your bow.
Your velocity is your arrow's speed and can be determined by shooting your arrow through a chronograph at your local pro shop to obtain a feet per second reading. Your arrow's weight can be measured on a grain scale and remember to include the broadhead weight.
After you obtain that number researchers have done the math for you regarding ideal kinetic energy for various species of bowhunted game. For deer-sized game your bow should produce in the range of 45 to 65 foot-pounds of energy. When you jump up to the elk category, 60 foot-pounds and above is highly recommended for success with any quality broadhead, fixed or mechanical.
Kinetic energy was the real drain on excitement for many early mechanicals, especially those designed to "fold back" from front to rear for deployment. Those styles robbed critical kinetic energy, especially on quartering shots requiring further penetration to reach vital zones. Companies heeded the real-world results and today most minimize the consumption of kinetic energy by rear-sliding operation.
Also a culprit for poor broadhead performance is arrow selection. You need to shop for a sturdy arrow that flies with precision. Arrows with questionable vane design and overall cheap construction can rob your arrow/broadhead setup of velocity which also leads to lower kinetic energy. For whitetails the debate over a heavier arrow to aid in penetration versus a lighter arrow for maximum trajectory is basically personal preference. You need an accurate, sturdy arrow that exhibits minimal flex. Combine that with a quality broadhead and if you hit the 10-ring it's high-five time.
Making The Shot
The road to the 10-ring shot represents another obstacle for broadhead performance. Regardless of broadhead layout, even a sharp head can be directed in a different direction by body movement, limbs, muscle structure and the greatest obstacle, bones. And you also need to consider string jumping since event the speediest of bows can't beat sound or the reflex of a tightly-strung whitetail.
It only takes one mention of unconventional arrow direction inside a whitetail for some of your hunting camp buddies to come clean on their experiences. Arrows have the ability to change direction upon impact and sometimes the direction isn't for the better.
You also can't ignore the natural environment. Gusty winds, unseen limbs and your personal struggle with buck fever all can divert even your best intentions for great shot placement. It's an unwelcome outcome.
What this all comes down to is determining the best time to take a shot and launching it during this brief window for the highest chance of success. Know your gear. Practice in the real world and only take ethical shots. Follow this regiment and your broadhead choice, fixed, mechanical or hybrid, will likely give you another season to remember.
As for my personal debate, I always favor more time than less and waited an hour before trailing. Grabbing my arrow from the dirt boosted my confidence with the sight of frothy blood. A consistent blood trail bolstered my initial opinion and pushing the tallgrass prairie apart another 75 yards beyond the field gave me a sight and season to remember as well.