Perched 20 feet up in a white oak overlooking a small waterhole, I sat motionless — or as close to motionless as I could manage in the mid-September heat — as a yearling 4-pointer eased into the small opening and lapped the turbid water.
The summer sun hadn't long departed the Wisconsin sky, signaling the rapid approach of the 10-15-minute window prior to the end of shooting hours during which I had at least a decent chance of encountering a mature buck.
Fighting the urge to swat a particularly dedicated mosquito dive-bombing my left ear, I watched as the young buck lifted his head and turned quickly to address a sound unheard by my own ears. Ever so slowly, I craned my neck to scan the woods behind my tree.
There. Fifty yards behind me and slightly downwind, a broad-shouldered buck stood stock-still, ears forward, eyes locked on the young buck at the waterhole. For a moment, the woods were frozen, and then, with a purposeful step forward, the big-bodied buck broke the standoff and started on a line toward the water.
As the mature buck crossed into the clearing, hardly acknowledging his younger counterpart, I was standing, bow in hand. Facing directly away from me, the buck paused briefly, then turned to his right, offering a perfect quartering-away shot angle at 16 yards.
My arrow was through his chest cavity and sticking up in the dirt before the sound of its impact with flesh and bone registered in my brain. White tail flickering madly, he dove into the woods and headed for the path of least resistance, which, unfortunately for me, was downhill.
A half-hour later, I knelt quietly next to the buck and soaked in the end-result of the hunt. The buck carried a heavy 8-point frame with a single abnormal point curving downward off his right base. But what was even more impressive was his sheer size. Back at camp, we hung the buck from a scale in the skinning shed and measured his dressed weight at 224 pounds.
Despite likely weighing close to 300 pounds on the hoof, the buck had proven no match for my arrow setup, which was light and fast on that Wisconsin hunt. Though my personal preference has generally been to sacrifice arrow speed for the sake of sure-fire knockdown power, I had decided to try a lighter, faster setup that season.
Factoring in a 100-grain fixed-blade broadhead, a lightweight insert and a 27.5-inch carbon arrow shaft to accommodate my, shall we say, "abbreviated" draw length, my arrow weight barely topped 365 grains, yet it had sliced through a tank of a whitetail with ease.
To be sure, everything had gone according to plan that evening. I had a perfect shot angle, a short range to the target and I put the arrow where I intended. But what if things hadn't gone according to plan? What if I had pulled the shot and buried my lightweight arrow into the shoulder? What if I had needed to take a longer shot at a tense buck instead of a close shot at a calm animal?
The story certainly could have ended a bit differently, at best with a long blood trail and, at worst, with a wounded buck.
Therein lies the rub: for all the time, effort and money we invest in preparing our hunting property, perfecting our treestand setups and scouting for mature bucks, and for all the dedication and attention to detail we place in practicing our shot routine and fine-tuning our equipment, there is, ultimately, a fleeting instant when all is beyond our control and the outcome of our hunt rests squarely on an arrow in flight.
Where Metal Meets Meat
Make no mistake; the arrow does the dirty work. An archer might select the perfect moment to release the string, and the bow might dispatch the energy to propel the arrow, but only the arrow and its attachments actually encounter the target. Yet whitetail bowhunters, as a lot, tend to spend far more time obsessing over the bow than the arrow.
As a result, it's far too common that we make judgment errors when selecting and setting up our arrows, despite having more options and greater technological advantages than ever before.
Boiled down to a fundamental level, appropriate arrow selection for your setup rides on a few key factors: weight, diameter, material, stiffness (or spine) and straightness. Nearly all mid-range to high-end arrows have sufficient straightness out of the box for hunting purposes, but it's still important to ensure your chosen arrows have consistency in straightness.
The straighter the arrow, the more accurate it will be. Likewise, the more consistent that straightness is from one shaft to another, the tighter your groups will be.
The remaining factors can vary widely. Stray too far to one end of the spectrum or the other in any of these categories and you will see a drop-off in performance and accuracy. Dictated by physics, the factors involved in arrow performance are inter-related, so it's important to take a comprehensive approach to arrow selection and consider how variances in weight, spine, diameter and material will impact performance.
Ford versus Chevy? Baitcast or spinning reel? Scrambled versus over easy? They're all age-old debates, and if you're breathing, you probably have an opinion on each. In the bowhunting world, the debate between heavy, hard-hitting arrows and light, fast arrows has raged for decades.
Fundamentally, lighter arrows have higher velocities. Conversely, heavier arrows tend to carry greater momentum to the target and, thus, generate greater penetration.
As soon as an arrow leaves your bowstring, it encounters resistance in the form of drag, which causes deceleration and drains energy. Lighter arrows are more susceptible to this. A lightweight arrow might leave your bow at a blistering 330 feet per second, but it will decelerate and shed energy at a greater rate than a substantially heavier arrow.
Consider the example of two arrow setups of equivalent exterior dimensions, but one of the arrows weighs 7.9 grains per inch and the other weighs 10.2 grains per inch. The heavier arrow will require greater force to slow it down, which means it will retain greater momentum downrange.
The lighter arrow will lose velocity more quickly, and though it might still reach the target first, it will likely do so with significantly less momentum.
All things told, most lightweight arrows shot from reasonably efficient bow setups will still carry plenty of momentum to generate a pass-through on an average-sized whitetail — if the shot placement is good. But what if the shot is not optimal? What if your arrow needs to break through a shoulder bone? Or suppose your arrow encounters grass or brush en route to the target? In these cases, you'd likely trade a few feet per second for a bit more momentum.
As a side note, it's worth bearing in mind that lighter, faster arrows will produce a flatter trajectory at reasonable ranges than will a heavier, slower arrow. The trade-off is that heavier arrows absorb more energy from your bow at the shot than do lightweight arrows.
If you shoot a light arrow, your bow is forced to shed wasted energy via vibration, which is noisy. Thus, your bow will be louder if you shoot a light arrow.
Grow Some Spine
At least as important to your arrow setup as weight considerations, spine tolerance is a critical factor to ensuring optimal arrow performance. Arrow "spine," at the most basic level, refers to the degree an arrow shaft bends under pressure, but there are a couple different ways to measure arrow spine.
"Static spine" refers to an arrow's stiffness characteristics while the arrow is at rest. If an arrow is supported on each end and weighted in the center, the amount the arrow sags or bends is a function of its static spine. Several factors play into an arrow's static spine, not the least of which are the materials used in the arrow's construction, the thickness of its varying layers, and the shaft's inside diameter.
But arrows don't perform under static conditions. The force employed to propel your arrow at the shot has a substantial affect on the arrow in flight, compressing and bending your shaft briefly. An arrow shot from a compound bow with a 70-pound draw weight will not behave the same if it is then shot from a bow with a 40-pound draw weight.
In general, if you have a relatively short draw length or shoot a lighter draw weight, or if you simply have a less efficient bow, you'd be better served by an arrow with less dynamic spine. Conversely, if you have a long draw length or a heavy draw weight, you'll need an arrow with greater dynamic spine.
Fortunately, most arrow manufacturers provide arrow spine charts that allow us to simply match our draw weight with our arrow length to determine the appropriate spine for our arrow.
If it's not clear already, not all arrows are created equal, and that's particularly evident when you consider the actual materials used to construct hunting shafts. Modern arrows are available in an ever-growing range of options including aluminum, carbon or combinations thereof, and each one comes with its own pros and cons.
For decades, the standard in hunting arrow shafts was aluminum. Aluminum shafts were cheap, quiet, accurate and could be engineered to precise spine tolerances and weights. But they were also far less durable than more recent material options.
Carbon shafts have taken center stage in more recent hunting seasons, offering hunters the option of lighter, faster shafts and smaller diameters, which result in less wind drift and drag.
Likewise, carbon shafts have proven to be incredibly durable and offer a wide array of accessory options for hunters looking to make precise adjustments to the front-of-center balance point. Unfortunately, carbon shafts are also significantly more expensive than their aluminum counterparts.
Design options extend well beyond the material used to construct the actual shafts. Technological advances in the way that carbon fiber is woven and wrapped into an arrow shaft have allowed arrow manufacturers to increase the thickness of the arrow wall, allowing for increased strength and stiffness.
In the case of micro-diameter arrows such as BloodSport's Evidence, ultra-small diameter shafts combined with relatively heavy shaft weights per square inch result in arrows that are less susceptible to wind drift and drag and generate outstanding momentum for great penetration and pass-through capability.
For example, a BloodSport Evidence with a 350 spine rating weighs 10.2 gpi. Combine that micro-diameter shaft with their 60-grain Reliable Outsert Component, and you've got an arrow that can achieve impressive FOC and hits like a ton of bricks.
Arrow selection can be a complicated matter that involves more physics than most bowhunters are initially comfortable with, but if you take the time to examine the options, you'll likely discover an entirely new aspect of archery, and you just might become a more deadly bowhunter.
Bloodsport Arrows for Every Shooter
From youth archers to seasoned big-game hunters, BloodSport's comprehensive arrow lineup offers shafts for everyone.
BloodSport's proprietary Rugged Wrap Construction process provides a thicker carbon wall than most shafts on the all-new, micro-diameter Evidence ($89.99 per 6). When combined with the 60-grain R.O.C. (Reliable Outsert Component), the Evidence is one of the toughest arrows ever built. The ultra-small diameter instigates greater penetration and reduces wind drift. The Evidence comes pre-fletched with 2-inch vanes for unparalleled speed and durability. The patent-pending Blood Ring is longer on all Evidence shafts compared to BloodSport's other shafts to help you better determine your hit. With a +/- 1-grain weight tolerance and +/- .001-inch straightness rating, the Evidence delivers the performance hardcore hunters demand.
Ultra-small diameter means greater penetration and less wind drift. That's what bowhunters can expect from the Onyx ($69.99 per 6). It also boasts BloodSport's proprietary Rugged Wrap Construction, which provides a thick carbon wall, putting the Onyx among the toughest arrows ever built. The Onyx gives you the perfect combination of accuracy and toughness. Pre-fletched with 2-inch vanes, and BloodSport's patent-pending Blood Ring is standard on all Onyx shafts. It will totally change the way you hunt. With a +/- 1-grain weight consistency and straightness tolerance of +/-.004 inches, the Onyx meets all your hunting needs.
The all-carbon Judgement ($79.99 per 6) is designed specifically for hunters seeking a fast, tough, lightweight hunting arrow. It's a standard-diameter arrow built with 100-percent carbon and BloodSport's proprietary Rugged Wrap Construction process to create the ultimate hunting projectile. It's pre-fletched with 2-inch vanes, and the patent-pending Blood Ring is a standard feature that helps you determine your shot placement. The Judgement touts tight tolerances to deliver the best consistency possible. All Judgement arrows are hand-sorted and graded to ensure utmost quality.
The Punisher ($54.99 per 6) is designed specifically for hunters seeking toughness and the increased downrange efficiency that comes from an increased front-of-center balance point via the included 50-grain brass insert. The Punisher is a standard-diameter arrow made of 100 percent carbon, and features the tough-as-nails Rugged Wrap Construction process to create the ultimate hunting projectile. The Blood Ring is standard on all Punisher arrows, and will help you ID your hit before tracking. A +/- 1-grain weight tolerance and +/- .004-inch straightness suits the Punisher for every hunting application.
Young archers need quality arrows too, and BloodSport's Apocalypse ($39.99 per 6) gives them flat-shooting performance in a light but strong shaft. It's specifically designed for draw weights up to 55 pounds, and weighs only 6.5 grains per inch. Despite its ultra-light weight, the Apocalypse is incredibly strong due to BloodSport's special carbon-wrapping process. Apocalypse arrows are equipped with professional-grade, aircraft-aluminum inserts loaded with target tips so kids can pull them out of the box and shoot. And, they're equally suited for bowhunting and target-archery applications.
With more women hunting than ever before, the need for quality women's equipment has escalated greatly. Like all BloodSport arrows, the Athena ($39.99 per 6) flaunts impeccable specs. BloodSport engineers built these 100-percent carbon shafts from the ground up to ensure performance and penetration from low-poundage bows. And, just the right touch of pink or purple accents back their lethal quality with drop-dead looks women will love.