April 05, 2023
By Curt Wells
Question: I’m 14, just getting into bowhunting, and I’m struggling with broadhead choice. I understand the need for ultra-sharp blades and good arrow flight, but I can’t decide on the type of broadhead. I should mention I have a 26-inch draw length. Randy E., Alaska, via e-mail
Answer: I’ve spent 42 years shooting broadheads and have developed some opinions that may ruffle a few feathers. Here are some thoughts.
First, broadhead testing is a fairy tale. There, I said it. Shooting broadheads into plywood, steel barrels, tires, foam/3-D targets, slabs of beef ribs, or ballistic gel, in no way replicates reality. You might draw some comparative analysis, but these tests are no predictor of performance on an animal. I could dive deeper into this, but as you make your choice, view such tests with skepticism.
Much of the debate falls on which “style” of broadhead — cut-on-contact broadheads (two or three-blade), fixed-blade broadheads (with or without replaceable blades), or mechanical broadheads with moving parts.
I’m glad you mentioned your draw length, because I will start with the style of broadhead that undeniably penetrates the best — the cut-on-contact two-blade. It’s common sense and physics.
Here’s a story. In my early years, my buddy and I shot a common fixed-blade broadhead. My buddy arrowed a pronghorn, and when we got to it, the buck hadn’t yet expired. So, to hasten its demise (and not ruin an arrow), he knelt behind it and tried to thrust an arrow into the pronghorn’s chest. The arrow snapped in half and didn’t even begin to penetrate the skin.
A couple years later we’d switched to Zwickey two-blade Delta broadheads and had a similar situation when things “got Western” with a cow elk. We delivered the coup de grace by slipping a Zwickey-tipped arrow into her heart. It only took two fingers to push it in.
This got me to wondering if I could measure the force needed for a broadhead to penetrate tanned elk hide. I rigged up a scale and measured three pounds of force to push a Zwickey through the hide. When I tried various ferrule-type broadheads, no matter how hard I tried, I simply could not push it through the skin. The point was made. This undeniable “ease” of penetration is significant to traditional archers and a great benefit to those who shoot low draw weight and light arrows. Or in your case, a shorter draw length.
During my years of shooting cut-on-contact, two-blade heads, I noticed something else. I saw more animals expire within sight back then. Whitetails, elk, and caribou scarcely reacted to being struck by my arrow. I shot a bugling elk at eight yards, and his only reaction was to turn his head and watch me shoot him again. I believe that was because he felt little to no “impact” when my ultra-sharp Zwickey zipped through his chest. Conversely, a broadhead with a ferrule must “punch” through the skin, going in and coming out, and I believe the animal reacts to that sudden impact. Yes, it happens fast, and some might scoff at the concept, but that’s my experience.
While the cut-on-contact broadheads have their advantages, most bowhunters fall into the other two broadhead-style choices. Fixed-blade broadheads with replaceable blades are a favorite with bowhunters who want ultra-sharp blades and fail-safe construction. However, based on sales figures, the vast majority of bowhunters use mechanical broadheads, which offer excellent arrow flight as well as devastating wound channels — but a word of caution on that. Contrary to what some believe, opening a mechanical broadhead takes very little energy, but driving those wide-cut blades through fur, skin, and muscle does require a lot of energy.
You don’t say what your draw weight is, or the weight of your arrow, but a cut-on-contact broadhead might be the way to go, at least for now.