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Head-to-Head: Best One-Piece Vanes for 2014

Head-to-Head: Best One-Piece Vanes for 2014

vane_test_1Years ago, it was not unusual to get a call or visit from a friend hoping I could help "fix up" a batch of arrows. You know how it goes; you buy a dozen freshly fletched shafts, and within a month it looks like they have endured Armageddon.

Arrows with creased, punctured and missing vanes now fill your quiver. There is no pro shop close by, and you don't have the equipment to play fletch doctor.

I get far fewer of those calls and visits these days, largely due to a rapid advancement in arrow-vane technology. One of the biggest recent developments has been the rise of one-piece vane solutions that offer a true "plug and play" option for bowhunters who want the ability to quickly and easily fletch their arrows without spending the money for a fletching jig or investing a great deal of time to get the job done.

Although these products vary in style — from compression-fit rubber sleeves to heat-activated shrink tubing to aluminum vane ferrules that attach directly to the rear of the shaft — all are designed to get you shooting in a hurry and make any needed vane repair about as easy as changing a light bulb.

The convenience offered by one-piece vane units is undeniable. Still, all the convenience in the world doesn't mean a thing if these vanes aren't accurate. So, with that in mind, we developed a comprehensive series of tests to answer this critical question: how well do they fly?

Our testing includes five of the most popular one-piece vane units available: Bohning Stretch Fletch, New Archery Products SpeedFletch, NAP QuikFletch QuikSpin, NuFletch APE Arrow Tails and Outer Limits Blood Vane.

We tested average weight, Front of Center (FOC) balance point for the test arrow, spin rate, flight characteristics and the ability to group two different broadhead models at

common bowhunting distances of 20 and 45 yards.

All tests were conducted using Beman ICS Hunter Patriot 340 arrows, and all shooting was done using a Mathews Creed XS bow set at a draw length of 29 inches and a draw weight of 65 pounds, equipped with an NAP Apache drop-away rest. The bow was fired mechanically using the all-new Petersen's BOWHUNTING X-Ring Machine — a one-of-a-kind, computerized shooting platform that greatly enhances the precision and consistency of our testing.

Important Considerations

Before we discuss the individual tests, there are three important considerations to keep in mind when reviewing the results, starting with arrow spine. A properly spined arrow is critical to good arrow flight. Spine is a measure of an arrow shaft's stiffness, and that stiffness must be properly matched to your bow's specifications to achieve the most stable arrow flight possible.

Our test arrows were properly matched to our test bow, and you need to make sure your arrows are properly spined for your setup. You also need to know that spine can be directionally inconsistent around the surface of a shaft.

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So, if you have an arrow that isn't flying the way you expect or isn't grouping with your others, try rotating the nock to line up with a different vane and see if that helps. It may save an arrow or two.

The second key consideration to address is fletching orientation. The three most common options are straight, offset and helical, and each configuration has a different ability to steer, stabilize and correct an arrow's flight. As with most equipment choices, there are performance tradeoffs to be considered.

Straight vanes offer the best rest clearance and — because they "grab" the least air of the three — maximize speed. However, this lack of drag results in less ability to steer, stabilize or correct the arrow. This is an especially important consideration when shooting fixed-blade broadheads.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is the helical (spiral/twisted) vane orientation. As you would expect, helical vanes create a lot of drag, which slows arrows down more quickly but also maximizes the steering ability of the vanes. Helical vanes also can present more issues with rest clearance, as their twisted shape is not as easy to align away from rest launchers. Finally, the

helical orientation induces a high rate of arrow spin, which is a known stabilizer.

This give and take leads us to the offset vane configuration, a widely used, middle-of-the-road option. Offset vanes (typicaly set at a 2- or 3-degree angle) offer adequate rest clearance along with enough drag to adequately steer arrows and a spin rate that offers decent stabilization.

Finally, any discussion of arrow vanes would be incomplete without considering vane materials and construction methods — directly impacting durability, foul-weather performance and drag (steering ability).

Feather fletching is widely considered the ultimate in control, as it has natural texture and twist that generates spin and drag. Feather fletch is also lightweight. However, it is notably noisy, fragile, expensive and flies poorly when wet. Modern bowhunting vanes are made of various plastics and rubber compounds. Some have smooth surfaces, while others have molded-in textures to increase drag and steering ability.

Vanes are relatively heavy compared to feathers, but on the upside they are generally quieter in flight, inexpensive, weatherproof and durable. Vanes are by far the most popular choice among modern bowhunters.

Weight:

Vane-unit weight was measured using an Easton Digital Grain Scale, calibrated according to manufacturer specifications. We weighed three units for each brand tested and averaged the results.

Average Vane Weight

Bohning Stretch Fletch:          39.9 grains

NAP QuikFletch QuikSpin:    31.8 grains

NAP SpeedFletch:                    44.4 grains

NuFletch APE Arrow Tails:   109.9 grains*

Outer Limit Blood Vane:        36.6 grains

*Not Including Required Arrow Insert

Front of Center:

FOC is expressed as a percentage, and the higher the number, the farther forward of center an arrow's balance point is. Increased FOC is associated with more stable arrow flight and greater penetration. This follows the principle that an object propelled through the air will fly better with more mass forward of the true center of overall length.

In fact, if the object has too much weight in the rear, it may actually flip around and fly backwards. For a real-life example of this, find one of those NERF balls with a shaft and vanes sticking out the back and try to throw it vanes first. It will quickly flip around and the ball (heavy) end will lead.

Recommendations for the optimum FOC percentage on arrows generally run from 7-15 percent. Keep in mind that one-piece vane solutions are heavier than three individual vanes, and some add a significant amount of weight to the rear of the arrow, thereby reducing FOC. You can counteract this by using heavier inserts and/or shooting a heavier broadhead.

FOC Percentages*

Bohning Stretch Fletch:           8.7 percent

NAP QuikFletch QuikSpin:     9.7 percent

NAP SpeedFletch:                     8.4 percent

NuFletch APE Arrow Tails:     3.2 percent

Outer Limit Blood Vane:         9.2 percent

*Based on the 29-inch Beman test arrow (301.5 grains) with a 100-grain point.

Spin Rate:

Spin testing was done using a special device that generates a constant wind stream over the surface of the arrow. Air flows in from a compressor, through a filter and is controlled with a regulator before being channeled up over the vanes. A remote optical sensor then reads reflective tape attached to each arrow and records revolutions per minute (rpm) on a tachometer. We determined the final spin rate for each vane unit by averaging the highest recorded rpm value from three arrows.

Arrow Spin Rates

Bohning Stretch Fletch:        2,422 rpm

NAP QuikFletch QuikSpin:     647 rpm

NAP SpeedFletch:                       72 rpm

NuFletch APE Arrow Tails:     227 rpm

Outer Limit Blood Vane:          171 rpm

Flight Characteristics:

We used the Velocitip from Full Flight Technology to record a variety of in-flight data for each vane unit. The Velocitip features an embedded accelerometer and other high-tech electronics that calculated the two measurements we considered most important for this test: drag (a direct measure of aerodynamic performance) and retained energy (how much lethality the arrow retains at impact).

vane_test_2Drag is measured in milliGs or G-force. The higher the number, the greater the drag and the less aerodynamic the arrow. Although vanes with more drag will slow arrows down faster, they also have more ability to steer the shaft and correct flight.

To put the drag results in context, consider that a difference of approximately 400 milliG will cause roughly two inches of additional arrow drop at 50 yards.

Retained Energy is expressed as a percentage and represents the amount of energy the arrow is carrying upon impact relative to the amount of energy it carried when it left the bow.

As you review the test data, take careful note of the correlation among drag, retained energy, spin rate and group size (steering ability).

Drag and Retained Energy Calculations

Model                                        Drag (milliGs)        Retained Energy

Bohning Stretch Fletch:                   2,019                        76.8%

NAP QuikFletch QuikSpin:             1,503                        82.6%

NAP SpeedFletch:                             1,355                        84.0%

NuFletch APE Arrow Tails:             1,309                        83.0%

Outer Limit Blood Vane:                 1,361                         84.2%

Broadhead Grouping:

Last, but certainly not least, we measured the ability of each specialty vane to group 100-grain broadheads at 20 and 45 yards. To eliminate any inconsistencies, we "qualified" each Beman ICS Hunter arrow. In order to qualify for use in testing, an arrow tipped with a 100-grain fieldpoint and machine fletched with 2-inch, offset vanes had to hit a one-inch bull's-eye at 45 yards.

Next, a Mathews Creed XS was set up with a NAP Apache drop-away arrow rest and tuned to shoot the Beman arrow tipped with a Muzzy Trocar broadhead. Our second test broadhead was the Innerloc Falcon. We started out by paper tuning the bow/arrow combination and then fine-tuned using the walk-back method at 50 yards. Our new Petersen's BOWHUNTING X-Ring Machine was used for all group and flight testing.

Broadhead Group Size

Model                           Max 20-Yard Group    Max 45-Yard Group

Bohning Stretch Fletch               0.88"                        1.78"

NAP QuikFletch QuikSpin         2.18"                         2.88"

NAP SpeedFletch                         2.19"                         4.25"

NuFletch APE Arrow Tails         1.85"                         4.50"

Outer Limit Blood Vane              1.25"                          1.95"

Attitude

Bow-killing a speed goat on his own terms sans the use of a box blind on a water hole is a tough proposition. You'll catch a glimpse of retreating diaper-butts far more often than you'll launch an arrow lungward. That's the nature of this particular beast and it's a bad idea to dwell on the failures because they will stack up quickly. For every successful stalk, expect at least a dozen failures, maybe more. Maybe many, many more. Fortunately, stalking antelope is a lot of fun and if you keep the attitude on the positive side, you'll get it right. Let the goats get to you and it may never happen.

Avoid The Roads

Antelope hunters are road hunters. This is due to the fact that antelope are the easiest of all big game animals to lay eyes on. Most hunters don't see any reason to leave the truck unless a good goat has already been spotted via the cab of said pick-up. Antelope, especially public-land dwellers, know the truck trick well and will start to use areas where the constant creeping of 4x4s doesn't exist. Find spots where good ol' fashioned boot leather is necessary for hunting and you'll find good numbers of antelope.

Busted

For some reason, about one out of every 20 antelope will do something really stupid when they spot you. Instead of flashing a white derriere, they'll walk or run closer to get a better look. Whenever you get busted during a stalk, or perhaps while simply walking across the prairie, nock an arrow and get your rangefinder in your hand. It's a low odds deal, but you never know when the antelope that lays eyes on you at 600 yards will sprint in to 50. If he does, you need to range him and get ready because he might turn and give you a chance.

Got Cover? Use It

Antelope are notorious for living where the best cover is a sage bush here, a slight depression there. In other words, they shun most places where predators can get close. That doesn't mean they don't make mistakes, because they do. Antelope can be found in areas with terrain relief, or cover more suited to mule deer. Locate the goats living in such places and you've given yourself a better chance to get close. Antelope, being antelope, are still hard to approach but the right plant growth or terrain feature can give you an edge.

Loners

Getting into bow range of any antelope involves beating the best eyes in the business. Because of this, the more eyes you have to beat, the lower your odds will be. This means that it's always a good idea to look for a loner. Sure, he may not be the 15-inch tall monster hanging out with a dozen ladies, but the respectable 12 incher that spends his days friendless is a much better bet. Find him, watch him and move in when he beds, or feeds into a position where his vision will be obstructed enough for an approach. Loners are the most killable antelope on the prairie.

Lost Causes

Like a 25-year-old Goth devotee still living in his parents' basement, some antelope are lost causes. This is not to say that there are pronghorns out there bemoaning their existence, but that some of them just spend their time in places that are virtually unapproachable to the bowhunter. Rifle toting hunters, sure. Bowhunters and their need to get truly close, not-so-much. Be honest about the lay of the land and the chances to creep in close. It doesn't take much to encourage me to stalk an antelope but there are just some situations where it's not going to happen. Recognize this and move on to a better stalk.

Shooter!

Being a native Minnesotan, I've never met an antelope that I didn't want to shoot. Okay, maybe the young-of-the-year goats fit into the category, but any antelope that has already had his first birthday looks awful good to me. Because of this, I stalk nearly every legal antelope I see. Trophy is in the eye of the beholder, and besides a few of your buddies, no one cares what you shoot besides you. Hunt for fun and give yourself a shot at success. Any antelope taken through true spot-and-stalk is a trophy anyway, and a hell of a lot harder to come by than many of the mature whitetails I've killed over the years.

The Right Prep

If you've spent all summer shooting at typical whitetail shot distances while standing flat-footed in Crocs and khaki shorts, you're going to miss your antelope. Before heading west spend hours shooting at long distances from your butt and your knees. Some zen master bowhunters will claim their shots are always close on antelope, but for most of us, the average distance will be double that of your average whitetail opportunity. Prepare yourself for that reality and you'll be much more confident when it comes time to settle your pin on the brown-and-white hair covering an antelope's vitals.

Understand The Eyes

Antelope eyesight is the stuff of superheroes. Eight to 10 times magnification, which is to put it simply, binocular vision, means they'll spot you before you can get close nearly every single time you stalk them. There is a blind spot in those super-charged peepers though, and that is when you get close. Antelope aren't use to predators being inside of their comfort zone and they'll often look right past you once you get close enough to fling an arrow. Because of this, if you should happen to crawl in close, take your time with the shot and make the most of your hard-won opportunity.

Wait For It, Wait For It...

Antelope, unlike deer, are content to mill around and feed all day long. This doesn't mean they are on their feet the entire time the sun is shining. They will feed for extended periods of time and then bed down for a while. The times when they bed down give the stalking bowhunter his best chance of closing in. Just like when stalking mule deer, a bedded target animal removes a very important variable in all stalks — the continual position of the animal. If you take your time to watch an antelope or small herd, wait until they bed. That could be by far your best chance of army crawling within bow range.




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