As i crawled out from my MSR tent in the predawn stillness, I felt on top of the world. At 11,000 feet elevation, there was nothing but emerald-green alpine and massive rocky bluffs all around me. It was high-country beauty at its finest.
Yet the real icing on the cake was framed inside my Swarovski 10x42 binoculars — a big, mature buck. Problem was, he was nearly two miles away. I finished my coffee and oatmeal, and off I went to stalk the buck.
More than a half-day later, I found the deer bedded in some tall mountain spruce. Then I eased into 45 yards. Moments later, the buck rose from his bed and angled slightly toward me. I crawled a few more yards to lessen the shooting angle. Next, I drew my bow slowly and cut the shot tight to the buck's front shoulder. The arrow drove deep and the buck raced below me, stopped, and then slid and rolled downhill. I couldn't believe it was over just like that.
It's in moments like this that I value a highly forgiving shooting setup. I had already hiked all over this chain of mountains in search of a good buck, but nothing seemed to go my way. I fought two days of rain and snow, lots of nearby hikers, and the deer I did see were either too far away, or in the wrong place. I moved my spike camp twice, just to access new country. When I fired that shot, I was bush-whipped and ready to go home. But, I somehow kept it together and made a good shot. In many ways, I attribute this harvest to not only my sweet-shooting bow rig, but to my ultra-forgiving arrow setup in particular.
Here are three things I value in a hunting arrow, all designed to improve accuracy, forgiveness, and penetration.
More FOC Weight
The more weight at the nose of the arrow, the better the steering effect and the less the arrow shaft actually oscillates back and forth while in flight (given the spine is matched to the bow). This allows the arrow to behave much better in a crosswind and, even more importantly, it makes the arrow respond to shooting imperfections less critically.
Another added bonus to increased front-of-center (FOC) weight is this: With the center mass more forward, the arrow's fletching has an improved leverage effect. This improves fletching control and guidance. You can sometimes use smaller vanes because of this. All these factors help to increase shooting forgiveness, which is why I consider more FOC weight critical.
Besides accuracy, added FOC weight will also increase penetration on game. For the same reason it tracks better in the wind, a heavier nose will accentuate a broadhead's straight-line energy path, causing less deflection and arrow oscillation, and enhancing penetration.
Based on some tests I've done over the years, I've found hunting arrows with an FOC weight of 12 percent or more to provide noticeably better downrange performance. To achieve this, I use 125-grain broadheads and/or heavier inserts. Just 25 grains of added tip weight can shift your arrow's FOC by about two to three percent. Bowhunters who demand high levels of FOC will be wise to use a brass insert, or two inserts when using Easton's HIT arrow shafts.
Precision Arrow Spine
Consistent dynamic spine is crucial for good-flying arrows, especially when broadheads are used.
To ensure your arrows are matched, use one of several methods: 1. Use a spine-testing machine, such as the one made by RAM Products. 2. Group shoot your arrows to cull out the "fliers." 3. Shoot arrow shafts through paper to verify a consistent tear. I prefer to use the RAM tester to establish a good baseline (by using a static-spine measurement), then I move on to paper testing or group shooting, or both, which accounts for (in motion) dynamic spine testing.
With the spine-testing machine, I add an extra step. I will place the shaft in the tester, engage the center weight, and then twist the arrow 360 degrees around. I watch the spine dial, and then I mark the shaft where the spine registers the highest. I then orient the nock so this "high-spine" portion is at the top when clipped to the bowstring. When I do this with all my arrows, it adds consistency and accuracy.
With paper testing, I prefer to shoot bare shafts without any fletching attached. This will reveal the smallest shaft imprints and tears. A slight tear is acceptable, and you can also try twisting the arrow's nock in one-third or one-half increments in an attempt to achieve more consistent arrow tuning, so tears are nearly identical.
Regarding spine, I'll say this. Stay away from shafts that may be too weak. Always err more on the stiff side. Why? Weak arrows flex much more and take longer to recover in flight, which causes instability and finicky shooting. Slightly stiffer arrows will perform much better.
Broadhead & Fletching Aerodynamics
Smaller and more aerodynamic is better for consistency. However, don't forget the tip of the arrow does the killing, and this can't be taken lightly. For this reason, an ultra-sharp, tough, and easy cutting/penetrating broadhead must lead the way. If not, what you gain in accuracy you'll lose in terminal performance — a bad tradeoff.
We can go on and on about what's better, a fixed or mechanical broadhead, but that's a separate column in itself. What I will say is this: I've spent a lot of time testing different broadhead designs, and in the fixed-blade department, I keep coming back to the 11„16 or 11„8-inch wide, 125-grain three-blade head. I've used the Wac'Em Triton 125, G5 Striker 125, Muzzy MX-3 125, and New Archery Products Hellrazor 125 with proven results. However, I do have my eye on the new Wasp Drone 125, and I look forward to testing this product in the future.
With mechanicals, I favor the Rage SS or Hyopdermic +P, and I use a heavier insert (brass or double aluminum inserts) with these 100-grain offerings in order to increase the forward-weight effect.
Fletching is a critical component, and I would advise doing lots of experimentation in order to find the right amount of surface area and style to enhance the flight characteristics of your arrow setup. Using too little fletching can negatively affect flight drag/control and shooting forgiveness, but at the same time this feature can accentuate accuracy and forgiveness in heavy wind. So, find the right balance.
I prefer to fletch my arrows with three vanes, since it improves simplicity and fletching time and repair. However, there are good reasons to use a four-fletch. For one, it adds 33 percent more drag compared to using three-fletch when using the same style of vane/feather. However, you'll also reduce FOC weight when you add more weight to the rear of the arrow, so keep this in mind.
But, there are times when a four-fletch does make sense. For example, if you want an arrow that bucks the wind well, then smaller-profile four-fletched vanes will improve this aspect when compared to larger-profile three-fletched vanes, all without giving up the necessary drag to steer the broadhead.
I often use four 1.7 x .46-inch AAE Pro Max Vanes instead of three 2.1 x .58-inch Max Vanes to achieve a similar level of drag and surface area, while reducing the fletching's side profile. Overall, this has aided in a more effective setup in windy situations. Regardless of the type of fletching used, use a strong helical fletch. This will improve the spin rate and rotational drag, which leads to a faster-stabilizing arrow and more forgiving shots.
Every year, archery tackle seems to get better. However, for those who want to improve their setup's easy-shooting capability, the details simply can't be overlooked. By addressing these factors, your accuracy will surely improve. This will keep you shooting better day in and day out, and keep you motivated for your next hunt.