Years ago, choosing a vane was simple. You had target vanes and you had hunting vanes, with the latter being a mid-height, four or five-inch offering. Fairly large and stable hunting vanes were mandatory, since we pretty much all shot large to medium-sized, fixed-blade broadheads back then.
However, today the rules have changed drastically. We have smoother, faster, easier-to-tune bows, and we have a plethora of broadhead options, with lethal mechanical designs and low-profile, fixed-blade heads. Really, the sky is the limit in terms of good broadhead choices for flat-shooting arrows.
This "industry storm" of better bows and aerodynamic broadheads has greatly lessened the need for so-called hunting vanes to properly steer a broadhead-tipped arrow. In fact, the lines are now blurred between what constitutes a good hunting vane versus a good target vane.
This progression has created quite the conundrum in terms of which plastic vane yields the best accuracy, forgiveness, and trajectory for maximum performance out of a hunting bow. Modern bowhunters no longer want to settle with "standard" this or that, and they want the best of the best in pinpoint arrow delivery, especially in variable shooting conditions.
To answer the call to all this, here's a solid approach to selecting the optimum vane for your hunting setup.
This element is imperative and includes two different aspects: flight and face clearance.
The first aspect is very obvious. If the arrow doesn't come out of the bow cleanly, without the vanes brushing up against the arrow rest or arrow shelf, then erratic arrow flight and accuracy loss will result. Either one will wreck broadhead accuracy.
The next issue is vane contact with your face at full draw. I have never tried to quantify the accuracy loss of this dilemma, but it's easy to recognize the negative impact of it. This issue is really no different than pressing the bowstring too hard into your cheek area at anchor. Each time you shoot, this "pressing," or "pressure," against the face will vary, and each time the bowstring cycles forward at the shot, the bowstring will vibrate slightly differently. This can cause inconsistent arrow flight/launch and point of impact. This same phenomenon can occur if the vanes are pressed against your face. For this reason, it's best for the vane or vanes not to contact your face at all while you are anchored at full draw.
To offset the basic issue of vane contact with the arrow rest or bow shelf, you can try a different arrow rest, or you can use a lower-profile vane. Most bowhunters favor the use of a lower-profile vane to alleviate this issue, rather than going through the trouble of swapping out the arrow rest.
As for the second problem of vane contact with your face, the solution here is to either mount the vanes a bit more forward along the arrow (further away from the nock) until contact is eliminated, or, again, go with a lower-profile vane.
When these problems occur for me, I usually select a lower-profile vane. (I typically mount vanes 1¼ to 1½ inches from the back of the vane to the throat of the nock.)
I have shot the Arizona Archery Max Hunter vane religiously the last eight years or so. However, with a 2.1 x .58-inch profile, it's a short, tall, fast, lightweight (seven grains) vane that can cause clearance issues with some setups.
As a functional alternative when clearance issues arise, I switch to the Arizona Archery Pro Max vane (4.9 grains), which has a 1.7 x .46-inch profile. However, to maintain about the same amount of "flight drag" or "steering control" as the three-fletch Max Hunter configuration, I use a four-fletch setup with the smaller Pro Max vane. This results in a very stable fletching setup I can use with either mechanical or compact fixed-blade heads. (Note: With low-profile mechanicals, many archers use only three Pro Max vanes for proper guidance. This permits a faster arrow with improved trajectory.)
All in all, a lower-profile vane, fletched four fletch, can counter certain flight-clearance issues while providing good control with aerodynamic broadhead options. There are many low-profile vanes on the market, most of which were originally designed for target shooting. However, when these vanes are used in a four-fletch configuration, they can provide great performance with hunting heads as well.
Consistency & Forgiveness
There are way too many details that go into making vanes that can affect shooting consistency and forgiveness. I simply don't have the space here to explore each one. However, I'll briefly list the most important ones.
Memory: This is the vane's ability to recover its shape once deformed or "folded over." The better the memory, the better the vane's ability to steer the arrow while being subjected to intense wind forces. This is obviously a critical component for faster-moving shafts.
Longer vanes sometimes produce poorer memory. This is why those short, stiff vanes of today often shoot so well with broadheads. However, not all vanes are created the same, so you must search for the perfect balance between vane height, length, and memory.
A simple method for testing memory (although shooting tests are the best) is to flip a mounted vane back and forth with your finger. The quicker it springs back, the better the memory, and the better it will steer the arrow (in theory, anyways).
Stiffness: This has to do with the vane's ability to maintain its profile, or essentially not taking on a dynamic bend during flight. Again, the faster the arrow speed, the more critical this becomes. This is another reason why we have short, stiff vanes. They don't deform or take on a bend despite high speed and high wind resistance.
Length & Helical: As in all things in life, there are tradeoffs. Short, stiff vanes are nice, but due to their short length, they minimize helical, or what many call the "wrap" or "twist" of the vane around the arrow shaft. The more twist or helical, the faster (and sooner) the arrow spins in flight. This results in greater arrow stability, particularly when broadheads are used. This, in turn, ups accuracy and forgiveness (the more important attribute here).
In some cases, a longer, lower-profile vane can out-shoot a shorter, stiffer vane, all because of improved helical. I know, I've tested it with a shooting machine. So, there can be give and take in this area.
Keep in mind, there's no getting away from overall fletching volume and surface area. Longer or taller vanes are less resistant to crosswinds, adding to arrow drift and accuracy problems in windswept shooting environments. This is something Western shooters should pay close attention to.
This is where we begin to narrow the choice for what's the top hunting vane — short and stiff, or a little longer and low-profile. Well, only you can decide, and many times it comes down to experimentation and flight noise with your particular setup.
Tall, short vanes are good. In fact, they are what I usually prefer. However, they do come with an issue: They are typically louder in flight, and this "hissing" or "whistling" can cause game to jump the string. Remember, this flight noise will vary depending on arrow speed.
Flight noise is hard to quantify, but I took part in an informal laboratory test (held by a prominent plastic vane manufacturer) years ago, when short/stiff vanes were just being designed. During this test, a wide assortment of vanes were used, and I'm here to tell you that taller vanes are louder than low-profile
vanes. However, we also discovered that vane material and slight changes to the profile shape greatly influenced flight noise as well.
So, what's the best vane? Well, like I said, only you can decide this, due to the variances found in every bowhunter's setup. However, the underlying theme is this: Experiment until you find the smallest, quietest, most accurate and forgiving plastic vane configuration possible when using your favorite broadhead. This will result in the most effective setup in order to maximize your shooting confidence in the most demanding of conditions.