Mechanical Broadheads or Fix Blade Broadheads? – I don’t watch much television, so don’t catch a lot outdoor media. When on rare occasions I do, I’m often struck by how little penetration most shooters are getting. In typical outdoor TV fashion, a gagger buck saunters leisurely beneath a stand, our hero shoots that buck, which then crashes out of sight—with 25 inches of a 29-inch arrow wagging grotesquely. Some of these deer fall in sight. Most do not. I spent enough time behind outdoor-television cameras to understand it can be a dodgy business, but that’s not the topic of discussion here.
What I find interesting is how often I witness dismal penetration after animals are shot from modern compound bows wielded by grown men. I conduct objective bow tests for Inside Archery, resulting in our regular Bow Reports. I witness few modern compounds producing less than 85 foot pounds of kinetic energy (IBO standard 70#@30”), a level of energy we once considered adequate for bowhunting Cape buffalo. Sure, IBO standards are a trifle hefty for treestand hunting—especially in cold weather—but even at the modest 53#@30” I adopted for a short time following shoulder surgery several years ago, I blasted right through big game. This was while using fixed-blade broadheads.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; in bowhunting two holes are always better than one, especially when shooting at critters from elevated stands where entrance holes are typically placed high on the animal. Without complete penetration a high entrance hole without a lower exit can translate into a quick kill but no trailing blood to follow. This becomes problematic in situations including rain and/or wet snow, or nasty-thick vegetation. It becomes more problematic with marginal hits resulting from string-jumping or nervous twitches.
And this doesn’t even begin to address the growing ranks of youth and women bowhunters entering our sport, whose physical dimensions and abilities automatically limit energy delivery. Demographic studies also tell us bowhunters as a group are growing older, which means creaky joints and failing muscles that signal shooting fewer pounds.
I’ll admit, I’m pretty conservative in my bowhunting views, earning my strips in a different age, but I’m also open to the latest technology, including mechanical broadheads. I’m required to shoot fixed-blade heads in my home state of Idaho by law, but regularly use mechanicals when I travel to other states. But I also shoot the IBO-standard 70#@30 inches for everything from rabbits to elk.
Some realities are unavoidable: the shorter your draw length (equating to power stroke), the lighter your draw weight and the lighter your finished arrow, the less energy delivered on target. Less energy equals less momentum/penetration. The wider a broadhead’s cutting diameter, the more blades it holds, and the less efficient it is (deployed blades that chop instead of slice or that must swing 180 degrees to engage, for instance), the less penetration it will deliver. These are unavoidable laws of planet-Earth physics.
The problem, which I observed during my short stint in retail archery, is too many bowhunters do not understand these realities. Not all equipment is created equal. While ever hesitate to offer dogmatic rules in regards to bowhunting equipment, antidotal evidence compels me to offer some baseline suggestions.
Youth & Women Shooters
Stipulations: draw length <27 inches, draw weight <50 pounds, <350-grain arrow.
Under these stipulations—which my petite wife falls under, giving me some direct insight—I recommend avoiding mechanical broadheads altogether. They will certainly work, much of the time, but I tend to operate under a worst-case-scenario mentality. In these cases, and for my wife, I set her up with an efficient, cutting-tip fixed-blade or true cut-on-contact design. This also goes for traditional gear of any kind.
Low-Draw Length/Weight Adult Shooters
Stipulations: draw length <28 inches, draw weight 50-55 pounds, <375-grain arrow.
In these cases I recommend a conservative mechanical with a cutting diameter less than 1 ¾ inches, holding a cutting tip and deployed blades that slice instead of chop. Average fixed-blade heads shouldn’t be ignored.
Stipulations:draw length 28-29 inches, draw weight 60-65 pounds, 400-425-grain arrow.
This describes the vast majority of bowhunters in the U.S., allowing wielding mechanicals with cutting diameters up to 2 inches, or slightly more, in 2-blade designs, up to 1 ¾-inch in three-blade models—most especially models with efficient, rear-deploying designs.
Stipulations: draw length 29-plus inches, draw weight 70-plus pounds, 450-550-grain arrow.
Mechanical Broadheads or Fix Blade Broadheads? – My long draw length and preferred 70-pound draw weight put me at an advantage. It means I can shoot pretty much anything I want with assured success, including “magnum” mechanicals with 2-plus inch cutting diameters and aggressive attack angles. I would also place crossbows into this category.
Of course, when heavy bone is encountered or angles steepen, all bets are off, no matter the equipment. And remember, there are no rules saying you can’t choose a fixed-blade or cut-on-contact broadhead for heavier-duty bow setups. There’s just no such thing as too much penetration.
The mechanical debate is dead as fried chicken. Mechanicals are field-point accurate and absolutely deadly when sent into the right spot. Yet it is still important to consider all factors carefully before choosing a specific design; one best matched to your equipment’s true capabilities.
Mechanical Broadheads or Fix Blade Broadheads – You Decide!
Learn more at insidearchery.com