Tech Tips- Whitetails and Mechanical Broadheads

Posted on December 6, 2013

 

Whitetails and Mechanical Broadheads

Today’s bows and arrows are technologically advanced, but does this mean you can just screw on any broadhead and hunt? Common sense says no.

By Joe Bell

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Each season in deer camp, I notice more and more bowhunters using expanding-blade broadheads over smaller fixed-blade-style heads. This is true testament to the improvements made to the expanding or mechanical head over the past five years or so. Unquestionably, they have been transformed into better designs with blade mechanisms that require less force to open, offering both greater penetration and blade-cutting reliability.

However, in the last couple years, many of these heads are now featuring extra-wide cutting diameters in order to create larger wound channels, more overall terminal performance and greater chance of animal recovery (specifically, despite an unfortunate strike to the mid-section or gut).

The problem I see is that for every gain there seems to be a possible downside when it comes to archery gear. And using extra-large cutting broadheads, especially a mechanical style, doesn’t come without a cost, unless your gear matches these heads appropriately and you have some knowledge of how they will perform under certain shooting conditions.

More Cut, More Energy

Mechanical heads with 2 to 2 ½- or even 2 3/4-inch cutting swaths simply require extra arrow force to push the head clear through a deer’s chest for an entrance and exit wound. On a broadside shot, this force doesn’t have to be substantially more from my experience, given the blades on the head open straight back and with little required force.

But when the shot is at an angle or the broadhead collides with bone, then much more arrow energy is required for the broadhead to perform with stellar results. By “stellar,” I mean that the head will cut and drive deep into flesh in the same direction that the arrow intended it to.

If arrow energy is minimal, then this “straight-line force” usually won’t occur as expected. Instead, the extra-wide and long cutting blade (on the side that is closest to the hide) will likely produce a slight skid-out effect, causing the arrow to penetrate away from the hide and away from direct vertical axis of the arrow shaft, which of course, can cause an assortment of problems and lessen the killing effect of the broadhead.

If heavy bone is impacted when using an extra-wide-cutting broadhead, straight-line penetrating force is likely to be affected on a more substantial note. This happens because wider cutting blades come with drastically abrupt cutting angles, a feature that can cause wedging against solid bone and stop penetration from occurring.

This is why the shooter must exercise greater discretion in taking shots at animals that are only broadside or only slightly quartering away. Otherwise, poor broadhead performance is likely to occur.

Matching Energy to Broadhead

It’s a common belief that today’s gear is so efficient and advanced that suitable arrow energy for deer is a no-brainer issue. You can simply screw on whatever broadhead you want and give penetration little thought. But I disagree.

Sure, today’s bows are fast and exceptionally powerful, but today’s arrows are much lighter (which aren’t as stable at impact and don’t produce the downrange punch of a heavier arrow) and most mechanical heads, especially those with extra-large cuts, will require more force to perform optimally.

The key to success here, I believe, is to give the issue some forethought and appropriately match your arrow’s kinetic energy level with the broadhead used.

To help with this, the following is a list of mechanical cutting widths and recommended arrow energy. These are simply rules of thumb, as broadheads are made a little different and your arrow’s energy level will vary based on the distance of the shot. Nevertheless, I consider them good recommendations to follow when calculating your setup’s arrow energy straight out of the bow.

 

1 3/8 to 1 ½ inch: 45 to 50 pounds KE

1 3/4 to 2 inch: 50 to 60 pounds KE

2 1/4 to 2 ½ inch: 60 to 65 pounds KE

2 3/4 to 3 inch: 65-plus pounds KE

 

The bottom line is this: there is simply no free lunch when it comes to archery gear. For every gain, there is usually a loss of some kind, which is why you must consider the advantages and disadvantages of all the gear you hunt with.

With larger-cutting broadheads, the gains can be tremendous and very satisfactory, especially when you make a shot that’s “far back” and you want maximum terminal performance to put the deer down, despite the awful hit. But at the same time, you must consider the disadvantage of a larger cutting swath. Learn to match these heads to the gear you’re shooting, and you’ll capitalize on the advantages instead of the disadvantages.

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