The Four-Step Formula for Choosing the Perfect Broadhead
Posted on June 9, 2011
Accuracy is a critical feature when considering a broadhead and shooting long-range groups will help determine the consistency of different models. Joe Bell photo
The quest for the perfect broadhead is something our primitive ancestors have been searching for since the invention of the bow and arrow. Man has been experimenting with different designs and styles of broadheads for thousands of years, all in the interest of optimizing hunting success. That quest fervently continues even today.
In the past there was always some form of compromise required when selecting a broadhead. If you wanted durability, you might have to give up some sharpness. If you wanted penetration, you might have to shoot a less aerodynamic head. If you wanted superior flight, you might have to accept less cutting diameter, etc. Fortunately, with the wide variety broadheads available today, those tradeoffs no longer have to exist.
We are, perhaps, closer today than we ever have been in achieving perfection in a broadhead. We have metals that are stronger than ever before. We have blades that are capable of scalpel-like sharpness. And we have aerodynamic designs that provide accuracy that was previously unachievable. So, yes, we are very close, but are we there yet? Have we found that ideal combination of factors that makes the perfect broadhead? Let’s examine what is required.
Requirement #1: Must Hold Up to Impact
Above and beyond all else, a broadhead must perform as designed every single time it impacts flesh. Since this is impossible to guarantee with a mechanical broadhead, we will limit this discussion to fixed-blade broadheads. Toughness is critical. A broadhead must be able to take on heavy bone and retain its integrity 100 percent of the time it’s loosed from the bow. Blades should not break or crack, and ferrules must not bend, or worse yet, shear off.
For this reason, I believe machined steel to be the optimal material for broadhead construction. Aluminum is a softer metal, and it bends more easily than steel. A bent ferrule sacrifices penetration. A soft metal like aluminum dissipates more energy upon impact with a hard, dense surface. This energy loss can result in an arrow that stops penetrating without reaching the vitals. A bent ferrule also makes for a single-use broadhead. Even with fresh blades, a head with a bent ferrule will not spin true and will never provide optimum flight characteristics. The exception to all of the above is an aluminum ferrule with interlocking steel blades (i.e. Muzzy and Innerloc) that fit inside. This design can certainly provide ample strength, even comparable with a solid-steel ferrule.
Cast metal is another material seen commonly in broadheads today. By design, cast metal can produce a more brittle product and, therefore, could also be perceived as theoretically weaker than solid, machined steel. Casting is a process by which molten metal material is poured into a form and shaped according to specifications. While, in my opinion, machined steel is still preferable to cast, one cannot deny that today’s MIM (metal injection molding) technology provides far better strength and precision than similar metallurgical science of the past. The strength of today’s properly molded steel can nearly reach that of precision machined steel.
Along with a strong ferrule, the broadhead must also have durable, thick blades. We should not accept blades that are brittle and break easily. I like blades that have plenty of steel backing them. For a replaceable-blade head, I prefer a minimum blade thickness of at least .025-inch. I’ve found anything less will bend easily and be prone to breakage.
For a one-piece broadhead, I prefer one that has blades of at least .040-inch thickness. I also prefer a model where the entire head, blades and all, is CNC (computed numerically controlled) machined from one solid piece of steel. This solid design is stronger than those with separate blades that are welded to the ferrule.
Requirement #2: Must Cut a Nice Hole
A broadhead kills by slicing flesh and causing internal hemorrhage. The more vital flesh that is cut, the faster and more humane our kills will be. As responsible hunters, this is our ultimate goal. Out of respect for our quarry, we should accept nothing less than a virtually immediate and painless harvest. Not only do we want massive internal hemorrhage, we also need large exterior holes in the hide that allow the blood to spill out onto the ground. An animal that bleeds internally, yet runs off into thick cover without laying down a blood trail, will often go unrecovered. That is unacceptable. We need blood on the ground to assist in tracking. For this reason, the smallest of broadheads are undesirable. I prefer a broadhead of at least 1 1/8-inch diameter and with three or four blades. A head of this size, or slightly bigger, cuts lots of tissue and opens up large holes.
In the pursuit of optimal flight characteristics, some manufacturers have sacrificed cutting diameter to make for more forgiving flight. While that goal is certainly worthwhile, the means do not justify the end. We are fortunate that with careful selection from the broadhead choices available today, we can have both ample cutting diameter and good arrow flight.
Requirement #3: Flight Precision
Ultimately, if a broadhead does not hit its target, it does us no good whatsoever. In the past, we had big, long broadheads with a great deal of blade surface area. These heads often needed copious tuning and sight adjustments to achieve accurate flight. A bowhunter would often be forced to change sight positions when he would switch from field tips for target practice to broadheads for hunting. With the advent of the short, compact head, fortunately this frustrating exercise is mostly a thing of the past.
I prefer a broadhead that flies like my field points. For most serious bowhunters, practicing is a year-round commitment. We shoot indoor-league events, local 3D competitions and, of course, we practice in our backyards. Many of us even hunt all year around, too. Continually switching sights from a field point position to a broadhead position is not practical. We want to simply screw on a broadhead and go hunting, knowing it will shoot just the same as our field points. Conveniently, this is very achievable with today’s compact broadhead choices.
Requirement #4: Razor Sharpness Required
A dull broadhead has no place in a quiver. Supreme sharpness should be demanded from our broadheads. A sharp blade cuts vascular tissue in such a manner that prevents clotting. Any man who has once nicked his face while shaving with a fresh razor blade can attest that stopping the bleeding is tough. That is exactly what we want out of our broadheads – bleeding that does not stop. This profuse bleeding ensures quick, clean kills and ample blood trails.
When I am measuring the sharpness of a broadhead, I want blades that will easily shave hair off my arm with little to no effort. A replaceable-blade head should come with blades that require no sharpening out of the package. The hair should virtually pop right off your arm when touched with a new, fresh blade.
With a one-piece head, I expect to do a little sharpening work, but I don’t want to spend all day getting a quiver full of heads shaving sharp. I also expect them to come quite sharp out of the package. A little touch up is fine, but I don’t want to have to remove material and really work at it to achieve a satisfactory edge. A few strokes over a fine stone and/or a leather strop should be all it takes. Simply put, a sharp broadhead is a deadly broadhead!
I want a head that passes all four tests without compromise. Fortunately, that is very doable these days. Never before have we had the excellent broadhead selection that we have today. The tradeoffs are gone. We can have it all now.
So have we finally reached a point where the perfect broadhead has been found? That’s up to you to decide. Select one that meets all four criteria, and put it through the lungs of your dream buck or bull. At the end of a short blood trail, you’ll find your answer. That is ultimately the true display of perfection!
The Author’s 4 Broadhead Must-Haves
1. Solid, Machined Steel Ferrule & Thick Blades
2. 1 1/8-inch Minimum Cutting Diameter
3. Field-Point Accuracy
4. Shaving Sharp Blades
Tuning for Top Performance
I like to tune my bows by shooting through paper. I want a clean “bullet hole” at multiple distances. This gives me confidence that my arrow is flying straight and true right out of the bow.
Furthermore, I like a broadhead that will shoot with my field points. I’ve found that with most compact heads, once I have tuned for a “bullet hole” through paper, I do, in fact, get field-point-like flight out of the broadhead. If I don’t, I will keep experimenting with different broadheads until that is achieved. I may still have to do a slight bit of tuning to reach field-point-like flight, but I do not want that to result in a tune setting that creates much of a tear when shooting through paper. A broadhead set up that provides optimal flight gives me the confidence I demand in the field come opening day. – N.T.