Bow hunting harkens back to our ancestors and the more simplistic ways of the hunter. There is a magic and allure to using a bow to take your prey that can never be matched by a firearm. But you still need the right equipment. Yes, our ancestors could take deer, buffalo, and elk with simple wooden bows and arrows with stone points and you could too with years of practice. In the meantime, let’s give you the best chance of success with what you’ve got!
- TYPES OF BROADHEADS
- OTHER BROADHEAD CONSIDERATIONS
- TUNING YOUR BOW FOR BROADHEADS
- BROADHEAD CARE AND MAINTENANCE
TYPES OF BROADHEADS
Before you dive into picking the best broadhead for your hunting expedition, let's cover some of the basics. There are two predominant categories of broadheads; cut-on-contact and chisel point. Both can be bought in a standard fixed blade configuration, an Expandable style broadhead, or a broadhead with removable blades. Understanding your options will better prepare you when it comes to making a purchase that could ultimately decide your success this season.
A cut on contact broadhead has blades that come right up to the tip so the arrow slows less on impact. Usually, the broadhead blade will run all the way to the tip but occasionally a broadhead that has a separate cutting tip attached in front of the blades. These have been the standard broadhead used for decades and are very effective if used in the right situation
A cut-on-contact broadhead would perform best in hunting game such as turkey and smaller mammals but thousands of hunters have used them for deer and even larger game. With the quick penetration, your game generally has less time to run and that means less tracking on your part. However, should this broadhead strike bone, it is likely that the broadhead will be permanently damaged and need replacing. If you are on a budget, that could be an issue.
Chisel Point Broadheads
A chisel point broadhead has a leading tip much like a standard field point that serves to direct the blades away from bones or other internal structures that could damage the blades. These come in different point profiles but are generally equal when it comes to penetration. Speaking of, you may lose some depth of penetration with this style of broadhead but not likely enough to make a difference.
If you are hunting anything larger than a whitetail, this is the best choice of broadhead for you and have long been favorites of those seeking to bring down elk, mule deer, and bear. The added durability means they can last more than one shot and be re-used year after year, provided you keep them sharp!
Fixed Blade Broadheads
A fixed blade broadhead has blades that are permanently extended and do not fold or move in any way. Since they feature less moving parts, they are considered to be more durable and have a longer usable life than Expandable broadheads. It’s a contentious subject when you begin asking if these penetrate better or leave a better wound channel than an Expandable broadhead but hunters have used fixed blade designs for most of human history. They are commonly available in either chisel or cut-on-contact designs.
The predominant setback of a fixed blade is that, with their blades permanently exposed, they are more likely to cause accidental cuts to the hunter. This is the most common injury every deer season and especially true for tree-stand hunters who tend to be in cramped spaces. The exposed blades are also more prone to rubbing against other blades or the inside of the quiver which can often cause dulling if one is not studious in their placement.
Expandable broadheads feature some mechanism that allows the blades to remain folded in until impact. On impact, the blades will either deploy using a spring or be pushed out by the kinetic force of penetration. Nearly all broadheads of this type will be a chisel point design. Where the fixed blade design had no moving parts, Expandable broadheads will require maintenance and checking each season to make sure they still function.
The addition of moving parts does increase the chance of breaking but with the blade’s cutting edge neatly folded away, both the hunter and the sharpened edge remain protected. With thousands of hunters using Expandable broadheads each year, none have reported any difference in penetration unless there is a failure on impact and the blades to not deploy. The primary advantage of using an Expandable broadhead is their flight pattern which is more like a standard field point, requiring less tuning of your bow to get on target.
Removable Blade Broadheads
The middle ground when it comes to safety and durability is a broadhead in which the blades can be removed until needed, keeping them sharp and protecting the hunter. Though not as common as they once were, these broadheads are still available and still quite popular. The added benefit that you can often buy just the blades instead of the whole broadhead makes these a very good option for those seeking long-term use.
Blades may still be damaged by bone strikes but are easily replaceable and are often more easily sharpened since you don’t have any other blades in the way. The most common issue is that occasionally a blade may become lodged in your target when the arrow is removed, making the butchering process a little riskier. With very rare exceptions, you will not find a removable blade broadhead with a cut on contact point. The logistics of the blade removal almost dictates that it will be a chisel point design.
OTHER BROADHEAD CONSIDERATIONS
Once you have landed on the type of broadhead you want, it’s time to explore options. You will need to look at weight, blade shape and quantity, and the overall profile of the broadhead. These will need to be considered alongside the game you are after in order to make the best choice.
Your first consideration should be weight which used to be about the trickiest thing to nail down. It can still be tough if you use a recurve or traditional style bow but is comparatively easy with today’s modern compounds. All things equal, a stiffer arrow can handle a heavier broadhead than a more flexible one. If you are shooting a traditional bow, the more center shot your bow is, the heavier broadhead it can handle.
For compound bows, which are relatively if not perfectly center shot, your best guide is your arrow material. Use a 100 gr broadhead with carbon shafts or thinner aluminum. For thicker aluminum and heavier arrows, use a 125 gr broadhead. As long as you are close, you can finesse the arrows on target as you tune your bow. Broadheads of 150 gr or heavier are best reserved for the most powerful bows with very stiff arrows and a lot of power.
If you are using a traditional bow or one that is far off-center shot, the best advice is to seek out a professional at your local hunting store. There are so many factors to consider, it is best not left to guesswork and those who lack experience.
Broadheads come in two, three, or four blades and each has its place. All can be quite effective in its own niche. More blades will often create a larger wound channel but will require more care. A two-bladed broadhead will be much easier to sharpen than one with four blades.
Typically a two bladed broadhead will be narrower and have longer and thicker cutting surfaces than one with more blades. The added mass per blade also makes them a little more damage resistant should your arrow strike a hard surface. Since they are profiled more closely to a field point, they will often tune easier.
Broadheads with three blades are the standard option and are thought to cause better wounding and less chance of an animal running after it is hit. The physics are simple, that more blades will cause more muscle damage to the animal and leave a larger hole. The shape also lends is self well to not being knocked out of the animal as it runs, keeping the wound open.
Occasional broadheads with four or more blades are available, usually with two primary blades and the remainder being smaller, secondary blades. These will often produce a large wound channel but with the additional weight of the extra blades, cutting surfaces are often shorter and less durable. Some see these as gimmicky while others swear by them.
The overall shape of the broadhead may be more a factor in wound size and depth of penetration than any other factor. There is a large diversity of broadheads with shapes ranging from those reminiscent of Native American stone heads all the way to broadheads that resemble modern fighter jets.
A slimmer profile will have more mass to devote to the cutting surface, making it more durable. If you are hunting small game, these are your best choice to prevent too much damage to your meat or striking organs you would prefer not to hit. Some people choose a slimmer model when hunting game with denser muscle such as bull elk or bear to ensure they get maximum penetration.
Broader profiled blades will cause a larger wound and lead to an animal bleeding out more quickly should you have a less than perfect hit. They have less mass per blade and can be damaged more easily but some see that as an acceptable trade-off. For hunting young bucks or other soft tissue animals, these will work great.
TUNING YOUR BOW FOR BROADHEADS
It’s amazing how few hunters take the time to properly tune their bows, much to the detriment of their chances of bringing home their quarry. Taking the time to do it right will lead to much better results and can be quite a satisfying afternoon. It gets you used to your bow and the feel and weight of the broadhead arrows you will be using. Don’t skip this step!
The first step to tuning a bow is to sight it in with field points. Adjust your sights and rest until you can get a satisfying group of arrows at your point of aim. When this is done, shoot a solid group at an unused target, mark the outline of the group, and remove your arrows from the target. This prevents damage to your broadheads from striking other arrows.
Move on to shooting a few broadheads, two will work but I prefer three. If they hit in the same group as your field points, you are done. Skip the rest of these steps. If not, start adjusting your arrow rest until you are hitting the same area as the field points. Leave your sights alone during this step and don’t worry about hitting the bullseye. The goal is to get a consistent point of impact with field points and broadheads. Accuracy comes later.
Once you have your arrows flying in the same path with broadheads and field points, it's time to adjust your sights. Starting with the vertical adjustments, get your arrows to group in a line directly left or right of the bullseye. Then move on to the lateral adjustments until you are right on target. I prefer to shoot two field points and two broadheads each time I move my sights to make sure they are still grouping well.
Once you have a solid group, you are done. If at any point your field points and broadheads drift apart, make sure your arrow rest is solidly in place and start over. Taking a little extra time here will only improve your chances in the field.
If you cannot get your arrows on target no matter what you do, check your peep sight if you use one. Make sure you are following good archery fundamentals and drawing to the same anchor every time. If nothing else works, get a reputable shop to check your arrow spine and make sure its suitable for your bow. A bow that is less center shot will require a more flexible arrow than one that is more center shot.
If your broadheads and field points will not group together, make sure your arrows are the appropriate type for the weight of your broadheads. Consider trying a lighter broadhead or in a worst-case scenario, a heavier, stiffer arrow.
Sometimes a bow with a twisted cable can throw arrows one way or another, making it nearly impossible to hit the target. Always check the function of your bow and look for damaged strings, pulleys, and limbs. Safety should be paramount, you should always check your bow for damage. Not only is it safer but will also make tuning your bow easier.
BROADHEAD CARE AND MAINTENANCE
A broadhead that is dull, bent, or otherwise damaged will not function properly. Take the time to learn how to maintain your broadheads both at home and in the field. It takes minutes of care to improve your chances of scoring a solid hit that will bring down your game. A sharp, straight broadhead will cause a larger wound, bleeding out the animal quicker and killing it more humanely. It will also leave a better blood trail should the animal run.
Any time we talk about something with a blade, sharpening will be the first step in proper maintenance. It can be a challenge when talking about blades that are often small and grouped closely together. Having removable blades makes the job much easier but even with broadheads with numerous blades, you can sharpen them with a little practice.
At home, I recommend using a high-quality sharpener instead of one of the pocket versions. A standard whetstone or flat diamond stone can work well provided it is narrow enough to get between the blades. Alternatively, you can use a diamond or ceramic rod. The Spyderco Sharpmaker is a great sharpener that works well with broadheads. No matter what you use, keep your angle shallow and follow the bevels to prevent a weak edge.
In the field, a pocket sharpener is great to touch up rough edges and make sure your blades are honed to a razor sharpness. Always buy one that is specifically designed to sharpen broadheads. The angles are more acute than knives and using the wrong sharpener can cause rounded over edges. Avoid those meant to sharpen multiple blades at a time which may or may not be effective on your specific broadhead. Get one that is intended to sharpen each blade independently such as those made by Lansky, G5, or Allen.
Check for Damage
Broadheads that are damaged should be replaced. Badly nicked blades can throw off the point of impact and rusty blades can be impossible to sharpen. Check to make sure the head is secure and does not wobble when you attempt to move it.
If you are using Expandable broadheads, make sure the folding mechanism is in good order and that the arrow stays closed when not in use. Make sure the blades deploy fully when they should and to not seize up half way open or not open at all. If the blades hang up or will not stay closed, replace the broadhead.
If your broadheads feature removable blades, make sure they are straight and undamaged. Replace any blades that aren’t perfect or use them to practice with. Buy extra replacement blades when you buy your broadheads to make sure you have the appropriate model.
Don’t limit yourself to just checking your broadheads. Make sure your arrows are straight and free of cracks, bulges, or other deformation. Make sure the fletchings are secure and undamaged. Check the nock is properly aligned and firmly in place. Tug the arrowhead to make sure the threaded insert is still solid. Check that arrowheads screw and unscrew without becoming crooked. Replace any arrows that are not fit for use in hunting.
Though it is possible to safely install broadheads with a pair of pliers, you risk damaging or even breaking the blades. Invest in a good broadhead wrench, they are very affordable and a great way to preserve your investment. Never attempt to install broadheads by hand.
Always tighten your broadheads fully into the threaded insert. Some people use a small amount of blue Loctite to make sure things stay in place but it probably isn’t necessary if you use a broadhead wrench and make sure everything is tightened well. Overtightening can cause damage to the head or arrow so keep it under control!
Though bow hunting is not nearly so complicated as many seem to make it, it is important to give yourself every advantage. Modern hunting bows, arrows, and tips are state of the art, durable products. The learning curve is much shallower than it used to be. Use these tips to improve your odds.
Standard vs Crossbow Broadheads
Though it is possible to shoot most standard broadheads in a crossbow, it is not advisable to shoot a crossbow broadhead in a standard bow. Most crossbow broadheads are heavier and shorter than those used in a bow and can make tuning your bow very difficult. Though it is unlikely to damage anything, your best performance will be with the appropriately designed head in a grain weight of 100 - 125 gr. For bows with a lot of power, you may fair ok with crossbow broadheads but why chance it?
If this is your first bow hunting season, buy some extra broadheads specifically for practice. Never practice with broadheads or arrows intended for hunting. After your first season, use damaged broadheads as practice heads as you buy new ones. No matter how tuned your bow, a broadhead will always shoot slightly different than a field point. Make sure you use them under different conditions, temperatures, and wind as each factor will affect how your arrow flies.
Keep Broadheads Clean
Most modern broadheads are made of stainless steel but it is stain-LESS not stain-PROOF steel. It will rust. Always clean a broadhead after removing from an animal, the dirt, or a wayward tree. Lightly oiling broadheads before storage is a good idea. Broadhead cases are great for transporting broadheads but poor for long-term storage where they can hold moisture. If you must store broadheads in a case, always store them with a desiccant to keep them dry and free of corrosion.
Consider your Hunting Spot
Though you should always consider your backstop when hunting, a bullet is not an investment, arrows and broadheads are. The last thing you want is a miss where your arrow is lost in the weeds. Consider your shooting angles and what the arrow may hit to avoid damaged or lost investments.
Also, make sure you are on public land that allows hunting or that you have permission to be on the land you are using. The cops can make for a tense situation and a very bad day.
Check your Local Laws
The regulations for bow hunting, arrow weights, and broadheads differ from state to state. Always check with your local Fish and Wildlife agency to make sure you are in compliance. Those regulations are put in place to keep hunting safe and to allow you to succeed. Nothing will ruin a good trip more than a citation from the local game warden.
Hunt in your Comfort Zone
Remember that you don’t have to jump straight into hunting bear or elk. Start where you are comfortable. The range is a great place! You can always hunt larger game when you are more confident. Turkey and whitetail deer are great starters before moving on to bigger game.
When in Doubt Get Professional Help
If all else fails, check with your local archery or hunting clubs, or seek out a professional at your local hunting store. Most will be more than glad to help with advice, product suggestions, or just hunting stories. Building a relationship with these people is a great way to get the scoop on prime hunting locations, new gear, and even find hunting buddies to help as a guide when you are just starting out.
The first year you take a deer or other large game with a bow is a year you will always remember. Unlike a gun, a bow is more tactile. You feel everything and every part move. You are using your body as a tool. It is one of the more challenging hunting experiences but it is, by far, the most satisfying.
When you have everything set just the way you want it with a perfectly tuned bow, your mind in the game, and the best broadheads you can enter the woods confident. Ready to hunt. You can call back to your ancestors, be they Native Americans or the steppe hunters of eastern Europe and tell them that you stand with them. That you are a hunter. Aim true and good luck!