If you want to end your -(and everyone else's)- search for the all time best, nastiest, killin’-est, best-flying, best penetrating, wound-channeling, exit-holing, bucket-of-red-paint-blood-trail-leavin’ broadhead out there, all you have to do is simply ask your hunting buddies…..because every one of them has a quiver-full of them and will swear by them.
So, if you have a hundred hunting buddies, that means you’ll get a hundred different answers. But that doesn't help us much, now does it?
To make things a little simpler in our quest for the perfect tip to our bowhunting setups, I have done the research for all of us and the results are officially in! After years of pains-taking research, I have found that the perfect hunting broadhead is…(drumroll)…...well, there is no such thing.
The closest end-all finale to this debate can best be summed up in these terms: The best broadhead on the market today for you to use is the one that you can confidently, successfully and consistently shoot well, with minimal loss. And that takes a lot of time experimenting with, practicing with, and tuning your entire ensemble, from the archer behind it (you), to the tip of the arrow itself, long before you ever set first foot afield. Whether you are outfitted from stem to stern with the latest, most technologically advanced bow gear available today, or whether you were a native American Indian, prowling in the underbrush step by step closer to a buffalo with no more than stick and string, topped off with a crude stone arrowhead, the one constant that consistently brings success and quick, humane kills above all else is deadly, pin-point accuracy.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but I have seen more than one would-be successful bowhunter head for his stand with a quiver full of ‘no-names’ that he thought he’d “give a try” this season just because they got five star reviews on the Cabelas website. There's a lot more to selecting the right broad heads for yourself than just plucking a pack off the archery pro shop shelf just because they had the coolest looking lime-green anodized ferrules.
Broad head Types
Broad heads can basically be divided into two main categories; fixed blade and mechanical. Fixed blade heads have, as their name suggests, in most cases up to four stationary, or fixed, razor blades attached to the ferrule (the main body of the head to which the blades connect). Fixed blade broadheads with replaceable blades have blades which are attached to, and held in place on the ferrule, by some form of locking mechanism which differs from manufacturer to manufacturer.
After use, the blades can be detached, disposed of, and replaced with new. The other type of fixed blade head is one whose blades and ferrule are constructed as either one solid piece of select metal (usually stainless or carbon steel), or are welded together to form the head. These broadheads can either be re sharpened to be used again, or disposed of after use, depending upon the extent of damage incurred.
Mechanical broadheads are those that employ blades that are stowed in a pre-loaded, semi-deployed position by some form of retaining system (rubber O rings or metal clip) prior to being shot. Once shot from the bow, these heads fly through the air in the stowed position. Upon the instant of impact with the target, the locking mechanism releases the blades, deploying them, and they then arguably work the same as a fixed blade in creating the entry hole, wound channel, and exit hole. The major advantage and justification for these mechanical heads is flight characteristics. Since they fly with their blades stowed, they have nothing to wind plane or compete for flight control, so they basically fly very similar to a field tip.
There is a large variety of different manufacturers, styles and types of each category of broad heads on the market today to choose from. The biggest decision you will make will be between fixed or mechanical heads. While this decision is entirely personal and there as many philosophies and reasons out there leaning towards either category as there are bowhunters, the primary factor influencing your final choice should be made for you by what flies truest with your bow and arrow rig, and that includes crucial factors, such as design, number of blades, and grain weight.
Broad Head Design Choice
This is where things can start to get a little tricky, not so much because of the vast number of opinions (either informed or misinformed) out there, but because of the general lack of matching a certain design with good performance. For example, two years ago, during a period of time when I was doing some fairly intense self-study on several different broadheads I liked, I learned a valuable lesson. I will note here that I am, and always have been, a major proponent of fixed blade, cut-on-contact broad heads, -(more on why later).
While testing a certain brand of this type compared to several others of similar design, I noticed some inconsistencies in arrow flight while target practicing. The desired groups just weren't there. Despite my findings, and better judgment, I ‘liked’ the design of this particular broadhead so well that I continued on to hunt with them that fall until a few consecutive misses and poorly placed shots led to some unfavorable results. I finally decided to stop being so stubborn and switch to one of the other ‘less favorite’ but better shooting, more accurate heads.
My results afterwards in the woods spoke volumes of that decision. You should constantly evaluate and ‘listen to’ your equipment. If a certain broadhead does not perform well for you during training, what makes you think things will get better for you on a cold November morning with every muscle trembling from cold and nerves as you draw back? Remember, pin-point accuracy is key and should never be sacrificed.
Some other things to consider are; what type of game will you be hunting, where will you be hunting (distances, open field, thick woods from a tree stand), arrow design and weight, and bow draw weight setting. All will affect the trajectory and performance of the arrow/head combination.
There are several different types of broad head design available, almost to the point of the number of choices being overwhelming. Equal in number are the many experiments and tests that have been done with different designs and their performance through various materials including ballistic gelatin, wood, metal, simulated bone, and in at least one known case, actual animal tissue!
Fixed Blade Heads
A gentleman named Dr. Ed Ashby, (you can read more about the specifics of his fascinating, in-depth research and findings at www.alaskabowhunting.com; it will change how you perceive the wound channeling process; at least it did for me), has studied the dynamics of arrow penetration for some 25 years, including doing so on actual animal carcasses for the most realism.
According to his mesmerizing work and findings, the absolute most lethal combination for a big game broadhead employs a fixed, two-blade, single bevel, cut-on-contact design that has as close to a three-to-one ratio as possible. The mechanical advantage and bone-splitting ability gained from the specific design of this traditional style head is undeniable and very compelling. From this research, he has developed his Tanto Ashby Head, which you can again see and read about on his website above.
They are expensive, I must warn you, but the price will quickly pale when compared to the benefits you may reap. I personally tend to err on the side of overkill. I’m already at a disadvantage just by being in the woods with a bow, so I want the most lethal part of my set up, the broad head, to afford me the best of all worlds.
Broadheads similar to this design but not as destructive to your wallet may include Muzzy's new for 2010 Phantom MX 2 Blade, and the Steel Force Phat Head, neither of which have a single bevel cut like the Ashby head, but do offer the two blade, cut-on-contact design.
Continuing with the cut-on-contact design concept, but in a three blade head, are the likes of the G5 Montec, Magnus Snuffer, and the broadhead I personally use and highly recommend, the Woodsman Elite from 3 Rivers Archery, to name a few.
As for mechanical blade selection, I personally have no experience with shooting or hunting with them because I am not a fan, so I cannot advocate them from anymore than a vicarious bystander's viewpoint.
These heads are certainly not to be discounted, as many hunters have success with them, and their field tip-like flight is certainly the virtuous part of their equation. Given the nature of the design of these heads, there is some give and take that you don't have with a fixed blade head, and goes to serve as some of the argument for and against; for instance, in trade for the superior flight characteristics the pre-deployed mechanical offers, it must sacrifice a fraction of the arrow's kinetic energy to facilitate its opening upon impact.
This small subtraction is negligible, especially given the arrow speeds achieved from most of today's speed bows, but is still worth mentioning. Then, upon the instant of target impact, there is always the ever-so-small but present possibility of mechanical failure of the blades, or worse, just one, causing a glancing hit and wounded game. Nonetheless, manufacturers of these mechanicals have gone above and beyond to minimize these infrequent mishaps, and some have stood out as being among the best.
Perhaps one of the most used mechanicals out today is Field Logic's Rage, and for good reason. These two or three blade units boast a reliable slip cam that deploys the razors rearward, unlike any other design, and are among the most wide expanding cutting diameters. Again, you won't find me personally shooting them (or any other mechanical), but several bowhunting friends of mine swear by them and have shown me some kill pictures of absolutely incredible exit holes, (and I do mean that these entry and exit holes are something you must actually see to believe).
I guess the theory here is that even if you error a little left or right on your shot placement, you’re going to have a lethal shot just by virtue of the shear size of the hole and subsequent blood loss and trail it produces.
One particular mechanical unit that bears mentioning from a very reputable company that has been around for a while is New Archery Products’ Bloodrunner. These solidly built heads deploy out and rearward, and are as close to fail-proof as you may get with a mechanical. With razors stowed, the heads have a 1 1/8” diameter. When deployed, they jump out to an impressive 2 1/16”. So, even if they somehow fail, you’re still getting a full 1 1/8” hole. Even I could live with those odds. The Swhacker is another deadly mechanical worth a second look also, with its two sets of backwards-flipping razors and needle sharp bone-penetrating tip.
Broad heads can typically range from 85 all the way up to over 300 grains (generally geared towards the traditional crowd). The typical broadhead weight (measured in grains) used for white-tailed deer hunting is 100 to 150 grains, with 100 grains being generally accepted as more than enough to do the job. Some archers may prefer to increase the grain weight of their heads to increase the ‘forward of center’ (F.O.C.) balance of the arrow and broadhead unit.
The thinking behind this centers around the concept of ‘loading’ the weight on the arrow further forward, towards the tip, to increase the mechanical advantage of the projectile. Think of a flatbed tractor-trailer. If we were to load a pallet of cinder block on the flatbed trailer in the dead center portion of the bed, and then drive that tractor trailer through a large ribbon stretched across the road at a given speed, the weight/mass of the tractor trailer and cinder block would drive it through the ribbon. Now, if we were to reload that same tractor trailer with the same pallet of block, only this time, load the pallet as far forward on the flatbed as possible, and then drive through that sane ribbon at the same speed, the truck would penetrate the ribbon with a substantially greater initial force.
It's the same principle with an arrow. The more forward of center towards the arrow tip that it is weight-loaded, the better able the projectile is able to produce a mechanical advantage to make use of its available kinetic energy.
So, many bowhunters, myself included, step up their broadhead weight to accomplish this principle. *It should be noted here that, if you do decide to do this, it entirely changes the dynamics of your set up, and you will have to re-target and tune your bow to the new input.
No one yet has developed the ultimate, end-all broadhead that is perfect for every archer to use with every set up, for all game types, all of the time. If that was the case, then there would only be one shelf or row of broadhead packages at your local archery store and they’d be constantly sold out. Rather, it is up to us as responsible, ethical bowhunters to engage ourselves in the sport enough to train thoroughly and become intimately familiar enough with our equipment to know what works best with our specific set up. No two are exactly alike.
So in summary, no matter what heads you choose to dress your arrow tips with this fall, practice with them until you can achieve consistent groups and then can consistently make your first ‘cold’ shot the best one. It's that level of pin point accuracy, no matter what design you choose, that will ultimately be the difference between dragging a trophy out of the woods, or just your bottom lip.