Morken: Thoughts on arrow weight and broadheads after two early-season does in Minnesota
Switching to a heavier total arrow weight tipped with a 200-grain single bevel broadhead has led to better arrow penetration and overall performance than the author has ever had after years of hunting with lighter setups.
I was sifting through some old junk in my shop that had accumulated over the years when I came upon one of my old arrows this past July.
It was an Easton FlatLine in a 400-spine shaft. This thing is built for nothing more than speed, and I cringed remembering that I hunted with this arrow for whitetails about 10 years ago.
I really did not know anything about arrows at that point. These were built to be fast and hold a flat trajectory. That sounds good, right?
They shot fine out of my bow with field points, but the performance on deer was terrible. I never had a passthrough despite shooting two deer that first season at less than 15 yards.
A buck I shot in North Dakota was the final straw. I stopped this deer with a bleat at 20 yards when it was perfectly broadside. The pin settled behind the front shoulder, and the arrow disappeared right where I was aiming.
I waited an hour for a buddy to get there thinking the buck had died within seconds. We tracked it a short ways, but when we came up on it, the buck was still barely hanging onto life. I was shocked, frustrated and felt terrible.
As I butchered that deer, I examined exactly what had happened. The entrance was where I thought it was -- a few inches behind the front shoulder. The only bone I hit was ribcage, and the arrow had deflected so dramatically that it exited just in front of the far hindquarter.
This was not some sharp quartering shot. That kind of deflection should not have happened.
I know after years of shooting many deer with different arrow and broadhead combinations that it doesn’t have to happen, no matter what you might see or hear from outdoor shows sponsored by companies having to push specific arrows and broadheads. That happened because I was hunting with an incredibly light setup.
The next arrows I bought were from Victory. I equipped the 350-spine shafts with a near 50-grain insert and hunted with different 100-grain expandable broadheads across multiple seasons.
If you don’t understand spine ratings on arrows -- the easiest way to explain it is the higher the number the more flex there is in the arrow shaft. The lower the number, the stiffer it is.
What spine rating an archer should shoot is not a one-size-fits-all type of thing. There are multiple variables that go into it, including what draw weight a person is pulling, along with the total arrow weight one wants and how much of that weight is positioned forward of center (FOC) on the arrow’s shaft.
I immediately saw better results when I moved to that Victory 350-spine arrow with a little heavier insert. But I was still getting deflection at times that I could not quite understand.
Many times it did not cost me a deer. If I made a good shot, it frequently led to a quick kill, but I examine every deer I shoot looking to see if that arrow exited where it should based on the shot angle.
I should note here that every deer I have ever shot has come at less than 30 yards. The huge majority are between 15-20. I write that to clarify that I have never had a deer "jump the string" or shift their body position drastically upon releasing the arrow.
Too often there were still deflection issues where that arrow kicked slightly in the wrong direction despite hitting nothing more than ribcage. It bothered me. What if I hadn’t made a good shot? I certainly went through that a few seasons ago as I battled target panic.
I started researching some of the work done by Dr. Ed Ashby through the Ashby Bowhunting Foundation website. The Ashby Bowhunting Foundation states that it accepts no funding from the archery industry to keep its testing independent from industry influence.
The foundation’s goal is pretty straightforward -- to provide bowhunters with information to reduce the wound/non-recovery rate of big game animals through independent research considering all possible hits under real hunting conditions.
As archers, we should all be on board with that, right? More clean, quick kills on the animals we hunt is better for the hunter and better for bowhunting as a whole.
Ashby has collected data on arrow penetration through nearly 30 years of studies. He lists 12 factors that have the greatest impact on achieving optimal penetration with an arrow.
Number one on the list is the structural integrity of the arrow from the tip of the broadhead to the nock. Second is arrow flight and third is the arrow’s weight forward of center on the shaft.
I set out three years ago after a disappointing season to build a setup with those three factors in mind. Out of a bow that I’m shooting with a 60-pound draw weight and a 28-inch draw, I now shoot Victory RIP TKO arrows in a 300-spine with a 60-grain stainless steel insert and a 200-grain single-bevel broadhead. It’s a total weight of about 550 grains with a nearly 22% FOC. Never have I had better arrow flight and performance out of my arrows.
Last year was my first season shooting a single-bevel head, which is meant to give an archer optimal penetration due to its ability to rotate through hide, tissue and bone.
You might hear some people call shooting a single bevel on whitetails overkill. That it’s not necessary on a big game animal that is relatively small by comparison to say elk or moose.
I have noticed poor performance issues too many times on whitetails to agree with that, and an example of where I believe I needed it came on a hunt deep into a public-land piece on Sept. 29 of this year.
Hunting public land without the ability to trim shooting lanes often means having narrow windows of opportunity. I had a big doe slip through my small lane at 12 yards on an evening hunt last week because I did not see her coming.
That doe got downwind of me and started to blow. I had my bow in hand now, and drew back when I saw her running back my direction through the trees. I stopped her in my shooting lane when she was slightly quartering away.
I let a hectic moment get the best of me and did not make the shot I wanted to. I rushed it. My arrow impacted low and forward, but it penetrated straight through.
I ended up breaking through shoulder and the backside leg bone. That deer expired in seconds, and we found her less than 75 yards away. Moments like that where things do not go exactly right are why I'm so glad I switched to this new setup.
I took three deer last season -- one at a quartering toward angle, one quartering away and one almost perfectly broadside. All three penetrated exactly how they should have.
I made one more change this season by switching to a higher-quality steel with the 200-grain Iron Will single bevel with bleeder blades. I was eager to see how that new head would perform on an animal as I got situated in the tree for an evening hunt on Sept. 22, 2021.
Twenty minutes after settling in, I noticed a good doe coming from my left just outside of the thick bedding cover I was set up over. I drew back, stopped her slightly quartering away at 20 yards and settled the pin right behind her shoulder.
The arrow flight was perfect as it hit and penetrated straight through before embedding deep in the dirt. She trotted off 20 yards, stopped and expired in seconds.
That broadhead is one of the more expensive heads on the market. The price is honestly what made me hesitate in buying it, but it’s now sharpened and ready to use again.
Yes, you pay for high-quality arrow and broadhead setups, but they are the two most important pieces of equipment we take to the woods as archers. Going to a heavier setup with a high-quality single bevel broadhead has made me more confident in what I am shooting.