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Arrow Broadheads: A Definitive Guide

Broadhead Arrows: A Definitive Guide

Sporting razor-sharp blades often with serrated edges, the broadhead arrow tip features a wide cutting point assembly and is easily attached to most arrow shafts. They come in a wide variety of designs, sizes, and qualities, so picking the right arrow for the task at hand is an important decision you will have to make.

Because of their popularity and the detail that goes into crafting each tip, broadheads can be very expensive, so quality is one of the most important factors when it comes to selecting the right tool for the job. Good arrowheads can last through many hunts, and even withstand ballistic impact with a hard surface like trees and gravel.

Types Of Broadheads

If you were to approach a group of archers or bow hunters and ask them what their favorite arrow or arrowhead is, you would likely get a hundred different answers. It comes down to personal preference, experience, shooting environment, and the type of prey being hunted.

Most arrowheads fall into three main categories:

Below I will go into more depth about each of these types, and their pros and cons.

Fixed Blade Tips

Fixed blade tips are arguably the most common among the broadhead family, and can be used to hunt just about anything. Fixed blade tips are rather self-explanatory.

They’ve been around since metal arrowheads were first crafted in the middle ages to pierce through the plate and chainmail armor of unlucky knights and warriors, and while they’ve evolved significantly since then, the concept remains the same- a solid, triangular, shape-edged metal arrowhead that will pierce through tough surfaces and wreak havoc on its victims vitals.

The modern fixed blade has become far more lightweight and is usually crafted from high-carbon hardened steel and utilize razor sharp edges to slice through flesh like butter.

Fixed Blade Tip

Fixed blade tips are favored primarily for their reliability. They’re as simple as arrow heads get, and don’t rely on the fancy spring mechanisms of expandable blade tips, or the lock-in features of interchangeable blade tips.

If a hunter comes upon a prize buck that they’ve been dreaming of for months or years, they might not want to risk the slight chance that their arrowhead malfunctions mid-flight and allows their prey to escape with little to no damage, and the stamina to run for miles at a time.

This reliability, however, can sacrifice form. The major con of fixed heads lies in the fact that they take up more surface area while flying through the air at 300 feet-per-second. Arrows are already prone to be more affected by air and wind speed than a bullet because of their size, but adding on a wide-tipped head that catches air can increase the chance of your projectile missing its mark.

Proponents of fixed blade tips often recommend practicing shooting in poor conditions so that when the time comes, you’re are familiar with wind variability and can adjust your technique accordingly.

Pros

Cons

  • ​Strong and Reliable
  • ​Inexpensive
  • ​Easy to maintain and sharpen
  • ​Fixed blades cause wind drag and can slow down the arrow.
  • ​Larger blades can catch wind and be blown off-course
  • ​Can require more practice to use effectively

Interchangeable And Removable Blade Tips

Interchangeable tips are essentially fixed blade arrow tips but offer the convenience of allowing the archer to switch out the blades at will.

This has many benefits, first of which is that it takes away the hassle of having to sharpen your tips. While some archers find this therapeutic, many regards it as time-consuming. With interchangeable tips, all you need is to unscrew the dull blades, and you have a brand new arrow tip in less than a minute.

Interchangeable And Removable Blade Arrowtips

Another benefit is that it allows you to change blade sizes depending upon the prey you are hunting without having to purchase an array of new heads, which can be rather expensive in the long run. You wouldn’t, for example, want to hunt small game with a broadhead tip designed to bring down a 400-pound buck. You would be lucky to have a body to show for it.

The third reason is for safety and storage. Bow hunters often hike miles through unforgiving territory to get to their hunting grounds, and one small slip or trip-up could result in their quiver coming loose along with its deadly cargo.

A loose razor blade can do plenty of damage even when it’s not traveling at high speeds. Many hunters prefer to hike out to their preferred location before attaching their heads.

Pros

Cons

  • ​Options for varying blade size
  • ​No need for sharpening and maintenance
  • ​Blades can be easily removed for safety while traveling or in storage
  • ​The blades are still fixed while in-flight and can cause drag or catch the wind.
  • ​Since the blades are not directly forged to the head, they can weaken or shatter upon contact

Mechanical Tips

Mechanical broadheads feature a sharp point on a small spring-loaded cylinder. When the arrow makes contact with the target, the kinetic energy transfer causes the spring to release and razor-sharp blades snap out of the cylinder and open up inside of the target.

The best selling point of mechanical tips is their speed and accuracy. Because the blades are hidden during flight, the arrow flies just like a field tip and doesn’t catch the wind and slow down or become moved off its path like its fixed-blade relative.

Another feature of these tips is that because the blades never expand until actual contact and aren’t affected by the wind, there is more flexibility to offer the option of extra-wide blades. These expansive blades can wreak destruction on large game and leave intense blood trails which make tracking the downed prey easier.

Mechanical Arrowheads Tips

However, as I previously mentioned, since these mechanical tips rely on a spring mechanism, they can sometimes fail to open on impact. Sometimes a faulty spring is an issue, but another more common occurrence is a lack of kinetic energy. Half-drawn shots or short range shots often don’t provide the impact speed necessary for the spring to release.

While loved by many hunters, and certainly a dangerous addition to your arsenal, mechanical tips can be very expensive because of their tiny parts and the engineering required to assemble them. Also, the small deployable blades, as well as the spring mechanisms, can become weakened over time with multiple impacts, requiring the whole broadhead to be replaced.

Pros

Cons

  • ​Lower in-flight profile increases speed
  • ​Improved accuracy
  • ​The option for extra-wide blades
  • ​Spring mechanism can become faulty or fail to open in close range situations.
  • ​Blades can fail over time as they are not directly forged to the head.
  • minusExpensive

What Type Of Broadhead Should I Use?

Now that we’ve gone over your options and the various pros and cons of them, you may be thinking, “Well that’s all well and good, but what do you recommend?”

It all comes down to the environment you’ll be hunting or shooting in, the type of game you’re tracking, and the amount of money you’re willing to shell out.

Environment

As we all know, temperatures, climates, and winds can change at the drop of a dime. Sure, some places are always cold, or always windy, or always heavily-vegetated, but even those places can change depending on the fickle ways of our planet. This being said the environment that you’re expecting could change, so you should always be prepared and ready to adapt.

Maybe you’re hunting some small game, but you happen to cross paths with a large elk, and that rack would haunt your every dream if you let it escape. A prepared hunter would be easily able to switch to a larger broadhead and bring home his trophy.

Now that I’ve properly warned you, here are the most common types of hunting environments you’ll encounter:

  • ​Wooded Forests
  • ​Mountain Ranges
  • ​Open Plains and Prairie
  • Arctic or Tundra
  • Wooded Forests

​​​​​Forests are home to a variety of both large and small game. So, as such, you should carry a variety of sizes of broadheads, depending upon what is and isn’t in season, but remember always to follow your local hunting laws.

The nice thing about forests and other heavily-vegetated areas is there is often very little wind, so you don’t have to worry as much about your arrows being blown off-course.

This makes fixed blade tips a great option for this type of environment. In additional point to be made is that with all the additional trees, your arrow is likely to collide with a tree if you do miss a shot, and every hunter misses shots.

You are going to want an arrowhead that is sturdy enough to withstand hard impacts, and fixed blade broadheads with their forged structure are your best bet in this environment.

Mountain Ranges

Mountain Ranges, like forests, are also home to a wide variety of game. The foothills are often wooded and are home to elk, deer, and certain species of bear. As you ascend, the chances of finding a big mountain buck or goats increases, as does the wind.

Mountain Range Hunting

A massive challenge for hunting in this environment (other than the hiking involved) is dealing with the intense winds that can whip down the mountain-side.

Because of this, mechanical tips are ideal. You want fast, accurate, and low-profile. As we discussed above, the mechanical tips fly straighter and faster because they pick up less wind with their hidden blades.

Open Plains And Prairie

Deer will usually be your prey of choice in the open plains. You will have to do a lot more tracking through the grasses, and spend some time stalking the deer as opposed to wooded areas where you will mainly be waiting for the deer to come to you.

Open Plains And Prairie Hunting

You will have an open field of sight and no large obstacles. Your main enemy will be the winds, making this another great environment for mechanical broadheads.

You will usually have to shoot your target from a farther range due to lack of cover, which means you will also greatly benefit from the mechanical tips’ high-flying abilities.

Arctic Tundra

Arctic caribou and reindeer will be your primary targets in the Arctic Tundra. These animals are thick-skinned and as such a wide-tipped broadhead will be best for this environment.

Arctic Tundra Hunting

The wind can really blow on the tundra, so you might want to opt for a mechanical tip in this environment as well, although there is a pretty high chance that you’ll lose any shot you miss to the snow dunes, so depending on your funds you might want to opt for a less expensive fixed blade broadhead.

How To Tune Your Broadheads

You’ve just gone to shoot your new broadheads and find that your results are pointedly different from your practice session using field points. This means that it’s time to hit the range again and do some tuning. The best distance for tuning your broadheads is usually right around 30 yards.

Here are the basic steps:

  • ​To form an initial control group, shoot a group of four field tips at your target. Make sure your bow is properly sighted and your arrows are straight.
  • ​Now, using the broadheads that you wish to test, shoot another group of four arrows and attempt to hit the same spot as your control group. If they hit the same grouping, then your new broadheads are tuned and ready to hunt with. If not, then you’ll want to make small adjustments to the arrows shooting position.
  • ​Once you’ve got your broadheads hitting right, go back and shoot the field tips again. The goal is to have both your broadheads and field heads flying the same. Continue to make adjustments until both arrows are flying congruently.
  • chevron-circle-rightOnce both arrows are flying together, and landing the same grouping, you are ready to go!

​​​​Tuning is an important part of archery that can easily be neglected for the simple fact that it can be tedious. It takes skill to be able to group shots in the first place, and many people will chock off the tuning process as a novelty, disregarding its importance.

I would argue that tuning is one of the most important things that you can do to improve your chances of a quick kill. Outright misses are almost heartbreaking, and poorly placed shots usually result in the animal escaping and wandering for hours at a time before it dies.

A properly tuned setup is necessary if you are to have the best chance of success.

How To Install Broadhead Tips

Since you’re dealing with an arrowhead that’s sharper than a razor and designed to cut through even the thickest skin, it’s not a good idea to try screwing on a broadhead tip with your bare hands. Luckily, they make special “tip holders” for this purpose.

They are made out of a hardened plastic and usually slip right over your arrowhead like a sleeve. You can grip the covered part by hand and simply screw your head onto the arrow shaft.

If you are unable to find a tip holder for your particular arrow, many hunters also recommend using a pair of needle-nose pliers, and lightly gripping the tip to screw the head on. If you do opt to use a pair of pliers, be careful that you don’t squeeze the blades too hard.

They are very thin and can be easily cracked with too much pressure.

Removing And Replacing Interchangeable Tips

As we mentioned above, many fixed blade and mechanical broadheads feature detachable and replaceable blades. Usually, the blades are held together with a central fulcrum screw, usually an Allen head.

If you remove this screw, the blades should come out easily for cleaning or replacement. To install the new blades, simply align them with the fulcrum point in the head and tighten the screw back.

It is easy to get careless and have a blade slip during this process, so again, please remember to use appropriate protective gear (close-toed boots, thick gloves, etc.).

How To Sharpen Your Broadheads

If you’re a Do-It-Yourself kind of hunter and want to save yourself some money by sharpening your blades, then this section is for you.

Here are the tools you will need:

  • check​One black magic marker or sharpie

​Protective gear

  • check​Gloves
  • check​Safety glasses

​​Sharpening Tools

  • check​Heavy-duty steel file (recommended)
  • check​For larger blades, you can use a grinding wheel
  • check​Fine grade wet stone
  • checkMetal brush
  • checkVaseline or knife oil

​​​​​Once you have your tools, sit down in your workshop, and remove your blades as we described above. Then follow the steps as follows:

  • Take the blades and mark the cutting edge on both sides with your marker. This will establish your new cutting edge.
  • Take your file or grinding tool and file down the new edge that you just marked. Remember if you are using a file, only sharpen the blade in one direction. The file is not a piece of sandpaper, and the arrow shouldn’t be filed back and forth.
  • Once you’ve established your rough edge, put some water on your wet stone’s surface, and begin running your rough edge down the length of the stone, only going one direction.
  • Once you are satisfied with your new razor edge, take the metal brush and clean the shavings from the blade.
  • Finally, coat your new edge with a little bit of vaseline or knife oil to prevent your fresh edge from rusting.
  • Attach your fresh blades back to the head as described above, and enjoy your new and improved broadhead.

You should expect to spend right around 3 – 5 minutes per broadhead you sharpen, and it should take less than thirty minutes to complete your quiver. This is a quick and easy way to preserve your tips, can save you hundreds of dollars, and makes sure that your arrow has the cutting penetration that it needs for every hunt.

Manufacturers

There are quite a few companies that craft quality broadheads, so it’s very easy to go to a hunting store and find yourself confused or unsure of what you should purchase for your hunting expeditions. Below I will go over some of the most well-known brands and some of their features.

Rage

Rage is known for producing some of the deadliest mechanical broadheads on the market. Featuring colorful heads for easy sorting, and a wide array of designs meant for doing untold damage to your unlucky target.

Rage Logo

Most of Rage’s lineup features high-quality titanium alloy and boasts edges as sharp as  .035” (That’s 35 thousandths of an inch. Talk about a razor edge).

Grim Reaper

Grim Reaper makes both fixed blade and mechanical blade variants of broadheads. They don’t offer the color coding that rage does, but offer similar lethal power. They are famed for their wide spreading blades that can leave devastating holes and have been known to drop deer where they stand.

Grim Reaper

Muzzy

Muzzy makes both fixed and mechanical blade broadheads, but have a wider range of fixed blade tips. They are revered for their blade strength and durability. Possibly the best selling point for the Muzzy tips is their affordability.

Muzzy

Many models cost half of what their Rage or Grim Reaper counterpart. If you’re looking for affordable quality, Muzzy is your best bet.

Slick Trick

Slick Trick boasts of having “The deadliest broadhead. Period,” and their products have a reputation for living up to that. In fact last year in 2017 they won Bowhunting World Reader’s Choice Silver Award for Best Fixed Blade Broadhead.

Slick Trick

All of Slick Trick’s fixed blade broadheads feature their patented Alcatraz blade-locking system which they claim offers more exceptional durability and impact resistance.

Conclusion

We hope that this has been an informative article and has given you a good background on what to look for in broadhead arrows. Now that you’re appropriately informed please check out our Buying Guide to see our top picks for this year!

​Resources

The Economist

MassBowHunter

Archery Trade Association

South Coast Today

Wikipedia

BBC

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