Wide-cutting broadheads can benefit whitetail recovery — or hinder quick kills. Choosing the one that works best for you and your bow is critical.
I don’t consume a lot of outdoor television/video, but when I do I’ve invariably come away struck by how little penetration many of the kill shots depicted show. In typical TV/video fashion, a drool- inducing buck saunters leisurely before the camera, our hero shoots said buck and the deer crashes out of sight — with 25 inches of a 29-inch arrow wagging grotesquely. Some of these deer fall in sight. Most do not. I spent enough time behind outdoor-television cameras to question some particulars of the later, but let’s not get into that.
What troubles me in these scenes is the complete lack of penetration I see resulting from modern compound bows wielded by grown men. I do regular empirical bow tests in my capacity as an archery-equipment writer. I test very few bows today producing less than 75 to 80 foot-pounds of kinetic energy (fpe) (ATA standard = 70 pounds @30 inches), or more than double the energy produced by the average traditional bows of, say, Fred Bear’s era.
Granted, ATA standards are a mite hefty by stand-hunting standards, but even at the modest 50 pounds @30 inches I’ve adopted since shoulder surgery last spring, I’m blasting through big game — with fixed-blade heads I’m obligated by law to employ in Idaho, where I live.
TWO HOLES ARE BETTER THAN ONE
I feel like I’m repeating myself — heck, I am repeating myself — when I say, in bowhunting two holes are always better than one, especially when shooting at deer from elevated positions. Without complete penetration, a high entrance hole without a lower exit can translate into a quick kill but no trailing blood left behind. This becomes problematic in situations including rain and/or wet snow, or nasty-thick vegetation. It becomes more emphatic when less-than-ideal shots occur — string-jumping or jitters, take your pick.
And this doesn’t even begin to address the growing ranks of youth and women bowhunters entering our sport, whose physical dimensions and abilities automatically limit energy delivery. As bowhunters in general grow older (revealed by recent demographic studies), more of us will land in the boat I now occupy, shooting fewer pounds by physical necessity.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m admittedly conservative in my bowhunting views, but not so antiquated that I refuse to shoot mechanical broad- heads. I was packing for an Illinois bowhunt as I wrote this. The arrows for that foray were tipped with a popular mechanical model — one with cut-on-contact tip and conservative cutting diameter to facilitate my bum shoulder and lowered draw weight.
The shorter your draw length (thus power stroke), the lighter your draw weight and the lighter your finished arrow, the less energy you’ll deliver on target. Less energy equals less penetration. But there’s more: The wider a broadhead’s cutting diameter, the more blades it holds, and the less efficient it is (deployed blades that chop instead of slice, for instance), the less penetration you’ll get.
My worry is that many bowhunters choose broadheads — mechanicals in particular — rather randomly, without consideration of the energy capabilities of their equipment. I always hesitate to offer hard-line rules, but in this case it seems indicated.
Youth and women shooters/draw lengths less than 27 inches; draw weights less than 45 pounds; finished arrow weights less than 350 grains: I’d recommend avoiding mechanical heads altogether here, instead choosing efficient, cutting-tip fixed-blade or even true cut-on-contact designs.
Low draw length/weight shoot- ers/draw lengths less than 28 inches; draw weights 50 to 55 pounds; finished arrows weighing less than 375 grains: Choose a conservative mechanical with a cutting diameter less than 13⁄4 inches, holding a cutting tip and deployed blades that slice instead of chop.
Average bowhunters/draw length 28 to 29 inches; draw weight 60 to 65 pounds; finished arrow weighing 400 to 425 grains: Cutting diameters up to 2 inches, or slightly more, in two-blade designs, and up to 13⁄4-inch in three-blade models, are fine, especially models with efficient designs.
Heavy-weight rigs/draw length 29-plus inches, draw weight 70-plus; finished arrows weighing 400 to 425 grains: These shooters can shoot “magnum” mechanicals with 2-plus inch cutting diameters and aggressive attack angles.
Modern crossbows: The sky’s the limit — within reason. Of course, when heavy bone is encountered or angles steepen, all bets are off.
The mechanical debate is as dead as disco. Mechanicals are field-point accurate and absolutely deadly when sent to the right spot. Yet it’s still important to consider all factors carefully before choosing a specific design; one best matched to your equipment’s true capabilities.