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 All About Arrows

In a previous article we introduced some of the basic information necessary for selecting your bow, but no matter what bow you select it won’t do you any good without an arrow.  There are many more factors that influence an arrows performance and as such arrow selection can be quite complicated.  Most bow manufactures will give you specifications for the type of arrow that should be used with your new bow which will give you the starting point for selecting an arrow.  However, by knowing how each element affects your arrow you will be able to increase its effectiveness.  Since this article is written primarily for the new hunter we will not discuss all the technical details, but will attempt to give the basic information regarding the elements of an arrow and its effectiveness with your bow.  This article will deal with the different kinds of arrows available, the different parts of an arrow, dynamics of arrows and how all of these affect your potential in the field.

Types of Arrows

There are four types of arrows available: Target, Competition, Hunting, traditional, and flu-flu.  Since this article is dedicated to hunters we will not discuss the first two categories except to mention here that target arrows may be used in preparation for practice in order to reserve your good arrows for your hunt.  If you use target arrows however be sure that they have the same weight as your hunting arrows or you will find a significant difference between target shooting and hunting. 

Hunting arrows are those designed purposefully for speed and impact.  These arrows will vary in their material makeup and weight depending on the hunter’s desired effect.  Heavier arrows are designed to increase the impact and ensure penetration, while lighter arrows are chosen for their increased speed and effectiveness at longer ranges. 

Traditional arrows are made of wood with feathers for fletching and used by some recurve and longbow hunters who prefer a more traditional style of hunting.  Because of the stress placed on an arrow, traditional arrows should never be used with compound bows.  Using traditional arrows can have dangerous results if fired from a compound bow. 

Flu-Flu arrows are arrows specially designed for hunting birds and only fly a short distance.  The fletching on the arrow creates drag and limits the arrows flight. 

Parts of an Arrow

                Since this article is for new hunters we feel it is necessary to explain the different parts of an arrow in order to help understand the mechanics of an arrow in flight and how this is affected by the different parts.  There are five parts to an arrow that each share to some degree in the effectiveness of the arrow: the head, spine, shaft, fletching and nock.


                The head of the arrow is probably what is most familiar to all of us, commonly referred to as the tip of the arrow.  There are however several types of tips that can be applied or inserted on the tip of the arrow shaft.  The two primary categories are field or target heads and Broad heads.  Field tips are primarily designed for target practice and competition.  Broad heads come in a variety of forms using two to four [BB1] razor blades attached to the head designed to increase maximum damage. Broad heads come in two different forms fixed and spring loaded.  Fixed are just like they sound, they remain in a fixed position on the arrow head.  Spring loaded[BB2]  broad heads are designed to remain in a closed position until impact where they open to increase damage.  The purpose behind spring loaded broad heads is to reduce friction in the closed position to increase flight and control.  

Arrow heads like the rest of the arrow are measured in grains or gr.   This is an important fact to know since the weight of an arrow head can either increase or decrease the effectiveness of your arrow.  Since broad heads are both dangerous and costly you will be able to find field tips of the same grain for target practice.  It is important to note however that fixed broad heads can alter flight patterns because of the air flow.  Using a target tip with the same weight as your intended broad head in practice will give you the same overall weight of your arrow and give you an idea how your arrow will react.  Arrow heads are interchangeable with the proper inserts or “overserts” so you can test various heads in order to meet your needs.    


                The shaft is the largest piece of the arrow.  Today’s shafts are made from wood, fiberglass, aluminum and carbon.  The shaft will be the straight piece of wood or fiberglass, or hollow tube of aluminum or carbon that all the other parts connect to.  The length of the shaft will have an effect on the flight of your arrow as well as the spine of your arrow. 

                Wood shafts are made for traditional longbows and some recurves, but should never be used in a compound bow.  Shafts are usually made from Ash, oak or yew. 

                Fiberglass shafts are a multi-purpose shaft used in target shooting as well as hunting for both a recurve and a compound bow.  Fiberglass arrows are relatively cheap and durable but can begin to splinter over time.  Fiberglass arrows should be regularly inspected to ensure safety of yourself and those around you.

                Aluminum shafts are made from a variety of alloys and are very durable.  They come as a hollow cylinder requiring inserts for attaching the nocks and arrow heads.  Aluminum arrows are favored among hunters due to their durability and rigid spines.

                Carbon shafts have the most varied selection as there are three types of carbon shafts available.  Carbon shafts are very durable, but much more expensive than any of the other types of shafts.  Shafts can be pultruded, cross-weave or composite in their production.

 Pultruded carbon arrows are unique in their construction made up of carbon fibers strung together in straight lines which prevent the arrow from being able to use inserts for attaching arrowheads.  These arrows require a different connection in order to attach the arrow head, but the attachments and various arrow heads are readily available. 

Cross weave carbon arrows enhanced on the Pultruded design by interlacing the carbon fibers to increase the arrows durability and allowing for a normal insert to be used for changing arrow heads.  

Composite carbon arrows take the advantages of the aluminum arrow and combine them with the benefits of the carbon as well.  The aluminum shaft makes up the core of the arrow and is surrounded by a carbon sheath.  The carbon helps prevent the aluminum from bending while the aluminum strengthens the carbon to keep it from shattering. 


                All shafts have a spine rating but different manufactures list their spine ratings in different ways.  You will want to talk to your local archery dealer or visit the arrow manufacturers website if you have questions regarding spine strength of a particular arrow.  Spine is a very important feature in your arrow, because if it has too little spine it can cause drastic results (wood arrows from a compound for example).  Too much spine however can cause a significant flight issues as well. 

 Spine is defined as the shaft’s resistance to bending.  However, there are a couple types of spine when discussing arrows: static and dynamic.   While the reason may seem obvious that you want an arrow that resists bending when it comes in contact with another object, the truth is that all arrows bend dramatically upon release of the bowstring.  Spine will determine the flight of the arrow.  Having a spine that is too low can cause the arrow to come in contact with the bow during release and create an incorrect flight path, but having  too much spine can slow your flight path.  The spine strength is dependent upon three factors, material stiffness, length of shaft and tip weight so there are some additional variables that can be adjusted if your spine comes in too light or heavy.  These three items and their effect on an arrow will be discussed later in this article.

                Static spine is measured by manufacturers buy placing a weight in the middle of a shaft which is supported at two specific points on the shaft.  The shaft, no matter what kind will naturally bow under this weight.  This static spine testing is the benchmark used to anticipate the effects of dynamic spine.

                Dynamic spine is the result of the arrows reaction after the string is released.  When the string is released it transfers the stored energy to the arrow.  The arrowhead weight will momentarily resist the force of the string pushing against the back end of the shaft causing the arrow to bend before its inertia forces the arrow forward.  The static spine test only gives us an idea of how much the arrow will bend because the shaft and arrowhead both affect this as well. 

To see an  example of this click the link and watch the videos of how an arrow bends:

                Shaft length is a factor in dynamic spine because the longer your arrow shaft is the easier it will bend under force.  To understand this principle take a wooden ruler and a wooden yardstick and place your palms on the ends of each of them with your palms facing inward.  Force[BB3]  your hands together and you will notice that that both items will eventually begin to bend however the ruler will require more force before it begins to bend.  The same is true with an arrows shaft.  The longer it is, the more it will bend under the force of the string and the arrowhead. 

                Arrowheads then become an additional factor, because you can change your head to a heavier or lighter grain in order to reduce or increase the bending of the arrow.  Changing the weight of your arrow head changes the overall weight of the arrow and will alter you arrow speed as well.

                The general rule when it comes to spine of your arrow is that it is better to overspine than underspine.  Underspine could cause deflection off the bow or even shatter your arrow in flight causing injury to the shooter or those around him.  Overspinning generally will not see such drastic results, but may slow your arrow down to an unacceptable speed for hunting certain game, but because there are so many variables (including bow draw weights and lengths) you should be able to find an acceptable spine limit for your bow.  The general rule for spine is it is always better to overspine.


                Fletching is the stabilizing material found near the back of the arrow.  Typically you will see them in a set of three and occasionally four, but flu-flu arrows can have up to five or six.  The fletching is designed to ensure that the arrow continues along a predictable path by correcting the bending of the arrow after it leaves the bow.  There are two types of fletching found in archery:  Feathers and vanes.

                Feathers are favored by many hunters because feathers are more forgiving in their flight, but they also increase drag which can slow the arrow down.  Arrows with feather fletching tend to fall off quickly after about 30 yards.    Feathers generally have greater stabilization for broad heads because of their surface area which produces a lot of drag controlling the arrow .  There are various viewpoints however on their effectiveness in wet weather

                Vanes are plastic tear shaped material glued to the shaft.  Generally vanes will typically be cheaper than feathers, but heavier.  Vanes tend to be more effective for longer ranges maintaining their speed and are quieter on release.  Vanes are reliable in any weather.  The argument that vanes do not compensate as well for broad heads has been debated by the size broad head use (again, a variable setting for any arrow). 

                There are three different ways to fletch an arrow which again will play a role in the arrows performance once it leaves your bow.  Fletching can be either straight, offset or Helical.

                Straight fletching is exactly as it sounds.  The typical three fletched arrows will have on fletching perpendicular to the nock then the other two fletching’s will by place symmetrically from that point.  The perpendicular fletching will be facing out when you nock your arrow to prevent contact with the bow upon release.  The fletching will be applied in a straight line following the shaft. 

                Offset fletching is fletched in straight lines that slightly angle across around the shaft instead of following the straight lines of the shaft.  Offset fletching is designed to create spin during flight.  The purpose for this is to increase stabilization in flight, but creates additional drag as it attempts to force the arrow into a spin.  Offset fletching can be done in degrees to create varied amounts of spin to help in stabilization.  Experimentation will be required to determine what spin is best for your arrow.

                Helical fletching is very similar in design to offset fletching, creating more of a spiral or wave formation.  The purpose again is to create spin and can be varied for different degrees. 


                Nocks are the notch at the back of the arrow where the string is placed.  Nocks are fairly standard because its purpose is just to hold the arrow on the string.  Most modern nocks have a slight pinch point to ensure the arrow stays on when you draw your bow.  Certain nocks are made for certain string sizes so be sure you verify the nock will fit your string properly, too tight a nock can cause issues on release, but a nock that is not secure may fall off the string as you draw your bow back.  Some nocks even have LEDs that flash after they are shot to help the shooter retrieve them easier. 

Why is all this important?

                Selecting an arrow that meets your hunting needs is not as simple as walking into a store grabbing the first item on the shelf, taking it home and using it.  Ensuring that your arrows fly true is a balancing act of a number of variables (including the bow itself).  Knowing all of this information will help you determine what you can do to increase or decrease your arrow speed and increase your accuracy.  Since we discuss Kinetic Energy (KE) in our last article, we will use it as an example of how the variables of an arrow and its parts help with your selection.

                We discussed in the article Recurves and Compounds that most hunters will agree that 45 ft/lbs for KE is good for whitetail deer.  For this example we are going to say you are comfortable with your bow at 60#, but you are coming up short of the 45 ft/lbs.  Since the KE is determined by the total weight and speed of your arrow.  In order to increase the ft/lbs (power of your bow) you can change the weight of the arrow to meet your requirement, but you can change the weight of your arrow by any combination of changes. 


KE= (weight/ 450240) x (velocity x velocity)

KE = (325gr/450240) x (225 x 225) 
KE = 7.218372423596304 x 50625

KE = 36.54 ft/lbs

Using the example above your arrow is not reaching the desired 45 ft/lbs of force for your 12 point buck you want this year.  You can now alter your arrow to increase speed or add weight to your arrow to increase the KE. 

You are comfortable with the broad head and shaft so you don’t want to change those so you switch to feather fletching because it is lighter hoping to increase speed. Changing to the feather fletching changes the overall weight, but does increase the speed to 250 fps.  Lighter arrow faster velocity Sample:

KE= (weight/ 450240) x (velocity x velocity)

KE = (300gr/450240) x (250 x 250) 
KE = 7.218372423596304 x 62500

KE = 45.11  ft/lbs

You don’t want to change anything on your arrow because you’ve been very consistent with them practicing, but you want to make sure you are in the correct ft/lbs amount.  Technically you are reaching the desired ft/lbs, but just to make sure you crank you bow up to 62# and find you get an additional 25 fps (275 total):

KE= (weight/ 450240) x (velocity x velocity)

KE = (300gr/450240) x (275 x 275)

KE = 7.218372423596304 x 75625

KE = 54.59 ft/lbs

You see that even a slight variation on any of the factors can drastically change the total power of bow,   You are now well within the power range for whitetail hunting, but with just a few more adjustments you could even take this bow and arrow on an elk hunt (recommended 55 ft/lbs).

            For the beginning bow hunter it is probably best to use arrows within your bow manufactures recommendations.  Try a couple different arrow types, fletching types, heavier and lighter heads and find something you are comfortable shooting.  Once you know how your arrows come off your bow, you can start to fine tune it with modifications to you arrows to meet your hunting needs.  Your local archery dealer should be able to answer any concerns you might have about improving your performance. 

Hope this helps everyone and good luck.

 [BB1]There are fixed broadheads, usually 2, 3 or 4 bladed as well.  These don’t have replaceable razor blades.

 [BB2]Cal them :mechanical”

 [BB3]Very good example!