There is no bigger believer in the free-market then me, but every now and again it needs a slight correction. The bowhunting industry and its consumers are off by at least 25 grains. Let me explain.
The vast majority of the broadheads on store shelves weigh 100 grains. They absolutely dominate the market. And that makes sense because 100 grainers are what bowhunters want. In turn, that's what stores sell and that's what the major broadhead manufacturers make and promote. So what's the problem?
Simply put, 100-grain broadheads are not the best choice for most bowhunters. Heads weighing 125 grains or slightly more are superior in almost every way to 100-grain broadheads for hunting, and I'll tell you why.
Forget About Speed
It wasn't until sometime in the early 90s when the speed war between manufacturers began boiling over that 100-grainers even became popular. For most of the metal age, broadheads have weighed several hundred grains. History's warrior-hunters figured out that heavier heads penetrated armor, bone and hide better than lightweight heads that travel slightly faster. Modern traditional guys remember history and do what they can to make their turtle-like arrows as deadly as possible; that's why they routinely shoot broadheads weighing 200 grains or better.
Indeed, it was only about 15 years ago when manufacturers adopted the IBO's (International Bowhunters Organization) standard over the AMO's (Archery Manufacturing Organization) standard for measuring speed. The 3D-tournament-oriented IBO measures speed from a 70-pound bow shooting a 30-inch, 350-grain arrow rather than a 540-grain arrow shot at 60-pounds of the AMO. Because the arrow can only weigh 350 grains total, it all but mandated the arrowhead be super light if the arrow's spine were to be of adequate strength for that draw weight and length.
Bow companies latched onto this new standard so they could tout ultra-high speeds. Consumers ate it up, likely because they were enamored with 300 fps and perhaps because they didn't know any better. Suddenly everyone wanted 100-grain heads so they watch the chronograph and cheer.
At the time, laser rangefinders were not as widespread, and so the desire for a flatter trajectory - especially on the target range - was more valid. But now that everyone has a laser rangefinder, thereby making range estimation and flat trajectories a non-issue, bowhunters should go back to heavier heads. But we haven't - yet.
Reality is, a top-end 70-pound compound bow may shoot a 400-grain arrow at 300 fps. This results in 79.92 foot pounds of kinetic energy and .533 (slug feet per second) of momentum. Think of momentum as the difficulty to stop a moving object - it translates to penetration. If your arrow is bumped up by 25 grains, it will only lose around 6 fps. So, your 425-grain arrow now going 292 fps will produce 81.55 ft.-lbs. KE with .55 momentum. See the chart below. As you can see, just by adding a heavier broadhead, you can increase your energy and penetration. But, I'm sure you're wondering, at what cost in drop? Probably not as much as you'd think.
That 400-grain arrow (with similarly aerodynamic arrowheads) has the same flight path as the 425-grainer until 30 yards where the heavier arrow drops one inch more. By 60, the lighter arrow drops 4-5 inches inches less than the 425 grainer. I can handle this. As stated earlier, I have a laser rangefinder, and I must use the correct pin anyway for any ranges over 25 yards or I'll miss, so drop isn't a big issue. In other words, even the faster arrow drops 18 inches from 50 to 60 yards, so you must use a rangefinder anyway. I'll take the extra penetration once it gets there.
ARROW WEIGHT | SPEED | KE | SLUG | DROP @ 20, 30, 40, 50 & 60 yards
- 400 grains | 300 fps | 79.92 KE | .533 Slug | -2 inches, -8, -18, -34, -52, -78
- 425 grains | 292 fps | 80 KE | .55 Slug | -2, -8, -19, -36, -57, -83
- 450 grains | 286 fps | 82 KE | .57 Slug | -2, -9, -21, -37, -59, -85
"But wait," - the guy at the pro shop should say - "there's more!"
Archers are now finding that a higher percentage of weight toward the front of the arrow (called FOC, or Forward of Center) results in several advantages. They tend to penetrate better, buck the wind better and group better. Savvy hunters are now buying brass inserts to add weight to the front end of their arrows to produce FOC of between 12 and 18 percent. But to accomplish the same goal, all they really need to do is buy a slightly heavier broadhead. In doing so, they'd get a stronger broadhead - if companies choose to incorporate that extra weight into the design. Regardless, hunters can save money by forgoing the brass insert and simply going with a heavier head.
"If we could design heavier heads," says New Archery Products' Senior Design Engineer Chris Kozlik, "they'd be stronger all the way around."
This means thicker blades, beefier ferrules and stronger points.
Chris James, FeraDyne Outdoors VP of Sales, agrees.
"We make several great 125-grain heads [Rage, Muzzy and Wac-Em] but they just don't sell well and so consumers don't see them much."
"But I wish they did," added James, "because they are superior."
Keep in mind, however, that moving to a heavier head can also necessitate you to a heavier spined arrow. Usually a subtle increase of 25 grains (or even 50) will not require a new arrow, but you should consult an arrow size selection chart to make sure. Either way, a new head could enhance or diminish accuracy, so test by measuring your groups. If they are worse than with your 100-grainers, don't give up just yet. Experiment with various heads and spine weights. Often you'll find a combo that groups like a bunch of kids at a middle school dance. You might even consider trying a 150-grain head.
For now, I'd be happy if bowshops would offer an array of 125-grain heads so bowhunters would have more (and often better) options. It's only when consumers begin demanding superior 125- and 150-grain heads that manufacturers will produce them en mass, and in doing so they'll produce a better product. So what do you say? Let's start this little market correction right now.