With all of the annual hype and focus on the latest and greatest compound bows, the arrows they shoot are often an afterthought. In reality, the arrow is just as important, if not more, than the bow it is shot from.
I’ll go one step further to say that the arrow you choose is foundational to your setup and therefore, to your success in the field. Many factors — arrow spine, weight, material and fletching type — combine to make the perfect arrow for your setup.
The earliest-known arrows fired from a bow are thought to date back more than 10,000 years. They were made from wood, bamboo or reeds, with feather fletching. These materials remained unchanged until 1939, when Doug Easton began to experiment with aluminum as a material for arrow shafts, forever changing the sport of archery.
In the mid- to late-1990s, carbon fiber came to the forefront as the premier material for hunting arrows. There are composite shafts combining the best attributes of both materials. These materials offer consistency of weight and spine that wooden arrows could not come close to. Plastic vanes of many varieties, as well as better nocks and inserts, also contribute to better arrow performance.
Today’s archer enjoys a huge advantage when selecting an arrow for his or her setup. Modern technology and materials combine to offer an endless variety of quality shaft types and sizes. With a huge selection, choosing the best arrow for your setup can be a bit overwhelming; an archery pro shop can make this process much easier and less confusing.
Your arrow selection should be tailored to the type of game you are pursuing, as well as the type of terrain and cover you will be hunting. Larger, heavier game animals require heavier arrow weights to ensure penetration. Heavier arrow weights are generally better for hunting in thicker cover where closer shots are the norm. Smaller, lighter game or more open terrain that leads to longer shots lend themselves to lighter arrows. You don’t want to shoot a cape buffalo with arrows you had built for hunting whitetail deer.
The two most-commonly misunderstood arrow features are arrow spine and weight. Arrow spine is how much or little an arrow shaft flexes or deflects at a standard length or span when a standard force is applied to the shaft. The industry standard for this measurement is a 28-inch span with a weight that is slightly more than a pound suspended from the center, and is expressed as deflection in thousandths of an inch.
An interesting story I once heard was that when Easton set up the first arrow spine chart, he went to his local hardware store and purchased a 1-pound weight to do his measurements. Keep in mind, this was before computers, so all of his calculations were on paper. It was only after he finished the chart that he weighed the weight, which he found to weigh slightly more than a pound. Rather than starting over, he stuck with the heavier weight, and it is now the industry standard.
All Easton-brand arrows are rated by a true deflection number. It is important to remember that the lower the deflection number, the stiffer the arrow shaft. Other manufacturers, including Carbon Express, use a numbering system of their own, where the numbers are not true arrow spine. In their shafts, higher numbers mean stiffer shafts. They measure the spine using the industry standard, however, and these spines are available for cross reference on their websites. These variations in labeling can be confusing for the consumer. Proper and consistent arrow spine is key to achieve straight and consistent arrow flight. Arrow spine must be matched to your bow setup through paper and or bare shaft tuning if you are to get the most out of it.
Shaft weight is the physical weight of the arrow shaft. It is expressed in grains per inch (gpi). While the archer’s draw length, poundage of the bow and cam system often determine spine selection, the archer typically has more leeway when choosing shaft weight. As mentioned earlier, lighter arrows will fly flatter, lending themselves to more open terrain. It is vital however, that the total arrow weight, including points and components, does not drop below 5 grains per pound of draw weight or your bow could be damaged. Heavier arrows will penetrate better, as well as quiet your bow at the shot by absorbing more energy. Heavier arrows also penetrate deeper, leading to more pass-through shots on larger game.
Last, shaft diameter is a consideration. The newer, micro-diameter shafts have less surface area. Less surface area leads to less wind drift in a crosswind, as well as increased penetration due to reduced drag. Hunters heading to the west and more open terrain would do well to consider this feature.
Give some thought to your arrows this offseason, and match them to the game and areas you will be hunting next year. I promise, it will help you become more successful.