It is virtually unanimous that real feathers are the choice of traditional archers. This is not only because they are more traditional then plastic vanes but they work better.
Feathers come in many shapes and styles as well as colors. Additionally they may be applied to the shaft in a variety of patterns. From practical experience, each has merit, and all will work.
Over fifty years ago, during our early years of arrow building, we were fortunate to have dedicated teachers. The pioneer Michigan bowhunters, Ray Hiscock and Clayton Foster (Grandpa) taught us what worked and what didn’t. When Ray left us in the 1960’s, his widow gave us his brass fletching jigs manufactured by R.E. Rhode and the Esterbrooks Company. These jigs would fletch a three or four feathered arrow in a straight or slightly offset fashion. Both patterns were common then and occasionally used now. Today, most traditional archers prefer a helical fletch in which the feather is applied in a spiral fashion on the shaft. It seems the helical fletch sends a straighter arrow probably because it causes more and faster rotation to the shaft thus stabilizing the arrow quicker. We also prefer a helical fletch. Feathers are available from both the right and left wing of the turkey (or goose). Weather one chooses right or left feathers, seems unimportant. There are those that believe a left helical fletch when shot from a right handed bow causes the arrow to spin away from the arrow rest quicker, decreasing contact and disturbance from the arrow rest. From a practical standpoint it seems to not matter. It is however important to use a left helical fletching jig with a left wing feather and a right helical fletching jig with a right wing feather. It is also critical not to mix right wing and left wing feathers on the same arrow. We prefer to use all left wing feathers applied in a left helical pattern. This is simply our personal preference and a right or left handed shooter can use our arrows with equal confidence.
The choice of three or four feathers per arrow is also an option. If, do to your individual shooting style, you are experiencing borderline poor arrow flight than the addition of the fourth feather may provide better arrow stability. Similarly if one prefers large broadheads that may tend to “wind plane” than four feathers makes sense.
In line with adding more, some archers prefer larger feathers. The large “banana” style, the high cut maxi-fletch and the long five and a half inch feathers will provide greater stability. Weather you add a fourth or larger feathers what you really are doing is adding more feather surface area. More feather surface area provides greater arrow stability at a sacrifice of more wind drag and a slower overall arrow velocity. Most traditional archers prefer three 5″ fletchings, this seems to be an excellent combination providing good stability for both hunting and target arrows. Our suggestion is to always trade speed for accuracy but, if possible, compromise neither.
Feathers are available in different shapes including shield, parabolic, pope and young, banana, Indian etc. etc.. Shape is more for appearance then performance. It seems that today, just like yesterday, the shield is more common followed by the parabolic. Personally we like them all.
Nothing is better then the appearance of a real feather fletched arrow. Today we have a wide array of colors to choose from including solids, barred and fluorescence. Additionally we can mix and match colors by splicing two feathers together. Splicing is an art all in its self which makes a beautifully fletched arrow but adds nothing to function. Incidentally splicing is one of our specialties. The color of the arrow fletching is a personal choice. We prefer bright colors such as whites, yellows and reds. These colors make an arrow more visable in flight and after it is partially covered by leaves, grass and brush.
Your custom arrows are not only functional tools but your choice of art work and beauty as well.