Getting an arrow to fly straight from the bow to the target is every archer’s goal. The goal is simple; achieving it is often difficult.
Assuming that the bow, nock set, and arrow rest are properly adjusted and the arrow shaft is the correct spine for the draw weight, achieving the desired performance involves five elements: the arrow shaft, nocks, fletching, inserts, and broadheads.
The Arrow Shaft
Few hunters or target shooters ever suspect the shaft as being the problem. After all, new arrow shafts are perfectly straight, aren’t they?
The truth is that not all arrows are straight enough to provide ideal arrow flight. This is especially true when broadheads are screwed into place. An arrow that performs just fine with field tips often won’t fly to the same point of impact when a broadhead is installed.
All arrow shafts are awarded a straightness factor by the manufacturer. In general, the more expensive shafts are a little straighter than less expensive models.
I’ve seen new shafts that were as wavy as the hair on my golden retriever and shafts that have been shot clean through a deer that were still straight enough to be used again.
Aluminum shafts are easily bent. In some cases, the shafts aren’t as straight as they could be when new. In other cases, they get bent while removing them from stubborn targets or when they impact the ground, a tree stump, or other hard objects. I’ve noticed that thin-walled shafts, like the 2312, can get bent simply by hitting solid foam or 3D targets.
Regardless of how they get bent, an imperfect arrow isn’t going to fly properly. The owner of such an arrow has two choices, either discard the shaft or try to straighten it using one of the various arrow straighteners on the market.
Arrow straighteners range from plier-type models that are all but useless to expensive calibrated units that can measure arrow straightness to the ten-thousandths of an inch. Arrow straighteners are designed for aluminum shafts. Carbon or carbon/aluminum composite shafts must be discarded when bent.
Competitive shooters who own and shoot a lot of arrows often purchase an expensive arrow straightener, and the device soon pays for itself in saved shafts. The average hunter will no doubt find it cheaper to discard bent arrows and simply purchase new ones.
Testing an arrow to see if it is straight is easy. A spin tester clearly shows even slight bends in an arrow shaft. A good spin tester costs around $25, and every bowhunter should own one. Spin all your arrows and set the ones that are less than perfect aside.
Nocks and Inserts
Once you’ve established that your arrow shafts are straight, the next step is to make sure the nocks and inserts are installed properly. A nock or insert that’s only slightly misaligned can destroy arrow flight.
Most archers never give nock alignment a second thought. Factory-installed nocks are usually aligned properly. Most problems come when the nock is damaged and replaced. To insure the new nock is aligned perfectly with the shaft, the swaged end of the arrow must be absolutely free from glue or plastic.
A nock tool is handy for cleaning the swaged end of the arrow and for repairing dents in the shaft. When installing a new nock, a nock alignment tool is the best way to make certain the nock is in perfect line with the arrow shaft. One drop of Fletch-Tite adhesive is the best way to attach nocks to aluminum shafts.
Nock systems that attach to a metal bushing installed into the end of the arrow tend to be very precise, but in some cases a bad bushing or nock may turn up. A nock alignment tool will determine if the nocks and bushings are in the proper position or if they need to be replaced.
Inserts are one of those items most archers try hard not to think about. The process of installing inserts is a simple, but important, one. The insert is heated and a stick adhesive like Bohning Ferr-L-Tite is melted onto the insert. The insert is then placed inside the arrow shaft and rotated to insure a uniform adhesive covering. After drying for a few minutes, the excess adhesive is peeled away and the field point or broadhead is installed.
For optimum arrow flight, the insert must balance perfectly in the end of the arrow shaft. Unfortunately, you can’t look at an insert and tell if it’s installed properly. The best way to test an insert for trueness is to install a broadhead on a straight arrow shaft and give it a whirl on the spin tester. Watch the broadhead carefully for wobble. Sometimes the insert alignment can be improved by simply heating up the arrow shaft and indexing the broadhead and insert slightly. If that doesn’t work, the insert must be discarded and a new one installed.
Vanes or feathers, which is better? The argument continues to be fought on the archery front. In truth, it’s not the fletching material that’s important, but rather how it is installed on the arrow shaft.
An arrow shaft equipped with a fixed-blade broadhead must spin in flight to stabilize the arrow and insure proper flight. Indexing the vanes or feather fletching with a slight helical insures that the arrow spins and is quickly stabilized.
It doesn’t matter if the arrow spins to the right (right helical) or to the left (left helical), so long as it spins. Usually two or three degrees of helical is about right.
Fletching that is glued straight onto the arrow shaft reduces arrow spin and causes the broadhead, and not the fletching, to steer the arrow. For most aluminum arrows, the best flight is achieved with four- or five-inch vanes or feather fletching. Shorter fletching simply has a harder time stabilizing the arrow in flight.
The exception to this rule is when shooting carbon or carbon/graphite composites like the ACC. Noted for being difficult to tune with broadheads, carbon arrows can be trained to fly true with a simple trick. When shooting carbon shafts, the length of the fletching is less important than the width. High-profile vanes do the best job of stabilizing carbon arrows.
I recently tested arrows equipped with high-profile vanes trimmed down to approximately three inches. The short, stubby vanes look strange, but they do an amazing job at getting broadheads to fly true on carbon shafts. These vanes can be easily made by taking an ordinary Bohning High Profile vane and trimming it to shape and length with a pair of scissors.
Broadheads themselves are one of the main reasons bowhunters have so many problems getting good arrow flight. Like everything else in the archery industry, broadheads are sometimes subject to quality control problems. More times than I care to admit, I’ve opened a package of six broadheads only to discover that two or three heads fly erratically, while the others perform like darts.
If you’re sure the arrow shaft is straight, the nocks and inserts are installed correctly, and the fletching has plenty of helical, you may have a defective broadhead. Before you give up on it, put the broadhead on another shaft and try shooting it again. If the flight is still unpredictable, try a different broadhead. If the problem corrects itself, the original broadhead is the culprit.
One factor that causes broadheads to fly like a bumblebee is the overall cutting diameter. The bigger a hole the broadhead cuts, the greater the chances it will fly in an unpredictable manner.
In my opinion, there is no reason to use a broadhead with a cutting diameter larger than 1-1/4 inches. I prefer heads that feature a 1-1/8 or, better yet, a 1-1/16 inch cutting diameter.
The cutting diameter of broadheads has gotten out of control in recent years. Whoever decided that cutting a big hole in the animal is the secret to bowhunting success has caused a lot of hunters unnecessary frustration. In bowhunting it’s not what you hit them with that is important, it’s where you hit them.
The arrow shaft, nocks, inserts, vanes and broadhead must all work together. Knowing how to keep all these elements balanced is the ticket to accurate and dependable arrow flight.