It was in 1991, when two German mountaineers hiking through the Alps on the border between Italy and Austria discovered Oetzi – the oldest, complete human mummy ever found. Oetzi is believed to have been a hunter, since he was carrying with him a partially-constructed bow and some finished and unfinished arrows. Scientists believe Oetzi was killed 5,300 years ago by another human shooting a bow and arrow. The two finished arrows Oetzi carried in his quiver were fletched with feathers from some species of bird. Even 5,300 years ago, bowhunters fletched arrows.
The principles of doing so remain as true today as they did back then. Attaching feathers or plastic vanes to the rear end of an arrow help that projectile fly straight. Today, we have infinitely more options for fletching than Oetzi did. And that can leave some folks wondering, “Which ones right for me?” Well, here at Bowhunting.com we love all kinds of archery, but as our name indicates, hunting is our bread and butter. So we’re going to tackle the subject of fletching from a bowhunting standpoint. (arrow building supplies)
Nothing will make your arrows fly with surgical precision like the right type of fletching. When it comes to the vast amount of options, choose the one that provides the most stability without robbing your arrow of speed.
Basically you’re going to want fletching that will stabilize your arrow without robbing you of too much speed. Long, natural feathers – 4 or 5 inches – are great for stabilization. That’s why many indoor, target archers put them on their arrows. They need precision, and long feathers provide it. But, long feathers are speed killers, which is no problem for guys shooting indoors in climate-controlled settings at a known, static distance.
However, we’re bowhunters. We might have to shoot a deer that’s 20 yards out, or 43. Pin gap is a concern, which means we need speed. Also, we hunt outdoors, and have to cope with rain. Feathers can get water-logged. Vanes won’t. The 3-D target pros tend to opt for teeny-tiny plastic vanes in an attempt to keep arrow weight and drag to a minimum, to maximize speed. Bowhunters don’t have to go to that extreme, but, coupled with the information about the indoor archers it gives you an idea of where the middle ground lies. No doubt, the most common fletching you will see on bowhunters’ arrows these days are 2- and 3-inch plastic vanes. They’re weatherproof, and they provide enough stabilization for good arrow flight without taking away too much speed.
The Need For DIY
Most archery pro shops will fletch your arrows for you, any way you want. But it’s a pain going back to the shop every time a single vane falls off, or gets damaged and has to be replaced. Get yourself a fletching jig and you can learn to fletch your own arrows in no time. The primary purpose of a jig is to hold the arrow so you can glue a feather or vane in place using a clamp. Having your own jig makes it much easier to experiment with different fletching to figure out what works best for your arrow/broadhead combination. (build your own arrow)
The first step to fletching your arrow is making sure that it is clean and prepped before applying the new vanes.
Experimentation will be very helpful if you find you’re having difficulties getting consistent arrow flight with your fixed-blade broadheads attached. Such heads are going to affect the flow of air over your arrow. Expandable broadheads are more compact, so arrows should really fly like they have field points on the tip rather than a broadhead. Solving problems with inconsistent broadhead flight is a primary reason expandable heads were created.
Offset & Helical Options
The best way to counteract any potential problems with fixed-blade broadheads is to get your arrow to spin. If you’ve ever seen a football sailing through the air in a tight spiral, then you’ve witnessed how spinning stabilizes a projectile. Arrow spin is generated by fletching. When shooting fixed-blade broadhead, your fletching should always be offset or helical to make the arrow spin. Fletching that is positioned in an Offset manner will be mounted to the arrow with a straight clamp at an angle, rather than straight down the center of the shaft. If the point end of the fletching is positioned to the right of the nock end, that’s considered a right offset, and vice versa.
Helical fletching must be attached using a special, helical clamp that puts a twist in the fletching. They should also be mounted in an offset fashion. Arrows with helical fletching will spin significantly more than arrows with simple, offset fletching, so they will have a greater stabilization effect. However, they also produce more drag, and so your arrows will fly slower.
In some circles, it’s said that left-handed shooters must shoot arrows with left offset, or left helical fletching, and the opposite for righties. Truth is it doesn’t matter. Spin is spin, no matter which side of the bow the arrow is coming from. Vanes are universal, but feathers come in either the left-wing or right-wing variety. Again, the hand you draw with does not dictate which feather you must choose. However, if you choose a right-wing feather, then only mount it at a right offset or right helical. Do the opposite with left-wing fletching.
Applying The Fletching
So now that you have your fletching of choice and you know how you want to mount them to the arrow, it’s time to get down to business. With brand new arrows, wipe down the ends with denatured alcohol. This will remove any dust and debris that might impede adhesion. If you’re working with an arrow that was already fletched and has lost a vane or a feather, you’re going to want to make sure all of the residue from the previous fletching is removed. You can use a dull knife to scrape off the big pieces then follow up by lightly sanding with a super-fine grade sandpaper. Finish the cleaning process by wiping down again with the denatured alcohol. (choosing the right arrow)
Next, place the vane in the fletching clamp and place it on the arrow to ensure that everything lines up correctly and that the vane remains in contact with the arrow shaft throughout the length of the vane.
Step 3, place a small line of glue along the length of the vane and place the clamp on the arrow. Drying time will depend on the type of glue used.
Lastly, remove the clamp after the glue has dried and repeat the process for the next 2 vanes. Pictured here is a vane that has been glued on using a slight “off-set” orientation. A helical orientation would actually twist (or wrap) more around the arrow shaft.
For the most part, you want your fletching about 1-1.5 inches below the nock end of the arrow shaft. So place one appropriately in your clamp, and then lay it against the arrow WITHOUT glue, just to make sure everything is lined up properly. If so, then remove from the arrow and coat the bottom of your vane or feather with glue. Be sure you have a solid line, so there are no gaps in the glue. But don’t overload it, so the glue runs down the side of the arrow when you attach the clamp. Fletch a couple of arrows and you’ll figure out quick how much glue to use.
There are plenty of fletching glues on the market today. Some work best on carbon arrows, others on aluminum or wood. For best results, use the one that’s right for your type of arrow.
Once the glue is set, you can remove the clamp and adjust the jig to set the next fletching. Most jigs are set up so that three fletching can be set in place equidistant from each other around the arrow shaft. After you’ve set all three fletching, remove the arrow from the jig and then cover the front end of each feather or vane with a dab of glue. This will help keep that end from separating from the shaft, should your arrow sink that deep into a target.
The New Era Of Fletching
Fletching your own arrows using a jig certainly is easy enough. New Archery Products, however, has simplified the process even further with its QuikFletch vanes. These are plastic sleeves with three, 2-inch vanes already attached. Slide the sleeve over the nock end of your arrow; dip it into boiling water for about 10 seconds; and your arrow is ready to shoot. The QuikFletch vanes come in two varieties – Twister and QuikSpin. Both feature NAP’s trademark micro-grooves on one side of each vane. NAP says the grooves can help a shaft spin twice as fast as one fitted with standard vanes.
NAP’s QuikFletch system allows bowhunters to fletch a dozen arrows (with arrow wraps) faster than it takes the glue to dry doing it the old way. Even better, the QuikSpin vanes are deadly accurate and provide the utmost in arrow stability.
The Twisters simply have the vanes with the micro-grooves. QuikSpin vanes also have a curved tail that’s designed to catch air to promote even more spin. Shafts with QuikSpin vanes are said to spin up to 300 percent faster than shafts with standard vanes. They’ll help shrink your arrow groups and extend your effective killing range for sure. (NAP test results)
No matter what kind of fletching you employ, check them regularly. Any separation from the shaft will generate noise and cause drag; both of which will ruin your shot and chances of filling a tag. And if the fletch tears off in flight, your arrow might possibly wound the animal standing downrange. That’s OK if it’s on the practice range, but if you’re shooting at a Booner buck or even a meat doe – well that isn’t good for either party.
If you do find a fletching is starting to separate, don’t just glue it back in place because its ability to perform properly has already been compromised. Tear it all the way off, clean the area where it was glued and replace it. I know some guys who will totally re-fletch an arrow if just one fletching tears off. They do that because it can be difficult to place one new fletching in exactly the same spot as the old one. And if it’s not in precisely the same spot, that arrow could fly different compared to all of your others. That seems to be a bit of overkill in my book, but I can’t argue with the logic.
Accurate arrows are the name of the game. Choose your fletching system wisely and like the author (pictured here) you will reap the rewards of a well-placed shot.
Getting the truest arrow flight at the fastest speed possible is the goal of every bowhunter. Fletching is critical to helping achieve that goal. When you know you can put an arrow anywhere you want while shooting within your effective killing range, you’ll shoot with confidence…….and confidence often is a bowhunter’s best friend.