The Need for Speed

Posted by: PJ Reilly on Apr 7, 2014

Tom Cruise fans, and anyone who was at least a teen in the mid 80s, will of course remember this line from Top Gun…. “I feel the need – the need for speed.” A lot of bowhunters today feel the need for speed. Arrow speed, that is. There’s no doubt speed has its advantages in the woods. The faster an arrow flies, the less precise you have to be with range estimation. Sure, you’ve got your digital rangefinder in your pack, but there’s not always time to use it. So if you can grab your bow, center that 30-yard pin and not have to worry if a deer is actually 27 or 33 yards out, it’s a good feeling.

Arrow Accessories

String and arrow accessories can affect arrow speed.

However, speed is not everything. In the quest to shoot an arrow as fast as they can, some bowhunters will choose a superlight arrow. If it’s too light, you can damage the bow. Or, you might not get good penetration on the deer, elk, bear or whatever you’re shooting at. Light arrows fly fast, but they also stop fast. By contrast, heavy arrows fly slower, but they hold their energy longer; which equals deep penetration. This is a discussion about increasing arrow speed without changing arrows or turning up your bow’s draw weight to a point where it’s uncomfortable for you to shoot. Most of us can make some modifications to our current rig in order to gain some speed. Let’s start by looking at your arrows.

Arrow Wraps and Point Weights

Fletching type, arrow wraps and point weights should be considered when trying to increase the speed of your bowhunting setup.

The International Bowhunting Organization’s (IBO) minimum recommendation for arrow weight is 5 grains per pound of draw weight. So if you’re shooting a 70-pound bow, the minimum an arrow should weigh is 350 grains, including the tip. But that’s the minimum. For optimum penetration on deer-sized game, you’re better off with something in 425-grain range. And for elk, 475 grains is a good bet. Let’s say your arrows are above those numbers, and you’re shooting 125-grain points. If you can dip down to a 100-grain point and still be close to those numbers, give it a shot.

An Arrow at the Speed of 257fps

This arrow, with 4-inch feathers, arrow wrap and 125-grain point flew at 257 fps.

A 450-grain arrow shot from a 70-pound bow will zip through a whitetail like a hot knife through butter. But so will a 425-grain arrow. Common belief in many bowhunting circles says 41 foot-pounds of kinetic energy is plenty for whitetail-sized game, and 65 foot-pounds will suffice for elk-sized game. So, that 450-grain arrow, traveling at 280 fps, generates 78 foot-pounds of kinetic energy. The 425-grain arrow traveling at the same speed generates 74 foot-pounds of kinetic energy. Both are more than you need to bring down an elk, so they certainly can handle a deer.

The speed you’ll gain from switching from a 125-grain tip to a 100-grain point could mean the difference between shooting low at a buck you misjudge by 3 yards at 35 yards, and hitting that buck square in the heart. Changing tips is a fairly easy and obvious adjustment. But have you considered the impact that your fletching and arrow wraps will have on arrow speed?

An Arrow at the Speed of 262fps

This arrow, with 2-inch vanes, arrow wrap and 100-grain point flew at 262 fps.

Recently, I rigged three, identical carbon arrows three different ways, and shot them all through a chronograph. Arrow 1 carried a 125-grain point, a 7-inch long decorative wrap and three, 4-inch feathers. Arrow 2 carried a 100-grain point, 7-inch decorative wrap and three, 2-inch vanes. Arrow 3 carried a 100-grain point, three, 2-inch vanes and no wrap.

Arrow 1 left our 67-pound bow at 257 fps. Arrow 2 clocked in at 262 fps. And Arrow 3 was the fastest, at 264 fps.

Now let’s look at your bowstring. Anything on the middle two-thirds of your string – the area covering your serving and equal sections above and below – will rob you of arrow speed. That’s kisser buttons, nock points, peep sights and string silencers. Some of these we need, of course. I wouldn’t shoot without a peep sight, for example. But maybe you can do without other accessories. Rubber string silencers commonly called cat whiskers are notorious speed killers. Do you really need them? If you are shooting a properly spined arrow that weighs at least 6 grains per pound of draw weight, and your bow was made within the past five years, odds are its quiet enough without silencers – especially if it has a string stop.

An Arrow at the Speed of 264fps

This arrow, with 2-inch vanes, no arrow wrap and 100-grain point flew at 264 fps.

When you shoot your bow, your ears are right next to it. Have a buddy shoot it outside, while you stand 10 yards away. How does it sound now? If you can barely hear it without the whiskers, leave them off. Are you shooting a peep that’s got rubber tubing attaching it to one of your cables? The tubing makes sure the peep is properly aligned every time you draw, so you can always see your sight. You can achieve the same thing with a peep that doesn’t use any tubing. Take your bow to a pro shop and they will align the peep with a D-loop at your nocking point so the peep always comes to the right spot when you’re at full draw. Getting rid of that tubing will increase your speed. Do you need a kisser button? Or can you anchor at full draw and aim through your peep sight the same way every time. Ditching the kisser will gain some more speed.

Bow Strings

Anything you put on the center two-thirds of your bowstring, such as a kisser button, peep with rubber tubing and cat whisker silencers, will rob you of arrow speed.

We shot a 444-grain arrow through a bow rigged with a pair of cat whiskers, a kisser button, D-loop and peep sight with rubber tubing. That arrow left the bow at 258 fps. Next, we got rid of the peep and tubing, and tied in a superlight peep that didn’t need any tubing. We also ditched the cat whiskers and kisser button. That same arrow left the stripped-down string at 262 fps.

So let’s say you strip down your string and switch from Arrow 1 in our earlier test to Arrow 3. You just gained 11 fps simply by making those few changes. You’ll notice that speed change for sure, because your pin-gap will shrink considerably. The tighter you can get those sight pins, the flatter your arrow is flying and the less precise you’ll have to be with your range estimation.

PJ Reilly

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3 Comments on "The Need for Speed"

Re: The Need for Speed #
While your testing arrow weights, go back and do something...Weigh those 3 Blazer vanes compared to the 3 4" Feathers. Your talking about building the lightest arrow for max speed, but in reality Blazers are heavier than feathers...Now I prefer a plastic vane over feathers because of how fragile feathers are and plastics are less effected by weather and most of the time they are quieter as well..But if we're just talking building the lightest arrow for speed comparison here at point blank range over a chrono feathers are much lighter.
Posted by J-Daddy on 4/15/2014 8:52:39 AM
Re: The Need for Speed #
One thing I think should be tested is bow draw weight at a certain draw length with the same arrows you used in the earlier tests.
Posted by Dan on 4/16/2014 11:25:26 PM
Re: The Need for Speed #
J-daddy...you are correct that feathers are lighter but the 4-inch feathers have much more drag than our 2.3/4 Blazer vanes and therefore fly slower. Thanks for your interest!
Posted by P.J. Reilly on 4/17/2014 12:05:26 PM

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