Fixed-Blade Vs. Mechanical-Blade Broadheads

Thirty years of collecting vintage broadheads has demonstrated to me archers will try just about anything in the search for “ideal” terminal tackle. Everybody has their own idea as to what constitutes a lethal ideal, each design normally sacrificing one thing to achieve another. For instance, one bowhunter concentrates solely on penetration, while another becomes fixated on cutting diameter, still another focusing on perfect flight at high speeds, others seeking a compromise for the conditions at hand. Yet many out there seem to think their personal ideal’s the only solution and everyone else is wrong. Nowhere does this argument become more heated than fixed- verses deployable-blade broadheads.

Mechanical and Fixed Blades

There are pros and cons to both mechanical and fixed blade heads. Do you know what they are?

These two approaches represent the polar opposites of broadhead design. The best fixed-blades are designed so that no matter what’s encountered every part from tip to mounting threads remains completely intact. Mechanicals include moving parts, blades swinging or sliding open to maximum cutting diameter only after impact. Each design has its advantages, and limitations.

Fixed-Blade Cons

The biggest knock against fixed-blade heads has always been they are more apt to veer off course shot from the fastest bows. This explains why as compound bows have become faster fixed-blade broadheads have grown smaller. Lay a standard New Archery Products’ Thunderhead a decade old beside a Thunderhead Edge made yesterday and you’ll see my point, the former 2 inches long and 1-3/16-inch wide, compared to 1 by 1-1/8 inches. Many argue a 1-1/8-inch cut isn’t enough to cut an animal sufficiently (more later).

A Fixed Arrowhead

Fixed blade heads will fly true if bowhunters take the time to fine tune their gear as well as their arrows. Pictured here is the NAP Thunderhead Razor post-kill.

Too, shooting fixed-blade heads religiously (which I do by Idaho law) requires better learning the fundamentals of fine-tuning equipment. For decades bowhunters got away with ill-tuned equipment because arrows didn’t fly fast enough to exhibit extreme wind-planning. With the average bow now pushing 300 fps that’s no longer possible. The fixed-blade aficionado must also employ larger, more wind-resistant fletchings (“old-fashioned” 4-inch vanes or feathers instead of 2-inch “broadhead” vanes) to assure proper balance between rear drag and broadhead surface area – a 3:1 ratio, blade surface-to-fletching-surface area a good start.

Finally, then it comes to fixed-blade design, cutting diameter as it directly correlates to tunability is also directly tied to how much flesh or vital organs they will cut while passing through game. There’s no doubt in certain situations wider-cutting heads increase your odds of recovering an animal.

Mechanical Cons

The biggest rap mechanical broadheads contend with is any time something goes wrong when a mechanical’s involved – an arrow encountering shoulder blade, for instance – the broadhead automatically gets the blame. Not bad shooting or bad judgment or poor equipment set-up – it’s all on the broadhead.

There’s a kernel of truth to every stereotype, and there’s no doubt the average mechanical can’t match the average fixed-blade for head-to-head penetration. This is partly due to the mechanical design itself. Energy cannot be created or destroyed only transferred from one object to another and moving parts subtract energy from the equation normally reserved for pushing an arrow forward. This is also largely due to the fact mechanicals typically include wider cutting diameters than fixed-blade heads. More cutting edge translates into increased friction which negatively affects penetration (which also holds true for fixed-blade heads, a 1 3/16-inch-wide fixed penetrating less than a 1 1/8-inch-wide head – all other factors remaining equal). If penetration’s paramount – bull elk or moose, as examples — a mechanical might not be the wisest choice.

Evidence of an Unrecovered animal

Poor shooting is often overlooked and the mechanical broadhead design is often blamed for unrecovered animals.

Mechanical designs seldom match fixed-blade heads in overall ruggedness following punishing hits. Moving parts, again, make this true. Each time a mechanical impacts game an infinite number of variables is introduced. This opens the door to broken blades, wedging in bone to stop penetration cold and even “pole-vaulting” off blades on angled hits. The other malfunction occasionally encountered with certain mechanical designs is premature opening of one or more blades (especially on shoot-through screens found on modern pop-up blinds) which can really throw arrow flight for a loop. I’m not saying this is chronic, I’ve just witnessed it often enough to understand the possibility.

Fix-Blade Pros

Fixed-blades, including replaceable-blade models, are typically the strongest, most reliable designs around (traditional single-piece-welded designs the strongest). The ability of fixed-blade heads to survive impacts with steel drums or coffee cans of gravel is the mark of superior engineering and materials. Failing such destructive testing’s the mark of inferior design. Only recently I’ve shot through elk (True-Fire T1) and black bear (Stanford Innovations Bloodshot) shoulder blades with fixed-blade heads; both animals falling within sight. Those shots would’ve likely ended differently with a mechanical on the business end of my arrows.

As already hinted fixed-blade heads – especially cut-on-contact designs – out-penetrate anything else out there. When I’m bowhunting the biggest, nastiest game around (say, Cape buffalo in Africa) – or shooting limited-energy traditional gear at anything heavier than a javelina — I choose a solid-welded or single-piece milled cut-on-contact (think Zwickey, NAP Hellraiser, Solid Broadhead or Alaska Bowhuntng Supply GrizzlyStik Broadheads). Something like moose or bull elk indicates a solid cut-on-contact or cutting-tip replaceable-blade (NAP Thunderhead Razor, Steel Force Phathead, G5 Striker or Quality Archery Design’s Exodus). As game size diminishes broadhead choices lean toward wider cutting diameters and/or mechanicals.

Though I must also note, narrower cutting diameters also introduce less “shock” on impact with game. It’s a fairly common occurrence to witness animals shot with a true cut-on-contact or “mini” replaceable-blade head to act as if they have no idea they’ve been hit after the shot. I’ve had many animals – shot right through the vitals – run maybe 10 or 15 yards, stop to have a look around, growing wobbly and tipping over on the spot. They never make it out of sight because they seem to have no idea what’s happening to them. So a 1 1/8-inch cutting diameter broadhead can certainly result in drop-in-sight big-game recovery…

A Fixed Arrowhead

When all else is equal it is hard to beat the toughness and penetration of a fixed-blade broadhead.

Finally, most fixed-, replaceable-blade broadheads are extremely easy to keep sharp edges on — and as any bowhunter understands shaving-sharp edges kill more efficiently than dull ones. There are certainly mechanical designs on which blades can be replaced, but this normally includes tiny set screws at least a screwdriver and reading glasses for us older bowhunters. Most replaceable-blade broadheads can be made scary sharp by simply sliding in a fresh set of blades and screwing them home. And if broadheads have been in and out of your quiver through an entire season, or especially used for practice shooting, they should receive fresh blades before any hunting is conducted.

Mechanical Pros

It’s safe to say the first modern mechanical designs (there where swing-blade heads as far back as the 1950s) were designed with one thing in mind – eliminating wind-planning arrows as modern compound bows broke the 250 fps mark. Since most mechanical broadheads include in-flight geometry holding blades tight to the ferrule or completely closed (deploying to full cutting diameter only after impact) they present no surface areas for passing wind to grab or push against. The standard mechanical with blades folded flat to the ferrule in flight most often provides flight characteristics similar to field or target points. This makes them the most accurate choice for long-range shooting on light-boned, thin-skinned game such as pronghorn and also less prone to deflections in brushy conditions often encountered while whitetail hunting.

Proghorn and Hunter

Less wind-planning and larger cutting diameters make mechanical broadheads a popular choice for whitetail hunters and especially when hunting open-land animals like the pronghorn.

The other huge selling point of the mechanical design is increased cutting diameter and devastating tissue damage. One and a half to 2-inch cutting diameters (sometimes more) would just be impossible with a fixed-blade head. This provides an obvious advantage in many bowhunting situations, providing a wider margin for error, “wider” blood trails and faster bleed-out. I wouldn’t think of shooting a turkey with their baseball-sized vital area with anything but a mechanical. I’ve witnessed plenty of mechanical-induced blood trails appearing to have been issued from a garden hose. And if I unintentionally gut-shoot an animal in the coming season I hope to have a wide-cutting mechanical producing a massive wound channel.

The NAP Gobbler Getter

Mechanicals are also great when shooting game animals with very small “kill-zone’s” like the turkey. Pictured here is the NAP Gobbler getter.

Finally, you’ll hear a lot of bunk about mechanicals failing to open after impact. I’m here to tell you I’ve intentionally tried to rig mechanicals to NOT open after impacting foam targets (for use as practice points), wrapping blades closed with tough dental floss, even going so far as to super glue blades into the slots. They open anyway. It’s nearly impossible mechanically to make them do otherwise.

There are no absolutes in broadhead choice, but I do live by the maximum of “matching the rig to the gig.” Would I use an average mechanical on an Alaska moose hunt? Absolutely not. Would I use a mini fixed-blade for spring turkey? Not if I could help it.

The auther and the animal hunted

The author pictured here, lives by the broadhead rule “match the rig to the gig”. It has served him well over the years.

But on the average-sized whitetails most of us pursue there really is no wrong answer (unless you’re at the low end of the energy scale; youth or woman shooters wielding less than 50 pounds and a draw length less than 27 inches). My basic rule of thumb is if you’re achieving complete pass-throughs on most of the game you shoot, no need to worry. If not, maybe you should consider a more efficient broadhead design made for better penetration.

What is your favorite broadhead? Why?

Comments

  1. I am a big fan of Rage. They have done the job time and time again, not just for me but also my son, who shot two deer last fall with a bow set at around 35 lbs and a 22 inch draw length. One of the deer was a mature whitetail buck in the midst of the rut! I feel that the Rage design is pretty much fail-proof in its design, not to mention the large cutting diameter is great. Probably my favorite aspect of shooting Rage is the field point accuracy.

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  2. I've used 2 blade Rage with bad luck, I've had what looked like a great shot, at a 5 point whitetail last fall at 15 yards, it was a slight quartering away, I was using my bear charge, and it looked good, he bucked real high to the point I thought he was going to do a flip, we tracked him a mile before the blood trail ran dry. The arrow was found 100 yards away. I wasn't impressed with rage. Then. My bow was set at 52lbs I should have had a complete pass through at that range. A few days before I hit a Doe a the same distance and it was a direct shoulder blade shot with 3 blade rage and I never found her, the arrow was stuck in her.. I'm not impressed she should have dropped within sight because that should have ripped her insides up!! Has anyone had any luck with the NAP Spitfire Edge? I might give them a whirl next

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    • Shot my first deer a few weeks ago with one. Crossbow wasn’t sighted In and I made a gut shot. He went about 60 yards and dies.
      Was borrowing my buddies crossbows and that’s what he uses and loves them. He and many more people have tried rage and don’t like them. He’s only lost 2 deer in his life and both were shot with the rage

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    • Chandler williams says:

      You shouldn’t have been shooting rage with 52lbs. I shot one at 25 yards in the shoulder it broke both shoulder blades and the blood was spraying everywhere. Dropped within 40 yards. In sight. Dead in seconds. I’m shooting a 405 grain arrow 73 lbs of draw weight. 81 ftlbs of energy. Big mechanical heads need a lot of energy. Try a fixed head with anything under 65 lbs. best of luck to you this season.

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  3. Rip Fletching says:

    There is no Broadhead that flies any better than the Badgerbroadheads in wind or no wind situations it rotates the arrow and has no planing affect and spirals through the wound cavity it is a great Broadhead far superior then many others I have used in many years past.

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  4. I like the Rage but I am sick and tired of them inadvertently opening as well as the fact that they rattle. Countless times, and for the last time, I will not look down to see that my never before-shot Rage-Blade is dangling open or rattling. Ain't nobody got time for that!

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  5. When i shot compounds i killed countless animals with a 100-125 grn thunderhead. They fly great and penetrate well. I switchef to rage the last few years i shot compound and had nothing but bad results as did several of my friends. Now i shoot only traditional and have been very happy woodsmans. This year im trying grizzly 2 blade

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  6. I shoot NAP killzone max for Whitetails. Same basic principle of rage but they are quieter and do not depend on an O ring to keep them closed. I have depended on nap my whole life of bow hunting and love their products! Still practice practice practice! No broad head can make up for poorly placed shots or take the right shot. I feel to many hunters let the arrow fly chancing a bad shot rather than waiting for the animal to move to make it a better shot to take.

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  7. Jeremy A Kohler says:

    I shoot many different types of broadheads , that being said I have shot target with 1 1/8 inch fixed blade coc at 100 yards with a 300 fps plus setup and have had great results . time spent with your set up and tuning is invalueable I would never shoot more than target at that distance but with the right amount of time and tuning it is possible .

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  8. I like the Rage Hypodermic. It penetrates a little better than the original rage, and it has the shock collar which is an improvement. I feel confident knowing that the rage flies just like my field point.

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  9. Gary Larson says:

    No mention of Crossbows so far. I've been told to stay away from mechanical with a crossbow because of premature deployment. So I carry a Toxic and Muzzy G3. Thoughts/experiences with crossbows?

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    • I’ve had good results with Muzzy 125grain broad heads out of my crossbow. Just make sure to line the blades up with the fletching’s on the back of the arrow. If you don’t, those babies won’t even hit the target at 20 yards sometimes.

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  10. I am a big fan of the good ole Muzzy 100 gr. three blade. I may have to do more tuning than with mechanical, however putting that extra time in before going afield puts my mind as ease. Because I know exactly what my equipment will do and that is, cut on contact and go through bone should it need to. Muzzy – They are Bad to the Bone

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  11. Joe White says:

    I use the NAP 125 Grain Crossbow Spitfire Broadhead. It flies true with no premature deployment. I love the compact design and the puncture size.

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  12. Justin P says:

    I loved shooting my NAP Hellrazor's but this year changed over to Muzzy Trocar's being that nobody really makes tough broadhead's for the micro diameter arrow's.

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  13. Paul Cooke says:

    "Everybody has their own idea as to what constitutes a lethal ideal, each design normally sacrificing one thing to achieve another" Patrick…you have proven your point. Everyone has their OWN ideal gear set. The endstate being a quick, humane harvest. I have had great results with fixed blade and i have had great results with mechanical broadheads. I have had great results because of tactical patience and good shot placement…not to say that I havent botched the shot…but mostly not. The gear that is available today is varied and expansive. To date, there hasnt been an archery product manufacturer that has designed the "miracle" broadhead that will replace the need for practice and proficiency. Everything else is personal preference. Admittedly mechanicals have produced some of the most spectacular blood trials on a more consistant basis…but again, thats MY experience… Good article!

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  14. bowhunter says:

    I can't believe this crap, a tuned bow is one that will shoot broadheads and field points out to 70
    yards. It doesn't matter the speed. Mind you 300 may require some of you're time from you're stupid iphones. My APA M7 set at 57lbs shoots Gold Tips 55/75 @ 280 fps. with Slick Trick STD. 100 gr. shoots 6 inch groups at 90 yards. This took time but I don't see the point or the excuse to use Rage's or the likes. Watch the shows or u-tube and you'll see they lack penetration. You rarely get pass throughs with rages unless you are shooting high poundage or you miss every bone, what you have working for in this case is cutting diameter plane and simple, so here's a good one, why don't they make a 4 inch Rage for deer, really, if the best they can do is to get in the rib cage who cares about cutting diameter.
    I'll stick with Slick Tricks and the likes for the simple fact that they don't fail and always work when tuned, nothing in the world has stood up to a fixed blade broadhead………..

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  15. Paul Cooke says:

    Good for you Brother…Continued point proven…Personal preference…I kill (not wound) several deer each year and my recovery rate is well above 98%….i dont shoot any inch groups at 90 yards nor do I at 70 yards….and if youre taking those kinda shots at animals we can start an article about hunting ethics….either way….fixed blades are great!!! So are mechanicals…Stay Motivated

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  16. 175 gr Simmons landshark 1 916in cut on contact fixed blade only way to go hits consistently with my field points out to 75 yards with my Mathews creed xs

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  17. VPA makes great heads that are easy to sharpen and all one piece CNC machined steel. They fly great also. One of the toughest heads on the market.

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  18. Jody Bangart says:

    I've used both fixed (3 and 4 blade) and mechanical ( 2 and 3 blade). I shoot 29" draw at 70#. I've had very poor penetration and issues with the blades opening prematurely using mechanicals. Never had a pass through using them.Sure they flew great at longer distances ( 40-50 yards) but so do fixed blades when your setup is tuned right! I NEVER want to draw back on a trophy whitetail again to see one of the blades on my mechanical broadhead dangling open!! Happened 2 times to many! Both times costing me a shot.I currently use 100 grain 4 blade Wasp Boss SST. They are indestructible and fly like bullets!!! Shoot Straight.

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  19. Ross Thomas says:

    I am a big fan of that broadhead that let's me do that thing where I pulp the deer's heart. That being said, I'm a huge Rage fan. Any of problems that come from them opening prematurely can most likely be attributed to excessive preshot handling.

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  20. Pastor Bud says:

    I started bow hunting at 16, my head choices were Bear with or without (razors). Then the Thunderheads hit the market and we all shot them because of the replaceable blades. Point is I've seen a lot of broadheads, you shot what works for you…that simple. Me I now shot Crimson Talons 100G, they fly straight and they open up a wound cavity, putting game on the ground. For the crossbow shooter…I use you guessed it Crimson high speeds. Hunt safe and hunt ethically and train up the next generation.

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  21. mark racan says:

    When tuning my new hoyt I changed from thunderheads to

    muzzies to slick trick magnum 100. Wow they really fly true
    with fieldpoints. Nice flight and groups. Safe hunting to all.

    Reply
  22. donny fromal says:

    Im now never going back to mechanicals….i had a hellerific deer season in 2014 taking it easy on those sword dangling field points! Lost 3 deer i am directly attributing to non opening mechs. I shoot a bowtech carbon knight 67lbs…28″ draw, easton nemisis 340s tipped with nap cocs mechs…..switched to drt fixed and every shot was dead animal. Im very happy with them and new magnus hornets! Shoot straight, aim small miss small

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  23. Roger Kester says:

    I am a big fan of the Flying Arrow Archery Toxic fixed blade broad head. No noise, scary sharp and went thru my buck last year so fast, that he expired within 5 seconds of being hit. And left a blood trail that a blind hunter could follow! I know what broad head I will be using this year, without a doubt, TOXIC!

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  24. I wonder how many of these comments that push specific brands are actually people being paid by companys to leave comments that market the company’s product.

    Reply
  25. Donald Knepper says:

    Hunted with a Ten Point Shadow Ultra-Lite Crossbow and a 125 Grain Rage Slip Cam 2″ Cut Mechanical Broadhead last season.
    Shot a little high on a 120 lb 7 Point Buck at 30 yards. It dropped in it’s tracks, severing the spine completely. Very Impressed!

    Reply
  26. My friend Esteban and I keep having theoretical discussion these past months about crossbow speeds. He keeps insisting his crossbows arrow speed is the same as a bullet. I keep telling him that’s not true nor accurate

    Here are the facts gentlemen. I’m a Marine people and so know enough about ballistic coefficients.

    Most 9mm rounds exit the muzzle of a typical pistol at around 1200 FPS.. You would actually get 1760mph, of converted. .

    First, you would multiply 1200 by 5280 (# of feet in a mile) and get 6,336,000. Then you divide that number by 3600 (# of seconds in an hour) and get 1760mph.

    His arrow from his crossbow is travelling leaving the crossbow at approximately 400- 410 FPS without the verification of a chronograph.. My crossbow is about 350-370 FPS.

    A 9mm bullet travels about 4 times FASTER than Estebans crossbow. Now if I compare a rifle bullet like 223, it will even be faster.

    A Rifle caliber can be supersonic speed of which the 223/ 556 caliber in 55 grain leaves the muzzle of a typical 20 inch barrel at approximately 3100-3250 FPS. (Feet per Second)

    So of we take 3250÷410 we get= 7.92. So the rifle 223 caliber of a typical AR rifle is close to 8 times FASTER than Estebans crossbow speed of 410FPS.

    Summary:

    9mm : 4 X faster than Estebans crossbow.

    223/556: 8 X faster than Estebans crossbow

    Who agreed with me based on my evidence. Does anyone dare to challenge me on this??

    Thanks Rick

    Reply

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