Do Wider Broadhead Designs Kill Faster?

Is a bigger, wider broadhead more deadly than a smaller, more streamlined head? Let’s look at the basic facts on broadhead design and what that means for you, the hunter.

I’ve avidly collected broadheads for some time. I find it fascinating, an insight into the virtual history of the sport. A common theme of many early heads was an obvious desire to create larger holes in critters. Easy examples including broadheads like the Goshawk (1952), Ben Pearson Deadhead (1964) or Magnum (1971), all providing 1 ¼-inch-plus cutting diameters. As common were strange, yet eye-catching, designs concocted in the attempt to spill more blood. Of the later, since many of these were dismal failures from a practical standpoint, more pointedly from a commercial respect, they have become highly collectible and prized additions to any collection. The earliest broadheads were universally small and streamlined, but with the widespread acceptance of recurves and the energy advantage offered over classic longbows, broadhead designers begin tinkering with the idea of inflicting larger wound channels, no doubt believing bigger holes lead to faster game recovery.

doe kill

Small fixed blades still work. The author shot this fat doe while still-hunting to fill his extra doe tag. He used a small Muzzy Trocar D6 and hit slightly too far back. Still, the blood trail was good and she didn’t travel far.

Mechanical broadheads appeared in these early experiments. You may believe mechanical broadheads are a relatively new development, but deployable-blade broadheads appeared as early as the 1950s, most failures due to the material limitations of the day, but mostly because developers regularly bit off more than the traditional equipment of the day could chew. Pushing a 2-inch-wide Rage Hypodermic riding a stiff carbon arrow through a deer with a modern, 60-pound compound is one thing, but try to do that with a 2-inch cutting diameter ’57 Mohawk mechanical set on the tip of a Port Orford cedar shaft. I can only imagine what followed, and it wouldn’t be pretty. The 1959 Geronimo (2 ½- to 3 ½-inch swing blades attached to cut-on-contact head) and 1955 Mechanical Killer (resembling a fish point more than a broadhead) suffered similar fates.

Of course modern mechanicals work just fine, with thousands of big game animals falling to them annually.

bloody arrow

It’s always preferable to achieve pass-through penetration on big game, no matter what kind of broadhead you’re shooting, as two holes spill more blood than one—especially on high hits from elevated positions.

 

Better engineering and space-age materials make them more efficient and dependable each season. Even those creating the widest cutting diameters, which seems to have settled in the neighborhood of 1 ¾ to 2 inches (though there are the rare mechanicals that are wider). Fine and good, as long as you are shooting enough energy for full penetration. I say this only because bowhunters must always remember (especially those hunting from elevated positions and shooting down on their quarry) that two holes—entrance and exit—are always preferable to just one. You can shove a 2-inch wide mechanical into an animal from above, kill him cleanly and quickly, but without a low exit hole to spill blood, recovery—especially in wet conditions or thick brush—can prove more time consuming. This becomes more pointed with marginal-but-lethal hits where an animal might travel 200 or 300 yards.

Remember, too, physics remain constant: moving parts, wide cutting diameters and blades that chop instead of slice always equal reduced penetration, all other factors remaining equal. If you’re not realizing pass-through penetration on deer-sized game on each and every shot (save those where heavy bone is encountered), it really is time to seek a more efficient broadhead design.

Even if you’re shooting enough energy to achieve pass-through penetration on any game you regularly hunt, the question still bears asking: Do wide-cutting broadheads automatically kill faster than those with less cutting diameter? Or maybe more fairly, since distance traveled after the hit and not time passed is what really counts: Do wider heads always create shorter recovery distances than narrower designs? Or, in the interests of putting hard numbers to the question: Will a 2-inch-wide Trophy Ridge Meat Seeker 3-blade kill a deer twice as fast as a 1 1/8-inch wide Muzzy Trocar 3-blade due to twice as much hemorrhaging—assuming identical hits through vitals and equal penetration?

Instincts likely tell you yes; a bigger hole, more blood spilled in a shorter timeframe, should automatically spell shorter recovery distances, as well as blood trails that are much easier to follow.

But alas, the real world doesn’t always back intuition. After putting arrows through literally hundreds of big-game animals, I’ve certainly witnessed whitetails and wild hogs, most especially, shot with aggressive mechanicals spin in circles and drop dead without covering 10 yards. But what of all the animals I’ve shot with sleek, low-profile cut-on-contact heads (many from traditional bows) that also dropped within sight, or didn’t even seem to know they had been shot?

Any arrow that skewers lungs or the heart—whether led by 2-inch mechanical or 1 1/8-inch cut-on-contact—eliminates the negative pressure created after exhaling, making it difficult or impossible to draw another breath. Add to this a quick accumulation of resulting blood and loss of consciousness and death soon follow. This is something we can all agree on.

turkey kill

The turkey exception. The only exception to smaller heads remaining just as lethal as wide-cutting heads is on turkeys. Small vitals and a shifty nature almost demand a wide-cutting broadhead for regular success on spring gobblers.

But another factor many bowhunters fail to acknowledge is how an animal reacts immediately after being hit with an arrow. This is generally a matter of how wound up an animal is immediately before the shot, but maybe more importantly how much shock is imparted by your broadhead. That “watermelon thump” or “thwack” heard after a successful hit is an indication of how much shock an arrow/broadhead is delivering. The less efficient the broadhead design, the louder the sound of the hit will prove. It’s the difference between being poked with a sharp stick or punched with a closed fist. Big game animals become understandably alarmed when something slams into their side with a dramatic punching-bag thump. Sure, these animals are dead on their feet, but natural fight-or-flight responses kick in, adrenaline flows and they automatically begin gobbling ground in an attempt to distance themselves from eminent danger. An Olympic-caliber sprinter can cover 100 meters in 10 seconds, and I’d never bet on a man in a race against a white-tailed deer at the same distance, especially one on a panicked death run.

I could describe several instances where a 12-ringed animal hit with an aggressive, wide-cutting head traveled a remarkable distance, but a beautiful Oklahoma buck is the experience freshest in my mind. Shot on the level from a pop-up blind at only 18 yards, through both lungs with a nasty 2.3-inch two-blade mechanical, that buck traveled 200 yards. I was forced to track him following little scars in the dirt, as he also left little blood behind.

A 5×6 big-woods whitetail shot in Idaho last November makes an ideal contrast. This was a 6 ½-year-old buck who’d survived mountain lions, wolves and heavy rifle-hunting pressure. North Idaho white-tailed deer are as jumpy as they come. Simply hitting anchor is normally the biggest challenge to any encounter. This buck inched his way out of tight brush for a full 10 minutes, surveying the situation for danger before approaching a scrape and turning broadside at only 18 yards. As I tugged the bowstring to anchor the buck tensed. So I waited. But when he twitched his tail, indicating he would step forward, I released. The sleek G5 Outdoors Striker blasted through both lungs so fast, I initially believed I’d missed. But after running only 5 yards, ambling another 15 or 18, that buck paused and simply tipped over. He never knew what hit him. Even if he hadn’t settled within sight, the blood trail was impressive.

idaho buck

The author shot this ancient Idaho mountain buck with a 1 1/8-inch-wide mini fixed-blade head. The buck dropped in sight and left generous blood behind.

More dramatically, I well remember a B&C-quality black bear I killed off of bait nearly two decades ago. I was shooting a longbow, cedar arrow and two-blade, shaving-sharp Zwickey Black Diamond. The bear walked in, plopped before a barrel lying on its side and began raking pastries from the opening. Each time he did his armpit was exposed. I timed my draw to coincide with one of the big boar’s reaches, picking a spot tight in his armpit and releasing when it came into view. The arrow zipped through the bear and stuck into dirt on the opposite side. Blood began to pump from the wound. Yet the bear continued feasting. Finally, he seemed to hear his own blood spilling, rising to his feet and turning tight circles as if sniffing his own side. He promptly fell over without covering a single yard. It was one of the quickest kills I have ever witnessed with bow and arrow.

meitin with black bear

Author, Patrick Meitin, used a conservative-width cut-on-contact to cleanly take this P&Y-quality black bear with his recurve. The bear traveled only 70 yards and left a good blood trail behind.

A streamlined head, obviously, slips through animals so quickly and sleekly that animal often has no idea it has been hit at all. Try this: take a piece of rough carpet or leather and nail it between two heavy rail-road ties. Take two arrows; one tipped with wide-cutting mechanical and another with a sleek cutting-tip broadhead and attempt to push each through the stretched material. Most mechanicals require considerable effort to push through that material. A cut-on-contact head goes through effortlessly.

I don’t offer this information to encourage abandoning wide, aggressive mechanical designs (unless you’re not shooting enough energy to achieve complete penetration). I only offer this insight so those who must use a fixed-blade broadhead by law (like here in Idaho) or due to equipment limitations will understand forgoing the wider option does not necessarily mean tougher trailing after the hit–because wider heads don’t automatically lead to faster recovery.

Patrick Meitin

Patrick Meitin

Patrick Meitin has been shooting bows for about as long as he can remember. He began bowhunting big game in 1978 and arrowed his first deer, a mule deer buck, at age 14. It was all recurves and wood and aluminum arrows back then. Since that time Meitin has bow-killed game big and small with everything from homemade primitive bows to high-tech compounds and in three African countries, half the Canadian provinces, Mexico, France, and across the U.S. and Alaska. He currently lives in northern Idaho with his wife Gwyn and two Labrador retrievers.
Patrick Meitin

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Comments

  1. For the TL:DR,

    Purely anecdotal evidence. The author purposes that a smaller diameter head is less likely to freak out game versus a wider diameter head assuming all other things being equal.

    This is too hard to prove one way or the other.

    Reply
    • D. outdoors says:

      That isn’t what he stated as fact, I believe he stated as an
      previous experience.

      Reply
  2. J. Punt says:

    An answer to a question that I have been asking myself for a long time! I “grew up” on Bear razor heads, Zwickeys, and in past few years, Magnus. I can honestly say that I had no problems with any of these heads. Smaller heads are gaining popularity. Especially with high speed compound bows and cross bows. Going to stick with the wide heads for compound bows and am experimenting with some Steel Force Phat heads, with the x-bow. A very compact looking head, and VERY accurate. Let’s see what happens… BTW, Excellent article, Mr. Meitin

    Reply
  3. Your article seems to wander down the “mechanical vs. fixed blade” debate. Enjoyed your insight. I guess it will always come down to personal preference and equipment limitations. And of course the laws that govern the land you intend to hunt. But with the ingenuity of manufacturers, you can’t really go wrong with what style you use. NAP and Rage both have c.o.c. wide blade expandables. I personally like to achieve greater penetration (complete pass through ideally) vs. wider cut. With broadhead designs like the Muzzy Trocar and NAP Bloodrunners, you get the best of both worlds.

    Reply
    • I have had similar , though not nearly as extensive, with mechanical and fixed broadheads. The only thing that pushes me towards a larger diameter is that at some point everyone has a less than ideal arrow placement on a hunt. With a larger diameter blade I feel that I have a margin of error that I do not have with fixed blades. That being said slick trick 100gr magnum blades have never failed me.

      Reply
  4. I agree with Tyler.  There was not much to sink my teeth into in this article.  I think we’ve all heard a million and one stories along the lines of, “I shot a deer with a mechanical broadhead and couldn’t find it… then I shot one with a fixed blade broadhead and found that deer, therefore, fixed blades are better.”  These stories assume that all other factors are constant in every situation and the only variable is the broadhead.  I was hoping to see some numbers from controlled testing.  Something like, “mechanical broadheads require x.xx more ft-lbs of energy than a fixed blade broadheads on the same target, therefore you need at least this much energy to achieve pass-through on ‘this’ target.”  Then we would have some substantial data to make arguments about which broadhead is better.  Does anyone know if any broadhead manufactures publish such information?

    Reply
  5. One can argue cut on contact fixed blades like Muzzy Phantom 4 blade vs. cut on contact expandable like rage 2 blade until the cow elk come home. I’ve killed big game like moose elk and caribou with both and had short blood trails. The most important fact still remains shoot the broadhead that is most accurate with your setup because still the most important thing is to hit the animal in the right spot on it’s body. Tough long animal trailing is always due to a shot that didn’t hit the animal in the perfect spot. So, go buy every broadhead you think you might want to hunt with and shoot them at the range from all distances you would shoot animals and determine which broadhead shoots the most accurate.

    Reply
    • J. Punt says:

      Great comment Kevin. So very true… One man’s “best ever BH” will be another man’s “never again BH” The Best, most expensive, or hyped-up BH is totally worthless, if it does tune to “your set-up”

      Reply
  6. @heywiz says:

    After losing multiple deer with wide design broadheads (no pass through, shot placement was marginal), I switched to a cut on contact 2 blade fixed, serrated. Three deer, three pass throughs, good blood trail. I can reuse the bowhead after sharpening it.

    To each his own, but when I heard stories of guides not allowing clients to hunt with expandables and then experiencing multiple failures, I switched. Good luck to everyone, season’s just around the corner!

    Reply

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