Recently, I received several inquiries about which broadheads work best when launched from a crossbow. I scoured my article morgue and was somewhat surprised to discover that, if I had written such an article in the past, I had failed to properly deposit it in the morgue where it should have been permanently filed. Or else I had carelessly filed it, Lord knows where. Although I am quite sure that I have addressed this issue before, I was unable to verify the fact by producing a previous written document.
Therefore, I am writing a short piece about which broadheads work best when shot from a crossbow. Now, it would be wise for the reader of this piece to take into consideration that whatever points are made in the paragraphs that follow are strictly my opinions, based upon my personal experience from personal use of a wide cross-section of broadheads in the field and on the range.
Although the variety and brands of heads I have shot from crossbow over the past 20+ years is wide and varied, there is no way that I have used every broadhead manufactured, or even half that many. It seems like new styles, designs and concepts are hitting the market almost every week, making it impossible to shoot them all or to even know about each new head that is being marketed. It would be safe to admit that I have probably used a small fraction of the broadheads that have been available to the serious bowhunter over the past several decades. It is safe for me to claim, however, that the reason I did not continue an in depth search of the vast possibilities is that I found broadheads that performed extremely well for me, making the search for something better, no longer necessary.
There are two basic categories of broadheads: fixed blades and expandable or mechanical blades that open upon impact. Both categories are available in many configurations allowing the purchasers to fill their particular needs, while at the same time tickling their individual fancy.
The fixed blades, or cut-on-contact as they are sometimes referred to, have solid blades with the cutting edge always exposed. There are no moving parts and they may be constructed in a two, three or four blade configuration. With fix-bladed broadheads, the main concern has always been keeping the blades from acting like airplane wings during flight and changing the arrow’s intended path, thereby compromising accuracy. When crossbows first started to gain popularity, this was a very real problem because of the shorter arrows and the fact that broadheads that shot just fine out of vertical equipment didn’t automatically make the switch to the horizontal bow. That led most of the new crossbow users to choose the expandable option over the fixed bladed broadheads.
Expandable heads fly to the target with the blades tucked into the ferrule and open upon impact. This prevents the wind from catching the blades and deflecting that arrow’s flight-path. This becomes even more critical considering the much faster speeds in the muscle crossbows that are being produced by some of the companies in recent years. Most companies that manufacture mechanical broadheads are proud to claim, “Our broadheads fly just like a field-tip,” and quite honestly, most of them do exactly that.
So the first established fact is that mechanical broadheads are easier to get to fly straight…but do they have any drawbacks? Well, the answer to that is, “Yes!”
Anytime that you use a product that is “mechanical” there is a chance that the mechanics will not work. In the case of an expanding broadhead, that may mean that the broadhead may not expand or open upon impact and, yes, that does occasionally happen, I have experienced it firsthand. Another mechanical problem is that when the blades open upon impact the blades may catch on bone as they open changing the direction of the broadhead and arrow completely…and yes, that does happen, too.
Study the designs of the mechanical heads when you are shopping and try to find models where the broadhead has a good start (1/2 inch) on penetration before encountering and opening the blades. This will help ensure that your arrow has established good direction and penetration before encountering the tips of the blades insuring a more accurate arrow path.
When using mechanicals another important factor to consider is the angle of your shot. A quartering away shot will create more of a challenge and, as seen in the field on more than one occasion, an expandable broadhead may encounter ribs, deflect and slide down the outside of the rib cage. When using a mechanical broadhead, make sure that you have a standing, broadside shot at your target so that there will be no problems with penetration from a glancing shot.
Fixed bladed broadheads pretty much penetrate exactly where they hit with little or no prejudice. The airplane effect has been nearly designed away by making crossbow broadheads with very conservative dimensions. If you want a two inch cut, you are going to have to purchase a mechanical head. Most crossbow fixed bladed heads have a 1″ to 1 1/4″ cut, most often with a three to four blade configuration. The smaller dimensions keep the broadheads from taking control of your arrow and leading it astray.
A distinct advantage of the fixed blade broadhead is superior penetration. When the blades open on a retractable broadhead, kinetic energy is lost in the process slowing the arrow down a bit. With a fixed bladed broadhead, it arrives at full mast and does not waste time or energy opening its blades, but goes right to work slicing and dicing its way to the fresh air on the far side of the target.
With the power and speeds of the modern crossbows, especially at twenty yards or less, there should really be no concern over penetration with either style of broadhead just as long as major bones and scapulas are avoided by the shot. If you are pursuing larger game animals like elk, moose or large wild boars, I would personally suggest using a fixed bladed broadhead. Extra penetration could make the difference between the recovery and a loss of a big game trophy.
The key factor for every crossbow hunter is to find a broadhead that flies straight and true from your crossbow, and the only way to do that is to experiment with different brands until you find one that becomes your pet blade, based both on blades accuracy and performance. It might be a good idea to find a your favorite mechanical head and a favorite fixed bladed head so that you have a choice depending upon what kind of hunting you might be doing. Once you discover the best recipe for combining, your bow, arrows and broadheads together for most consistence performance, stick with it. Stock up on what works for you, because as the industry changes, it is not uncommon for many broadheads to disappear, never to be seen or heard from again.
And don’t forget to put time in on the practice range with your broadheads so that you know exactly how and where they are going to fly before you launch an arrow at a live target. It is also not a bad idea to shoot each arrow and broadhead combination that you plan on using in the field to make sure that the combination flies true. And remember to keep your blades sharp and to re-sharpen the blades after each shot into a big game animal or a target.
In the end, it will be you that decides what is the best broadhead for your bow and arrow setup, and once that decision is made, you will be then be the real expert on what works best for you and your equipment.