UPDATED ON: October 23rd, 2015
Some people say they prefer to shoot a slower arrow. I guess they feel a slow arrow is more accurate. That may have been true when using some of the rough-tuning bows and big-bladed broadheads of the 1990s, but it is not true today.
Other than making the bow quieter, I don’t see any advantage to shooting a slow arrow now. I have compiled the four biggest reasons why a faster arrow is a better arrow.
When you bring up the advantages of a faster arrow, the first thing most bowhunters think of is a little margin for error when estimating shot range. Fast arrows fly flatter making it less critical that you get the range perfect when taking shots past 25 yards. At distances up to 25 yards, range estimation is not critical to your results. If you misjudge a 22-yard shot and think it is 17 yards, you will still make a good hit (maybe a bit low). But if you misjudge a 30 yard shot and think it is 35, that is a completely different matter. The farther you plan to shoot, the more accurate your range estimate must be to produce clean kills. While arrow speed won’t save a grossly wrong estimate, it will help you out when you are off by only a few yards.
You may be tempted to think that you can just rely on your new rangefinder to do all the work for you. When you have the time, I agree. They are awesome tools. I love mine. Unfortunately, on about 25% of the shots I take from a tree stand I don’t have time to use my rangefinder. It used to be closer to 50% but I have been shooting a lot of does in recent seasons and that practice has helped me to get better at using the rangefinder fast. I might not be that aggressive on a big buck, but when shooting does, I take more chances with shot timing.
That means that even when using the most aggressive approach, I still have to guess the range on 25% of my shots. Sure, like most bowhunters I have pre-ranged reference points around my stands that I can hopefully find and organize in my head, but often I am too panicked to do more than use these points for a rough estimate. The fate of the shot comes down to my ability to judge distance simply by looking at the animal. That is when I am glad I’m shooting a fast arrow.
By the numbers: First, I’ll start with a 240 fps arrow. If you are standing on level ground and aim using your 30-yard pin, you will hit a 7-inch vital area if the actual distance is between 24.6 and 33.9 yards. The total window is 9.3 yards wide. Now if you bump the speed up to 290 fps, you will make a clean kill if the animal is actually between 20.6 and 35.5 yards away. The total window increases to 14.9 yards. That is enough to make a difference. If you have ever ricocheted an arrow off the brisket of a big buck (and I have), you know those extra couple of yards can be significant. I’ll take every yard I can get.
Shooting Through Holes
One of my most painful misses came on a woodland caribou back in 1999. I spent the whole day trying to get within bow range of the bull. I had literally crawled several miles through a bog and had gone all day without food or water. Late in the afternoon I finally had the brute (he would have scored way up in the top of the record book) at 40 yards. I snuck up on him in his bed in a small island of trees out in the middle of nowhere. My GPS said I was eight miles from where I had left my guide. The bull stood up and was just getting ready to walk off.
The only hole I could find to his vitals was down low, so I spread my legs wide to form a solid base for the shot, took aim and squeezed the trigger. The arrow arced up and slammed into a branch above my line of sight, one that I had not even thought to look for during the few quick seconds. Goodbye bull.
I’ve missed three other big animals (one was a mule deer that I’m sure was way over 190 inches and the other two were big whitetails) because my arrows hit branches that were above my line of sight. I have since learned to look closely on every shot, but I’m sure there will still be times when the hole I want to shoot through is too small. A fast arrow will pass through smaller holes in the brush without deflection than a slower one.
By the numbers: Let’s say you are lining up to take a 40 yard shot at a nice buck that is feeding in a clover patch. You zapped him with your laser rangefinder, and you know the distance to the nearest half yard. You have practiced 40-yard shots until they are easy for you. This is a green light situation.
There is only one problem: you have to shoot through a hole in the branches of a tree that is 20 yards away. If you are shooting a 240 fps arrow, it will be 12.1 inches above your line of sight when it goes through the hole (it’s going to have to be a pretty big hole). If you are shooting a 290 fps arrow, it will be 8.3 inches above your line of sight when it goes through the hole. That lets you shoot through a hole that is nearly four inches smaller.
I think that is a big deal. In fact, I would shoot a fast arrow even if this were the only benefit I received.
Some deer will drop at the sound of the shot to load up their legs in order to run away. This often produces a miss or high hit. I have shot a bunch of deer (I’m a devoted doe shooter if you haven’t figured that out yet) in a bunch of places and I have yet to draw a solid conclusion on the best place to aim when hunting deer that might drop at the shot.
I also have yet to figure out how much bow noise is too much and how it affects the likelihood that a deer will move before the arrow arrives. I’ve seen deer that turned inside out even when I was shooting a very quiet bow.
Here is why I feel arrow speed is so important when shooting at potential string jumpers. I have yet to shoot a compound so quiet that a deer can’t hear it at 40 yards on a still day. Deer have better hearing that we do. However, with a little bit of wind, if another deer is walking nearby, and when hunting in thick cover, I have seen bucks and does completely miss the sound of a quiet bow. Also, they are much more likely to react if they are already alert when you shoot, eliminating any benefit you might have gotten from a quiet bow.
As far as I am concerned, it is a mixed bag. Quiet is good and fast is good; neither seems more important. Actually, both are important. Unfortunately, you have to trade them off. For that reason, I think the best combination is a fast arrow (one that weighs about 6 to 6 1/2 grains per pound of draw force) from the quietest bow you can find.
By the numbers: I recently did a study to determine how far a deer can drop between the time it hears the shot and the arrival of the arrow. Of course, a faster arrow gets there sooner so the deer doesn’t drop as far. This is especially important, in my opinion, on shots from 25 to 35 yards. At this distance, the deer is close enough to hear even a quiet bow, yet it is far enough that it can drop a good distance.
I had to make a few assumptions to come up with the final numbers. For example, I estimated that it takes a deer .05 seconds to begin moving after hearing a startling sound, roughly half that of the finest human athletes. It is just a guess. Using this guess, I determined that at 30 yards from a tree stand, a deer will drop roughly 16 3/4 inches with a 230 fps arrow. He may even have time to turn slightly. It will drop roughly 9 1/2 inches with a 280 fps arrow. That’s a 7 1/2 inch difference!
When aiming a 230 fps arrow at a buck that appears alert, you will have to aim below the bottom of the deer’s chest (16 3/4 inches is a long ways). It is hard to make yourself do that when you don’t know for sure how the deer will react to the shot. He may drop and he may not. You will only know for sure after the fact. I would much rather have a fast arrow and aim for the bottom of the kill zone. If he drops, I should still be in the top of the kill zone. If he only drops a little, I am dead center and if he doesn’t drop at all, I am low in the kill zone. The only way you can have this luxury is to shoot a fast arrow.
At short range, string jumping isn’t really a factor. Once again, arrow speed is much less important at short range than it is at mid-range and long range. For example, at 10 yards the deer drops an inch, or less, with the slower arrow and almost nothing at all with the faster arrow.
More Kinetic Energy
As long as you keep the same arrow weight, making it go faster offers some advantages. Most experts agree that kinetic energy is the best measure of the penetration ability of an arrow. Heavier arrows will soak up more of the energy from your bow and that translates into more kinetic energy. However, you can also increase kinetic energy by going to a faster bow without changing arrows.
There are some very fast bows on the market now. I have compiled a sidebar of several of the fastest as part of this article. If you are shooting a bow with an IBO speed rating of 300 to 305 fps, you are shooting a bow with average speed. There are now bows producing IBO speeds in excess of 320 fps with forgiving brace heights and comfortable draw cycles. In that way, technology has definitely improved the performance of modern bows.
Some people don’t see a reason to shoot an arrow five inches into the dirt on the other side of the animal. I agree, that extra energy doesn’t do you much good if you always hit the soft tissue, but what happens if you accidentally pull the shot and hit the buck of a lifetime in the shoulder blade? Remember, the shoulder is not very far from the spot where you are aiming. I want to turn that marginal hit into a clean kill. The best way to do that is to shoot conservative broadheads on small diameter arrows that are carrying a lot of kinetic energy.
By the numbers: You can calculate kinetic energy using the following equation: KE = total arrow grain weight divided by 450,800 and then multiplied by the arrow velocity in fps squared. Assume you shoot a 450-grain arrow at 240 fps. Your KE is 57.5 ft-lb. Now if you can bump your arrow speed up to 290 fps with the same arrow your KE goes to 79.3 ft-lb. Shooting the same arrow out of a faster bow will increase your penetration energy by 38%!
Granted, you probably won’t make the full 50 fps improvement simply by changing to a faster bow, but even if you improve your energy by 30%, or even 25%, you are making a difference.
Arrow speed is still a very important part of the overall success equation. I know bowhunters who would not ever consider hunting with a bow shooting less than 300 fps. I generally shoot around 285 to 290 fps. There are many reasons why this makes sense to me. The only downside is a slightly noisier bow, and with the strides that have been made by bow companies in recent year to make their bows quieter (and with all the aftermarket accessories) my bows are much quieter today than they were ten years ago. If you choose the right bow, you can realistically expect to shoot fast and quiet. Get the best of both worlds.