Feathers & Vanes
By Jeffrey N. Massie
I was invited to a hunting camp for the weekend. All my old friends were there to chase pigs with bows and arrows. We all arrived Friday evening to prepare for the next day hunt. The weather was predicted to be cool with possible showers which is perfect weather for stalking pigs. All of us sat around till late night talking about old stories and where we would hunt the next day. To our surprise, the next day was very hot, and the wind was out of the south at about 30 miles per hour. This is not a good weather combination for hunting pigs or any other animal. The animals just stay in the shade and wait for the wind to quit.
All the guys went out hunting but came back to camp very disappointed. After a good breakfast and a lot of talk about the weather, the normal discussions of archery started. We always get into archery equipment and tuning of bows. I have been in archery all my life - studied under some great bowyers and learned from trial and error. The questions are the same, but the answers are always different depending on what has been read or who they have spoken with. It amazes me - the different ideas that people have on certain archery problems.
One of the most asked questions I get is, "Should I use feathers or vanes?" This is determined by the equipment you use. If the archer uses a compound bow with a shelf cut past the center of the bow and a two finger rest, flipper rest, etc., then the archer should use vanes. The shelf rest and even the flipper rest used on longbows and recurve bows should be used with feathers.
The vane is not as soft as the feather and less forgiving when it runs across the shelf rug of a long bow or recurve bow. It will cause an arrow to kick off the bow worse than a bad release. But used on a compound bow using a two finger rest such as a T M hunter or a brush rest like a whisker biscuit, the vane is unbeatable. In either of these arrow rests, the vane makes little to no contact with the rest and beats the feather hands down. The vane is waterproof and much stronger than a feather.
The feather being softer and more forgiving must be used on a shelf rest. It can be fletched on any shaft and used with any type rest, but it has its problems. The vane, as I said, is waterproof, but the feather is not. If the archer gets caught in rain or just brushes against a wet bush on a damp morning with his feather fletching unprotected, the feathers tend to compress and fall apart. It takes a lot of work and a hair dryer to put them back in shape. There are oils and powders available to put on the feathers to make them water resistant, but not waterproof. Most archery feathers are turkey feathers. However, the best water resistant feather is the goose feather. It is very strong but soft with the natural oil of the goose still incorporated in the feather. It has a very nice brown color with a touch of gold. Most feathers and the vane come in any color of the rainbow from drab olive greens to high shine florescent and any height and length you could want.
This brings us to another question about fletching. "What length vane or feather and how much helical twist should be used?" The helical question is mainly from the traditional point of view. A feather is either right or left wing and will make the arrow spin to the right or the left. There is so much study and so many ideas about this that I have discovered it really does not make enough difference for me to worry about. I normally shoot left wing feathers because everyone else shoots right wing so there are more colors available in the left wing. Now the idea of how much helical to use is an important part of my arrow building. The same with length or size of fletch used on the arrow. I always tell the archer or arrow builder to think of the arrow as you would a rocket ship, jet, or airplane.
Picture a rocket ship flying at speed we cannot imagine. The nose or point is small, body and shaft long and slender, the wings or vanes short, small, straight in line with the body or shaft; creating the least resistance in flight. This is the high tech compound bow arrow.
Next picture the intermdiate recurve, reflex deflex longbow and the round wheel compound bow. They all need a fast arrow, but the arrow needs the stability of helical fletch. It is like the bicycle wheel - the faster it spins, the straighter and farther it will roll. The arrow will be traveling about 200fps, but it need spin to control wobble. The jet with larger wings or vanes still has the small pointed nose and long and slender body but will not travel the rocket speed. It needs some help from the wings to create the control of the air for stability.
The next is an old two wing, one engine plane. You will need all the wing you can find to make the flight stable. The same with the old longbows, primitive bows, and recurves. Arrows must have a tall feather, a long feather, with as much helical twist of the feather and still make contact with the shaft. The arrow will need to spin as much as it can to keep the arrow true in flight.
Always set your arrows up for the bow you are using. You cannot put tall feathers with maximum helical fletch on a high tech compound bow. The fletch will hit the rest and the helical position will slow the arrow and create a bad flight. The opposite is to put inch vanes with a straight fletch on an arrow traveling 120fps and shoot it off a shelf of a primitive longbow. The arrow would look like a twirling baton heading toward a target.
Treat your arrows as you would your cartridges for your guns. As each gun is different in its requirements for accuracy, so are your individual bows. Do not be stuck with one arrow.
Experiment with your bow and find the combination of fletching that best suites your bow and your shooting style. It is very interesting how just changing the position of the fletch on the shaft can gain or lose 20fps. Try it during this off-season time. Then when you get together with your hunting buddies, you will have all kinds of information to share.
Good hunting and God Bless