Understanding Broadheads

by: Jeffrey N. Massie

Archery has developed into three equipment styles: the Compound, the Traditional (longbow and recurve), and the Primitive (self bow and composite bow). There are many areas of discussion related to all these, but one of the most talked about is broadheads. It is also one that I have studied and tested for years while outfitting hunters in South Texas. Most of the common broadheads used by our hunters were tested for strength, quality of steel, hardness, sharpening ability, and penetration. I shot the broadheads into cinder blocks, catalogs, telephone books, and sheets of plywood. Wow – the results we came up with! It made us glad that the hogs were not made of cinder blocks and plywood. The information was taken into the field for the hunters to start testing. While testing, I paid close attention to the equipment used by everyone on the hunt. The combinations of bow, arrow, and broadheads that were being used were alarming. It helped my guides and me to understand why a good shot placement would not take an animal down or leave a blood trail. You have always heard it said, “The Bigger the Better”. This is not true in choosing your broadhead. It takes a great amount of energy to push an inch and one half, two blade broadhead; an inch and one quarter, expandable broadhead; or for that matter a five blade, seven eights inch wide, razor broadhead. You always want an arrow to penetrate an animal deep enough to leave an exit wound. Whether you achieve a complete pass through or you can see feathers on one side and a broadhead on the other, you should have a blood trail to follow. Just hitting the animal’s body with an entry wound will most likely kill the animal, but you will not have a good trail to follow, especially on a hog or javelina. Remember it only takes a pin hole in an artery to kill the animal. You do not need a two inch hole to see through.

A broadhead of seven eights width is all that is needed. The wider the diameter, the more blades, the shorter the length, and how sharp the blades are all create a resistance upon impact. You must have very sharp blades with the least surface resistance and as much energy as the bow and arrow can create with the equipment used.

The broadhead works best in a balance with bow and arrow. The bow builds energy and transfers it to the arrow. The arrow is a type of engine using the energy for flight and adding its weight with the energy left to propel the broadhead through impact and hopefully on through the animal. A balance of bow energy, weight of the arrow, and broadhead weight and design are needed for best penetration. A very fast highly technical bow with a very light arrow and a light broadhead is not a good combination for hunting. Fast bows and light arrows make flat trajectories which are great for targets but not good for hunting. The fast heavy poundage bow needs an arrow heavy enough to take the energy the bow creates and transfer it to the broadhead upon impact. The same idea is applied to all other bows whether they are heavy poundage and slow or light and fast. The right combination must be found for your bow to make the broadhead do its job.

It is also important to consider the game you are hunting. Deer, coyotes, cats, etc. are all thin skinned and thin boned. Pigs and javelina are like armor plate to most broadheads. They are always dirty or muddy with thick skin, and the pig also carries a gristle shield. Add to that hair that will dull a knife on contact, and you have a problem. Most broadheads are dulled at impact – bending, breaking, and not cutting arteries and veins is all you have.

I have taken many a hunter that was using the expandable broadheads and seen great results, but I have also seen the blades break off and the complete head snap off at the threads. The razor insert type broadheads have also done well, but they have the same problems as the expandable broadheads. My personal pick for hogs and javelina is a three to one fixed two blade. It is very long with a short width and creates the least friction or resistance for my low poundage longbow. I have a friend who uses a compound and shoots a three to one fixed three blade broadhead and has had tremendous success with American and African game. The fixed blade broadheads have their problems too, but less than the others.

There are many different shapes and designs of broadheads on the market today. Some are good, and some are not. Ask your fellow archers what works for them, and search for the best broadhead for your type of hunting and game. Always look for quality in your broadheads and all your archery gear. The animals we hunt need us to be exceptional in our equipment and our hunting ethics. Strive for perfection, and you will be successful.

This article was first published in Wild Boar USA magazine, Vol. 1 Issue 4 – May/June 2007.