The process of selecting the right kind of arrow is not just a random walk to your local shop. You can’t just head over to the arrow buckets and play pin-the-tail-on-the-perfect-arrow if you want one that actually fits your needs.
If you want real mathematical accuracy and success in shooting your arrows, then you have to pick the right kind. Surprisingly, the best ones sometimes come at a lower price!
A poorly-chosen arrow will only bring about the worst consequences: zero accuracy, zero durability, and zero safety. Your safety is at stake because that arrow will just fly erratically, hitting the wrong target more often than not. No archer wants that.
If you’re thinking about exploring archery as your major sport, hobby, or even a serious venture, then you deserve the perfect arrow to go with that majestic bow. Like any sport, archery has its own set of rules and objectives that add to its complexity. These require strategy, and a good strategy includes choosing the right tools and equipment.
It may seem like one of the most basic, seemingly negligible aspects of archery, but as with all other shooting sports, the ammunition is in fact one of its most vital elements. Here’s your guide on how to choose the right type of arrow that will best suit your needs.
Parts of an Arrow
First, let’s talk about the basic parts of an arrow. It is important to know the basic parts to able to foresee the quality of the arrows you pick and if they truly are appropriate for the kind of bow you have.
This is the length or the stretch of an arrow. It can be made of different materials including carbon, wood, and aluminum. The materials of an arrow are chosen for different purposes and contribute to the arrow’s flight capacity.
The arrow head is the tip or the sharpest point of an arrow and is the determining characteristic of the kind of arrow being used. There are also different types, and the choice depends on the archer’s needs.
These include the vanes or “wind regulator” at the back of your arrow. They can be made of feathers or plastic. Usually, they consist of two colors and are composed of three vanes—one color for two of the vanes and another color for the last vane.
The nock is a key consideration when choosing the right kind of arrow. It should fit the bow string, or the “nocking point,” where all the action commences. Think of it as the dock where the ship starts to sail. In choosing the right arrow, this is often scrutinized first before checking the other areas of importance.
Types of Arrowheads
There are several options when it comes to arrowheads, each one with a specific function. These include:
As the name suggests, this can be small but still sharp. This kind may be used for target shooting, small game hunting, or practice shooting.
This kind of arrowhead is rounded at the tip and is made of steel, hard rubber, or plastic. This is mostly used for small game hunting—the arrow doesn’t penetrate the animal but hits it with blunt force.
A field point looks a little bit like a ballpoint pen. It has a heavy shaft and a pointed tip. Like the bullet point and blunt point, this is also used for small game hunting, as well as practice shooting.
The JUDO point looks a little bit like an inverted grappling hook. This arrowhead is designed to attach to grass and leaves to avoid losing the arrow. This is mainly used for activities where the arrow could easily break, such as “stump” shooting—going out in the wilderness and shooting at stumps, logs, mounds, and similar targets—or small game hunting.
As the name suggests, this is used for catching fish. The fish point is a spring-loaded or barbed arrowhead used to spear the fish and prevent it from escaping due to the current and other factors.
Choosing the Right Kind of Arrow
Now that you have an idea about what the basic parts of an arrow are and what type of arrowhead you should go for, here are some key things to consider when choosing the most suitable arrow for your shooting activity.
1. Arrow Material
The material can be wood, carbon, aluminum, or fiberglass. Each will have different benefits and drawbacks depending on the specific activity you’re interested in.
Wood brings to mind traditional archery, as it was the main material used in ancient times. Wooden arrows are some of the most affordable options, and what’s great about them is that they are a bit quieter than other arrow types like aluminum or hollow carbon arrows.
However, these are less durable—they’ll bend, break, and splinter after a few uses. And they’re not exactly uniform, which means each one could fly differently than the others. This is why wooden arrows are rarely used in professional circuits.
Aluminum arrows are typically used in hunting and competitive archery. These are preferred by beginners and experienced archers alike, as they offer deep penetration at a relatively affordable price.
More expensive than wooden arrows but cheaper than carbon arrows, these provide a good amount of spine for improved accuracy.
Plus, in case an aluminum arrow shaft gets bent, it can still get straightened provided the warp is not too severe.
Carbon arrows are the best choice if you don’t want broken arrows. This material is tougher than wood and aluminum, although way more expensive.
Carbon arrows are usually made thin, which makes them effective in penetrating deeper into your target object or prey. This is a good choice for hunters who are willing to spend a bit more to increase their shooting efficiency.
However, when a carbon arrow does break, it can shatter, which makes it quite dangerous for the archer. So always check for cracks when you use them.
This type of arrow may not be common on the target range or in hunting, but fiberglass can be used for other shooting activities like bowfishing. One drawback with fiberglass arrows is the weight—it’s the heaviest of all the materials. However, fiberglass is extremely durable, and it’s relatively affordable, so it should still be considered.
Depending on the type of material they’re made of, arrows will have different measurement systems. Check if your retailer has an arrow chart, or if the manufacturing brand provides a guide on their website. This will make it easier for you to scale your arrow according to your bow type, draw weight, and such.
2. Amount of Spine
The spine is the static measurement of the deflection of your shaft—in other words, how much your arrow can bend as it flies. If you watch a slow-motion video of an arrow being shot, you’ll see that it actually wiggles in the air before it reaches the target. Because of this, your arrow’s bendability becomes an important factor in achieving precise shots.
There are two aspects in arrow spine: static spine and dynamic spine.
The former is how much bend an arrow has when weight is placed on its center, while the latter is the way an arrow reacts to the energy stored in the bow when it is released. You can adjust the dynamic spine through its weight, point weight, length, and other elements.
Spine also depends on the bow’s features. A bow with a higher draw weight would need a stiffer arrow, as these bows release more force, which would cause a weaker arrow to wobble too much and miss the target.
To determine the right arrow spine for your bow, you can use a spine selection chart or, better yet, get a test kit.
In choosing just the perfect arrow length, remember that the arrow should be at least one inch (for more experienced archers) to 3 ¾ inches (for beginners) longer than your draw length. The main reason for this is so that the point will always remain in front of the bow. Keep in mind that having a bow at full draw means you have all that potential energy waiting to be released—which is potentially dangerous if your arrow is not positioned correctly.
The weakness of an arrow depends on its length, and the weakest ones are always the longest ones.
The diameter is just as important in making sure the arrow successfully strikes the target. For example, penetration would be the main priority in bowhunting, so arrows that have a smaller diameter would best suit this purpose. Worry not in case the head is slightly larger than the shaft diameter, but always remember that it shouldn’t be smaller. This often leads to poor accuracy, light penetration, and less to no attachment to the target.
Arrows, in all cases, should always be straight. In case of bent arrows, there are some ways to straighten specific materials. However, for materials like wood, it almost seems impossible. A bent shaft may or may not be salvaged—it depends on the kind of material it is made of.
The rule is: the straighter the arrow, the more accurate your shot. There’s a straightness tolerance in +/- metrics. For instance, an arrow with a straightness tolerance of +/-.001 inches will be straighter than one with a +/-.003-inch tolerance.
Fortunately, nowadays, arrows sold on the market are quite straight, with minute differences in straightness across varieties.
It’s also important to note that straightness will affect the price—the straighter the arrow, the more likely it’s going to be expensive.
When it comes to weight, arrows that are too heavy tend to fly slower and lose that all-important trajectory. Lighter arrows are quicker, but going too light could actually damage your bowstring.
So how light or heavy should your arrows be?
It depends mostly on what activity you’ll engage in.
Always consider your target. For example, if you will be hunting small animals, a faster arrow will get you the results you want. Meanwhile, if you will hunt larger game, you should be less concerned about the speed and more focused on the penetrative quality of the arrow. A heavier arrow can increase the force of the arrow.
As with many aspects of archery, every shooter will have their opinions on the optimal weight for your shooting.
It’s recommended that you check if your retailer can weigh arrows on a specialized scale, so that you get an idea what weight is indicated in the standard weight system.
Aside from the shaft, the weight of your point also impacts the arrow flight. A heavy arrow point that isn’t proportional to the shaft can cause wiggling, so check the arrow chart when selecting points, and try a variety of points to find the best combination.
There are a lot of things to consider when picking an arrow. And if you are just beginning to learn archery, remember that there’s really no such thing as a perfect arrow!
Although manufacturers will try to convince you otherwise, there’s actually no reason to break the bank (especially if you are a beginner) just to be on the quest for the perfect arrow.
Getting the right kind of arrow ultimately boils down to your individual needs and preferences. Also, with each feature, there will be a tradeoff. A lighter arrow may be faster, but it’s not going to penetrate as much as a heavier one. Wooden arrows are affordable, but less durable.
Always think about what type of activity you’ll engage in, and that will keep you informed on what to look for.
And as with most things in life, experience will be your best guide as to what features you should prioritize.