Archery Tech Testing: It’s All In Your Head

Heavy tips or lighter tips; how much arrow drop?

Modern bows provide the speed to shoot heavier total arrow weights while the archer uses just one sight pin. What a difference from when I got started!

The first archery shoot I attended was in the early 80s. The targets were large square bales of straw or cardboard with photos of animals with lines drawn where the vitals were. I had been introduced to archery my senior year at Bleckley County High School by my shop teacher, John “Bubba” Dykes. I was shooting a Bear Whitetail II compound bow, with Easton 2018 Game Getter aluminum arrows with 5-inch plastic vanes and glue-on nocks, a flipper arrow rest, 125-grain field points, a Trophy Hunter release and a sight with five brass pins. The pins were set at 15, 20, 25, 30 and 35 yards. I have no idea what the speed of this setup was, nor did I know what my arrow and its components weighed. The broadhead I used was a Bear Razorhead with the bleeder blade, and it weighed in at 145 grains. The lightest broadheads I can remember in this time frame were 130 grains. There was the Wasp Cam Loc, the Rock Mountain Razor and the Razorback 5 by the makers of the present day Thunderhead.

Fast forward a few years, and here came the speed craze, but compound bows were still very slow compared to today’s technology. The only way to speed up a bow back in the day was to lighten and shorten your arrow and its components. Lighter arrow shafts, less point weight, shorter vanes and overdraws that allowed much shorter arrows became the norm. Some archers even loaded their bow limbs beyond safe limits, all of this in an attempt to gain speed. The biggest reason archers wanted speed was so if they could misjudged yardage, they’d still be on target.

The difference between shooting targets and a hunting situation is as different as night and day. With targets, you are almost always at ground level, verses hunting from an elevated stand. With targets you have unlimited time to judge distance, draw, aim and shoot at a stagnant target. The targets can’t see, smell or hear you, nor can they react to your shot. I know quite a few archers that will take your money at the range but struggle to have success in a real hunting situation. Some call it buck or feather fever when they can’t close the deal on the real thing.

Now let’s fast forward to present day. Bow technology has seen a tremendous improvement in the last several years. Archers are becoming more educated in their field. We now use common terms like draw curve, valley, letoff, backwall, timing, tuning, proper grip, anchor point and draw length. We are also becoming more familiar with paper tuning, walk back tuning, draw boards and formulas to determine FOC (front of center) momentum and KE (kinetic energy). There is no better example of modern bow technology than Obsession Bows that are drawn by Kevin Strother. They are built and assembled by Dennis Lewis and his staff in Jeffersonville.

Now let’s get back to the speed factor and the root subject of this article—head or point weight, and how weight affects the other head, the one on your shoulders.

I can’t count the times I have heard archers say, “I don’t need a bow that fast,” and my reply is, “Yes you do, and here is why.”

The new bows allow you to shoot less poundage and still keep the same speed. Why wouldn’t you want to shoot a 60-lb. bow that is as fast and performs as well as a 70-lb. bow? While shooting in your yard or at an archery shoot it is usually warm, and you are warm and comfortable, so drawing heavier weight is not an issue. But fast forward to hunting season, and you have been in your stand for a couple of hours in cold temps and 70-lb. can feel like 80-lb. It does you no good to hunt with a bow that you struggle to draw in the heat of the moment, or you have to move so much to get it drawn you get picked off by the animal you are trying to shoot.

My personal set up is a 58-lb. Obsession Knightmare with a draw length of 29 inches and a 438-grain arrow that shoots 281 fps. With one pin sighted in at 25 yards, I am plus or minus 1 inch from 0 to 33 yards, which is a 2-inch margin of error. My KE for this set up is 76.8 foot-pounds. The recommended KE for dangerous or tough game such as cape buffalo or grizzly bear is 65 foot-pounds. My head on this set up is a 165-grain, all-steel model of the Bipolar. I am also shooting a Launch Pad Lighted nock. This just goes to prove you can have a deadly setup for any game at lower poundage

Shooting heavy poundage and using the lightest arrows and points possible just to gain speed is approaching dry firing your bow. It is rough on strings, cables and limbs. A heavier arrow set is much easier on your bow. It will save wear and tear, not to mention make your setup much more quiet.

There has always been a debate about speed verses weight for penetration. My personal findings have shown that across the board, heavier is better, with all things being equal. A good example would be if I were standing on the roof of my house, and I had a red brick in one hand and a cement block in the other, which one had you rather me drop on your head, or if I dropped them on a stake which one would drive the stake further in the ground. With modern archery equipment, limiting yourself to a 100-grain head or less is now a moot point—25 grains of weight will cost you about 6 fps across the board, and 50 grains will cost you 12 to 13 fps. One thing that I have learned is that you cannot remove material and gain strength in a broadhead. Most archers have become used to a standard of 100 grains in a broadhead. What they do not realize is they can shoot a heavier head with more strength and more cutting diameter and not sacrifice their bow’s performance. More weight can actually improve their performance and down-range energy at point of impact.

Consider your broadhead as a tool. Your bow-and-arrow setup is just a delivery mechanism for your tool. The blades of your broadhead are what kills the animal, and the ferrule of the broadhead is just the delivery mechanism for the blades. So if you have a choice in your broadhead, it is much better to have strong blades and a weaker ferrule than it is to have a strong ferrule with weaker blades. If your tool fails you, then it does not matter how or what you used to get your tool to the target.

If the average archer with modern equipment would sight-in his or her bow in at 25 yards with a 100-grain head and then shoot a 125-grain head at the same spot, you will not see any difference in the point of impact. I personally went from a 125-grain point sighted in at 25 yards to a 165-grain point, a gain of 40 grains, and there was only a 1-inch drop at 25 yards. I was shooting 281 fps at only 58 pounds. With the 125-grain head, I was shooting 292 fps with a total arrow weight of 398 grains. With a slight sight adjustment, I had the 165 dead on at 25 yards and a margin of error plus or minus 1 inch from 0 to 33 yards. The one main point to be made here is to paper tune again to check for flight issues anytime you change anything on your bow setup. When I shot the 165 point through paper, it still shot a bullet hole with a bare shaft just like the 125-grain point, so I did not have to make any adjustments in my bow tune, and I had ample arrow spine to handle the heavier point. The arrows I shoot are the Redhead X-1 Blackout Pros made by Goldtip. Available at Bass Pro Shops, they are very tough arrows.

The thing that makes me scratch my head is archers will walk into a store or bow shop and ask for lighted nocks to install on the back of their arrows, which adds on average 20 grains to the nock end of their arrow. This reduces their front of center (FOC). They do this without hesitation. However, ask the same archer or bowhunter to add that weight to the point end of their arrow, which improves FOC, and it’s almost taboo! Yet this same archer that adds weight to the nock end of his arrow does not add weight back to the point end to compensate for the weight he added to the nock end.

The most simple example the important of FOC was the Indians. They were quick to learn that a spear or arrow flew much better with a knapped stone tied to the front of their spear or arrow verses just a spear or arrow that had been whittled or ground to a sharp point. An FOC of 15 to 30 percent with a broadhead-tipped shaft is excellent. To make things simple, visit www.goldtip.com, and you can enter your personal numbers to calculate your FOC, KE and momentum. An increased FOC in your personal setup will help improve to your accuracy and down-range penetration. Your arrow will recover and stabilize much quicker, also. To put all this in layman’s terms, just try throwing a dart backwards.

I took a poll of bowhunters and asked, excluding food plots and fields, what was the average shot distance from a tree stand in a woods or timber situation? The average was 20 yards. The point here is the overwhelming majority of us can shoot one pin sighted in dead-on at 25 yards and be good from 0 to 30-plus yards. The individual can play with this 25-yard distance. The goal to reach here is to find your individual center distance of aim that gives you the smallest margin of error shooting from 0 to 33 yards with one pin. Some faster bows may do better at 23 to 24 yards dead on, and some slower bows will do better at 26 to 27 yards dead on. Start by shooting at a spot with one pin dead on at 25 yards, and make a mark on the target where you hit. Then with the same pin, walk up and shoot at 10 yards and make a mark on the target. Now walk back to 33 yards, and shoot and mark that spot. Now compare the difference in your three shots. This difference is your margin of error.

There are several advantages to shooting just one pin. With one pin you will have a much clearer view of your target downrange instead of trying to look through multiple pins. With one pin you won’t lose costly aiming time trying to decide which pin to use. And with a single pin that may be lighted, you won’t have near as much aura or harsh glow from multiple pins being lit and not allowing you to see past the pins through a peep in low-light situations.

I want to mention something here about two different kinds of “getting on target,” and a form of target panic. All archers at some point in their career will deal with some form of target panic, some slight and some extreme. Some archers draw their bow and come down from above with their arm when aiming at a target. These archers, due to target panic, tend to shoot high on an animal because they hit the release before fully settling and holding the pin. Archers like myself that get below and come up to the target tend to shoot low. I encourage any archer to train him or herself to get below the animal and come up to their target, and here is why. A deer, hog and even gobblers react to a shot by dropping down to get leverage to push off to run or fly. If your shot is slightly high, the animal is ducking down and farther away from the arrow, whereas if your shot is a little low, the animal is actually ducking into the path of the arrow. Another big advantage to a lower hit is the animal will put down tracking sign much quicker than a high hit. I made note of this because even if your arrow is a touch low at 30 yards, it’s best to leave it that way due to how an animal reacts to your shot.

Here is another important point. Always practice very close, almost straight-down shots from a tree stand. Even with a 10-yard pin, you almost always have to put that pin below where you want the arrow to strike. Only practice with your equipment will help you with this. Always aim for where you want the arrow to exit on the opposite side of the animal, and remember to always keep you bow arm in line with your shoulders and bend over at your waist. Never just lower your bow arm. When taking this information into consideration, and with modern equipment, the average archer can shoot a much heavier, stronger and larger cut head than he or she is currently shooting. Stop thinking any head over 100 grains will make a setup slow as molasses and make an arrow will drop like an anvil.

Let’s face it, most all of us in a hunting situation will not have a clear shot at an animal beyond 30 yards in the woods. Large food plots or fields are a different story, and this is where multiple pins will be necessary if you choose to take long shots, or a moveable sight and rangefinder for shots over 30 yards. Most of us will use a rangefinder to find landmarks from the tree to determine the maximum perimeter around our stand.

I asked Derik Still, a fine bow tech from South Carolina and owner of Passinthrough Archery in North Augusta S.C., to do a test by shooting different weight points at the same spot at different yardages and record the difference. Here are Derik’s results. He performed a set of tests comparing the trajectory of a 100-grain field point, a 125-grain field point and a 165-grain field point. Derik printed and used a National Field Archery Association 5-spot scoring target. He used the different head weights and shot them at 20 and 30 yards with the same arrow. The NFAA 5-spot target has a 1.5-inch X ring and a 3-inch 5-point ring. The arrow used for his tests weighed in at 285 grains with no point attached. All field points were weighed separately by Derik on his grain scale, and all were spot on at 100, 125 and 165 grains. His bow is an Obsession Phoenix set at his normal hunting draw weight which is 65 pounds and a draw length of 28 1/2 inches.

“Once my sight was set for a given distance, I did not move my sight and did all my shooting at that distance before moving,” Derik said. “I fired seven to 10 shots per distance with each weight to achieve consistent grouping. I measured the center of the group to the center of the X using a dial caliper.”

Derik said, “At the 20-yard mark, the 100-grain arrow tip caused the arrow to strike the target 0.5 inches above the X. The 125 impacted 0.3 inches low, while the 165-grain tip hit just below the X ring at 0.97 inches below the center of the X.

“At 30 yards, my sight was adjusted, and the 100-grain points hit the target 0.6 inches above the center of the X. The 125-grain head came in at just 0.2 inches low, and the 165-grain point impacted 1.15 inches below the X, but still within the 5-point scoring ring.”

The attached images show the lines associated with the center of each of his groups. Roughly a 1.5-inch spread for the 20-yard shots, and a 1.75-inch for the 30-yard shots. A special thanks to Derik for his help. He can be reached for advice or comment at (893) 507-8989.

When using the methods explained above and learning your individual equipment and how it performs in the field, and then determining your margin of error from 0 to 30 yards, you will become a better hunter in the woods. Also, by convincing yourself that adding extra weight and strength to the front of your arrow will make your tool stronger and just as accurate or more so, you will soon realize the problem was all in your head.

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