Published August 15th, 2022 - Written by Darron McDougal
Nothing involving bowhunting equipment is more important than broadhead practice. If your broadheads fly differently than your field points, then hitting a baseball every time at 60 yards with field points is irrelevant. Your bowhunting accuracy will be a reflection of your broadhead accuracy. To that end, whether you’re hunting Alaskan moose or Florida whitetails, broadhead practice is crucial.
Of course, a bow that shoots broadheads differently than field points is frustrating, but many bowhunters face this reality. Some adjust their sights. Others compensate their aiming point. Strangely, some bowhunters don’t even shoot their broadheads prior to hunting. In my eyes, none of these approaches are ethical, and the first two certainly don’t fix the underlying problem, which is a poorly tuned bow.
Broadheads fly differently than field points because they have different aerodynamics and more exposed surfaces than bullet-shaped field points. In other words, broadheads can magnify even the slightest tuning problem.
Further, all broadheads aren’t created equal. Even noted bow-tuning expert, John Dudley, mentioned in a YouTube video several years ago that some broadheads simply don’t fly the same as field points, even from well-tuned bows. In general, larger the broadhead’s exposed surface area, the less likely it will fly well.
Plus, you get what you pay for. Cheaply crafted broadheads are typically more susceptible to dubious flight. Most important is the broadhead’s backbone. Those with lesser grade aluminum ferrules, I’ve found, are less consistent, especially after being shot into targets and through animals. That’s why I look to broadheads with quality aircraft grade aluminum, steel or titanium ferrules for the best, most consistent flight. Blade security and retention are also important, as loose blades will negatively affect flight.
Now, regardless of what broadhead you want to shoot, here are some ways to identify and resolve poor broadhead flight.
Bare-shaft paper-tuning is more technical and difficult than fletched-arrow paper-tuning, as a bow with any problems will kick the un-fletched arrow errantly due to lack of steering (vanes or feathers). But, if you can achieve a bullet hole with a bare shaft, the bow will probably require little to no additional tuning.
A champion archer and accomplished bowhunter who I’ve spoken with stands about 6 yards from the paper, which be believes “reveals the arrow’s worst reaction as it departs the bow,” as he put it. He does both fletched and bare-shaft tuning.
“When you shoot the bare shaft next to a fletched arrow,” he said, “you’ll likely obtain different results on the paper. For that reason, I add weight to the back end of the bare shaft equal to my fletching weight. That gives me the same reaction from both the fletched arrow and bare shaft.”
Some folks start moving the arrow rest as soon as a poor tear has been identified. This is sometimes all it takes to resolve the issue, but often the issue is more complex like cam lean, poor drop-away rest timing, desynchronized cams or weak arrow spines, to name several.
There are more ways to work toward improving a paper tear than can fit in this article, but I’ll outline some unusual things that have worked for me when I know that my cam lean and timing are on point. Arrows one spine stronger than the arrow manufacturer’s recommendation for my bow specs have performed best from my setups. I’ve also rotated the nock one third of a turn (3-fletch arrows; one quarter of a turn with 4-fletch arrows) at a time and shooting through paper after each turn. I’ve also done this successfully with individual broadhead-tipped arrows when I find one that flies differently than the others.
Good quality equipment that’s produced a great paper tear doesn’t automatically shoot broadheads next to field points. The acquaintance I quoted earlier said, “I move outdoors to 20 yards and shoot with a bare shaft and fletched arrow. Once I’m satisfied with my grouping — sometimes it takes a small rest tweak — I sight in out to my maximum bowhunting distance using fletched arrows with field points.
“Once my pins are set, I shoot a broadhead and field point from 80 yards,” he continued. “If my broadhead impacts too far away from my field point, I make a miniscule rest adjustment in the direction I need the broadhead to go, then I shoot again, repeating until the two arrows group together. With this approach, I’ve always been successful in grouping field points and broadheads together.”
I use a similar approach. I shoot a broadhead and field point from 20 yards at a cross that I’ve taped to my target. Chances are that if my bow paper tunes well, these arrows will group satisfactorily close together. If so, I move back and do the same at 30 and then 40 yards. At this point, it’s highly possible that my broadhead will begin veering either right or left of the vertical tape, or possibly high or low of the horizontal tape.
When this happens, I make minuscule arrow-rest adjustments in the direction I need the broadhead to go. In most cases, those minute adjustments move the broadhead impact point closer to or right with the field point. Then, I shoot at the farthest distance I plan to shoot afield to make sure the broadhead accuracy replicates to that yardage. If an individual arrow hits away from the rest and I know I executed a great shot, I’ll rotate the nock a quarter of a turn on my 4-fletch arrows until the arrow groups with the others.
No two bows are exactly the same. Many tuning experts agree with me that a bow must be tuned how it wants to be tuned.
The gentleman I’ve been quoting said, “Humans design and build bows. That means no two bows do everything identically. You must tune a bow how it wants to be tuned. You could end up with some cam lean, or the rest could be right or left of center. Within reason, these aren’t reasons to be concerned as long as the bow tunes well.”
An example is a bow I owned in 2018 and 2019. While it was one of the best-shooting bows I’ve owned, it produced a severe nock-right paper tear when I set it up, squared up my rest and checked for cam lean and synchronization. It also shot fixed-blade broadheads poorly. My practice arrows grouped well, but I could see the fletching ends of my arrows fishtailing as they approached the target.
I made many changes until I was extremely frustrated. But, after some major buss-cable tweaks, the tear gradually improved. With the cam leaned far to the left, I was skeptical. But, the cam timing was synchronized, and I achieved a perfect paper tear. What’s more, my fixed-blade broadhead flight was on point with my field points out to 90 yards. That individual bow shot best with cam lean, so I shot it that way and killed a bunch of game with the setup.
To that end, I don’t endorse simply move your pins or compensating while aiming for poor broadhead flight. If your broadheads aren’t flying with your field points, there’s a reason. Either you need to try some different broadheads or tune your bow. It’s your ethical responsibility.