Finding the perfect hunting arrow is trickier than you might imagine. You cannot simply borrow archery ammo from your Uncle Harry, or randomly purchase shafts at the local archery store. Instead, every part of an arrow must be selected with your bow and shooting needs in mind.
Nocks. Even a slightly crooked nock will absolutely ruin accuracy. If the bowstring doesn’t transfer energy dead-center to the arrow, a wobble is certain to occur. Nock quality can be difficult to judge, so your best bet is purchasing nocks from a reputable company. The more expensive the nock, the more likely it is to be precisely molded from top-notch material.
The ultimate hunting nock, in my opinion, is Easton’s Super Nock. It’s made of polycarbonate—the same stuff in bulletproof glass—is tough as nails and keeps its shape after molding. Molds are precise, and the throat of the nock (string notch) is exactly centered. The Super Nock aligns perfectly because it press-fits into a precisely machined bushing. It can be rotated under pressure to allow complete fletching clearance with any arrow rest. The nock throat features a “double snap” press fit on the string to prevent arrow drop-off if you draw and then need to let down the bowstring without shooting.
No matter what nock style or brand you use, be sure to spin every hunting arrow over rollers to visually check for wobble. Old-style glue-on nocks are especially difficult to install straight. If a nock doesn’t spin with a clean, true edge and no wobble, it must be replaced.
What about nock color? Bright nocks are terrific when shooting targets because you can see where your arrow has hit. In hunting, I believe nock color is less important. Electric light-up nocks are sold to improve arrow visibility in hunting, but be sure to check your local regulations. These aren’t legal everywhere, and not all archery record books allow animals taken with an electronic aid, however small.
Fletching. As average hunting arrows get lighter in weight, fletching is getting smaller. Gone are the days when 5-inch fletching was standard. Three 5-inch plastic vanes or feathers are still necessary to stabilize an arrow weighing more than 550 grains, but average hunting arrows today weigh closer to 450 grains. This necessitates less rear-end arrow drag, so three 4-inch or 3-inch fletches are more commonly used. Smaller fletching is also sold, but I don’t like tiny vanes for use with broadheads. Even with mechanical, open-on-impact heads, I have enjoyed better accuracy with 3-inch or longer fletching.
Feathers or plastic vanes? Vanes are waterproof, durable and quieter in a quiver than feathers. But vanes will ruin accuracy if they even slightly touch your bow or arrow rest during the shot. Normally, this isn’t a problem with high-clearance rests like drop-away rests or flipper rests, but vane clearance can be a problem with two-prong launcher rests and other semi-rigid models.
Feather fletching provides 50 percent more rear-end arrow drag than plastic of the same size, and this can be crucial if you’re experiencing flight problems with broadheads. More fletching drag means better broadhead stability. Feathers also flatten on impact with your bow or arrow rest, and this makes for a forgiving and easily tuned bow. But feathers eventually wilt in wet weather, even when doped with silicone, duck oil or another waterproofing agent. Feathers are also fragile, tattering with regular use.
One often-overlooked fletching factor is degree of spiral on the shaft. Target archers often shoot straight-fletch to achieve superior clearance with an arrow rest, but tests have shown that a broadhead requires a spinning arrow for stability. For best results, a broadhead tipped arrow must make one complete revolution through the air during every 30-36 inches of forward travel. In other words, an arrow shot from 30 yards should spin at least 30 times before it hits the target. To achieve this spin rate, fletching should be angled about 1 degree out of line with the shaft. So-called “helical” fletching on commercial hunting arrows is usually spiraled about this much.
What about fletching color? Some bowhunters say they like bright fletching so they can “see the arrow fly,” but a good archer never watches his arrow. Accurate shooting requires you to keep your eye on the target. It is, however, an advantage to see where your arrow has hit an animal, and this is a legitimate reason for colorful fletching. I prefer all-red fletching because it appears medium gray to color-blind game. Colors like blue, orange and yellow appear off-white when viewed in black-and-white, and this might slightly increase the chances of being seen by animals.
Shafts. A wide variety of hunting shafts are sold today, leaving some bowhunters confused as to what they should buy. Carbon shafts are all the rage because these are the lightest in weight for fastest and flattest arrow flight. Carbon is also most durable on impact with rocks, trees and bone.
Aluminum shafts are still the most precisely manufactured, especially top-
alloy models like Easton’s XX75 and XX78. For pure accuracy, nothing else compares. Aluminum is less durable than carbon and about 10 percent heavier on average, which means a little less speed.
An intriguing alternative is the relatively new aluminum/carbon combination shaft. A model like Easton’s A/C/C features a core of aluminum overlaid with a carbon shell. The resulting projectile is strong, straight and very lightweight. Another aluminum/carbon version is the Easton Full Metal Jacket (FMJ). This features a carbon center with aluminum on the outside. The FMJ is also straight and durable, and it’s significantly lighter in weight than pure aluminum. The downside of all such shafts is cost. More complicated manufacturing always drives up the price, but in this case, I believe you get what you pay for.
Both all-carbon and carbon/aluminum shafts tend to be small in diameter—a plus when penetrating bone. In my experience, this factor is usually overrated, however, because a hunting arrow placed in the right spot doesn’t impact heavy bone. In flesh, I don’t believe shaft diameter affects penetration all that much.
The main keys in shaft selection are speed and precision. For maximum speed, you need lightweight carbon or carbon/aluminum. For precise straightness and shaft-wall thickness—the main factors in accuracy—you need aluminum or carbon/aluminum. According to my tests, an average all-carbon arrow shaft sold today is about five times more crooked than an average aluminum shaft, which can mean trouble with arrow flight, especially if you prefer fixed-blade broadheads.
No matter what arrow shafts you select, be sure to spin-test them across commercial rollers before a hunt. Discard those that visibly wobble anywhere along the shaft.
You must match shaft size to your draw length, draw weight of your bow, and other key factors. This requires a shaft-selection chart. With more than 100 arrow-shaft types and sizes commonly sold today, don’t guess which one is right for you. More than 90 percent of shafts at an archery store will not shoot accurately from your bow—no way, no how!
Alignment Is Key
From front to rear, a hunting arrow must be perfectly aligned. Spin your shafts across rollers and make sure broadheads are true. The slightest arrowhead wobble can compromise accuracy. Pressing the nose of a broadhead against a hardwood block will often let you align it with the shaft because there’s always some play between the shaft insert and broadhead threads. Or start with a pile of broadheads and a pile of shafts, mixing and matching until you have a set of straight spinners
Visually check nocks and shafts, too. Any wobble in any part of a hunting arrow is bad news on targets and game. For best results, pick perfect spinners from nock to nose.