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How to Choose an Arrow

Posted by Mark B on

 

How to choose an arrow

Before modern firearms and projectiles were invented, bows and arrows were once the common weapons used for battle and hunting purposes.

The ancient bow and arrow might not seem very sophisticated as opposed to modern day archery equipment but it was a huge step forward for those civilizations in seek of food without being exposed. 

Hunting big mammals with spears which required a lot more energy than firing arrows had also much greater risks of getting injured in the process. The less energy spent, the more hunt could happen which could be translated into gathering more food for a well fed and happier civilization.

Defending territory and castles through distance for limited physical contacts and reduced chances for injuries was also putting bows and arrows at work.

Although that technology was not limited to those defending. Taking over another group of people was another situation where bows and arrows had successes, leaving the group with the best strategy and the larger army with more chances of winning the battle.

The arrow went through big changes and evolution as much as the bow did throughout history.

The modern day bow and arrow are now used for recreational and performance purposes only, such as target shooting within competitions around the world or bow hunting as an outdoor activity for the satisfaction of harvesting your own game instead of buying industrially produced meat.

Still, archery keeps on improving from a year to another leaving archers with endless choices of equipment according to their needs and intended use.

So, how to choose an arrow in the modern days of archery that fits a specific bow setting and shooting style?

 

First, let's go through the properties of an arrow and its components so we can elaborate on choosing an arrow properly.

 

Composition Of An Arrow

Composition of an Arrow

Arrow Shaft

Wooden Arrows

Wood was long the only material used for arrows. Although things have changed a lot since today's traditional archers are still using them. Wooden arrows are mostly used for Recurve Bows and Longbows. They should not be used with a modern compound bow because it might split the arrow in the process which can be unsafe for the archer.

Pros: Wood arrows are authentic. They also offer good accuracy.

Cons: Wood arrows can be affected by climate changes, they may warp and bend under extreme temperatures and humidity.

 

Fiberglass Arrows

Fiberglass arrows are tough and durable. They are also quite heavy which might not suit all kinds activities especially if speed is required. Fiberglass arrows can mostly be seen in youth archery and bow fishing. It is also a very good material for any beginners in the sport and ideal for archers on a budget.

Pros: Fiberglass arrows are inexpensive and very durable.

Cons: Heavier than other shaft materials which reduce speed.

 

Aluminum Arrows

Aluminum arrows are well known for their straightness. They are also very durable and consistent while being much lighter than fiberglass, therefore offering very decent speed. Aluminum is one of the most common materials used for arrows in the archery world

Pros: Excellent straightness, affordable and very durable.

Cons:  The only disadvantage of these arrows is that it is more expensive, as a result of these; they are not suggested for beginners who tend to lose arrows frequently. They also have a lot of glare.  

 

Carbon Arrows

Renowned for their speed because of their lightweight and small diameters, carbon arrows are very popular among bow hunters and target shooters alike.

Pros: Very fast, durable and straight.

Cons: Carbon arrows can be quite expensive.

 

Composite / Hybrid Arrows

Hybrid arrows are made out of a mix of aluminum and carbon. They have the best of both worlds. They have a great straightness, durability, and speed. They can be made of an aluminum core with a wrap of carbon or the other way around.

Pros:  Hybrid arrows are very durable and reliable.

Cons: Hybrid arrows are the most expensive arrows on the market

  

Arrow Tip / Arrowhead

Field Tips / Points

Field tips or points are arrowheads used to shoot on targets. Since they are made for practice and competition and the reason being not to inflict damage, the head is small, nothing wider than the outside diameter of the arrow to make the removal of the arrow easier and avoid getting stuck in the target.

Broadheads

Broadheads, on the other hand, are strictly made for hunting to achieve greater damage for a quick death of the game and leave a significant blood trail to follow. They come in a wide range of models and options, some having mechanism to deploy blades once hitting the target.

 

Fletching

Feathers

Feathers are very popular among traditional archers. Even if the oldest material used as fletching, feathers still have their own benefits in today's world of archery. They are faster than vanes while being more forgiving if an obstacle is met during flight along with a very good stabilization. Nonetheless, some downsides come with them; they are affected by moisture, not as durable as vanes and can make slightly more noise.

Vanes

Vanes are efficient and durable. They are resistant to moisture but slightly heavier than feathers. When obstructed during flight, vanes are less forgiving and they don't resist the wind as much either. Technology makes them available in a wide range of options.

 

Nock

Located at the end of the arrow, the nock was once a groove in the wooden shaft of the arrow but now is a metal or plastic piece with a notch glued in the shaft to fit the bowstring to hold the arrow in steady position when drawing and releasing the string.  

 

Arrow Shaft Diameter

Basically, a smaller diameter will be less likely influenced by weather and will be faster with better penetration potential than a bigger diameter, considering they are the same weight (because the weight is another matter).

 This would especially be true for huge diameter differences, such as comparing the size of a javelin to the size of a needle. Yes, the latter would be faster if pushed with the same amount of force and will penetrate the flesh more than the former.

But let’s be serious, the shaft diameter of an arrow typically ranges from 1/4” to 17/64” so what will be the real impact on the performance of the arrow? Probably quite negligible if you want my opinion.

Do keep in mind that smaller sizes than standard will require specific components, so standard nocks and inserts won’t fit those shafts.

It is mostly a question of preferences but I would definitely recommend sticking to standard arrow shaft diameter sizes. Of course, this is your choice to make.

 

Arrow Weight

The arrow weight is something important for any archer. A proper arrow weight must be chosen according to your type of activity.

Lighter projectiles will often be favored by target archers. Because they shoot with lower draw weights, they can use lighter arrows. Such arrows will fly straighter and faster, hence less drop over distance and greater accuracy.

Heavier projectiles will be favored by bowhunters. Higher draw weights ask for heavier arrows.

Keep in mind that you need at the very least 5 grains of arrow weight per pound of draw weight, but you always need to follow the manufacturer’s requirements on this. Doing otherwise would void the warranty and could result in a dry-fire. Shooting arrows that are too light could irreversibly damage your bow and even worst, cause serious personal injuries.

Bowhunters often use 70 lbs of draw weight to maximize the power the arrow is released. Then, 70 lbs x 5 grains/lbs would define a minimum arrow weight of 350 grains.

Generally speaking, heavier arrows favor penetration while lighter arrows favor speed.

 

Arrow Length

The draw length and the arrow length are linked and the former determines the latter.

You don’t want to pick arrows that don’t fit your draw length. It would be a real disappointment if you would lose shooting efficiency and precision by disregarding the following simple rule.

Once you’ve determined your draw length, simply add 1 to 2 inches to that measurement, and this will be your ideal arrow length.

So if your draw length is 28″, you should be using arrows that are between 29 and 30 inches long.

By choosing shorter arrows, you would lose consistency by not being able to draw your full length and above all, it can be extremely dangerous.

Too long of an arrow is not optimal and could limit the performance of your bow.

 

Arrow Spine

The basics

Basically, the smaller the number, the stiffer the arrow. The reason is simple when shot, the arrow bends sideways like the movement of a snake. So if the arrow is very stiff, it won’t flex as much as a weak arrow.  

The deflection of an arrow, represented in inches, is determined at a fixed length and under a fixed amount of weight.

 

 Definition of Arrow Spine

 

A very stiff arrow might only bend 0.300 inches. Some manufacturers take this number and multiply by 1000 and get that 300 spine number. Although, note that not all manufacturers use the same method to determined spine numbers so do not let yourself think that a 300 arrow spine for one brand is necessarily the same for another brand. Each one has their own charts and with the following info included in the next paragraphs, you will be able to navigate in those charts in seek of the proper arrow spine number that is just right for you no matter the brand. Simple right?

  

How to determine the arrow spine

Here are three important values you need to determine the spine of the arrows you should be using:

  • The Draw Weight
  • The Arrow Length (usually 1 or 2” longer than your draw length)
  • The Point weight

When you know those three values, you will be able to look up into manufacturer’s charts to find the ideal spine number you need. Let’s have a more in-depth look to each of those values:

 

- The draw weight

The more weight pushes the arrow, the more it will flex. Knowing the peak draw weight you are shooting with is important and must be measured with a bow scale.

A few pounds can make a difference for the spine you should be using. When I say peak draw weight, it does not necessarily mean the maximal poundage of the bow; it is the poundage you are shooting with at full draw which needs to be measured with a bow scale for more exactitude.

Even if the bow is said to be a 70 pounds, it would be possible that the real draw weight to your own draw length is in fact 67 pounds, which can have an incidence when looking up the spine chart.

Do not try to shoot with a high poundage straight from the beginning, gain some experience with a lower draw weight first.

 

- The arrow length

The longer the arrow, the more it will flex. The arrow is measured from the end of the nock at the bottom of the opening where the string rests at the end of the shaft, excluding any points or broadheads.

 

 Calculate Arrow Length

 

- The point weight

The more weight at the extremity of the arrow, the more it will flex. An 85 grains field point won’t bend the arrow as much a 125 grains would so be sure to know what you will be using. If you plan on shooting on a target with field points and go for a hunt with broadheads, later on, try choosing the same grain for your points and the broadheads you will be using to be sure you will stay properly spined. 

Now I know what you are thinking. Cut the theory and show me some charts! So here you go…

 

Arrow Spine Chart

Gold Tip Arrow Spine Chart - Compound Bow Under 315 fps

 

This chart, as you can see, would be useful if you are shooting a compound bow with a speed of 315 feet per second and if you opt for Gold Tip arrows. Going for arrows made by another manufacturer would require that you look up their own charts.

According to this chart, if you would be using a compound bow of 310 fps at 70 lbs draw weight with 29” arrows and 100-grain field points; you would need to pick Gold Tip arrows with 300 spine.

 

Arrow spine vs arrow weight

Do not confuse Arrow Spine and Arrow Weight. The spine represents the stiffness and has nothing to do with the weight of the arrow. If you choose one arrow with a certain spine, although affecting the flexibility, it will remain the same spine number when cut to match your draw length needs whether it is 28” or 30” but the weight will inevitably be affected when cutting out a part of the arrow. Same spined arrows of different models will most likely have different weights, so if you want to shoot lighter arrows to increase speed, look for a change in weight not in spine. Spine means stiffness, nothing else. More on arrow weight later on.

 

Don’t go cheap

Once you have determined the spine you should use, please do yourself a favor and don’t go cheap on arrows. If you have purchased a nice piece of bow, don’t screw its potential by selecting low-quality arrows. It does not mean that you need to pay hundreds of dollars for a single pack of arrows but you need to “target” quality ones. You wanna group those arrows? Then you need to take on quality.

 

Under spined arrows

This issue is frequent. An under spined arrow is a week arrow and as I said, a weak arrow gets more flex. More flex means that an arrow propelled with too much force for what it has been designed for will bend more so the “snake” movement will be exaggerated when it flies and will keep on going. Therefore taking too much time to recover and not becoming as straight as it should, causing inconsistency when it hits the target.

 

Over spined arrows

This issue is not seen very often. Being over spined could mostly occur when using low draw weight recurve bows. Opting for a lower poundage bow would prefer arrows with more flexibility (deflection). When shooting off the shelf, the arrow would hit the riser in a certain way that requires a certain amount of flexibility at a certain amount of force. Too stiff, the arrow won’t bend enough, therefore causing improper arrow flight and lack of accuracy. On the other hand, today’s compound bows can hardly be over spined, deploying aggressive force very efficiently that prefers stiff arrows.

 

Other Factors

If you are shooting with proper spined arrows, know that there are many other factors that might affect the consistency of your accuracy. Your general archery form for instance and your release technique are some of them.

Those are a few factors and much more are possible, so if your accuracy is not optimal, it can be caused by something else than the spine of your arrows.

  

 

Choosing an Arrow

Selecting proper arrows to the kind of activity you intend to practice is important. You won't use the same arrows for elk hunting and for target shooting, while the former might require heavier arrows to gain momentum and have a good penetration potential, the latter might require lighter shafts to gain more speed to hit the target with optimal precision.

One that spends money big time on a high-end bow while selecting the first arrows off the shelf without thinking of the negative impact this could engage would be a huge mistake.

The arrows are as important as the bow itself in the shooting process and must be considered equally. Cheap arrows with top quality bow won't cut it. Both must match certain criteria. Do not overlook the arrow selection process according to specific needs.

When you are choosing the type of arrow you desire, you should know how to pick the right arrow spine that will fit your personal characteristics and equipment settings in order to have your arrow travel as straight as possible towards the target to get an optimal and consistent accuracy.

The spine of the arrow is, in another word, the stiffness of your arrow. The stiffness of the arrow needs to be of a certain amount depending on different factors such as the force it is being propelled, the arrow length and the point weight.

When the arrow is expelled with a lot of force, the arrow needs to be stiffer in order to recover faster from the oscillating movement as it flies before hitting the target.

This is a good reminder for you when choosing arrows to fit your style of shooting. If you are still unsure of any of the things listed here, go back up and read the arrow section again to take it all in before making a choice.

As you start with a beginner recurve bow, it might be easier to find the adequate arrows to start with since you will probably have a low draw weight compared to a heavy shooting compound bow. You can easily find fiberglass arrows with a certain length that would fit any draw weight of 30 lbs and less. Many packages are available with already hand-picked arrows for your needs; you may only have to select the proper arrow length according to your own draw length.

      

Conclusion

Arrows have been part of the human history for a long period of time and were once an important element for gathering food to civilizations as well as protecting them from others and even conquering more territory.

Unlike ancient history, today's arrows are used more for sport than necessity. Although, many bow hunters out there are still using archery equipment to gather food to their family.

We also overviewed the different parts of an arrow and the range of shaft materials, arrowheads, and fletchings to choose from in today's archery world according to the needs of the archer.

The arrow spine selection must be a lot clearer by now in order to make the process of choosing an arrow as simple and efficient as it should.

Hope that you found value in this post! Feel free to share and comment!

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