I was in the archery shop yesterday when a guy came in and asked for a new set of “kill-tips”. Apparently, that is what he calls broadheads, which I realized after asking a few questions. Whatever you call them, broadheads are the razor-sharp wide tips we screw onto the top of our arrows or bolts when we are hunting. The other primary types of arrowheads you may be familiar with are field points (practice tips) and small game heads. When hunting big game a good broadhead is a must, and required by law in most states. Michigan requires that a crossbow hunter targeting bear, elk, deer, or turkey must use a bolt of at least 14 inches long with a broadhead tip of at least 7/8 inch diameter. This is a good general rule for bow hunters as well. With a compound bow, your arrow should match your draw length (and be slightly longer) to avoid your broadhead cutting your finger as you draw it back and fire it. When selecting a broadhead, the options can seem overwhelming. Let’s talk a bit about some of the different styles of broadhead to choose from. The two main types are fixed blade and mechanicals.
A fixed blade broadhead is one in which the broadhead blades are fixed. This means that they do not move or open during flight or impact. The benefits of a fixed blade broadhead is that there are no moving parts to malfunction, they are generally very strong and can punch through bone (dependent on arrow weight and bow speed), and can be easily sharpened. Some broadheads are one piece. Among these, they can be cast (poured into a mold) or machined down from a single block of metal. The machined heads are generally stronger than cast and more expensive. Generally, fixed blade broadheads are made from stainless steel. The average price for a pack of 3 is around $45 for 440c steel (same steel most pocket knives are made from).
Blade design of fixed blade broadheads is generally either 2, 3, or 4 blade construction. A 3 blade design is the most common with 4 blade being the next most popular design. Some companies are making waves right now with large 2 blade designs made from super steels (s30v) which perform extremely well, but do cost around $30 per head. Most fixed blade broadheads will weigh either 100 or 125 grains.
Mechanical broadheads are those designed to open during flight or impact. The benefit of a mechanical broadhead is that while flying through the air it will fly similarity to a field point without the air resistance that a fixed blade can have. Mechanicals can also have wider blades on them (since they fly with the blades closed) which can mean a larger entrance and exit hole in theory. They generally use a plastic “shock collar” to hold the blades closed during flight. Upon impact, the forces cause the shock collar to break apart and the blades fly open to create a wide wound channel in the animal. Mechanicals generally utilize 2 blades that open up, though some hybrid designs feature a combination of mechanical and fixed blades on the same head.
Drawbacks to mechanicals are that the mechanical mechanism can fail. There have been some reports of the blades not always opening on impact, or opening too early (mid-flight) causing the arrow to fly off course. Many well-respected hunters swear by mechanical broadheads and it ultimately comes down to personal preference.
I am currently shooting fixed blade broadheads. In past seasons I have shot mechanicals, however, I opted for the stronger one-piece fixed heads. My decision came down to wanting the ability to punch through bone, the option to resharpen my blades, and to avoid having to apply a new shock collar every time I fire a broadhead. Either fixed blades or broadheads are a good choice for hunting. Whichever you use, it is important to have your bow paper tuned and professionally setup. You also need to resight in your bow using your broadhead before season starts as it can shift your point of impact compared to a field point.