Updated: Feb 5, 2021
For most bowhunters, we tend to have the basics down when it comes to our bow set ups. We know the types of bows there are, the accessories and the parts that make up a compound bow. However, when it comes to arrow selection, it can be just down right confusing and quite frustrating to say the least, especially for the new bowhunters out there.
Now this will not be a deep dive into all the types of hunting arrows out there, but rather an attempt to help you make a quick and informed decision of which arrow to select for your set up. I’m assuming those reading this already know the basic parts that make up an arrow. But for those that do not, here is just a quick overview. The Shaft of the arrow commonly refers to the length of the arrow. It is usually made of wood, aluminum or carbon. Each has its use based on material. We will cover that in a bit. The Arrow Point or head of the arrow is where the tip is. There are various types of tips that will also be covered later on. The Fletching near the end of the arrow usually has 3 or 4 vanes made of plastic or feathers that help stabilize the arrow in flight. And lastly the Nock is the slotted tip at the back end of the arrow. It's usually made of plastic, and it fits snugly on the bow string. In this next section, we’ll cover some important features of an arrow like spine, length, weight and straightness to further educate you and your arrow selection. Spine - When an arrow is released, it has wiggle to it or bending from the kinetic energy of the bow string. This is called the spine. The stronger the bow ,the stiffer the spine you will want to use. Same goes for longer arrows. Several factors affect the spine of an arrow. The most common factor is the draw weight of the bow. When using a high draw weight, you certainly want a stiffer arrow. Also, consider the length of the arrow. A longer arrow will also need to be stiffer in order to minimize the wiggle of the arrow. The tip of the arrow will also have an effect on the spine. The type of tip and weight is very important when selecting your arrow. And lastly, the material of the arrow. Carbon arrows, aluminum arrows and wood arrows vary in how much they wiggle.
Arrow Length – Once you have determined your draw length you will want your arrow length to be slightly longer than that. Most archers cut their arrows at least 1/2“ to 1” longer than their draw length. The major reason is safety. If you cut your arrows too short, the arrow can fall off the rest and or shelf of the bow and this can lead to total catastrophe while at full draw. To ensure the proper length, it’s good to know how to accurately cut your arrows. There are several methods to measure a correct draw length. The quickest way is to have someone measure your wingspan and divide that by 2.5. For example, my draw length is 26.5” which means my wingspan is 66” divided by 2.5. That correlates to my arrows being cut no shorter than 27”.
Arrow Weight – Weight of an arrow is typically measured in grains or GPI (Grains Per Inch). The weight of the arrow you choose directly correlates to the poundage of your bow. GPI is made up of the diameter of the arrow, thickness of the walls of the arrow and material of the arrow, which we will review next.
Most hunters prefer a heavier arrow as it will maintain its energy in flight and have more impact when it strikes its target. One tip to note is that heavier arrows tend to fly at slower speeds. Hunters and archers continuously test arrow set ups to find the right balance of weight and speed. If you are new to archery and bowhunting, it is recommended to shoot the same weight arrow for a while. After 5 years of shooting my bow, I still shoot a 400 spine arrow. For my draw length, weight of my bow and the type of hunting I do, this has been the most consistent set up that works for me.
Arrow Materials - Arrows are typically made from either wood, aluminum or perhaps the most common, carbon. Wood arrows have been around since archery was invented. They are ideal for beginner archers and popular with traditional archers and longbow shooters. They are quite cost effective; however, they also do not last very long. They will splinter, warp and ultimately break down. Not many competition shooters nor compound bowhunters will use this type of arrow. They are not consistent nor durable to handle the energy released from a compound bow. Aluminum arrows are most commonly used by target archers because of accuracy, but also used by bowhunters as well as they tend to be sturdier than a carbon arrow. Similar to carbon arrows, they have various types of fletching material, screw in tip options and tend to be less expensive than the carbon arrow. Carbon Arrows are the stiffest of the 3 materials listed above and also the most expensive. Carbon arrows will be a better fit for heavier draw weighted bows and provide higher speeds and better impact when hunting game, thus making this material the most popular among bowhunters. Carbon arrows can be cut very thin but can also splinter now and again, so they will no longer be useful. So what’s the next step in the arrow selection process you ask? Well now that you have some general information such as what components make up an arrow, important features of an arrow and the most common materials that are used to make an arrow, it’s actually not as difficult as you think. Assuming you have the bow you are using, what your draw length is and what the draw weight is, a great starting point is a chart like the one below:
Charts like the one above are very common among all arrow manufacturers and may vary by each brand ,so at times they can be quite complex. Other options to help you select the right arrow are available online through calculators where you enter all your information and depending on the brand of arrow, will help you in narrowing your search. For me personally, the chart above works pretty well, but also from time to time when I am at the bow shop, I just ask my technician what he recommends and what models of arrows compare from brand to brand and he is quick to help me choose properly. Still as confused as ever? That’s because you should be. The topic of arrows can literally go on and on, as will the search for the perfect arrow and that’s because the perfect arrow does not exist. Yes, you read that correctly. There will have to be some give and take with how you want your arrows to perform depending on the type of shooting you are doing and that’s okay.