Archery Talk: Fixed-blade vs. Mechanical Broadheads

Fixed-blade or Mechanical Broadheads? Purists believe in the reliability of cut-on-contact blades, but it’s tough to be beat today’s hard-hitting expandables.

Crouched behind a sand esker, I waited patiently. Plodding toward me was a lone bull caribou. With a little luck I hoped he might wander within range. Minutes passed and fate put the bull in the zone. Pausing 15 metres away in full view, it stared at me, pivoted sideways and offered a textbook broadside shot. Sending the arrow on its way, armed with a mechanical broadhead, it zipped through its chest. Both the entrance and exit wound were enormous. Moving only a few steps, almost instantly its legs buckled and he collapsed. On that hunt my mechanical broadhead performed flawlessly.

Not all game taken with an arrow goes down as easily or quickly. Despite the illusion portrayed by so many of today’s hunting television shows, not every animal hits the ground instantly. To suggest otherwise is misleading. Both fixed-blade and mechanical broadheads are designed to cause terminal damage by haemorrhaging vital organs. When they perform as intended, it’s tough to argue their effectiveness. But what if they don’t?

The same year I took a couple whitetails, also with expandable broadheads. Unfortunately only half of that story has a happy ending. The first, a fine buck, toppled after sprinting just 50 metres. But when the doe it had been pursuing circled back and presented me with a shot, the hunt took a dismal turn. At 10 metres I aimed, released, and heard a whack. The shot looked good, but I must have hit either the edge of its shoulder or a rib. The arrow penetrated where I aimed but the sound wasn’t right. To this day, I am certain the outcome would have been different had I used a fixed three- or four-blade broadhead.

But so much for what could have been; here’s what happened. Indeed my shot placement was reasonable. Unfortunately I can’t say as much for how the mechanical broadhead performed. Upon impact, the doe raced into cover. A half hour lapsed and I took up the trail. It began strong but soon faded. Seventy metres down the trail I discovered the arrow still in one piece and with blood only 15 centimetres up the shaft — not good! A gut-wrenching feeling overwhelmed me as I noticed only one of three blades had deployed; the other two were still locked in place. With only one-third of the functional cutting surface activated, I knew I would have my work cut out for me. It was late in the evening and with light fading, I opted to return in the morning rather than risk bumping and losing the deer altogether. In the morning after tracking 150 yards further, I found it… too late I might add, coyotes had beat me to it. With a sick feeling in my stomach, then and there, I made a choice to switch back to cut-on-contact broadheads.

For almost a decade I stuck to my convictions and worked with an assortment of fixed-blades. I tried every variety of two-blade, three-blade and even four-blade broadheads. Most worked well, but a few were quickly tossed aside. Like most hunting archers, I’m always on the lookout for the best equipment — anything that might possibly make my hunting more effective and efficient. Over the past 20-some years, I’ve tried the newer three-blade slip cam rear-deployment options, replaceable fixed-blade, one-piece fixed-blades… and just about every variation in between.

And, while I have developed a bias for one-piece fixed-blade G5 Montecs and four-blade Muzzy MX4s in particular, I have also gained a relatively new appreciation for a few of today’s proven mechanicals. At the top of that list is Rage’s rear deploying SlipCam broadhead. Regardless of your own preferences, here are a few of the things that I’ve learned.

Achieving Broadhead Accuracy

Every bowhunter that practices with field tips in the off-season has to make the jump to broadheads at some point prior to hunting season. Although sometimes only minor adjustments are required, most often adjustments to sight pins are in necessary to ensure pinpoint accuracy. Typically, using mechanical broadheads minimizes and often eliminates the need to modify sight pin adjustments.

Several things, not the least of which include the broadhead, can affect accuracy/stability of an arrow in flight. Shoot your bow, even for a short time, and you learn right away that switching from field tips to broadheads exaggerates inconsistencies or issues related to the arrow or a bow that is out-of-tune.

As a rule, with most fixed-blade broadheads, critical sight adjustments are required. Purists often believe in aligning fixed-blades with fletching to help stabilize arrow flight and ensure downrange accuracy. Centreshot, or precise alignment between the bowstring and arrow rest is imperative at all times. Any diversion will exaggerate inaccuracies.

Advantages to Mechanicals

Makers of the first mechanical broadheads had an ingenious idea. Design a broadhead that flies like a field tip but miraculously transforms into a lethal cutting machine upon impact, in essence accomplishing the best of both worlds.

Recognizing that arrows tipped with fixed-blade broadheads were sometimes difficult to get to shoot straight and consistently, the idea evolved. As long as the blades deployed without fail, and the blades themselves met cutting diameter regulations, the concept is nothing short of brilliant. The problem many Bowhunters experienced, particularly in the early years of mechanical broadhead design is similar to what I saw with the doe I arrowed — the blade or multiple blades, did not deploy.

Since that hunt, I’ve spoken with archers who have likewise retrieved arrows discovering one or more blades didn’t deploy. Needless to say, this was problematic. Thankfully, manufacturers have recognized the competitive broadhead market, not to mention the ethical implications associated with selling reliable broadheads that must cause massive haemorrhaging, and have in turn addressed these issues. In my own view, it is still Bowhunter Beware when it comes to any broadhead, mechanical or otherwise.

Fixed-blade Benefits

A plethora of fixed-blade variations are available to today’s bowhunter; namely two-, three- and four-blade broadheads. While most are straight, other options like curved blades and combinations involving straight blades with smaller bleeder blades also exist. In my own experience, razor-sharp replaceable blades can be good, but cut-on-contact one-piece stainless steel designs like the G5 Montec, or even carbon steel as in the case of their CS model, are among the strongest, and most durable.

Now for a Reality Check

In the end, most quality razor-sharp broadheads work. It’s really not about personal choice. By in large, most broadheads kill efficiently. Consider Fred Bear, arguably the world’s most renowned bowhunter the world has ever seen. Throughout his hunting career, he took everything from Alaskan brown bear, to dangerous game in Africa, all with traditional archery equipment, using broadheads that were most certainly less high-tech than the plethora of fixed-blade and mechanical options we use today. To his credit, Fred Bear could shoot with almost superhuman accuracy. With today’s high-tech broadheads and high-speed bows, many of us expect complete pass-through shots. Whether you use a cut-on-contact fixed-blade or an expandable variety, ultimately the effectiveness of any broadhead is only as good as the shot placement. The bowhunter’s first goal must always be to deliver an arrow directly in to, and ideally to pass through the lungs creating both an entrance and exit wound. Political correctness aside, large wound channels, massive haemorrhaging, and a quick expiry are the things that make an expedient kill, easy tracking and flawless recovery possible. Ultimately it’s up to each bowhunter to determine which make, model, and design of broadhead best suits them, which broadhead shoots best from their bow, and the type of game they are pursuing.

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