Choosing a Broadhead for the Shot of a Lifetime

By Dean VanderHorst
Arrow Production Manager

When choosing a broadhead, there is a lot of information out there to wade through that can be confusing and overwhelming. “Do I shoot 2-blade or 3-blade?” “Is 4-blade better than both?” “What really is a fixed blade broadhead?” “How important is grain weight?” “Why would I want a single bevel broadhead?”
How to Choose a Broadhead

So many choices can be disillusioning to the archer trying to find the perfect broadhead. In my opinion, most every broadhead on the market today will be effective on the whitetail deer-sized big game that most of us tend to hunt. Broadheads have attributes that make them unique and different, but what we need to get at is which one will be the best fit for you.

Dean VanderHorst with Canadian Moose
Every archer should have the same goal in mind when selecting a broadhead. That goal should be to produce a quick, humane kill with good blood trails to recover the game. To this end, many archers overlook the essentials, and get lost in the hype of broadhead advertising when selecting a head. There are two basics in broadhead selection that every archer has to attain to be effective in the field: sharpness and arrow flight. If either of these criteria are not met it will result in poor penetration, bad shot placement, and will inevitably end in wounded and lost game, which is not what any bow hunter desires.

Woodsman Elite Screw-In Broadhead

To begin the selection process we need to narrow down the possible candidates. There are several ways to look at this: number of blades, bevel, and weights. But I personally always start with the simplest of questions: “What can I sharpen?” If a broadhead is not sharp it is not worth its weight in salt. Sharpness is an overlooked basic when selecting a broadhead. Start separating the candidates based on this basic criteria. There are many heads that are hunting sharp right out of the package like Woodsman Elites, Silver Flames, Zephyrs, and Alaska Bowhunting Supply’s Ashby broadheads. Out of those you have many types of broadheads like 2-blade, 3-blade, and single bevel that would satisfy the most discriminating archer. Even though you need little to no sharpening skills when you remove these heads from the package, you will need some honing skills to re-sharpen the heads after shooting. If any amount of sharpening is out of the question there are still some broadheads to fit the bill. Steel Force broadheads come in a variety of combinations from single bevel heavy weight heads to two and 4-blade double bevel combinations, plus Steel Force offers lifetime factory re-sharpening. Out of the package, these have to be the sharpest broadheads that I have ever encountered. Other choices in the category include Muzzy broadheads with replaceable blade
options. This limits other broadhead options, but if sharpening is the issue then simply removing the blades when they dull and replacing them with razor sharp new ones takes sharpening out of the equation.

Zwickey Delta BroadheadThe final category of broadhead sharpness is the “you sharpen” broadheads. These types of heads are attractive to many traditional archers because of the lower initial cost, and with some sharpening they can provide years of service. Most all of them come out of the package with a fine edge on them, but they will require sharpening to make them hunting sharp.

Broadheads like the Woodsman original 3-blade, Zwickey two and four blade broadheads, Eclipse 2-blade, Ace 2-blade, and Simmons two and four blade heads are excellent choices and offer a wide selection of grain weights, blades, and bevels in both screw in and glue on types. They are perfect for those willing to break out the files and stones to put on a razor sharp edge.
DMT diamond stones, Lil’ shaver sharpeners and the KME broadhead and knife
sharpeners make this process very easy to accomplish.

Dean's Moose Hunting Set-Up

Once the sharpening challenge has been surmounted I like to next consider weight. It can be a simple process of shooting various weight field points from 100 to 315 grains to find the appropriate weight that will provide good arrow flight from your set up. Or start with a predetermined point weight and find the shaft that provides the best arrow flight with that weight. Whether you are bare shaft tuning, paper tuning or flight tuning there will be a weight point at which your arrow selection and bow set up will shoot the best. Targeted set ups can also be calculated with programs like a dynamic spine calculator. Programs like this allow you to enter data about your bow and arrow, narrowing the process down so you don’t have to test a wide selection of shafts and points. The final goal is all the same; a perfectly tuned arrow set up. When your set up is perfected and tuned with a determined point weight and
you are comfortable with your sharpening ability, you have narrowed the field of broadheads to consider, making the choice a lot less daunting.

Now that a point weight has been determined we can start culling out candidates by blade and type. Two blade broadheads are the oldest design of broadhead. From the first primitive stone points to the most high tech single bevel heads, 2-blade heads are a tried and true effective design. Studies show two blade heads, and in particular single bevel two blade broadheads, are by and far the best penetrating heads. 3:1 ratio broadheads (3 times as long as they are wide) have a long and lean design, causing the blade to rotate and cut upon entry. This provides excellent bone-splitting capabilities and long wound channels characterized by the “S” shaped entry wound. Other time-tested heads like the Zwickey, Eclipse, Ace, Simmons and Stos should not be discounted either. The old saying “the sun never sets on a Zwickey” is very true. Few broadheads can boast greater than a half-century history, during which they have taken probably every land animal on the planet, from the smallest of mammals up to elephants. They are as effective and as relevant today as when they were first manufactured.

Steel & Aluminum Broadhead Adapters If a 2-blade design is what you are set on, separate the heads based on weight selection, bevel and your sharpening ability.

A wide variety of brass, steel and aluminum adapters of various weights make different weight combinations even more attainable with various heads. Cost will also become an issue here too. Some broadheads can cost as much as $30 per head or as low and $3 to $5 each. Consider how the broadhead is made and what advantages it offers for the price. Most of the time it will be the durability of the broadhead that is the deciding factor.

Zephyr/Eclipse & Simmons Bleeder Blade

Four blade heads for the most part are two blade broadheads with a replaceable pre-sharpened bleeder blade. There are a few exceptions, like Muzzy and Zwickey heads. But in the traditional style Zephyr, Eclipse and Simmons bleeders can be replaced and also shot with or without the 4-blade option. The advantage of the 4-blade option is that the wound channel will be opened on another plane, making it less likely for the wound to close. That way the animal will not bleed internally, and you will not have to worry about following small, obscure blood trails. The biggest disadvantage to a 4-blade is the impeded penetration caused by the bleeder blades versus a two blade head. Again thinking of deer sized game, this should not be an issue.

The final design of broadhead types to consider is the 3-blade broadhead. Although the number of three blade heads is not as diverse as two blades, they do offer a lot of variety. Woodsman original, Woodsman Elites, G5 Montecs, and Snuffer broadheads are among the most popular of the 3-blade heads. The Woodsman line offers the greatest variety of weights from which to choose.
Original Woodsman Glue-On Broadhead

With 100 grain to 250 grain weights, and with weight adapters for glue-on original and Elite heads, there is an array of weights that can be created. The advantages of the 3-blade are simple: superior flight characteristics, easy to sharpen & resharpen, and more cutting blade length than most other broadheads given the length and width characteristics. Because of the design of 3-blades heads they take the guesswork out of sharpening angles. By laying the broadhead flat across the two blades and honing/sharpening on files or stones, the process of sharpening becomes quick and easy. The near 3:1 ratio of heads like the Woodsman broadhead provides optimum penetration and superior blood trails due to wound channels, which means quick demise and recovery of game.

Once you choose a style of head there is still some work to do. Broadhead flight is a critical factor in performance. Do not assume that once you are tuned with field points that you just need put on a broadhead of the same weight and that is it. In some cases, broadheads can be interchanged with field points and flight characteristics will not change. However, in many cases there might be some tuning involved with the broadhead that you choose to shoot. Starting with a perfectly tuned field-tipped arrow means the broadhead is the only factor when starting to try various broadheads and weights. There are a couple of avenues to take in this stage of broadhead selection. If the broadhead being tested does not fly true, you can choose to tune the shaft or the bow to the broadhead. This requires a little more work since you would have to start the bare shaft tuning, taper tuning or flight tuning process as you did with the field point. The disadvantage that I find in this process is if you want to change from broadheads to field points throughout the year it is not as easy as taking a broadhead off and putting a field point on. I always want to keep my set up simple.

Once I have found a weight, blade and style that I am comfortable sharpening, my next step is test shooting a couple different broadheads that fit those criteria. At this point broadhead flight is the only thing to consider. To be lethal and accurate, a broadhead must have true arrow flight. There is no compromise at this point. If the broadhead you have selected is hard to tune or provides erratic flight, do not be afraid to select another head with similar criteria to test. When a big buck is standing in front of you too much is riding on your shot for you to not have 100% confidence in your broadhead tuning and sharpness.

The Author admiring the great outdoors
There are many criteria to consider during the process of selecting a broadhead; from weight, style, what can be sharpened proficiently, tuning, and arrow flight. But now there is one final component: PRACTICE! Given all of these components, every broadhead is lethal given that you do your part and put the arrow where it needs to be. My personal rule is to almost exclusively shoot broadheads at least one month prior to season during regular practice. This provides extensive knowledge and confidence with your set up and flight characteristic of your broadhead and arrow. Once all of the pieces have been put together you will have the best broadhead to accomplish your hunting goals.

For more information contact:
3Rivers Archery
PO Box 517
Ashley IN 46705