Updated: Mar 28, 2020
Photo Credit: QDMA
Ahhh the good ole debate between fixed and mechanical broadheads. This conversation is one I have had many times with different hunters across the country. Broadheads are nothing more than sharp razor blades affixed to the tip of an arrow that are designed to cause lethal damage when shot at/through game animals in a hunting scenario. Technology has gotten so advanced that blades are sharper, hold an edge longer, and are more efficient at humanely killing game than ever before.
When I go on hunting trips with other people, I can’t help but to notice what brand bow they shoot, what types of boots they wear, and of course what broadheads they hunt with. Using the right broadheads can be the difference in going home successful or empty handed. Let’s look at some of the key differences between today’s broadheads and help clarify which one is right for you and your setup.
Broadheads have made many transformations throughout time. Going way back to ancient times broadheads were nothing more than carved flint stone arrowheads. Today’s razor technology has come a long way, there are more brands and types of broadheads than any one man could possibly remember. I will briefly list the general progression of broadheads from ancient to current designs to bring
everyone up to speed: Photo Credit: redditt
-Stone broadheads (ancient)
-Trade point broadheads
-Parallel tubing Ferrules
-Multiple blade broadheads
-Bleeder Blades (replaceable)
-First mechanical broadhead (as early as 1956, truly hit market in 1980’s)
-Wide cutting diameter broadheads
-Thunderhead broadheads (commonly used fixed, probably has killed the most game in history)
-Spitfire Broadheads (held by retaining clip instead of bands)
-Muzzy broadheads (in my opinion founded the best line of replaceable fixed razor heads)
-Modern-day mechanical broadheads (Rage, band held, scissor expendables, Ramcat, Swhacker etc.)
Which Broadhead Type is Best for You?
Photo Credit: NWTF
This is one of those questions that can get very complex very quickly. The answer to this is dependent on several variables. For example, what equipment do you hunt with: traditional equipment, crossbow, compound bow? What species of game are you after? How many pounds do you draw? Do you have a personal preference? At what distance do you plan on shooting at game? How much do you want to spend? The list goes on.
Based on how you answered those questions, a bit of research will help you determine what is recommended for you and your setup. For example, you wouldn’t want to put an ultra-light expandable blade on the end of a cedar arrow designed for being shot with traditional stick bows when you only pull back 35 pounds. The broadhead would have a tough time expanding fully at the lower speeds. It probably wouldn’t be heavy enough out front and most likely wouldn’t penetrate deep enough to make a lethal shot. Typically, you want to use the same grain (weight) broadhead as you use for your practice tips. Therefore, when you switch over to your hunting heads you won’t experience deviation in shot placement. Everyone is different and has their own personal preferences and experiences which plays a big part in the selection process as well.
Mechanical vs. Fixed: Which is Better?
Photo Credit: sharpen-up.com
Mechanical is just as it sounds, it has moving parts and typically expands upon initial impact, and blades can sometimes be replaced after wear. Fixed is also just as it sounds; it doesn’t move at all upon impact. It’s in a fixed position and, depending on brand, may also have the ability to change out old blades for new.
Fixed broadheads tend to fly a little wonkier than the mechanical in my opinion. When you take the practice field tips off to go hunting, it's important to practice shooting into a target that is made to take hits from a broadhead. This way you can make sure you are still hitting right on the mark. In most mechanical broadhead packages, the manufacturer sends a fourth tip that is made purely for practice. This tip is the same dimensions and weight as the actual broadhead but does not expand upon impact. If you switch over from the practice tip to a broadhead and huge changes occur in the flight of the arrow, consider trying a different broadhead or a different grain weight broadhead. The flight of the arrow should be clean, smooth and fluid.
Mechanical heads have the potential to fail to deploy upon impact which is not an uncommon occurrence. Many people have shared with me that their heads have failed at one time or another when shooting at game. A close friend of mine, who is an avid hunter, once shot at a deer with a 2 blade Rage mechanical head at 37 yards which did not deploy upon impact. He vividly remembers seeing the arrow hit the side of the deer. It made poor penetration and just fell out, allowing the deer to run off.
The first time I ever shot a deer with a bow, I was using a 100 grain NAP Thunderhead fixed broadhead. I was shooting an old Clearwater bow with about a 50 pound draw. When I made the shot, the deer was at 24 yards. The arrow made a full clear pass through the deer which ran about forty yards before it piled up. I didn’t change to another broadhead until 3 years later when all the hype was being built behind the new release of Rage broadheads. I bought a three pack of Rage’s Hypodermic broadheads that expand to a whopping 2 inch cutting diameter. The blades are razor sharp and use a shock collar to ensure proper blade retention and flight.
The first deer I shot at with the Rage mechanical head, I absolutely hammered the deer. It was the most ethical and humane kill I have ever had. The broadhead did its job, expanded properly and made a full pass through the animal. The hole it put in the deer was so big I could stick my whole arm through the deer. No joke. The deer ran 20 yards and dropped over, I was shocked and became a believer in the Rage mechanical heads immediately, but that didn’t last long.
Deer shot by Author, 2018
Three days later, I was using the exact same setup and shot at another deer from my tree stand at 28 yards, and the head didn’t deploy. The placement was slightly off and hit a little close to the shoulder but still should have been a lethal shot. I fully believe if I would have been using a fixed head it would have just pounded through and killed the deer. That’s when I changed my mind about the mechanical heads and switched back to the tried and true fixed heads. To me, it seems there is more that can go wrong with a mechanical head that requires activation in order to be effective; I can’t control or make a broadhead deploy once it’s left my bow. A fixed head just is what it is, it doesn’t move or change during the shot. All that is necessary is for you, the hunter, to put the arrow in the right spot. That’s something I can control with the proper practice every single time.
No matter your personal preference, it is crucial that you have trust and confidence in your equipment. When you’re in that moment and have an opportunity to harvest a mature animal, you shouldn’t be worrying about your gear. As a hunter, you should put in the work to find the one that best fits you. You can’t say you don’t like mechanical broadheads if you’ve never tried them. That’s a fact! Find what works for you, practice, be confident, and remain consistent in your approach.
Once you do your research to find something suitable for your setup, it’s time to pick a broadhead. When it comes to broadheads, the name of the game is fast, sharp, lethal and consistent. Be open to trying new heads! Pick something that isn’t going to break the bank but has a solid reputation for performance. I would recommend for a first time broadhead buyer to spend between $30-60, keeping in mind they can be reused as long as no damage was incurred during firing. When you buy a new set of heads, really pay attention to your shot placement and record how well the broadhead performs during the season. You could try changing up heads each year until you find something you really like. If you can’t decide on just one, buy two different brands and styles and keep an assortment of each in your quiver when you go out hunting. This way you can switch it up whenever you want.
By Nate Hicks