The broadhead dilemma: Do I buy mechanical or fixed?

The broadhead dilemma: Do I buy mechanical or fixed?

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When it comes to selecting broadheads for your arrows, you’ll find yourself wading through numerous options, including weight, cutting diameter, number of blades, and finally, mechanical or fixed. Despite all the catchy marketing and product placement on hunting shows, the best place to start your search is at your local archery shop. Still, you should go in with some knowledge or who knows what you’ll leave with? First, you’ll need to make a decision on whether you want a fixed or mechanical broadhead. I’ve hunted with both and taken game with both, so there’s no wrong answer, but you may find that you prefer one over the other. Let’s evaluate these two and determine the tradeoffs that may sway your decision.

Fixed broadheads

Fixed broadheads are comprised of a set of solidly fixed blades. This is a “what you see is what you get” approach: How it looks on the end of your arrow is how it’s going to fly and penetrate—there will be no change when it strikes. These typically have between two and four blades. The benefit to these broadheads is that less can go wrong when it hits your target because there are no moving parts, which also results in better penetration. Another pro is you can sharpen these to make sure they cut like razors. When it comes to the drawbacks, the biggest is how they fly. There’s more surface area to catch air in flight, which leads to planing and less reliable accuracy. I want a broadhead that’s going to fly true, and fixed broadheads out of the box do not always do so, although they can be improved with a little extra time and attention.

Mechanical broadheads 

When first introduced to the market, mechanical broadheads came on strong and were widely embraced by bowhunters, largely due to catchy advertising and packaging, along with some strategic product placement on hunting shows. There are definitely some good mechanical broadheads available, but you have to do your homework to make sure you don’t buy junk. They come in innumerable shapes and sizes, but they are all designed to fly like a field tip (practice head), the blades opening upon impact with the target. That means you can just slap them on your arrow straight out of the box and head to the woods after practicing with only your field tips. They have less surface area to catch the wind because each broadhead is folded up and typically features some sort of reinforced tip akin to a field point (though sharper, stronger, and sometimes chiseled). 

There are a few different styles where the blades open backward and others where the blades open forward, but either way you have moving parts upon which you’re depending for a lethal shot. They also come in different cutting diameters, which is measured with the blades fully deployed. Regardless of which brand or style you go with, most of these fly nicely—just make sure the mechanicals make sense and function as advertised.

Mechanicals that open forward offer a second major benefit benefit: massive, gaping entry wounds. This occurs because the speed of the arrow combined with the angular velocity of the blades swinging forward into place creates a slap that tears the hide, similar to what the cavitation of a high-powered rifle round does to organ tissue. However, this comes with a drawback. This hide-tearing slap expends a lot of kinetic energy, resulting in reduced penetration. So for large game like elk or moose where penetration is critical, this could be a dealbreaker.

Which to choose

So which do you choose: mechanical or fixed? Both work well on whitetails, but this year I have made my way back to fixed, and I think I am going to stick with them this time. The primary reasons I began using mechanical broadheads were: someone talked me into it, they flew nicely out of the box, and they took minimal work to set up or train with. But after a couple of encounters with mechanical broadheads that didn’t deploy correctly or broke on impact, I decided to get back to a solid, controlled approach that will take an animal down as long as I hit my mark. 

Here is what makes sense to me as a hunter: I want to control as many factors as I can, and when I select a broadhead, I don’t want moving parts or having to depend on levers opening up after hitting my target at 280 FPS—too many things could go wrong. When I selected my broadhead this year I went with a full steel head with three razor-sharp blades that can be re-sharpened, so I can actually practice with the head I’m taking into the field. That’s an essential feature for me.

Dialing in your arrows

If you go with a fixed broadhead, the key is to get it flying true: These broadheads are more affected by minor things like the angle of your arrow rest on your bow. Tuning your broadheads is a vital step that isn’t too difficult and will have your fixed broadhead flying true in less than an hour. First, shoot your field tip, then shoot your fixed broadhead and assess the difference between the two. Whatever the broadhead did, move your rest to the opposite of that. For example, if your broadhead hit lower than your field tip, move your rest up. Make sure you adjust it very minimally because a little goes a long way!

Repeat the process until you’re striking the center of the target consistently. This technique can be applied to left and right tuning as well. One last little tip to make your arrows fly even better: Try fletching your arrows with helical fletching (I use a three degree). This spins your arrow in a way that more efficiently steers the broadhead. You can add this to your arrows yourself using a fletching jig or request the service at your local archery shop.

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