Bow Bootcamp is a 10-part series designed to get you, your equipment, and your skills in peak shape ahead of the first fall seasons. That means gear checks, accessory tweaks, precision bow tuning, and shooting drills to get you totally dialed in just in time. In Part 1, we did a thorough bow check. Now it’s time to pick the perfect arrow.
After making sure your bow is in good working order in Part 1, you were probably expecting bow setup to be next. And that’s probably how most people would proceed. But in my experience, the next step should be arrow selection (and then arrow-build). Why? Because if you just grab any old shaft from the garage, it may not be the exact same diameter as the arrow you’ll eventually hunt with, and this can cause slight accuracy issues. Instead, pick your hunting arrow first and use it to set up and tune your bow, and you won’t have any problems down the line. So, here’s the drill.
1. Choose the right arrow spine.
The first step to getting the right arrow shaft is choosing the right spine for you and your bow. Spine is simply the arrow’s stiffness, and it is labeled right on the shaft with numbers like 500, 400, 340, 350, 250, and so on. Many new archers mistake these numbers for the arrow’s grain weight. So don’t get that confused. (We’ll talk about weight in a sec.)
When looking at spine values, the smaller the number, the stiffer the arrow; the larger the number, the less stiff it is. For example, if you’re pulling 70 pounds and select a 500-spine arrow, your bow’s energy will cause that whippy arrow to flex a ton in flight, and it will never recover, which can create serious accuracy issues. It can also be dangerous. One time at an archery tournament, I watched an archer—one consumed with arrow speed—attempt to fire a 500-spine arrow from an 80-pound bow. The shaft exploded at the shot because the thin carbon wall could not handle the bow’s energy.
On the flip side of the coin, my wife pulls 45 pounds and shoots a 500-spine arrow, which is perfect for her setup. If she shot a 250-spine arrow, the arrow would be way too thick and heavy, and she would lose a ton of velocity, and her accuracy would suffer.
The good news is that manufacturers make it easy, as all of them provide a spine chart on their websites. As long as you know your draw weight and draw length, the chart will tell you the best spine values for you.
2. Select arrow-shaft weight in grains per inch.
Once you decide on the proper spine, the next step is to decide how heavy a shaft you want shoot—expressed in GPI, or grains per inch. For instance, if you’re looking to gain arrow speed for flat shooting, you’ll want to go with a properly spined arrow that is relatively light, or has a lower GPI value.
My buddy, Danny Farris, likes a bit of speed. His Easton Sonic 6.0 arrow has a spine rating of 340 and a GPI of 7.8. I’m what I refer to as a tweener—I like speed but also want some weight behind my arrow to help penetration. My Easton Axis 4MM Long Range has a spine of 340 spine but weighs 8.3 grains per inch. Other hunters, especially those who chase heavy-boned game like elk, or whitetail hunters seeking a heavy shaft that flies quiet, will go with an even beefier GPI rating.
3. Decide if you want micro-diameter arrows?
The current craze is micro-diameter shafts, and I love them. That said, I love them for a specific reason—because I live out West and my shots on western game are typically farther than the average shot from a Midwest or Eastern tree stand. Micro-diameter arrows have better ballistics and give the wind a smaller surface area to press against in flight. However, if your after whitetails and turkeys, and you’re not shooting 3-D competitions that cause you to stretch your range beyond 60 yards, standard shafts work remarkably well and save you some coin.
4. Think about FOC and inserts.
Most arrows, whether you purchase them as raw shafts or fletched from the factory, will come with inserts, but manufacturers give you options here, too. For instance, my Axis 4MM Long Range shafts come with standard aluminum Half-Out inserts that weigh 50 grains. But I could go with a 55-grain Titanium Half-Out or a 95-grain Steel Half-Out if I wanted to increase the amount of weight in the front of my arrows, which is known as increasing the F.O.C. (front of center). Technically, F.O.C. is the percentage of your arrows total length that’s between the center of the arrow and the balance point in front of the center (nearer the tip). The more weight up front, the greater the percentage, and the higher the F.O.C. There’s lots of talk about wanting a high F.O.C. because it helps stabilize flight and adds penetration. But be careful: too much and your arrow will nose dive. An F.O.C. between 10 and 15 percent is just about right. And one easy was to fine-tune F.O.C. is by getting a little heavier or lighter insert.
If that’s at all confusing, just call your arrow manufacturer or tell you pro that you want an F.O.C. of 10 or 15 percent before you buy. They’ll guide you to the right choice.
5. Decide if you want standard nocks or lighted?
Most bowhunters go with the standard nock with their arrows package—I typically do, and it has served me well. Other bowhunters prefer a custom nock, which for most means a lighted nock. Lighted nocks are great, and I do use them when hunting for whitetail deer. You just need to understand that a lighted nock will be heavier than a standard nock, and you’ll need to tune your bow accordingly. You never want too much weight on your arrow’s backend, so if you have flight issues with lighted nocks, you can slightly increase F.O.C. (see above) or revert to standard nocks.
6. Keep fletching selection simple.
As for fletching options, there are too many out there to count. You want to keep it fairly simple. If you plan to shoot a mechanical broadhead, you don’t need long, ultra-stiff vanes. Instead, you want to go with a semi-stiff, low-profile vane that creates less noise but still stabilizes flight. My choice is AAE’s Hybrid 23s. They are durable, quiet in flight, and guide my arrows very well. For fixed-blade broadheads, you want a little more beef. You can still go with a shorter 2- to 3-inch fletching—Bohning’s Blazer is a great choice—but be sure the vane has a bit more rigidity. Longer, low-profile vanes are also a good option for fixed heads, as they can be a little quieter. Take a look at helical, too. On the plus side, adding helical make your arrows spin faster, which improves stabilization and accuracy. On the minus, it adds drag. So, for whitetail hunters who keep their shots inside 40 yards, helical makes a lot of sense. Helical also makes sense for longer ranges, but in the case, you’ll want to offset the drag problem with lower-profile vanes. You can experiment without spending big bucks on different finished arrows by getting yourself a fletching jig, which is inexpensive and easy to use.
Once you’ve made all the decisions above, it’s time to either order finished arrows or build your own, which is what we will cover in Part 3.