3 Ways to Improve Long-Range Accuracy with Broadheads
Every winter for the past few years, I have tried to come up with one or two things I can change or work on in the spring to improve for the next season.
This came after my best season of bowhunting ever. In 2017, I shot nine big game animals with my bow, and seven single arrow kills. I felt so high and mighty. I was on top of the world. The spring of 2018 rolled around, and my confidence was higher than ever. I put off practicing until later than normal, and my shot volume decreased significantly. “I don’t need to put those dozens of hours in at the range, I just proved to myself last season what I am capable of.”
The fall rolled around, and my first shot was at a five or six-year-old whitetail buck that I had been watching for a number of years. I remember my feeling of unwavering confidence as he lined up his vitals in my peep. It wasn’t a question of whether I was going to make a good shot or not. I was already thinking about taking pictures and quartering him into my pack.
I took my shot and immediately had the gut-wrenching feeling when you see your arrow impact an unfavorable spot. At 29 yards, I had hit this buck in the neck, a terrible shot. I can’t blame anything but myself. My gear was on point, and I messed up. Plain and simple.
I waited for an hour or so before leaving my stand and found some blood. There was a fair amount of blood, but the trail ran dry shortly after. Nightfall came, and I backed out until morning. I did not want to spook him and risk him running into the neighboring postal code.
I had a sleepless night, as many of us have experienced, and I was extremely humbled. I got too arrogant. I got overconfident. I didn’t try to make myself better in the off-season. I thought I couldn’t get better, or rather that I didn’t need to get better.
I was back at my spot before sunrise the next morning to track my buck. The ravens eventually tipped me off, and I did find my buck. There was not much left of him. I ran two coyotes off his carcass among the murder of crows that had spent the morning feasting on my mistake.
In one of my saddest and most ashamed moments as a bowhunter, I vowed to do something every spring/summer to make myself better.
I wanted to force myself to try new things. It would force me to put the time in at the range and question if every fine detail of my setup had been optimized. I would be happy if I ended up even 1% better than last season—anything to prevent this from happening again.
The next spring, my goal was to improve my long-range accuracy with broadheads. I had always had great flight with my fixed blades at long range, but I wanted to get to the point where I couldn’t shoot the same spot at 80 yards because my arrows were so tight that I would cut vanes.
It was probably my most productive off-season as an archer because of what I learned in achieving that goal. Here is how I did it.
Should you switch to 4-fletched arrows?
I had been shooting 4-fletch for a while, but I wanted to see how much of a difference it made. When I built my arrows for the season, I left half of them as 3-fletch and added a small piece of electrical tape to the back end to match the weight of the fourth fletch on the other six arrows. It only took a week before I stripped the vanes off those arrows and reflected them with four vanes a piece.
The difference was greatly noticeable at long range. Out to 50 yards, I couldn’t tell any difference. My 4-fletched arrows were easier to see during flight which I liked, but the flight didn’t seem impacted.
At 60 yards, I started to notice enough of a difference in how my arrows grouped with broadheads to make me think. My grouping with the 3-fletched arrows was good, but I had consistently tighter groups with the 4-fletch.
At 70 and 80 yards, the difference was immense. My groups were easily an inch larger at those ranges with the 3-fletch.
I decided to give it one more day at the range before making my decision. It was a very windy day, and it cemented my decision. Despite having a fourth vane which in my mind seemed like it would be impacted more by the wind, my 4-fletch arrows grouped much tighter in the wind than the others. It was a no-brainer what the right choice was going forward.
How to choose a broadhead that flys well
I played around with quite a few broadheads that season. Most of my test subjects were fixed blades, but I also shot two mechanical heads. It did not take long to notice that although the mechanicals flew quite well at long range, their penetration was weak in contrast to any of my fixed blade options.
I ruled those heads out quite quickly as possible options. Who cares if you hit your mark at 70 yards if your arrow can’t make it the next 18 inches through the animal?
I tested some of the most popular fixed blade heads on the market, and some smaller companies. I quickly found that weight distribution was the biggest factor. The broadheads with the widest cutting diameters often had an aluminum ferrule (a very light material) and steel blades (a much heavier material).
Those broadheads did not fly well at all beyond the 50-yard mark. The head's weight was so far away from the center line of the arrow shaft that they ended up steering the arrow from the front end, and not reliably either. There is a reason we use vanes to control the arrow's flight from the back end.
After ruling out heads of that design, I was down to two popular 3-blade broadheads and the Tooth of the Arrow XL V-series. They all flew well. However, three factors cemented my decision to choose the best fixed-blade broadhead for long-range shooting.
One of the heads had a separately manufactured ferrule and blades, all held together by only the pressure of my arrow shaft after it was screwed on. The blades on that head started to wiggle in their slots after a few days of shooting. I didn’t want to think about what would happen if that head hit a bone. It was out.
The last two heads were single pieces, but one was made of an injection molded metal, and the Tooth of the Arrow had been milled out of a solid bar of steel. The injection molded head, which is and was one of the most popular heads on the market, dulled quickly in comparison to the milled broadhead.
This head was also a three-blade, however, and after only a few days of shooting, I quickly noticed which head was doing more damage to my target. The Tooth of the Arrow was shredding my target to bits and eventually completely passing through, while the 3-blade rarely made it out of the target. This was a good problem to have, and my choice was made.
Is it better to shoot a smaller peep?
I was feeling pretty good at this point, but my goal was to shoot tennis ball-sized groups at 80 yards, and although I was close, there had to be more I could do.
I had always shot a ¼” peep sight because it was very comfortable to look through. I could see my target and its surroundings well, and more importantly, it was the perfect size to create a perfect halo around my sight housing.
This has always been a large factor in my long-range accuracy. You need a peep that is the correct size to eclipse your sight housing perfectly. It is the archery equivalent of a parallax on a rifle scope.
I always chose a sight I liked and bought a peep to match the housing. For as long as I can remember, that had been a ¼" peep which is quite large.
I went out and bought a 7-pin fixed sight with a noticeably smaller sight housing with a 3/16” peep and a 1/8” peep to match. The 1/8” felt very small to me. It circled my sight housing well, but it eclipsed the inside of the frame rather than the outside, as I would have preferred.
The 3/16” was perfect. It took me some time to get used to, but after a few days at the range, I had started becoming dangerously accurate at 80 yards with broadheads to the point where I needed to shoot different spots. Mission accomplished, right?
I thought that there was the possibility that I was just getting better at shooting and that the peep didn’t matter. It was early spring still, and I wasn’t going to be hunting until the fall, so I had time to play around.
I swapped my sight back to my older large framed one and returned to the ¼” peep. There was an immediate increase in my group sizes at 80 yards, which was not a good thing. I have never shot a ¼" peep again!
The smaller peep and sight housing allowed me to have a smaller sight picture which meant less room for making a bad shot. The decreased size of my peep's halo meant that a perfect halo around my equally smaller sight housing would be of a tighter margin than with the larger-sized gear.
The ¼" peep was so large that even when I felt the halo was perfect, it could have been off to a small extent which I wouldn’t have noticed in my peripheral vision. Bringing in the edges of my peep with the smaller diameter and the smaller sight housing meant that my peripheral vision didn’t need to be used as much to see if my halo was perfect. I could focus on my pin and still see the halo very clearly.
Every bow I have set up for clients since has been with a 3/16” peep at the largest. If I ever found a sight housing that held seven pins and could halo well with a 1/8” peep, I sure would try it. Maybe that is something to try for next spring in my annual pursuit to become 1% better.
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