The reason we fletch our arrows!
Anyone who enjoys archery probably knows that accuracy and consistency are the two key ingredients to being good at a bow at all. There are many variables that go into making someone an accurate shooter. One of the biggest would be the importance of finding the right style and type of arrows for your compound bow setup. Once you've found your arrows, that's where the real challenge comes in, figuring out how to fletch your arrows in a way that works best for your setup.
It doesn't matter how hard you practice, if you can't trust your arrow to fly straight where you aim, well, you probably won't be going to the Olympics to compete in archery anytime soon.
Imagine that we are 20 meters from a target with a large red bull's-eye painted in the center. Our goal will be to shoot six arrows at this bullseye. Sounds pretty easy right? Now imagine that the arrows we are using are fletched with 3" wings at 4º right offset and are working fine for the setup we are using. At this distance we can easily hit all 6 of these arrows on the bull's eye without even breaking a sweat. We owe it all to those little 3-inch wings on our arrows—but we'll get to that in a moment. Now let's imagine making the exact same shots, but this time we're going to remove all the vanes from our arrows. Then we fire all six unguided arrows down to see if we can hit the bullseye. When it comes time to see how we did it, it becomes clear pretty quickly that not only did the arrows miss the mark, they didn't even hit the target. One of the six arrows is in the dirt 8 feet from the target, another arrow is stuck in the side of a barn 20 feet to the left of the target, and the other 4 arrows are nowhere to be seen. Why is that happend? Are we really that bad at shooting our bows? It might be pretty obvious what I'm getting at, but to be clear, no, we're not that bad at shooting our bow. That was simply because we didn't have fletching on our arrows.
Now let's imagine the same concept, but this time we'll make it a little fairer. This time the six arrows will all be fletched with 3 inch wings BUT some will be straight, some will be offset to the left and others will be offset to the right or spiraled. Basically, the fletchings will be very inconsistent with each other. We shoot all six arrows at the bulls-eye, but instead of grouping them all nicely in the center, the arrows are scattered all over the target in a very unsatisfying way. Achieving the goal was progress, but accuracy is still an issue for us at this stage. This is simply because the arrows can be guided differently due to the inconsistent blade configurations, ultimately making it impossible to be accurate AND consistent from shot to shot!
Help arrows fly from the start!The bow and arrow are considered to be one of the oldest and most efficient tools that mankind has ever developed. The overall concept of a "bow" has changed drastically since our ancestors invented it, and now, thanks to modern compound bows, that little old invention has become a tactical superweapon. We've improved every single aspect of this tool, which we call Bow, and made them so powerful that they can now actually reach speeds of just under 400 fps. That's a pretty crazy thought, isn't it? In fact, the average hunting bow that we deliver ready to use from our shop hurls arrows at speeds of around 290 – 320 FPS. Keep in mind that these speeds are achieved with a rig that isn't specifically designed for speed, but with heavier arrows and with the goal of balancing kinetic energy and speed. When you're trying to make a bow shoot so fast and hit so hard, the need to iron out the perfect arrows and fletching becomes all the more important.
The concept of gluing feathers onto an arrow to guide the arrow was born right next to the bow itself from the start. No matter how far we push the design of a "bow," we will never get around adding fletching to our arrows because physics just won't allow it.
How it works in brief!When you fire your bow, the arrow is sent on a high-speed journey down. The wind will rush down the arrow from all sides and this wind will constantly try to manipulate the arrow in every possible way. If fletching is not attached to the arrow to guide it to its target, the arrow is at the mercy of the winds. This means that every single arrow you fire without installed vanes will fly erratically, making it impossible to be consistent or even predict where the arrow will hit. By adding vanes or feathers to your arrows, you essentially give your arrow fins the ability to float through the air toward its target. These "fins" cut through the wind, helping to keep the arrow on its way to the target. Instead of being at the mercy of the wind, you can now actually use the wind as an ally. I've personally shot several darts without vanes installed (you know, for science and such) and the result is pretty wild. I've seen the arrows fly anywhere from relatively straight to a full circle in the air before coming back at me. No two shots were the same, so hunting with such an arrow will not happen. The same type of effect can occur on arrows that are fletched unevenly but on a smaller scale. The fletching of the arrows certainly helps, but if they are all installed differently you will still have different flight patterns between each of your arrows.
Which length should you choose?
Shorter or longer – does it really matter? This question may sometimes come up with other "things" in life, but the only area I'm qualified to speak on would be the length of your vanes or feathers. You can find vanes and springs from 0.5″ to 5.5″ and beyond. The average most shooters end up using is between 2" and 5", but you can find any other odd size ball for shooters looking for something a little less conventional. Like everything else in the archery world, most archers have their own opinions on the subject. If you go up to someone and ask their opinion directly on the subject, that person will be quick to tell you what blade/quill length they prefer. This opinion could be based on years of trial and error that this shooter has personally gone through, or it could be that this shooter has simply never tried anything else and what they are using now just works for them, or there could be a dozen other reasons . The reason this particular shooter uses what it uses is irrelevant, but the question is, would something else work better? Often the answer would be yes.
The type/length/configuration of fletching you choose can and will make a difference in your shooting. When trying to make an informed decision about what to take with you, there are a few things to keep in mind. Below I will provide some "rules of thumb" that can help you choose a new fletch type for your arrows!
Here are the things to consider when fletching your arrows!
Why most people use vanes instead of feathers for their compound bow setup! Both wings and feathers have their pros and cons, but feathers can cause a lot of trouble when shot from high-powered bows. It's important to understand all of the possible problems you might encounter with feathers in order to make an informed decision between the two types of fletching. One thing I can say for sure is that shovels are WAY more used than feathers these days. The reason for this is simple - feathers are fragile! Vanes are a lot stiffer than modern synthetic springs, hands down. If you have feathers installed on your arrow and you miss the target, the most likely result is your feathers being destroyed. The fact that these feathers are so fragile can also be limiting as you can't use them with most containment remnants like the Whisker Biscuit. The process of putting the feather through something like the bristles of a whisker biscuit will shred the feather and cause terrible flight for your arrow. The only good arrow rest option when using feathers would be a drop away rest and these are not for everyone. Another major departure is that feathers can only be fletched with either a "left helical" or a "right helical" configuration. This is due to the natural curvature of the feather itself. If you try to resist the curvature of the feathers and fletch them with a straight or staggered configuration you will basically break the feather and it won't fly very well. Having a "helical" curve isn't always a problem, but it depends on your situation. If you have a fast compound bow (like most these days) spiraling won't give you any benefit, but it will slow you down and make noise when the arrow is fired. The noise it makes is like a 'buzzing' switch in the wind, a type of noise made by the wind, but that's not always a problem. If you have a lighter draw weight/slower bow you won't have any problems with spiral fletching and can even benefit from it. These are the most common reasons most shooters avoid feathers when using a modern compound bow.
I'm picking the shovels I should use! I want to make a quick, very important note before we dive deeper. At the end of the day, no matter what arrows or fletching style you choose, paper tuning your arrows is important to ensure they exit your bow properly. Having said that! Here are a few rules of thumb that will help you make an informed decision about which shovels are best for you and your needs.
how far will you shoot
This one is pretty straight forward. If you're building your new setup with dreams of going back 100 yards every day just because you enjoy a challenge, then sir, you need a longer paddle. There isn't much of a "real" hunting scenario that would realistically cause someone to fire a shot at an animal from 80-90-100 yards. So if you're shooting back this far, it's probably just for having a good time. When sailing your arrow from this distance, any little surface you can give your flag will help guide the arrow. It's not often that I recommend a 4″ – 5″ shovel, but in this type of situation it can't hurt. I would use at least a 4″ shovel though. Anything less than that will have trouble guiding your arrow consistently, and each shot would tend to behave differently than the last. While it is possible to shoot from this distance with a short 2" wing, it is not as stable or predictable compared to a longer wing. The disadvantage of longer wings would be that they warp after a while, but in this scenario the benefits weigh the headache and a longer blade is a better choice for you. If your shovels end up warping, all you need to do is grab a hair dryer and heat the shovel. The heat will straighten them out. I will add a video to demonstrate how easy it is.
If you're like most shooters and don't plan on shooting beyond 60 yards, you can no doubt swing a shorter shovel. In this scenario, the shorter fins like the 2 inch blazers work really well. Since distance is nothing crazy, a 2″ or 3″ vane will be enough surface area to carry arrows evenly from shot to shot. Also, shorter wings are less likely to warp compared to longer wings, especially on the 2 inch blazers. The tricky part comes from choosing between a 2″ or 3″ shovel, but again, it just comes down to what you're going to do. If you expect to hang closer to the 60 yard mark than the 20 yard mark more often, you would be better off with a 3 inch wing to handle the extra distance and vice versa. By making a game plan of how far you will (mostly) shoot, you can make a better decision about the length of your shovels.
Straight, cranked or spiral?
Now that we've figured out the best length for our wings, it's time to figure out the configuration. A straight fletch refers to a perfectly straight vane installed on the arrow shaft perfectly aligned with the center of the spine. Imagine taking a marker and trying to draw a perfectly straight line from nock to tip through the center of the arrow without the line moving left or right at all. When installing a straight blade, the goal is to get it installed perfectly straight down the center, just like our line. You can tell a straight flag by looking down the shaft of the arrow from nock to tip, like aiming down the barrel of a shotgun. When you do this, note that the base of the vane runs straight down the shaft without deviating left or right at all. If so, then you have a straight wing. The advantage of a straight vane is zero speed loss. Because the flag does not swing left or right, the flag itself is not forced to turn by the wind. This means the arrow isn't slowed down by the wind vane and instead the vanes simply slice through the wind. Unfortunately, this also means that the dart resists spin, making it a little less stable. This is an effect that's hard to notice at shorter ranges, but it can make things a little harder for you when you start to backtrack to 40 yards or more.
Staggered fletching is slightly more effective when it comes to stabilization. You still have a straight wing (meaning the wing itself is not curved), but the front of the wing deviates from the right on the left arrow. Imagine taking the aforementioned marker and drawing a straight line down the center of the arrow from the nock to the tip. This time, move the line left/right at a very small 4º angle while continuing to draw the line along the arrow shaft. This very small angle defines an offset configuration. At the point of offset fletching, we would be looking down an arrow from nock to tip, as if aiming at the barrel of a shotgun. This time we see the front of the shovel move left or right as it moves in the direction of the arrowhead. It really doesn't matter if it's a left or right offset as the end result is the same. Most shooters use a right offset because a left offset causes your arrow to twist in a direction that can loosen your tips on target when the arrow hits. By using an offset, the flag is able to catch just enough wind to allow it to rotate. This causes a kind of riffling effect like you would see with a bullet exiting the barrel of a gun. The wind causes the arrow to rotate, and this rotation gives the arrow more stability and accuracy. The downside here would be a VERY small loss of speed, but it's not much. Compared to straight fletching, staggered fletching was an average of 2-3 FPS slower, which isn't that much in the long run.
Spiral fletching is basically an extreme version of offset fletching. The wing is no longer straight, but instead has a curve in the middle. Then install the vane with a steep offset while inserting this curve into the vane. The end result looks like the shovel wraps around the dart just a little bit. Using a spiral configuration will give you significant spin. This rotation helps stabilize your arrow and improve accuracy. The disadvantage of spiral fletching is that since the curve is so steep, the flag catches a lot of wind. Because of the helical turn that captures so much wind, you will experience the most loss of speed compared to the other configurations. We've seen a spiral curve slow an arrow anywhere from 5 to 8 FPS or more, but it varies by setup. Choosing a right or left helix actually has no effect. Most people opt for a right helix spin because using a left helix spin can loosen your tips once the arrow hits the target, just like a left offset spin.
For many shooters, choosing the right turn can really help streamline a group. The rotation we recommend most often is just a simple "offset" configuration. One offset is enough to give your arrow good, stable spin without introducing too much drag and loss of speed. Straight fletching eliminates the wind drag you would see when using an offset/spiral twist on your vanes, but it also eliminates the helpful riffling effect needed to stabilize your arrow. Spiral fletching can work very well when using a low draw weight/low velocity bow. When shooting a slower bow like a traditional bow or a light draw weight compound bow, every single spin can help stabilize your arrow. The extra stabilization you get from the spiral spin in this situation is more beneficial to you than the few feet per second you can lose by using a spiral spin.
Most often the best option!
Over the years we've built and customized tens of thousands of compound bow setups, and in that time we've figured out a few "safe bets" for arrow setups. We make bows primarily for hunting and being hunters ourselves we always keep a few things in mind. Most hunters will never shoot at anything further than 60 yards (generally). Another feature that most hunting bows have in common would be that most are sufficiently powerful and can reach speeds of at least 220 FPS. This means the bow itself is capable of powering the arrow with some pretty serious stand up and go. Based on this information we can start with a fairly solid idea of what we expect from the performance of the arrows we build for our customers. Most of the time the length of blade that we find works best is a 3 inch blade as it is long enough to help at those longer distances but is still durable enough. The configuration that we think works best would be the 4º right offset because it induces enough spin to stabilize but not so much spin that you start to see problems like you would with a spiral turn. This 3" wing 4º offset configuration allows shooters to be as accurate as possible, from 10 yards down to that 60 yard sweet spot. Keep in mind that this can and does vary from setup to setup, and at the end of the day we leave the decision to the paper tuning process. We have used all configurations many times over the years when the situation called for it. The 3 inch vanes at 4º right offset are simply the configurations that most often work best.
Of course, it's possible for someone to shoot and hit a target with combinations other than the ones I've mentioned, but in our opinion, this is the best option for accuracy. Shooting past the 60 yard mark is doable with a 3” blade at 4º r offset, but if you were doing this consistently you would be better off with a longer flag. If you find yourself in a position where you are trying to get the best vane configuration possible but are unsure what you should do, just think about all of these factors and you should be able to come up with the configuration that fits get best work for you. Shooting compound bows is an art that we take very seriously. Anything we can do as shooters to make our shots better and more consistent, we should definitely do! Making setups as good as possible is an important first step and after that it's up to us.
A straight fletch prevents the wind resistance you would see by using an offset/helical turn on your vanes but it also eliminates the helpful riffling effect needed to stabilize your arrow. A helical fletch can work very well if you are using a low draw weight/low speed bow.Which way should fletching be pointed? ›
Traditionally, the index fletch faces away from bow and in towards the archer.How should I fletch my arrows? ›
- Step 1: Clean Arrow Shaft. ...
- Step 2: Place Fletchings into Jig. ...
- Step 3: Apply Fletching Glue to Vanes. ...
- Step 4: Put Arrow in Jig. ...
- Step 5: Close/Lock Fletching Jig. ...
- Step 6: Remove Fletched Arrow. ...
- Step 7: Clean Off Excess Glue. ...
- Step 8: Tip & Tail Vanes.
If your fletching is arranged in a helical (spiral) pattern - like a boat propeller - your arrow will rotate in flight. Much like a football that's thrown with a perfect spiral, an arrow will fly straighter and be more stable if it rotates in-flight. Aerodynamically, a helical configuration is clearly a better choice.Which arrow fletching is best? ›
Helical fletching offers the most stability among other applications and is ideal for shooting broadheads. The rotation of the fletching will decrease arrow speed at a greater amount than the other style fletching but offers great accuracy at longer distances.Does fletching direction matter? ›
Straight and true arrow flight doesn't come solely from having a well-tuned bow, but also from having the appropriate fletching for your arrows. Choosing the right fletching as well as the correct placement and orientation of it on the arrow shaft is one of the final steps to achieving tight groups and higher scores.