Speed is a big issue when it comes to arrows, but weight is important, too.
It was Nov. 14, 2000-something, and my partner and I both missed easy shots at very nice bucks — but for reasons at the opposite ends of the mistake spectrum. “Bad” Brad missed because, I believe, he shoots too much speed, something like 320 feet per second. I missed, I now know in hindsight, because I didn’t have enough (about 245 fps). Brad is a militant speed guy who can’t resist the latest model claiming to be the fastest bow on the planet. His bow generates a ton of kinetic energy, but it takes a wing and a prayer just to draw it (and he’s not over-bowed). And, when Brad finally gets to full draw, he struggles mightily to talk himself out of anticipating the shot — it’s quite a pop. The net result, more often than it should be, is a touch of target panic — flinching as the arrow jets toward the target.
I had — emphasis on past tense — the opposite problem. I enjoy archery almost as much as bowhunting, so the bows I gravitate toward are buttery smooth drawing and fun to shoot. The last thing I do is flinch because I’m immersed in feeling the arrow exit the bowstring. But smooth shooting comes with a price, too. What brought me to this conclusion is the Iowa hunt noted above. It forever changed the way I view arrow velocity. More important, it’s made me and Brad more effective hunters, and it just might help you, too.
THE LURCHING BUCK
Let’s begin with rehashing why I missed that buck. With the camera rolling and my eyes riveted to the shoulder of the massive Iowa 10-pointer, all I needed was for it to take a couple more steps. I was on autopilot, not about to let buck fever come between me and this super-giant. Besides, this shot was planned out months ago. We knew where the buck bedded, and we were in perfect position to cut it off. It took those extra steps, but I never saw that buck again. Neither did my friend Steve Shoop, who runs a tight ship at J&S Trophy hunts, where a buck of this magnitude rarely gallops off into the mist without Shoop knowing how the chapter ends.
To find out why I missed the gimme shot, all I had to do was consult the cameraman. He has a gizmo that never lies. In fact, ask any hunting cameraman these days why so many whitetails seem to be avoiding arrows, and they’ll tell you more deer are “ducking the string.” That’s ironic considering today’s bows spit arrows light years faster than stick bows of yesteryear. The point is, if you hunt like you’re encouraged to hunt these days, you need more speed.
Allow me to expound. Thanks to the video generation, we have living proof why our “perfect” shots were perfect only in theory. Simply rewind the footage, watch the scene in slow motion and check out the whitetail’s contortions for yourself. It’s the same time after time. Either your arrow sails high as the buck drops, sails left (or right) as buck swings, or both. The deer’s response varies to some degree, but the result is the same: The buck ducks out of the way in the nick of time. I call it lurching, but it’s instinctual to the deer. The buck needs to dig in to make a quick getaway, and it does this when it hears your bow and arrow. The key is to beat the speed of sound.
Before we discuss that more, let’s not forget Brad. The pursuit of more speed has a long list of problems in addition to the few I already mentioned. But it just so happens that Brad’s speedy rig and my fun-to-shoot setup can be combined for a perfect compromise — one that will satisfy his itch for zapping speed and my need to beat lurching bucks.
THE SPEED OF SOUND
Sometimes a deer’s reaction is quicker than at others times, but the “thwap” of a bowstring and the “zzzzpppp” of an arrow are all it takes for a deer to lurch. Three tactics hunters rely on to lure bucks within range — calling, rattling and corn — exacerbate the problem by putting bucks on edge. It’s difficult to wean yourself from these tactics, but there are some things you can do to mitigate their effects.
The sound barrier is generally defined as 1,088 fps (742 mph at 32°F and 761 mph at 59 degrees at sea level). I’m getting a bit ahead of myself, but if you can fling an arrow at about ¼ of the fps sound barrier, you will kill a lot more deer than you wound or miss.
The key isn’t sound; it’s a deer’s reaction time to sound. I just watched an exciting extra-innings baseball game where the lead seesawed back and forth as the managers substituted pinch hitters and relief pitchers as if it was the last game of the World Series. The announcer made a great point about late-inning pitchers: “To get a batter out when the game is on the line, they need power.” Indeed, a good batter can time baseballs, but only up to a point. When velocity exceeds his reaction time, he won’t be able to catch up to the fastball unless he guesses.
Cat-quick whitetails also have a reaction threshold. All factors being equal, arrow velocity is the ticket for exceeding that threshold reaction time. When I hunt whitetails, my rig is appreciably faster than when I hunt elk, moose, caribou and other big-bodied game. Ironically, my kryptonite for whitetails is speed.
GET MORE SPEED
Want to know a secret? The quickest and easiest way to harvest more deer is to increase your effective range from 20 yards to about 30 yards. The number of deer that stroll by in that 10-yard zone is amazing. To do this, however, you will either have to learn to shoot a little better or adopt a bow configuration that’s nearly foolproof. To do that, you have to eliminate the need to estimate the range. Sounds elementary, but it’s true: Flat-shooting arrows do all of the calculations for you.
One sight pin out to 30 yards is Arrow Heaven. Get to these pearly gates by either pulling more weight, switching to a speed bow or switching to a lighter arrow. I favor the latter, but be forewarned that speed magnifies shooting errors. Shooting from a treestand is awkward; leaning and craning causes a loss of balance. This, in turn, adversely affects aiming or releasing, or both. Naturally, the first order of business is to practice uncomfortable shots. That said, following are the rules for boosting arrow velocity:
Purchase quality lightweight shafts — about 7 gpi (grains per inch) rather than conventional shafts weighing 9.5 grains or more — that are known for their consistent tolerances. The three top shafts are: Easton Flatline (7.4 gpi) (www.eastonarchery.com, 801-539-1400); Gold Tip Ultralight Pro (7.4 gpi) (www.goldtip.com, 800-551-0541); and Carbon Tech’s CT Cheetah (6.4 gpi) (www.carbontecharrows.com, 800-951-8736). Easton can help you go even lighter. Their MicroLite Speed System for the 2009 Flatline shaft utilizes a shortened insert and nock combo that reportedly improves arrow velocity by as much as 5 fps.
Get the right spine for your rig. For the majority of the nation’s bowhunters, that’s going to be more or less a .400 spine arrow (55- to 70-pound draw weight, 27- to 29-inch draw length). Following are some cheater rules to know if some of the arrows in your quiver are a little off in spine. First, if arrows are too weak (for your bow) they will tend to favor impact toward the right. Second, arrows that are too stiff tend to favor impact to the left. Perhaps this explains why “practice arrows” shot throughout the summer eventually drift to the right — the wear and tear causes them to lose some of their spine, or stiffness.
Inconsistent spine isn’t as critical on a heavier shaft as it is on a lighter one. Do whatever you can to control what you can control. Start by numbering each shaft and note which ones group well, which ones drift to the right and which ones drift to the left. All factors being equal, too stiff is better than too soft, but there’s always a point of diminishing return. Next, tweak the softer shafts (right-impacting arrows) by turning their nocks a quarter turn at a time and reshooting them until they fall in line with the others. Do the same with the stiffer shafts. When you determine each shaft’s ideal orientation, glue each nock in place with Bohning’s PowerBond (not a superglue such as a Cyanoacrylate adhesive).
Lighter arrows (not just shafts) shoot flatter. Decrease arrow weight by decreasing arrow length with a 1- or 2-inch overdraw rest (whichever feels most comfortable). To further lighten the load, switch to a lighter broadhead.
Maximize bow speed by stripping dampening devices located near the middle of the bowstring, and add a bowstring stopper. Many bows come equipped with them, but Mathews’ Dead End String Stopper (www.mathewsinc.com) and Norway Industries’ StringTamer (www.duravanes.com) can be added to almost any bow model. Another new aftermarket add-on for 2009 that reportedly jacks arrow speed by as much as 10 fps is the Meta Speed Stud (www.g5outdoors.com, 866-456-8836). These accessories work because they don’t add any weight near the center of the string; anything placed there — metal nocks, silencers, aiming devices — saps arrow velocity.
While most bowhunters would do well to lighten up, a slice of the population is blessed with the combination of natural strength and long arms. The chief problem isn’t speed, but rather harnessing it. Like I told Brad recently, “What good is it to zip an arrow through a buck and then have to spend 10 minutes in a tug-o-war to yank it out of the ground?” Put another way, why not put that wasted kinetic energy to good use? If this rings true to you, here’s what the bow doctor ordered:
Switch to heavy arrows. Excellent candidates are Beman’s MFX (www.beman.com, 801-539-1400) and Easton’s Axis. Both incorporate Hidden Insert Technology (HIT) and sport thin-diameter, thick-walled shafs. On a standard arrow length, these models should add about 50 grains to the arrow’s finished weight. A new option for 2009 is Easton’s A/C/C Professional Hunting Series, which is the original A/C/C aluminum/carbon shaft that is said to be “optimized” for hunting purposes. A new spine has been added (440) for lighter weight bows, and the fitting chart is easier to understand since the shaft models are designated by their spine: 300, 340, 390, etc. In addition, the Pro Hunting A/C/C accepts all standard hunting nocks such as the popular Easton X-nock.
Switch to broadheads with a larger cutting diameter. Transfer that extra energy to the thoracic cavity of that big buck and you’ll get tremendous blood trails and quicker kills, too.
In conclusion, wired whitetails are jumpy critters, and speed is the best cure. Once your arrows fly at the 270-fps-or-better mark, you can rely on one sight pin out to 30 yards (you might have to cheat and aim at the brisket for close shots and a tad high for perimeter shots). You can do this; arrow science is not rocket science.
Read Recent Articles:
• Ohio Public Land Whitetails: Not all the Buckeye State bruisers are taken on private land.
• Big Buck Bonds Brothers: Some moments in the deer woods will change you forever.
• Do-It-Yourself Video: How to film your own hunt and look like a pro!
This article was published in the August 2009 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Subscribe today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.