How to choose the best arrow for your bow
Choosing the best arrow for your recurve or compound bow is very important decision, but can be made as simple or as complicated as you like. A quick glance at any reference material such as Wikipedia or other sites dedicated to archery will bring up concepts such as the archers paradox, fish-tailing, porpoising, or any number of other creative sounding names for wobbly arrows.
Feel free to read up these concepts, but as a beginner, don’t stress yourself out about finding the most perfectly tuned arrow. Unless it can pull off shots like the Patriot Arrow from Robin Hood: Men in Tights, then it’s probably not worth the effort at this time.
So long as you use a consistent set of arrows and get used to how they fly, you can achieve top results with arrows chosen with the basic criteria listed below.
Any number of other factors can influence the flight of your arrow, so the key requirement is simply that the arrow is suitable for you, your bow, and your target.
- Too short and you won’t be able to draw your bow fully.
- Too weak (mainly wood or cheaper synthetics) and there is the very real risk of your arrow shattering upon release, potentially driving shards of the shaft into your arm (absolute worst case scenario)
- Too long or too strong and you’re simply carrying extra weight which can slow your shots down.
The goal for target archers is to choose an arrow that is long and strong enough for your bow, whilst also being as light as possible. This isn’t always the case for bow hunters, as a higher grain arrow can be favored as the extra weight helps with target penetration.
When in doubt, a little extra length or strength in your arrow is preferable to the alternative.
First, here are the basic features of a modern arrow:
When choosing an arrow, first determine your personal draw length using the tutorials found in the compound bow or recurve bow guides, then add 1-2 inches to that number (rounding up to whole numbers).
If you used an average result from the two methods for determining draw length, then we suggest adding the full 2 inches.
For adults, the most commonly manufactured (and therefore most cost effective) arrow lengths are 28, 30 & 31 inches.
For safety reasons, short arrows pose a serious hazard. It is best practice to make the arrow tip sit least 1” forward from the arrow rest at full draw, but when in doubt, go long.
For target archery, go with arrowheads known as points. These are sharp enough to embed themselves in a standard target, but do not have barbs so they can be easily removed after shooting.
Most arrows will come with target points already attached and these should be perfect for normal use.
If you are going big game hunting, then you need what’s known as a broadhead tip. As the name suggests, these tips are wider than target points and are designed to cause significant damage to their target (both on impact and removal).
As you will need a relatively powerful bow to go hunting in the first place, the weight of a broadhead should be less of a concern to you. Broadhead tips come with a standardized screw attaching mechanism so your choice of broadhead will largely be determined by what looks good to you, and how much you want to spend.
Of course you will need to make sure that the arrows you buy have unscrewable tips, so that you can swap the standard target points for broadheads.
Your choice of broadhead tip is a personal statement about yourself, so definitely go with something you like.
One caveat to that is don’t go overboard. There are a number of high end broadheads for sale which incorporate blades/arms that spring out in mid-flight to really increase the area of effect on impact.
This is a colossal amount of overkill if you are hunting small game such as rabbits or foxes, and whilst you are pretty much guaranteed a kill if you hit the target, the effort to remove the arrowhead will pretty much eliminate any chance of using the animal as a trophy.
In fact, if you are going to be hunting very small game such as rabbits, you may wish to use an arrowhead known as a blunt. Blunt points are likely to bounce off a large target, but possess more than enough stopping power for a small animal.
Blunts are also very easy to use as you don’t have to worry about sharpening them if you accidentally hit a rock, and they won’t get embedded in trees.
In order of preference from best to worst materials, arrow shafts will typically be made from the following:
- Carbon Fiber: Light, Strong, Very resistant to bending. Can’t say anything bad about them. There are also few carbon/aluminum composite arrows for sale which combine the great properties of carbon fiber with some additional weight for assisting with hunting.
- Aluminum: Strong, Relatively light. Not as resistant to bending as carbon arrows, so you might see some distortion after heavy use or hard target impacts.
- Fiberglass: Cheap & Durable, although a bit heavy. These are pretty much used for training purposes only
- Wood: The old classic. Not as durable as modern materials, prone to warping or breakage with heavy use, and unsuitable with very powerful bows. However, if you plan to participate in traditional archery with an authentic longbow, these are for you.
When purchasing your arrows online, the product description will typically list a suitable weight range, which should correspond to your chosen draw weight.
It is okay (but not ideal) to pick a heavier arrow than your chosen draw weight, but do not choose a lighter arrow. If an arrow says suitable for 40-60 pound bows and you are a giant with an 80 pound recurve bow, find a different arrow or you run the risk of a painful mishap.
If you plan to build your own arrows, or really want to understand the details of arrow materials and their impact on your shot, read our section on Arrow Spine at the bottom of this page.
Arrow Fletching (Vanes)
Factors such as length and material should be the primary basis for your arrow decision, so the hardest choice regarding your fletching’s should be the color. No we’re not kidding!
Both natural feathers and the newer synthetic vanes perform their jobs well.
Bird features are lighter and arguably nicer to look at, but come with a higher cost.
Synthetic vanes are slightly more durable and far cheaper, but about three times heavier than a feather (although keep in mind that a feather is really really light – hence the phase, light as a feather)
For practical purposes, choose your arrow based on the more important factors, and consider the fletching as a way of identifying which arrows are yours.
In most cases, arrows made from synthetic materials (carbon fiber, fiberglass) will be paired with synthetic fletching, and traditional wooden arrows will be paired with natural feathers.
These basic fletching tips will suit most archers, however for a number of archery games, and some specialized bowhunting, people will use what’s known as a flu-flu arrow.
This bushy style of fletching keeps an arrow stable in flight, but creates a lot of drag, similar to a shuttle-cock in badminton. Typically used for hunting birds or small tree dwelling animals, the flu-flu is frequently combined with a blunt tip to ensure that when firing up at a tree, the arrow doesn’t get stuck in a limb. Outside of hunting, the flu-flu is also used in games such as Archery Golf, or archery where open-space may be limited.
The nock holds the arrow in place on the bowstring whilst your draw. They are designed to provide just enough friction to stick to the bowstring during a normal draw, while providing minimal interference to the speed and energy of the arrow when released.
Nocks are a pretty standard design are made of plastic on almost all synthetic arrows.
On traditional wooden arrows, the nock is simply a cutout on the end of the shaft itself for the bowstring to rest.
Arrow Grain (Weight)
When fully assembled, the weight of your arrow is measured using on old British measurement known grains. A grain is equal to 1/7000th of a pound, so a 500 grain arrow would weigh about 1.14 oz.
It is important that your arrow is heavy enough for the bow you are firing, as shooting an arrow that is too light may have similar consequences to dry-firing your bow. For safety, the IBO recommends that your minimum arrow weight is equal to five times the draw weight of your bow.
So for a 70 lbs bow, you’d want your arrow to weigh 350 grains at a minimum.
Just as a warning, some bow manufacturers will actually specify a minimum weight arrow for warranty purposes and this is sometimes higher than the IBO minimum recommended weight of 5 grains per pound.
For safety purposes, 5 grains per pound is fine, but make sure you follow your manufacturer’s requirements just in case their warranty terms are more restrictive.
Having a heavier arrow is not always bad, but excess weight does slow down the speed of your arrows.
If you want to optimize your arrows to be the most efficient weight possible, you need a special high precision grain scale such as this one [https://www.amazon.com] made by October Mountain products.
Arrow Spine (Stiffness)
The term arrow spine is commonly confused with arrow grain, and while they are both related to the material that your arrow is made from, they explain different things.
Arrow spine refers to how much flex your arrow may experience due to compression from the bow string. When looking at arrows shafts for sale the spine will be assigned a number (eg 420 spine, or 300 spine).
What does this number mean? Well the official measurement is done by hanging a 1.94lb weight in the center of a 28” arrow shaft which has been suspended at each end.
If the arrow shaft bends downwards by 0.500”, when it’s a 500 spine arrow. If it only bends by 0.250”, then it’s a 250 spine arrow.
The lower the number, the stiffer the arrow.
For traditional long bows, and older style bows that do not have a center-shot riser, a decent level of flexibility in the arrow spine is needed to ensure that the arrow can ‘bend’ around the riser. Loading a very stiff arrow into a traditional longbow will see the arrow fly off at an angle.
Most of the bow models that we feature on this site are made from newer materials and feature a center-shot riser. This means the arrow doesn’t have to bend around the riser, so a stiffer arrow is more suitable.
Some people then would naturally assume that the stiffest arrow possible would be the best choice for a modern compound bow. Unfortunately no.
Arrow stiffness has two trade-offs: weight & price.
For any given material type, if you want to lower the shaft’s propensity to bend, it has to be made thicker and is therefore heavier and may cost more.
A weaker arrow will be lighter and possibly cheaper, but if loaded into a powerful bow, the arrow will wobble greatly during flight which impacts accuracy. In extreme cases, an arrow with a weak spine in a powerful bow may snap on release, and this is extremely dangerous for the archer.