When it comes to bow hunting, choosing the right arrow weight can make all the difference. The common debate between heavy and light arrows has been raging on for years, with advocates on both sides claiming their choice is superior. On one hand, heavier arrows are often touted for their ability to deliver more kinetic energy and deeper penetration, while on the other hand, lighter arrows are prized for their flat trajectory and greater speed. But what’s the right choice for you?
The answer is not straightforward, as the decision of arrow weight for hunting is affected by many factors, including the individual’s personal bow setup, draw length, and draw weight. In this blog post, we’ll talk about the debate between heavy and light arrows for hunting, and how you can make an informed decision based on your unique needs and preferences. We’ll look at the advantages and disadvantages of both heavy and light arrows, and how they can affect your hunting success. So, whether you’re a seasoned bow hunter or just starting out, read on to learn more about the benefits of arrow weight vs arrow speed, and how to choose the right arrow setup for your next hunt.
Understanding Arrow Weight and Speed
Arrow weight and speed have a significant impact on your hunting success. Lighter arrows generally fly faster, providing flatter trajectories and less wind drift. Heavier arrows, on the other hand, offer greater penetration and kinetic energy, which can be essential for taking down big game.
A lot of hunters laud the bone-breaking penetration capabilities of arrows in the 600-grain range (along with higher point weights and cut-on contact broadheads). While this is true, there are prices to pay for that capability. The key is to find the optimal balance between weight and speed that matches your specific hunting needs and bow setup. Let’s take a look.
- The Drawbacks of Going Too Light or Too Heavy
- Too Light: Extremely lightweight arrows may generate high speeds, but they can lack the penetration and kinetic energy needed for ethical and effective hunting. Light arrows can also be more susceptible to wind drift and may be less forgiving in terms of arrow flight and accuracy.
- Too Heavy: Overly heavy arrows may deliver excellent penetration and kinetic energy, but they come at the cost of reduced speed and a more pronounced trajectory and drop. This can make it challenging to judge distances accurately and may limit your effective shooting range.
- Optimizing Arrow Weight for Your Unique Setup
To find the ideal arrow weight for your specific bow setup, consider the following factors:
- Bow Specs: Your bow’s draw weight, draw length, and IBO speed will play a significant role in determining the optimal arrow weight. Heavier draw weights generally benefit from heavier arrows, while lighter draw weights might perform better with lighter arrows.
- Hunting Scenario: The type of game you’re hunting and the typical shooting distances you’ll encounter can also influence your arrow weight selection. For larger game, you might opt for a heavier arrow with more kinetic energy, whereas a lighter arrow may suffice for smaller game. Distance also plays a role, with lighter arrows having a flatter trajectory at long distances, while not having a lot of the kinetic energy and penetration capability of a heavier arrow.
- Personal Preferences: Some archers prefer the feel and flight characteristics of heavier or lighter arrows. Experiment with different arrow weights to find what works best for you and your shooting style.
- Finding the Sweet Spot: FOC and Arrow Weight Balance
One critical aspect of optimizing arrow weight is the Front of Center (FOC) balance. FOC is the percentage of an arrow’s total weight that is located in the front half of the arrow. A higher FOC can improve penetration and arrow flight stability, while a lower FOC may result in faster speeds.
Aim for a FOC between 10-15% for hunting arrows. This balance will help ensure adequate penetration and stability without sacrificing too much speed.
NOTE: I have used heavy 605-grain arrows with a 125-grain broadhead and they shot and performed great. The biggest drawback was that the arrow had over a 6-inch drop from 20-30 yards due to its lack of speed. My average shot distance when hunting deer is about 20 yards, with that in mind I decided to go with a mid-weight arrow of approximately 498 grains that provides a good combination of speed, kinetic energy, and penetration capability (see the calculator here) with a FOC of 15%.
Selecting the Right Arrow Weight for You
Now that we’ve talked about all the factors and differences between heavy and light arrows, let’s look at how you can use this to find the right arrow setup for your specific hunting situation. I tend to look at it as finding a balance between weight and speed. I rarely hunt in situations where I am shooting farther than 30-35 yards. My target distance for my hunting setups is generally around 20 yards. With this in mind, I can shoot a heavy arrow and can reap the benefits of its higher kinetic energy and penetration capabilities.
That being said, I have a short draw length. The shorter your draw length, the more impact it has on the overall speed of your arrow when compared to your bow’s overall IBO-rated speed.
Let’s look at an example of how this works. Using our Arrow Speed, Kinetic Energy, and Momentum Calculator, I used this example scenario.
- 2022 Bear Alaskan Right-Handed 55-70 lb Model – IBO Speed 335 fps
- Draw Length – 27″
- Draw Weight – 62 lbs
- Arrow Weight – 423 grains (Easton Axis 5mm Arrows) – *includes a 125-grain broadhead
- Additional Weight on Bowstring – 20 grains
With this bow and individual settings, I get the results in the table below. The table shows the difference in my arrow’s speed, kinetic energy, and momentum (penetration force) as it changes for every 25 grains I add to the arrow weight. As you can see, even with much lower arrow speeds, the kinetic energy, and momentum still increase with heavier arrow weights, but this has a cut-off and will decline.
|Arrow Weight (grains)||Arrow Speed (fps)||Kinetic Energy(ft-lbs.)||Momentum (slug)|
Last season I used a 605-grain arrow setup with a 125-grain broadhead and an 18.9% FOC using the Bear Alaskan compound bow shown above. The arrow flight and accuracy were incredible, but due to the lack of speed, the drop in my arrow from 20 to just 30 yards was huge. This made me look at this a little harder and this season I am testing a mid-range arrow weight (around 500 grains) that fits me and my hunting style better.
NOTE: The scenario outlined above shows that while heavier arrows will provide the most kinetic energy and penetration capability, there is a trade-off on speed and this can affect your shooting and viable target distance. For example, just because someone tells you that they use a 650-grain arrow and have a 30-inch draw length, doesn’t mean this arrow will work for you, your specific bow setup, or how you hunt. Also remember that every time you change arrow weight, you must reconfirm your zero and adjust your bow sight; not to mention any additions to current arrows could throw off your arrow’s dynamic spine and affect arrow flight and accuracy.
Use the Arrow Calculators on this site to work through what your setup looks like and what arrow weight will work best for you.
Finding the perfect balance between arrow penetration and speed is essential for maximizing your hunting success. While there’s no specific weight that’s ideal for every situation, avoiding the extremes of too light or too heavy is crucial. By optimizing your arrow weight based on your bow setup, hunting scenario, and personal preferences, you’ll be well on your way to achieving consistently effective and ethical shots in the field. Experiment, fine-tune, and, most importantly, enjoy the journey to discovering the perfect arrow weight for your unique hunting setup.
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