Crossbow Arrow Flight Control

The right replacement arrow, nock and broadhead can make or break your hunt.

So you own a crossbow, or are thinking about purchasing one. With that in mind, here is a question for you. What is the most important component of your crossbow package? If your answer is anything but the arrow the answer is wrong.

BROADHEADS: Aluminum arrows shoot better with a 125-grain fixed

broadhead, while carbon arrows handle a 100-grain mechanical better.

NOCKS: Half-moon knocks are tops for crossbows with heavy front ends and more powerful cams. Flat nocks are better with lighter draws.

SHAFTS: Aluminum shafts are cheaper and straighter, but carbon technology is faster and more durable. Photo by Ron Sinfelt.

No matter what type of crossbow you own, or regardless of how much you paid for it, it is only as good as the arrow.

With so many crossbow arrows now on the market, which one will optimize your bow? You'll need to match your bow with the proper arrow defined by length, weight and type of nock. Keep in mind, not all crossbows are created equal, and Crossbow A may not shoot a particular arrow at the same velocity, range or with the same consistency as Crossbow B, or vice versa.

Just like a muzzleloader achieves optimum performance with a certain amount of propellant behind a certain type of projectile, a crossbow provides optimum performance with the arrow best matched to it.

Over the years crossbow arrows have been made of everything from wood to extruded graphite. In the modern world, however, aluminum and carbon rule the day. There is not a compound or recurve crossbow currently on the market that will not shoot both types equally well providing the arrow matches the bow, the bow is properly sighted in and the shooter is familiar with the bow's range limitations.

Most crossbow manufacturers offer aluminum and carbon arrows in comparable lengths and weights giving consumers a choice. And, in truth, it's nothing more than a matter of personal preference. There are, however, some things to keep in mind that might make choosing your ultimate crossbow arrow easier.

To start with, aluminum shafts have been around longer than carbon arrows and consequently they are less expensive to manufacture. But the cost of aluminum is going up, and the cost of aluminum arrows is increasing as well. As carbon technology improves, the price gap between aluminum shafts and carbon shafts will narrow. But for now, aluminum is still easier on the checkbook.

Some think aluminum shafts are more accurate than carbon shafts. But at the short ranges crossbows are typically used for hunting, the difference is marginal at best.

On the down side, aluminum arrows are less durable than carbon arrows. They bend easily and are prone to nicks. While some minor bends can be straightened, the shaft is still weakened at the point of bend. It's true that, out of the box, aluminum shafts are straighter than carbon shafts. But they have a tendency to warp slightly after repeated use due to the force exerted coming off the string. Carbon shafts are either straight or they are broken. There is no middle ground, and they remain true after long use.

Carbon shafts are faster off the rail -- by as much as 25 feet per second, in some cases less -- compared to aluminum.

Again, crossbows are short-range weapons, out to 40 yards or so.

The speed differential is somewhat irrelevant.

What is more important is that carbon shafts travel on a flatter trajectory, which means they get to the target quicker and slightly increase range possibilities.

Carbon shafts also provide better penetration because when wet with blood they become slippery, which helps retain kinetic energy. Carbon arrows won't oscillate off the string, and absorb energy in the process.

Here is something else to keep in mind when considering aluminum or carbon shafts: As a rule, carbon arrows fly better with 100-grain mechanical broadheads, while aluminum shafts seems to fly better with heavier 125-grain fixed-blade points. All crossbows are different, and results may and do vary, but it generally holds true.

If you have the opportunity to hunt big game, such as bear, longer, heavier crossbow arrows with 125-grain heads deliver more energy and better penetration than short, lighter arrows and heads. Photo by Al Raychard.

Crossbow shafts are available in lengths from 18 to 22 inches, but 20- and 22-inch shafts are pretty much the standard these days no matter the draw weight of the bow.

Most 20-inch shafts with fletching will weigh around 330 grains, give or take, while the longer 22-inch shafts will weigh around 360 grains, with aluminum and carbon shafts of the same length comparable in weight. Today's crossbows have draw weights well over 150 pounds and will generally shoot both lengths equally well, especially at short range out to 25 or 30 yards. But if you are shooting longer distances, or if you are targeting larger game, like bear and elk, choose longer, heavier arrows if you want your crossbow to be a more effective killing tool.

Keep in mind, crossbow arrows decrease in speed quickly -- much faster than arrows used in conventional compound bows. Lighter crossbow arrows are typically faster off the rail, but beyond 30 yards you sacrifice speed, kinetic energy and penetration. The longer arrows are slower but are better at maintaining downrange speed and because of their added weight deliver more energy to the target and better penetration.

In most deer hunting situations at normal range with a 100-grain head, shorter, lighter arrows will perform extremely well. Light setups are extremely popular for a reason.

Regarding draw weight, as the draw weight of a crossbow increases, the length and weight of the arrow should also increase.

While a bow with a 150-pound or 165-pound draw will shoot lightweight arrows extremely well and work well on whitetails, a bow that draws more than 185 pounds is most efficient with longer, heavier arrows because they absorb more energy off the string and deliver more energy and better penetration on larger game.

You'll find that most crossbow manufactu

rers recommend a minimum arrow weight and arrow length for their bows. Always follow those guidelines, and when it doubt, contact the manufacturer for their recommendation. Shooting underweight arrows puts a bow's components under increased stress and may void the factory warranty. It can also be said that longer, heavier arrows not only make your crossbow quieter but prolong the life of the bow, especially the cables and strings on compound models.

There has been all types of nocks attached to crossbow arrows, but the blunt, flat and half-moon types dominate the market these days.

In bows with long power strokes, and especially compound models with heavy front ends and stronger cams, the half-moon nocks have become pretty much the standard. They help index the fletching in the correct position in the rail and increase both horizontal and vertical alignment of the arrow to the string. They also help prevent the arrow from jumping the string when you pull the trigger on the weapon.

The flat type, however, has been around for years and performs well in most bows, especially in bows with draw weights less than 175 pounds.

It's important to note that some bows are specifically designed for a certain type of nock. Use only the type of nock recommended by the manufacturer for your specific crossbow. When in doubt, check it out. Go to your owner's manual or Web site or give them a call.

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