Broadheads: Fixed Or Mechanical
As a bowhunter, now going on 40 years, the topic of broadheads has always been at the top of the list. I started bowhunting using the old Bear Razorheads. I shot them with a Browning Nomad recurve and cedar shaft arrows. The first year I used the two-bladed Razorheads and the second year, at age 14, I was excited to get new broadheads by Bear with the bleeder blades. I thought WOW I’ll kill every deer in the woods. That was not to happen. It would be ten years later before I harvested my first deer. When mechanical broadheads came out it only complicated things for me and I think many other bowhunters. Do I use Fixed or Mechanical Broadheads for Bowhunting?
I killed my first deer with a bow at 42 yards. It was a doe shot with an old blood-trailer broadhead. I think these were one of the first major mechanical broadhead and man did it fly true. If you look at the bloodtrailer today next to the new mechanical and fixed broadhead on the market today, you will see how far broadhead technology has come.
The most discussed topic today concerning broadheads for deer hunting with a bow is whether to use mechanical or fixed blade. Each one has its advantages and its disadvantages. I will attempt to shed some light on each type of broadhead in the following article using tests done by those that are into testing I am not.
With the research along with my experience using both types of broadheads over 40 years as a bowhunter almost exclusively. I will in no way attempt to persuade anyone to use fixed or mechanical broadheads. I have changed models and types often over the years. While I’ve had good luck with both fixed and mechanicals I wouldn’t even know how to suggest to you a good choice. While I use fixed blade broadheads as of this writing I may be slinging mechanicals next season. So read the following content to help you decide on what is right for you.
Fixed Broadheads For Bowhunting
The Fixed blade broadhead is making a comeback in the bowhunting world. Fixed broadheads or fixed blade broadheads mean that the broadhead has blades that are stationary. Unlike the mechanical broadheads where the blades retract and expand upon contact. The fixed broadheads have been refined and honed into some great flying broadheads. In the beginning of mechanical broadheads the reason that they took the market and the archery hunting world by storm were their ability to fly true. I don’t mean to imply that fixed broadheads were incapable of flying true because they were and still are perfectly capable broadheads.
In the early days back in those Bear Razorhead days, a fixed broadhead could and did fly true. The one caveat to that was if your bow was tuned properly. There was also the fletching that was a big thing back then and still is when shooting fixed blade broadheads. Fletchings that cause the arrow to spin can help eliminate the planing effects of fixed broadheads. There are also arrow stiffness knocking points and other factors that are important to tuning a bow to shoot fixed blade broadheads accurately.
Modern Day Broadhead Engineering
Many hunters moved to mechanical broadheads because the fixed blade broadheads tended to plane when shot. This was especially true with bows that were not tuned properly. The fixed broadheads were more forgiving than fixed broadheads. However, new engineering practices have made fixed blades more forgiving than they used to be. This shouldn’t be a reason to shoot a bow that isn’t tuned properly, but fixed blades shoot better than they used to.
This engineering include smaller blades, thinner blades, lighter fixed broadheads. These are just some of the improvements that I’ve noticed over the years. When it comes to fixed bladed broadhead designs. I focus my attention more on learning about the deer and the woods and less time tinkering with bows, arrows and gear.
I’ve owned just 3 compound bows in 40 years of bowhunting and 2 seasons with the Browning recurve when I first started. I still use the same arrows the only change being whatever Beman might have done to their ICS Hunter line. However, I have changed broadheads many times over the years. I think it’s just easy to swap them and see how they shoot. Usually, my change is when something happens with the broadheads I’m using that gets me looking for something different. Either a mechanical didn’t perform properly or a fixed blade broadhead flew like a wiffle ball knuckler.
Advantage Of Fixed Blade Broadheads
The fixed blade broadhead has a couple of distinct advantages over mechanical broadheads. The first is its ability to cut on contact. With the cutting edge, the full length of a fixed blade broadhead the cutting begins on contact. This cut on contact advantage allows for better penetration and more complete pass throughs. Not only does a complete pass through cause more damage which is good for humane and quick kills. The complete pass through, especially when shot from a treestand, will help with blood trails. An arrow that does not pass through the deer leaves the entry hole high and no exit wound low.
The exit wound is important for blood to exit the body leaving something for the bow hunter to track. Many deer have been lost because of internal bleeding with no exit hole. It is amazing how difficult a deer is to locate without this blood trail. Even deer that didn’t go far have been lost. only to find them a week later, as the buzzards circle, and it expired very close to where you were searching.
Another advantage to the fixed blade broadhead is it ability to crush through bone. Fixed blade broadheads are much stiffer than mechanicals and does a better job at breaking bone and continuing through the deer. No broadhead is meant to pass through bone. Fixed blade broadheads do a better job when needed. Rib bones on deer are thin. Either mechanical broadhead or fixed broadhead will smash through the ribs. While the shoulder is a tough place to get a solid penetrating shot. A bow with a rigid fixed blade broadhead you can shoot a deer in the shoulder whether accidentally or on purpose and get more penetration than with a mechanical broadhead. Even if the broadhead only smashes through the front shoulder bone or scapula it will penetrate enough to get to the vitals for a clean kill.
Another advantage to the fixed broadhead is the ability to resharpen the broadhead after sending it down range. Whether you hit the mark or missed and buried it in the dirt as long as you don’t center punch a rock you can maybe dig it out of the ground and sharpen the broadhead making it ready for another hunt. Mechanical broadhead are sharp as razor blades. To get this sharpness mechanical broadheads are made of light materials. A rib bone can break or bend these blades.
Disadvantages Of A Fixed Blade Broadhead
The only reason we can list disadvantages to fixed blade broadheads is because unlike the early days we have something to compare it to. When there was nothing but fixed blade broadheads available for bowhunters we could only compare brands and designs. Now with mechanical broadheads and hybrid broadheads there is plenty to compare. We wont talk about the hybrid broadheads which are those that incorporate a fixed blade with a mechanical design as well. I have never used these hybrid type blades so I don’t want to touch on those. If someone has used these types of broadheads please feel free to comment below and let us know what you think.
The disadvantages of fixed blade broadheads are few and far between. Really the only thing that I can think of would be the planing effect of a fixed bladed broadhead. Planing is where the broadhead will catch air and like an airplane wing will tend to take flight. The planing action is worse when shot from a poorly tuned bow. With the new designs in place today this planing effect is minimal. However, it is going to be more prominent than a mechanical broadhead. This is due to the blades on mechanicals being tucked away and out of the air.
Something else that adds to the planing effect of fixed blade broadheads is speed. With today’s high speed bows and the desire for faster arrow flight broadhead manufacturers were forced to redesign their broadheads. This was to appeal to those that strived for the fastest arrow flight possible. This is also the reason for the explosion of mechanical broadheads probably in the late 80’s. We will get into that a little more in the mechanical broadhead section below.
Mechanical broadheads are those that have moveable blades that remain tucked in close to the main body opening up on contact with the animal you are hunting. There are many different designs today for mechanical broadheads and many have found an almost cult like following. Some of this could be from branding and hardcore marketing that is for sure. However, I know the bow hunting community is a close group. If the broadhead was junk the word would have definitely got around. The Rage broadhead comes to mind. There are plenty of people bashing the Rage broadhead but way more hunters that love them.
I’ve personally shot the Rage broadhead and loved how it shot. I killed a couple deer and then lost one when deer turned creating a sharp angle at the entry point. I thought it was a good hit, but I was unable to find the deer. Once again I went back to fixed blade broadhead once again. Remember earlier I mentioned that I have changed broadheads many times over the years and this would be an example of why. Full disclosure. I don’t know if it was the broadheads fault. I changed to a fixed blade after the hunt.
Advantages Of Mechanical Broadheads Over Fixed
The biggest advantage of a mechanical broadhead is its ability to shoot close to a field point accuracy. I’ll go one step further. I feel that the mechanical broadhead not only flies more like a field point than a fixed blade, but more importantly it is much more forgiving. More forgiving when shot from a super fast bow just because of less blade to plane in flight. More forgiving for bows not tuned perfectly and I would say even with badly tuned bows. I feel that this is why the explosion hit about the same time that speed became popular as well as bow hunting itself.
As more people began to hunt with a bow the high tech archery equipment that was a large part of this surge also gave people a false belief that once set up the bow would never go out of tune. Bows get banged around a lot. Rest get moved, arrow weights change, nocking points slide on the string. All of these things can change the tune of your bow. This will affect the flight of the arrow off the rest. This out of tune bow will cause a fixed blade to begin its planing right out of the bow. This, I feel, is when people begin questioning their broadheads and try a mechanical broadhead. With the forgiveness of a mechanical broadhead it wins out over the fixed blade.
The bow hunter believes they shoot a mechanical broadhead better than a fixed blade. Actually, a fixed blade will shoot just as good when the bow has been tuned when accuracy wanes. Having said this. I feel that mechanical broadheads are a better choice for those that are not as apt to get their bow tuned each season. The forgiveness of the mechanical broadhead will shoot accurately from a less than perfectly tuned bow. Therefore, increasing the number of deadly shots from the archer and more recovered animals. This is the most important thing in bow hunting in my opinion.
Mechanical broadheads got popular around the same time that high tech compound bows came out. Speed became popular. Marketing the speed that new bows could shoot an arrow led to mechanical broadheads as a way to get a little more speed out of the bow. At the same time, probably due to the fancy bows, marketing experts and the explosion in deer populations compared to just a few years earlier. All of these things created a mega-market for deer hunting and bow hunting. Mechanical broadheads were a part of this explosion.
Disclosure: I killed my first deer with a bow using the mechanical broadhead called the blood-trailer as mentioned above. This was before speed was as big a deal. Has anyone ever used the blood trailer broadhead? Comment below.
Disadvantages Of Mechanical Broadheads For Bowhunting
With the accuracy and speed that mechanical broadheads offer there are some disadvantages. Mechanical broadheads have weaker blades. They are usually razor like blades to keep the weight down and to help the mechanical parts work better. These thinner blades will break or bend easier when hitting bone or a rock.
The ability to swap blades after a shot doesn’t matter when they break or bend when striking bone on impact. I have personally had a mechanical blade snap on contact with a leg bone. The deer took a step just as I released the arrow. What was a clear shot through the heart became covered by the leg. When the mechanical broadhead hit this bone it snapped with the sound of a 22 rifle. The arrow deflected straight into the ground leaving me scrambling for another arrow. Thankfully I got another arrow in the buck and it was recovered. This shot left me reevaluating mechanical broadheads once again. I’m convinced that a fixed blade broadhead would have smashed through the bone and into the deer’s heart.
Another disadvantage, especially if you spot and stalk, is that the brush can catch the broadhead blades and deploy them. The o-rings and collars holding the closed mechanical broadhead blades in place. The bands will be cut when walking in thick brush stalking deer. This will cause the blades to open. There is nothing worse than making the perfect stalk and raising your bow only to see that your blades are deployed. I hunt from a treestand so this isn’t a factor for me but there are bow hunters that stalk deer on the ground.
Probably one of the biggest disadvantages of the mechanical broadheads is penetration or the lack of. I’ll say that part of this lack of penetration has to do with the desire to create a fast bow. Fast is good for several reasons but not for penetration. Weight is one of the major factors in kinetic energy. Kinetic energy is important for good penetration. The opening on impact with mechanical vs the cut on contact with fixed blade broadheads is a vital consideration when it comes to penetration. I feel that weight is the biggest factor.
If bow hunters would give up just a few feet per second and shoot a little heavier arrow with their mechanicals penetration would increase. With this said any shot in the right place should pass through on a whitetail deer. If you are shooting deer in the ribcage and the arrow does not pass through cleanly it is my opinion that you should work toward increasing your kinetic energy. No matter what type of broadheads you use.
Video Of Mechanical vs Fixed Blade Broadheads