Bow Hunting | Fletching the Perfect Hunting Arrow
There are several components that make up a hunting arrow, but none more critical to its flight than proper fletching. Vanes on the back of an arrow steer the arrow during flight, keeping the front and back end in correct alignment. Mass-produced and fletched arrows are not always tuned properly and are subsequently the reason for inconsistent shooting. Accurately tuned and fletched arrows can greatly improve your shooting performance. Believe it or not, you don’t have to take your arrows to a pro-shop to achieve this!
Chances are, you have experienced the result of shooting an ill-tuned arrow. Arrows that aren’t properly tuned can cause the vanes to graze the arrow rest, which in turn causes the arrow to fly erratically down range. Another likely scenario could play out like this: you have worked hard on form, you are consistently nocking at the same point, and executing a smooth release, but have a couple shots outside your group each time you shoot. Rather than an error on your part, the reason for this inconsistent shooting may be a couple bad arrows out of your practice batch. Properly tuning and fletching your hunting arrows takes a little extra effort, but will result in consistently tighter groups on target and better accuracy in the field.
There are three fletching application styles popular with hunting arrows:
- Straight fletching is applied straight with the arrow shaft. This type of fletching results in the fastest arrow flight and is recommended for close range shots. Straight fletching can cause slight arrow drag and is at a higher risk of the flight being affected by the wind.
- Off-Set fletching is applied straight with the arrows’ shaft, but are turned at a slight offset from front to back without twisting the vane. The off-set is comparable to the rotation of a bullet shot from a rifled gun barrel. This rotation offers arrow stability with the weight of a broadhead and is recommended for long distance shots. Off-set fletching will result in a slight loss of speed due to air resistance.
- Helical fletching is applied with a slight curve or helical twist in the vane, often two to five degrees, depending on the arrow stability desired. Helical fletching offers the most stability among other applications and is ideal for shooting broadheads. The rotation of the fletching will decrease arrow speed at a greater amount than the other style fletching but offers great accuracy at longer distances.
The style of vane that you apply to your arrow shaft can affect arrow flight and should be taken into careful consideration. There are pros and cons to each style of vanes, but tuning and matching your hunting arrow vanes to your style of broadhead can greatly improve your shooting consistency and accuracy. A variety of vanes are available in different shapes, lengths, thicknesses, and colors.
Vane types vary, from small, long, and low profile vanes to short, high profile vanes. Higher profile vanes have more surface area and will offer more correction of arrow flight than low profile vanes. However, more surface area will slow an arrow down slightly. If you are shooting fixed broadheads, a higher, larger surface vane will offer the greatest stability for that style broadhead.
Smaller, low profile vanes offer less flight stability of an arrow but offer more clearance with the arrow rest and bow shelf. Lower profile vanes have less surface area allowing minimum wind drag for more speed. Low profile vanes offer more stability of arrow flight with mechanical broadheads, blunts, or field points.
Secure adhesion of the vane to the shaft is critical to the proper flight of an arrow. Not all adhesives are the same. Taking into consideration the typical weather you plan to hunt in will give you some guidance as to which type to use. There are quick-set glues, thicker gel type glues, and glues that are similar to epoxy. Solvent based adhesives will take longer to bond and dry but offer a durable adhesion that can withstand varying degrees of weather and temperatures. Cyanoacrylate glues are fast setting, however, the brittleness of the glue is more susceptible to the vane breaking free of the shaft in different weather conditions.
Hunting Arrow Nocks
Nocks will often need to be removed to use some styles of fletching jigs. It is important to use the correct nock for your arrow diameter and the style of nock that works best with your bow string. Press-fit nocks will be labeled by common size, for example: G and F nocks fit shafts with a .166-inch inside diameter, X and A nocks fit shafts with a .204-inch inside diameter, H and H.E. nocks fit shafts with a .234-inch inside diameter, S nocks fit shafts with a .244-inch inside diameter, and G nocks fit shafts with a .246-inch inside diameter. Smaller pin nocks are snapped onto a small pin on the nock end of an arrow. This allows for damaged nocks to be replaced with minimal effort in the field. The pin nock is mostly used in target competition because its purpose is to protect shafts from being damaged by other arrows.
Lighted nocks are favored by many hunters and are legal to use in most states, with the exception of a few out west. Not only do lighted nocks help you tune your bow before the hunt, they also make it easier for you to see your bow shot placement on game animals. Gone are the days of frustrating lighted nocks that came off in your quiver, were difficult to turn off, or added extra weight to the back end of the arrow. Nock Out Lighted Nocks are lightweight, extremely bright, and feature an easy off and practice mode. Each pack of Nock Out Lighted Nocks come with bushings to fit the five most common carbon arrow diameters for a custom fit.
The Fletching Process
The supplies you will need to self-fletch your arrows:
- Fletching Jig
- Denatured Alcohol
- Lint-free Rags/Paper Towels
- Vane stripper
- Fine grit sandpaper or scrub pad
- Bare arrow shafts
- Vane adhesive
- Nock Tool
- Wraps (optional)
Fletching your Hunting Arrows
- Spine tuning arrow shafts is one step many archers don’t complete when self-fletching their arrows. Spine tuning helps you to find the weighted side of an arrow, allowing you to adhere the vanes in the same way on all of your arrows, making for a more consistent grouping. A small variance in shaft weight is common and normally does not make a significant change in the point of impact on the target. Matching the configuration of vanes on each shaft, identical to the other, will greatly improve consistency.
Using the float method is the easiest way to do this from home. Fill a bathtub up with about 6 inches of water and a few drops of dishwashing detergent to make a few suds for buoyancy. Place a bare shaft in the tub, making sure that the point and nock ends are not touching the side of the tub. Spin the arrow with your hand once, allowing it to stop. Then spin one more time and mark the top side of the floating arrow with a grease pencil or marker. This will be the light side of the arrow; you will place your cock vane on the opposite side of this mark.
- Prepare your arrow shaft by wiping the entire shaft down with a lint-free cloth saturated in denatured alcohol. One of the main reasons vanes do not adhere to the surface properly and pop off easily is because the shaft and vane surfaces were not clean at the time of application. Denatured alcohol is fast drying, however, you should still make sure the shaft is completely dry by wiping the shaft down with a dry, lint-free cloth. Never use a cloth that was washed with water softeners or dried in a dryer with anti-static/fabric softener dryer sheets.
- With the broadhead you will use in mind, select your ideal style of fletching in your preferred colors for your shafts and place them aside in groups of three. Make sure not to get body oils from your fingers on the adhesive edge.
- Your next step will be the actual fletching application.
- Load the vanes into the fletching jig that you have chosen, making certain that you don’t touch the portion of the vanes that you will add glue to.
- Place a thin, solid line of adhesive known as a bead along the base of the vane from end to end.
- Place the shaft into the jig as instructed by the jig’s manufacturer, keeping in mind the correct tuning of the cock vane; in alignment with the heaviest side of the shaft.
- Close the jig, placing the vanes against the shaft. It is important that you be patient and wait for the proper set time for the adhesive you are using before opening the jig.
- Once the adhesive sets, carefully release the jig revealing the newly fletched arrow. Clean off any excess glue. Add a droplet of glue on the leading and trailing end of each vane for a strong, secure adhesion to the shaft.
- Always wait several hours before shooting freshly fletched arrows.
Ultimately, choosing the style of vane and the application of those vanes will vary among archers. Some archers are more concerned with higher accuracy than faster speed because while speed may matter in the equation of kinetic energy, it is not as forgiving as accuracy. Deciding on what is good for your bow hunting setup will depend on what you are trying to achieve. By fletching your hunting arrows, you have the opportunity to experiment with different style vanes and fletching applications, giving you the advantage of having the best hunting arrow for your bow hunting setup.