Bowhunting trends come and go. That ebb and flow of "what's hot" and "what's not" is never going to stop. As time passes, it gives both old and new bowhunters opportunities to come up with their own theories on why “this or that” is the best thing. One of the constant games of tug-and-war in the bowhunting world is the theories on arrow speed and arrow weight. With extreme opinions on either side of the debate, it can be confusing to sift through the opinion and determine what's a fad and what is logic. So, let’s do it. Let’s lay down the skinny on arrow weight vs. arrow speed. Hopefully, at the end of this article, your sifting will be reduced to a minimum.
Your Goals, Your Hunt
While we are weighing out the pros and cons of more arrow weight vs less arrow weight and more arrow speed vs less arrow speed, we must approach these ideas as individuals. Each one of us has different goals, needs, and desires in the field. Recognize that and own it. Mold your setup so that it caters to the species you are targeting, the country you are hunting, and your overall style of bowhunting. Remember, these are your arrows. It’s ok to have a different opinion than what someone else — even an internet expert — may suggest is the best.
Arrow weight is measured in GPI (grains per inch). On most arrows, you can find the GPI printed right on the shaft. The higher the GPI, the heavier the arrow will be overall.
Benefits of a Heavy Arrow
Heavy arrows are all the rage right now. And they definitely hold their own, particularly for bigger game animals like elk. These critters not only have bigger bodies, but they also have bigger bones. More than a few bowhunters have fallen victim to elk bones stealing their dreams right out from under them. A lighter arrow just doesn’t have as much capability to handle big game.
This leads us to the first attribute in the "pro" column of heavier arrows — increased penetration downrange. Not only will a heavier arrow hit harder, but it will retain its energy better through the target. This is a big benefit that will lead to more pass-throughs on bigger animals.
Heavy arrows will also quiet your bow down. This is due to the heavier arrow simply absorbing more energy on the shot. And a quieter bow could mean fewer animals that “jump the string” on your future hunts.
Additionally, heavier arrow arrows carry more momentum, which means they are less likely to be thrown off track as much by the wind, or even small obstructions, such as blades of grass that might stand between you and that animal.
More Arrow Weight = Less Speed
There is always a dark side of the moon, right? Along with the benefits of hunting with heavy arrows, there is a bit of doom and gloom that comes with doing so. The first "con" that comes to mind is the arrow's trajectory. Plain and simple, the heavier an arrow is, the slower an arrow is. This isn’t something that necessarily decreases lethality by any means. Slower-moving heavy arrows are as lethal as they come. The downside of a slow arrow that drops quicker through the air is that it is less forgiving to misjudgments in the shot distance. If you're hunting with a heavier arrow, you better have a very accurate range for all of your hunting shots.
"For every five grains of arrow weight added, you will lose 1-1.5 fps in arrow speed." —www.bowhuntingmag.com
A slower arrow also means a few more things. One, you aren’t going to be able to shoot as far. Bowhunting is no doubt a game of getting close, but being able to accurately practice at ranges 100+ yards is very beneficial to the shorter game. If you’re shooting a heavy arrow with a multi-pin sight, your pin gapping can become astronomical. When our pins are spread further apart like this, it makes “pin gapping” much less accurate. What I mean by that is when we aim for 35 by aiming between the 30 and 40 pin. More real estate between the pins means less accuracy for oddball shots, and when have you ever known an animal to conveniently stand at exactly 30, 40, or 50 yards? It’s never that convenient.
Measurements on sight tapes will be spread further apart as well, just like the pins of a multi-pin sight. So, even if you shoot a single pin, you aren’t going to be able to reach out and touch something as far with a heavier arrow. There’s only so much room on a dial.
And then there is the other end of the spectrum. Less arrow weight had its time in the limelight back when speed was everything in the bowhunting world. More recently, though, the "need for speed" hasn't been a big priority. But that doesn’t mean a lighter arrow is a bad thing. It just means it’s not as popular at the moment. Remember, ebbs and flows.
There are plenty of bowhunters out there that still prefer a lighter arrow and, along with that, faster speeds. With a faster arrow, there is less time between you touching-off a shot and that arrow impacting the animal. For animals like whitetail deer, coues deer, antelope, etc. this is a huge bonus. These animals are very flighty and can react to the sound of a bow going off in ways that seem physically impossible. I once shot at a coues deer that literally wasn’t standing in the same spot by the time my arrow got there. My shot was great, but it was no match for his reaction time.
More speed also means that you’ll be able to reach distances much farther than you would with a heavy arrow. The upside of this is not only being able to practice shooting at greater distances, but it also opens up the possibility of capitalizing on follow-up shots in the field. For instance, if you make a marginal shot at 40 yards, but then the animal stops out there at 110 yards offering a shot, it would be best to send another arrow without simply "guessing" how a heavy arrow trajectory may fly at that distance. I believe that once you touch an animal with an arrow, it’s your responsibility to do what you can to try and put a period at the end of the sentence.
Less Arrow Weight = Less Momentum
This is a give-and-take situation. By decreasing the weight of an arrow, we are also decreasing the momentum it carries. Kinetic energy gets all the press, but kinetic energy is only measuring how hard an arrow is hitting something. Once an arrow makes impact on an animal, it is momentum that continues the job.
Momentum is the retained energy that will carry that arrow through an object. An incredibly important factor when it comes to penetration. Lighter arrows don’t have the means of harboring the amount of momentum heavier arrows do. A faster arrow doesn’t mean squat in bowhunting if it doesn’t penetrate enough. Especially, on a hard-earned opportunity.
Noise and durability are other cons that come with shooting a lighter arrow. Lighter arrows don’t "absorb" as much energy from the bow as heavier arrows, and that "left over energy" from the bow creates more noise upon the shot with lighter arrows. When hunting critters that are naturally more on edge, this could spell trouble. In this case, a faster arrow might just make you miss faster instead of connecting faster. If you do end up missing, these lightweight arrows typically don’t stand a chance of surviving errant impacts. They are 100% less durable than heavier arrows. With good arrows being as expensive as they are, the reality of broken arrows can hurt in more ways than one.
Your Way is the Right Way
There are two things in particular that I hope you take away from this article. The first is that finding a good hunting arrow is all about finding balance. A healthy balance between speed and weight will serve you right. A balanced arrow is simply more versatile than an arrow on either extreme end of the spectrum. Have an arrow that can do it all.
And the second takeaway is, don’t let anyone tell you what the right way is. Not even me. The “right way” is your way. It’s what works best for you, your setup, and the country you’re hunting. If you want to sit on one of those extreme sides, then do it. Just know what sacrifices you are making from the other side of the story.
Author's Arrow Setup: Easton Axis Long Range, AAE Hybrid Vanes, 125 grain Grim Reaper Micro Hades Pro Broadhead, 50 grain Insert. Total Weight: 460 grains.
Josh Kirchner is the author of the book, Becoming a Backpack Hunter, as well as the voice behind Dialed in Hunter, a blog that not only documents his own journey, but provides gear reviews, tips/tactics for western hunting, and encourages other hunters to chase and achieve their goals. Josh is a passionate bowhunter that has been hunting with his family since he was a small boy. When he is not chasing elk, deer, bear, and javelina through the diverse Arizona terrain, he is spending time with his wife, daughter, and two herding dogs.