MINUTEMAN REVIEW may be compensated for purchases done through links on our site. To learn more about this, you can read through our Affiliate Disclaimer here.
If you’re an archer, arbalist (i.e., crossbowman), or bowhunter, you should have a firm understanding of the different types of arrow tips that are available. Each type serves a different purpose or can offer a performance advantage.
In the field of wound ballistics, it’s important to distinguish between the wounding mechanisms of arrows vs. those of bullets.
A bullet disrupts tissue in three different ways: crushing (permanent cavitation), stretching (temporary cavitation), and via high-magnitude pressure waves radiating outward from the wound track.
Rather than crushing and stretching, arrows, being relatively low-velocity projectiles with sharp blades and pointed tips, lacerate and puncture, wounding in a manner akin to that of a knife. This is also, incidentally, why arrows tend to be more penetrative regarding soft body armor than handgun bullets.
Not all arrows are created alike. However, they do share a few basic elements:
The tip of the arrow is the part that impacts the target. Depending on the type of arrowhead, the tip may be designed to penetrate a range target or a game animal.
The shaft is the rod that serves as the arrow’s spine and to which you attach the head. It may be made from various materials, such as wood, aluminum, fiberglass, or carbon fiber.
The vanes or fins affixed to the rear of the shaft increase the arrow’s stability in flight.
Different Types of Arrow Tips
There are several types of arrow tips available on the market, each suitable for a different application. While one of the earliest uses of the bow and arrow was a weapon of war, modern uses are mostly limited to hunting and target shooting. The former falls into the category of bowhunting, whereas the latter is simply called archery.
For target shooting, the most common arrow tips are the bullet point and field point. The bullet point is more bluntly shaped. In contrast, the field point has a more tapered design and a sharper point. These arrow tips are designed for shooting bag targets, foam targets, or other types of archery targets for practice.
They are simple in design, inexpensive to manufacture, and reusable. If it’s a screw-in type, you can simply replace it if it suffers damage from the target.
You can match the weight of the bullet/field point to that of a hunting broadhead to ensure consistent performance from the archery range to the field.
These types of arrow tips are designed for hunting, maximizing tissue disruption and penetration to kill game animals efficiently and cause blood loss for tracking. As broadheads wound by lacerating, they typically have several cutting blades.
Modern broadheads differ from the Medieval variety and fit into roughly three categories:
1. Fixed blade
Fixed-blade broadheads are the most durable variant used by many traditional bowhunters. Due to their durability, they also have the potential to be more penetrative regarding bone. For this reason, the use of fixed-blade broadheads is mandatory in some jurisdictions for hunting big game. The solid construction reduces the likelihood of blades breaking off the ferrule on impact.
2. Removable blade
Removable-blade broadheads have three or four replaceable blades. More fragile than fixed-blade broadheads but more durable than the expandable variety, these offer a balance. If the target damages the broadhead, you can simply replace the blades.
Also known as mechanical broadheads, these differ in several important ways. In an expandable broadhead, the arrow has several cutting blades that retract. This improves aerodynamic stability in flight. When the expandable arrow impacts a target, the cutting blades deploy, causing significant tissue damage.
Unlike many fixed- and removable-blade broadheads, expandable/mechanical designs tend to employ blades with a larger cutting area. If you need a wider lacerating area or more pronounced blood loss for tracking your quarry, you may consider choosing an expandable design.
Be warned, however, that these types of broadheads are more expensive because they’re more complicated to manufacture, requiring several additional parts.
There are, broadly, two types of expandable arrow designs: rear opening and front opening. This determines how the blades expand from the ferrule.
While expandable arrows are capable of inflicting more traumatic wounds than fixed- and removable-blade variants, they also require the use of recurve and compound bows with heavier draw weights to increase the kinetic energy imparted.
In addition, expandable broadheads are the most fragile of the three; therefore, they are unsuitable for use on some game animals with particularly tough hides or where penetration of bone may be necessary. This fragility can result in blades breaking off inside the wound track, limiting penetrating and wound trauma.
Broadhead hunting arrows are made from three different types of materials. Aluminum is lightweight and simple to machine; however, aluminum doesn’t hold a cutting edge as well as some other materials.
Stainless steel is heavier and shares aluminum’s corrosion resistance but is harder. This allows it to penetrate bone and hide effectively.
Titanium offers a balance — lighter than steel, harder and stronger than aluminum. The downside of titanium is that it’s comparatively expensive.
If you’re using a threaded arrow shaft, into which you screw broadheads, use a broadhead wrench. This type of wrench is designed specifically for broadhead arrows. If you don’t use a broadhead wrench and attempt to screw in and tighten the broadhead by hand, you risk severely cutting yourself.
Determine how much torque needs to be applied, consulting the manufacturer’s resources if necessary.
There are numerous ways to test the sharpness of a broadhead hunting arrow. The blades need to be able to cut tissue reliably to be effective. Dull broadhead blades won’t cut as efficiently, causing less blood loss and tissue damage.
One way to test the sharpness is to try slicing a piece of printer paper edgewise. Another is to try splitting taut rubber bands. If they are cut easily, the blades are sufficiently sharp. Alternatively, you can try cutting leather closer to the skin or hide of a game animal.
Arrows vs. Bolts
You may have seen arrows contrasted with bolts or quarrels. The terms “arrow” and “bolt” are often used interchangeably, and there’s an increasing amount of confusion and debate regarding whether a particular weapon shoots one or the other.
The term “bolt” is typically associated with the crossbow, referring to a relatively short and heavy projectile. An arrow, on the other hand, is longer and has vanes for increased stability in flight. These terms, however, are not set in stone, and the distinction, to the extent that it exists, has become less important.
Arrows are used in both, but some purists may insist that arrows are longer than 16”, whereas crossbow bolts are shorter.
The type of arrowhead that you choose for hunting or target shooting will significantly affect your results in the field. Experiment with a few different types to see how they perform with your bow.