A New Perspective On Broadhead Performance

28 Jul

by John Porter


The purpose of this report is to re-analyze the broadhead performance from the 2015 Outdoor Life Magazine broadhead test article titled “The Best Broadheads: 29 Fixed-Blade and Mechanical Broadheads, Tested”. The testing procedures appeared controlled, and the array of broadheads was plentiful. Outdoor Life Magazine tested 29 broadheads and were able to gather some respectable data! This data provides a great opportunity for the reader to determine one of the most important and commonly ignored metrics of a successful broadhead – the wound channel size. The following analysis of the wound channel size, based on the Outdoor Life test data, shall provide improved clarity to the age old question “what is the best broadhead?”

Finding a Balance

Penetration alone is meaningless. If you were to design a broadhead for maximum penetration you would likely end up with a broadhead, more or less, resembling a sharp edged field point. One would intuitively know that this is not desired when attempting to ethically take the life of an animal. From an engineering perspective you want every joule of energy from the arrow to be dissipated in that animal. A broadhead that blows through its target with ease is wasting energy flying out of the other side of the animal. Full penetration is indeed desirable and this will be mentioned later in this analysis.

Cutting surface alone is meaningless. Broadhead companies often boast about their cutting diameters or cutting surface size as a selling point. As avid bow hunters and consumers, we need to take these advertisements for what they are worth. If you were to design a broadhead for maximum cutting surface, you would end up designing a broadhead that was so large it would not even make it half way through a whitetail. Depositing an overwhelming portion of your arrow’s energy into the target animal is desired but is meaningless if the animals vitals are still intact due to lack of penetration.

Wound Channel Size is the balance. Broadhead performance can truly be boiled down into two main categories: accuracy and the size of the wound channel. We will address the wound channel size in this analysis. The surface area of the wounded channel, produced by a broadhead, is simply the product of penetration and cutting length. If you were to press a broadhead through a piece of paper and add up the lengths of the cuts from all of the broadhead blades you would be calculating the cutting length.

Wound Channel Size = penetration x cutting length

This is a determination of how many square inches of contact the blades will have on the animal’s body cavity. This should be considered the single biggest determination of an effective broadhead outside of hitting the target.

Testing and Marketing Worth Ignoring

Bone is not the same as a steel plate or concrete block. Although it is nice to boast about a broadhead that can “take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’ ” this is not always the objective. Often times broadhead designs will sacrifice performance for durability. Hunters often work very hard to put themselves in position for a single moment of success; keeping this in mind, it may beneficial to view a broadhead as a onetime use item. If a hunter is willing to view a broadhead in this way, the hunter may have the opportunity to select a broadhead with greater performance, which he or she may have otherwise overlooked. This is why durability was not considered in this analysis.

Data Collection

As mentioned in the introduction, the data in the 2015 Outdoor Life broadhead test was sound. It provides the bow hunter with the data he or she needs to make an informed decision about selecting a great broadhead but the data must be first be re-evaluated. As discussed in the “Finding the Balance” section of this report it is important for the reader to calculate which broadhead creates the largest wound channel. For this analysis cutting length is needed. Most of this data was collected from the websites, provided via email, or provided by phone call from each broadhead manufacturer. Assumptions made about the cutting length of the broadheads are discussed later in this analysis. Applying the cutting length to the penetration distances found in the Outdoor Life test, the wound channel surface area was calculated.



Evaluation of Results and Conclusion

As you can see from the wound channel surface area values above, not all broadheads are created equal. This analysis will give you a great indicator and aid in your broadhead selection. There are indeed other factors to consider when selecting a broadhead. For example, if you expect to take closer shots you may want to select a broadhead with middle range penetration and a large cutting length. Most broadheads will pass through an animal at close ranges and you may want to take advantage of a larger cutting length. On the contrary, if you are shooting a larger animal, you may want to lean towards a broadhead with greater penetration. The broadhead flight noise and accuracy also need to also be considered if you are taking shots beyond 30 yards. It is also important to note that this evaluation does not include many of the popular broadheads on the market.

Discussion of Assumptions and Limitations

This analysis was conducted under the assumption that the Outdoor Life data regarding penetration is correct and was done with proper experimentation control. This analysis also assumes that the cutting length was accurately measured for each broadhead. Portions of blades that fall with the diameter of the arrow shaft were excluded and a standard 0.25” of cutting length was used to represent the arrow shaft diameter; this allows for an “apples to apples” analysis of two vs three vs four blade systems. This analysis was conducted from best available information and has not been certified from the broadhead manufacturers to be error free. It is recommended that the consumer do their own research and consult with broadhead professionals when making financial decisions. Wound channel size is realistically a volumetric measurement that could be calculated by multiplying the area in square inches of the hole a broadhead makes when passing through a piece of paper multiplied by the penetration of the broadhead. The surface area of the hole cut through paper is difficult to measure and for simplicity sake this was simplified to a cutting length. This simplification would not have an appreciable effect on the results. This is a limited analysis and does not address all of the desirable aspects of a broadhead. For example some hunters may prefer for their arrow/broadhead to only partially make its way through the animal to allow for further damage to the body cavity after initial impact. Others may want to ensure a complete pass through to have better blood trailing. Some hunters may want to reuse their broadheads multiple times which may lead them to consider a sturdier broadhead.

This article is written by an engineer who is a fellow hunter and unaffiliated with the hunting industry for the purpose of educating the fellow hunter/consumer and to encourage broadhead manufacturers to consider a new metric when describing the performance of their broadheads.

Please contact Broadheadtesting@gmail.com for any questions concerning this analysis.

4 Responses to “A New Perspective On Broadhead Performance”

  1. Grant July 28, 2016 at 3:40 pm #

    While I think outdoor life’s evaluation was flawed, I think this one is really good. I do believe there is one oversight and I hope my comments are helpful as we all know how sensitive folks get about broadheads. I’m no expert or engineer, but i’m confident using the advertised cutting length of the toxic (2.89″) gives it an unfair advantage because with a traditional head as the cutting length increases, usually so does the cutting diameter (dependent to a degree on blade angle, and straight vs curved blade). The toxic is essentially is a 6 blade broadhead with a 7/8″ cutting diameter, and I think it can only reasonably be compared to other heads with a similar cutting diameter and only against heads with 3 blades or more, like a Shuttle T or QAD Exodus. While the “Wound Channel” on the toxic is going to have a larger amount of damage to that 7/8″ diameter hole it is cutting than say a QAD Exodus, that damage isn’t as meaningful as a head that has makes a larger diameter 3 or 4 blade hole. So if you are planning to go with a small diameter head (for accuracy, or penetration) maybe these findings suggest the toxic is a good head, but if you are wanting to know how much damage is done as it relates to killing an animal, I think the toxic numbers specifically are given an advantage that isn’t real life applicable.

  2. P.J. July 29, 2016 at 4:05 pm #

    Dan, again another great article. I enjoy reading and listening to everything you put out! I’m in the market for new broad heads so this post was very informative. I am curious to know what you shoot currently, and after writing this are you thinking of trying something new? If so, which broad heads might intrigue you enough to try?

    Thanks for taking the time to read this,


  3. DJ July 30, 2016 at 11:52 pm #

    Great article but they left out the 2 blade Simmons Shark. The shark is a Hoss, can be sharpened over and over with a knife sharpener and always gives full pass throughs. The 2 blade slips around bone and works great with all bow draw weights. Also flys as close to a field point as any broad head I’ve tried. Give the Simmons a look. It is simple but deadly. A hunter from Alabama gave me a set to try 20 years ago and I have never switched.

  4. BB August 11, 2016 at 4:47 pm #

    I do not agree with your theory of wasted energy. Broad heads Kill by bleeding out an animal. If we were talking bullets I would agree where shock and shear internal damage is the name of the game. A complete pass through is not needed but preferred for tracking purposes.

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