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Skill Builder: Choosing Arrows

Safety is the key to material selection for beginners.

By Burnie Kessner

In archery, selecting the correct  arrow is key to safety and success. The beginning target archer needs a good general-use arrow. Different materials, lengths and strengths are available. How do you know what to choose?

Materials. Arrows are made from aluminum, wood, fiberglass or carbon. Aluminum arrows are more user-friendly and are safer for beginners because they won’t splinter and are more easily repaired. Although they may seem more expensive in the beginning, aluminum arrows may actually cost less over time. As long as the shaft is straight, the nocks, fletching (traditionally, feathers) and tips can be replaced. For these reasons, major youth archery programs such as the National Archery in the Schools Program use only aluminum arrows.

Wood, fiberglass and carbon are good materials for arrows, but they can become dangerous if damaged arrows are shot. These materials should be used only by experienced archers who know how to look for splinters.

Regardless of the arrow material, always inspect all parts of your arrows before and after shooting them. Never shoot a damaged arrow.

Length. If an arrow is too short for the archer’s draw length, it could cause an injury to the bow hand, bow arm or more. To determine the right length for an arrow, an archer must determine his or her draw length. Typically, at full draw the arrow should be one inch longer than the front of the arrow rest for target shooting. Your arrow length will be longer than your draw length. (Hunters may want even longer arrows to keep the broadhead farther from their bow hand.) Websites such as www.discoverarchery.org and www.archery360.com have helpful tips for measuring draw length.

Strength. The strength of an arrow, also called spine, is based on the size and type of material. Spine refers to the stiffness or amount of deflection (bend) of an arrow in flight. The spine or bend of an arrow is affected by both the material used and the thickness of the arrow. A “skinny” arrow will bend more, while a “fatter” arrow will be stronger and harder to bend.

Aluminum arrows have different diameters (written in variables of 1/64 of an inch), and the wall of the aluminum shaft comes in different thicknesses (written in 1/1000 of an inch). The diameter and thickness are usually written on the shaft of the arrow using four numbers. The first two numbers describe the diameter, and the second two describe the wall thickness. So, a 1214 size arrow will have a diameter of 12/64 of an inch and a wall thickness of 14/1000 of an inch. Typically, aluminum arrow sizes range from 1214 (skinny) to 2712 (fat).

The arrow needs to be strong enough to be used in the bow. If an arrow is too weak for the bow it could break.

Tips. The weight of the tip affects the overall weight, which affects the arrow’s speed. For target shooting, a 60- to 100-grain target tip will work just fine. More versatile arrow tips will have a threaded insert so that the tip can be easily changed.

Fletching. For fletching, a solid plastic fletching or vane is great. Arrows typically come with three vanes. The vanes can be anywhere from 2 to 3 inches long.

A vane may become damaged over time and can be repaired with a new vane, a fletching jig and some fletching glue. Refletching arrows is not complicated but can be frustrating. Strictly follow the directions on the glue, jig and fletching/vane package.

There are many great videos and tips on the Internet that can shorten your learning curve for repairing fletching on arrows.

Nocks. Arrow nocks for most aluminum arrows are push-in type nocks and can be easily changed if damaged. Simply pull out the old nock and insert a new one. The post of the new nocks will need to be the same thickness as the old nocks to fit properly. Also, the gap in the nock will need to be the correct size to snap tight on the center serving of the bow string.

The lowdown. For beginning archers, use aluminum arrows (1516 to 1816) and a bow with a draw weight of 20 to 30 pounds. A slightly stronger bow with a 40- to 60-pound draw weight would require a stronger arrow, 1816 to 2016.

Detailed arrow charts can be found on most manufacturer websites. Better yet, visit your local archery shop, where bow technicians and experts are always eager to help. 

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