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Archery Heavy and Hard vs. Light and Fast

Heavy and Hard vs. Light and Fast

Just as every archer likes to weigh in on the debate between fixed-blade and mechanical broadheads, each bowhunter has an opinion when it comes to arrow weight. Both lightweight and heavier arrows offer unique benefits, but is there a general winner?

Relatively heavy arrow setups hit hard, penetrate deep, and resist wind drag. They can produce less vibration and noise, resulting in a quieter shot. And they can be more forgiving when arrows are less than perfectly placed on an animal.

On the downside, they aren’t quite as quick and drop faster than lighter arrows. So they’re not as effective for long-distance shots and make accurate ranging — rather than pin-gapping — incredibly important.

Lightweight arrows travel fast and shoot flat, making them popular among some hunters who typically take long-range shots. 

But this lightning-fast performance comes at a cost. Lightweight arrows can be more difficult to tune and more susceptible to wind drag. They also don’t penetrate as well as heavier arrows. And while some shooters argue the added speed of a lightweight arrow can help it make contact before a deer can jump the string, the added noise it generates can make your target more likely to react.

Just as different broadhead designs can each have their place, optimal arrow weight will vary from shooter to shooter and depends on a few variables.

For new archers, small-framed shooters, and youth hunters who have a shorter draw length and/or lower draw weight, better penetration outweighs the need for speed.

For experienced hunters pulling heavy poundage and consistently taking long-distance shots, a lightweight arrow setup might be beneficial. 

Hard-hitting penetration is a bigger concern on big-game animals, while the speed and trajectory of lightweight arrows will better suit target archers slinging carbon 100 yards.

With either option, you’ll make some type of tradeoff. But as a general rule, momentum outranks velocity. For most hunting situations, it’s better to sacrifice some speed for passthrough penetration. It’s easy to get caught up in the marketing hype of ultra fast rigs and micro-diameter shafts, but speed itself isn’t what kills.

Heavier is usually better.

Fortunately, arrow weight doesn’t have to be black and white, and ideal setups exist on a sliding scale. It’s easy to tinker with your arrow to add a few grains here or there for a customized setup that’s a little light or a little heavy — or one with middle-of-the-road weight.

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The Bow Bully
The Bow Bully discusses a variety of archery topics and offers tips, advice and the occasional nudge to make you a better bowhunter. With years of experience, and an attitude to match, you'll find the Bully has something to offer both beginners and seasoned hunters.

22 thoughts on “Heavy and Hard vs. Light and Fast”

  1. TBB,

    I prefer heavy to lightweight tips. The trade off is that one must be closer to the target requiring more discipline upon the one using the bow or crossbow. Terminal effect is the determining factor. I’m give up on targets I cannot realistically reach.


  2. The Bow Bully,
    I’m not clear on the concept you are referring to here”
    “On the downside, they aren’t quite as quick and drop faster than lighter arrows.”
    Drop faster—for what reason, and in what sense?
    Newton might not be happy.


    • Shootski,

      Presuming I understand Newton correctly 🙂 (and assuming air resistance is equal) objects drop at the same rate.

      Belive that TBB is saying that slower arrows drop further (rather than faster) over the distance.


      • Hank,

        I was never so sophisticated in my understanding of Archery when i launched arrows with a bow. The camp instructor was just not willing to go beyond the very most basic elements


        PS: Nether of my parents had any archery in their blood; they learned everything about firearms during the continuation of the Great War.

        • Shootski,

          Must be a blood thing, if so I’m definitely infected LOL!

          There is something with the live-power of a wood bow and watching the arrow spinning on axis as it arcs over to the target. Just makes me smile. I don’t watch/see the arrow while hunting or target shooting but you can really notice the flight when testing for the bow’s performance (distance). Just makes me smile.

          You can’t beat a bow as the best way to teach someone the importance of consistency (stance, hold, release and follow through) no matter what discipline they chose.


  3. “For experienced hunters pulling heavy poundage and consistently taking long-distance shots…”
    The Bow Bully,
    Perhaps I’m living in the past, but I just don’t get the whole “taking long-distance shots” thing, especially for an experienced hunter. You alluded to that yourself at the end of the report, where you noted: ” It’s easy to get caught up in the marketing hype…” Unless one is out West, hunting mule deer or mountain sheep, I don’t get the hang up on long-range hunting. My friend in New York state takes 3 deer a year (legally) with his compound bow, but all are at short-range, 15 to 25 yards; and he uses heavy arrows. For hunting, I was taught: “Get close…then get a bit closer.” The first wild hog I shot in Florida, using a “primitive” muzzleloader, was sighted at 75 yards. My friend’s like, “Can you take him from here?” Me: “Yes, but I’d rather get a bit closer.” I crawled on my hands and knees through the cypress scrub till I got to 50 yards, then made a nice easy broadside shot.
    I missed a nice buck in CT on which I’d used a 20-yard pin to put a broadhead right under him; my NY buddy came over and asked me to stand where the buck had been; then he stood where I had been, and said, “Dude! What’s wrong with you? That’s 30 yards!” (A laser range-finder later proved him spot on). I would think, heavy arrows and more range-finding experience is the way to go…just my 2 cents…I’m obviously no expert, LOL! 🙂
    Keep up the good work,

  4. Sounds like what us air gunners balistics sound like.

    So do you hunters or plinkers into making a clean shot study your balistics? I’m hoping the answer is yes.

    With pellet airguns, calibers and weight and velocity, for sure tell if a person has practiced when it’s time to hit the mark or kill zone or whatever you want to call it.

    The heavy sometimes slow projectile and fast lighter projectile isn’t only a arrow thing.

    I wonder if the smart bow shooters or air gun shooters have actually studied how thier arrows or our pellets fly.

    Saying that. I have almost bought one of the crossbow balistic scopes to try on not one but some of my springers, multipumps, Co2 and pcp’s. Like the Sig break barrel and the Whiskey scope. If one gets a ballistic scope to match a guns projectile they will have a hard to beat shooting combo. I guess the important word is to (match). And next important, change the variables you can to make it (match). Like the weight and velocity. That could be some work. But in the long run, we’ll worth the effort.

  5. TBB,

    I’m in the “heavy and quiet” camp and don’t shoot at deer at more than 20 yards.

    In my experience, unless they have been shot at and badly spooked deer don’t usually panic at the low “thrum” of a selfbow unless you are very close (sub 5 yards). Seen them stand there looking around wondering what the noise was. Heck, I’ve hit deer (double lung and complete pass-through) and had them take a little hop, walk a short distance, bed down and expire.

    On the other hand, the loud “twang” from a high poundage compound shooting light arrows will immediately put the deer in full flight. My friend used to kid me saying his bow was twice as fast as mine (which was true) but we always had to search a long distance to recover his deer. He shot a small nervous buck (at 30 yards) that jumped the string and found that the deer had reversed direction and was hit on the opposite side!

    Agree that fast bows shoot flatter but I find that the trajectory on a heavy arrow is easy to learn and doesn’t pose a problem at reasonable ranges.

    Just my 2 cents.


  6. “Ideal setups” Two of the most important words.. Accuracy makes the biggest impact (no pun intended) Just like all shooting, practice patience and concentration and then more practice, including ranging and roving. If you hit where you look instead of look where you hit, you’ll (almost) always have a short tracking job. If you don’t see it go down.

    • rk,

      To range and rove: range finding/estimation is in the airgunner’s Lexicon but roving is usually called stalking (by airgun and powder Nimrods/Hunters; at least in the USA & UK) so do we need an Archery to Airgunning Dictionary? I know differences in firearm and airgun usages but differences mostly revolve around the cartridge/projectile/propellant.


        • When I refer to roving in archery , I’m talking about walking in the timber with bare bow and a quiver of arrows with blunts and or field points shooting at a fallen leaf or clump of dirt at unknown distances. Kinda like having your own field course but without formal targets. Very enjoyable and will make anyone a better instinctive shooter..

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