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Mechanical Broadheads for Bear Hunting
In the world of bowhunting, few topics stir as much debate as the issue of whether or not mechanical broadheads are viable hunting tools – especially for big game animals like bears.
Cam you remember when mechanical broadheads first appeared on the scene? Despite all the hype, basically they sucked simply because they were unreliable. When they worked, they worked unbelievably well. When they failed – and failures occurred more than the manufacturers wanted you to believe – the results were horrid.
That was more than a decade ago, and like all new equipment developments, mechanical broadheads have evolved into much more effective tools. Basic designs have changed and manufacturing tolerances are much tighter, creating a much better product. But still …
The main purpose for choosing a mechanical broadhead over a fixed- or replaceable-blade model is simply to increase arrow flight consistency and accuracy when bowhunting. Today, the best mechanical broadheads can give you near-field point accuracy. That’s because they have a much lower profile than standard broadheads and no protruding blades that can catch air and cause the head to veer off course. The question has never been one of accuracy, but rather penetration and strength.
There are two basic designs of mechanical broadheads. The earliest models feature a design still used by many manufacturers that employs blades that are hinged near the base of the ferrule and point forward. When the broadhead strikes the target the blades deploy rearwards, exposing the cutting surface. The second design is being used by more and more manufacturers today and employs what is commonly called a “slip cam” system. Here the blades are tucked into the ferrule in some fashion and, when the broadhead strikes the target, slide backwards, exposing the cutting surface.
Without question, the slip-cam design out-penetrates the earlier designs by a lot. That’s because they create much less drag and friction on impact. It is this design that is much more appropriate for bear hunting.
A few advid bowhunters and hunting magazine editors have conducted some of the most thorough testing of broadhead performance of anyone in the business. They did their first test of mechanical broadheads back a few years back, and followed it up again last year. You can see their results at www.bowhunting.com – and it is suggested that all serious bowhunters read this article – but generally speaking, they found a significant variation in performance among the tested heads. For example, the best-penetrating heads drove 22 percent deeper than the least. The difference in Total Cutting Area covered an even wider spectrum --almost 69 percent. They also found some discrepancies in weights and cutting diameters listed by companies. Most significant for bear hunters, with a few notable exceptions, the tested broadheads showed surprising resilience in their “torture test.” Only one was destroyed; two others lost blades, a couple had bent blades and a couple had mashed tips and only one head failed to fully deploy after passing through the first three layers (about three inches) of penetration medium.
Being something of a “gear head,” one hunter spends a lot of time messing with archery accessories. He weighs all his broadheads regardless of design or the manufacturer on the same extremely accurate electronic grain scale he uses when measuring powder for reloading rifle cartridges. He, too, has found that many broadheads not only do not weigh the advertised weight, but in the same pack of broadheads you might find a weight variation of as much as 10 percent. He has found these variations to be greater with mechanical heads than replaceable-blade models.
He shot his first black bear with a mechanical broadhead over a bait he had set in Alaska a while back – 20 yards, broadside bear that was calm, and he hit him perfectly. It was an old-design head with rearward-deploying blades, and penetration was abysmal. He did recover the bear, but told himself, never again for mechanicals!
After talking with the researchers and doing a lot of testing of his own, his thoughts on the subject have changed. Today he says, for black bears, go ahead and shoot a mechanical broadhead for black bears, if:
- You choose a top-quality broadhead that features the slip-cam design.
- Your bow-and-arrow set-up generates enough kinetic energy to ensure both deep penetration and that the blades will deploy as advertised. In my mind, for black bear hunting over baits where shots will be 20 about yards, that means about 60 ft./lbs. of K.E. at the shot.
- You make sure the blades are razor sharp. It has been discovered that, for some reason, many mechanical broadheads do not have blades that are sharp enough right out of the package, so make sure to touch them up before hunting.
- You take only broadside or slightly quartering-away shots. This will allow the blades to perform as advertised and also give you the best chance for a complete pass-through, which will both do the most damage and provide the best blood trail.
Modern mechanical broadheads have come a very long way from those of even five years ago. Today they are a viable bowhunting tool – even for tough black bears. But not all makes and models are created equal, so before choosing one for your next bear hunt, do some research and select only the very best.