Bowhunters constantly ask which broadhead is the best; the debate between fixed and mechanical broadheads will continue to divide us all for many years.
We'll try to provide an unbiased approach to selecting the best type of broadhead in this article. We’ve used scientific evidence when it's available and personal observations when it's not.
During this article, we'll explore the characteristics and pros and cons of each type. We'll discuss the differences and similarities and the most suitable conditions to use both. Let's start with the pros and cons of the two types of broadhead before going into more detail.
TL;DR: Fixed vs Mechanical Broadheads
Here are the most prominent pros and cons for fixed and mechanical broadheads:
Fixed broadheads are ideal for larger game or bows with lower draw weight
Expandable blades are best used in windy conditions, for smaller prey, and with high-speed bows
What is a Fixed Broadhead?
A fixed broadhead is an arrow tip with fixed blades. It has no moving parts, so there’s a lower risk of failure. They can be easily sharpened and typically have a longer usable lifespan than mechanical broadheads.
Fixed broadhead blades are constantly exposed, so there is more chance of injury. It's essential to use a broadhead wrench to screw them onto the shaft. If you don't, your hunting season could be cut short before you even have a chance to tune your rig.
You'll also hear about another two broadhead categories. These refer to the design and shape of the blades themselves. A chisel point broadhead has a leading point before the start of the edge. These types of points have different profiles but the same penetration.
Hunters prefer cut-on-contact broadheads for larger game like elks, bears, and mule deers. The blades on this type of head typically come up to the tip, although some models have a separate cutting tip in front.
They’re ideal for larger prey, but easier to damage than a chisel point if you hit bone. The end won't direct the blades away from bones as a chisel point head does.
What is a Mechanical Broadhead?
In contrast to the fixed broadhead, the mechanical one has movable blades that open on impact. The popular belief is that this gives the arrow or bolt a more aerodynamic and steady flight than the fixed blades.
With the addition of moving parts, you have more chance of failure. These blades also become tricky to sharpen. Nevertheless, high quality and well-looked after mechanical broadheads will still provide excellent service.
Something else to keep in mind is that the mechanical broadhead expends a small amount of energy on impact to open the blades. If you have a low draw length or pull weight, fixed blades might be the better option.
Something else to consider is the mechanism for opening the blades. Some blades deploy from the rear as the point enters the target. The other deployment method is from the front. As the arrow enters the target, the pressure pushes the blades back to open like flower petals.
A mechanical broadhead gives you a larger cutting surface, but this can also work against it, especially when you're using a low-energy or low-speed bow. A wider wound channel gives you a better blood trail, but the increased friction reduces the penetration of the tip slightly.
Relevant Characteristics Between Fixed and Mechanical Broadheads
It isn't easy to assign general characteristics to fixed and mechanical broadheads, as some brands and designs perform differently from others. We've set broad ranges based on observations from some top brands to give you an idea of what to expect.
$30-50 (pack of three)
$30-50 (pack of three)
1029-1078 milli GS of drag
1010-1049 milli GS of drag
Spin tests show a truer spin on fixed broadheads
Spin can be influenced by loose parts and blades
Moderate to slight damage on a zero penetration test
(Some brands suffered significant damage)
Significant to moderate damage on zero penetration test
(Some brands only suffered slight damage)
60-80lbs of force required to penetrate hide and muscle
150-30lbs of force required to penetrate hide, muscle, and bone
150 lbs of force required to penetrate hide and muscle
400+ lbs of force required to penetrate hide, muscle, and bone
1.44In variance at 20 yards
0.89In variance at 20 yards
Similarities and Differences
The purpose of a broadhead is the same whether you choose a mechanical or a fixed broadhead. We'll discuss the differences and similarities between the two and the implications of each.
Each hunter has a different setup and style of hunting, so these may help you decide which type is best for your purposes:
Fixed and Mechanical Broadhead Differences
The apparent difference between these two types of broadheads is that the fixed head has no moving parts, whereas the mechanical broadhead's blades deploy on impact. The difference in design impacts the characteristics of these heads in multiple ways.
Having sharp blades and effective cutting is essential to the success or failure of a shot. While you can sharpen both types, fixed blades sharpen more easily than mechanical blades.
A mechanical broadhead will cause a wider wound channel and a better blood trail to follow. The mechanical design allows designers to incorporate longer, thinner blades into the broadhead.
A fixed broadhead will last longer than a mechanical one. The solid construction means that it's stronger. You also don't have moving parts that can become damaged on impact.
Typically, an expanding blade is held in place by a single screw, which takes the brunt of the impact force as the blades deploy. These screws often break in the process.
In theory, a mechanical broadhead has better aerodynamics, as it has a smaller in-flight profile. Some manufacturers of mechanical broadheads claim they have the same characteristics as a field-tip, but this assertion is over-optimistic.
You still need to tune your rig to compensate for any changes in the arrow, including a heavier head.
The improved aerodynamics of a mechanical broadhead is dependent on the blades only deploying on impact. A poorly designed head's cutters may deploy early, resulting in a spoiled shot. Some designers use these measures to prevent this:
- Rubber O-rings
- Shock collars
- Spring-loaded collars
When you release an arrow, a certain amount of spin is applied to it during flight. The concentricity determines how much or how little the shaft will wobble in flight.
A well-manufactured and balanced fixed broadhead displays better concentricity than a mechanical broadhead of similar quality.
Fixed and Mechanical Broadhead Similarities
Now that we've looked at the differences between the two types of broadhead, you might find some of the similarities to be surprising.
The cost of broadheads varies considerably. However, the heads most commonly used for hunting fall into the same price range whether you decide on a fixed or mechanical broadhead. We compared the costs of similar quality heads that were suitable for hunting.
Although we found mechanical broadheads slightly more accurate (at 40 yards) than the fixed ones, the difference was negligible. We attribute this to the better concentricity of the fixed head, balanced by the aerodynamics of a mechanical head.
At 60 yards, the mechanical broadhead did perform better than the fixed versions, but even at that range, the difference wasn’t noticeable. To achieve the best accuracy, you need to test and tune your entire rig with the broadhead you intend to use.
Fixed broadheads performed marginally better with penetration, but the difference was insignificant.
We found that the design of the tip made more of an impact on its penetration ability. Cut-on-contact blades have better penetration than the chisel point blades regardless of whether the broadhead is mechanical or fixed.
The chisel point deflects the blades away from bones, preventing unnecessary damage.
Manufacturers use steel, high carbon steel, or stainless steel for broadhead construction. Aluminum is commonly used for ferrules, although this isn't the best choice. You’ll even find some titanium models combining strength and lightness, but costing more.
The design of the broadhead is what decides its success or failure.
Both fixed and mechanical broadheads utilize either a cut-on-contact or a chisel point design. The cut-on-contact gives you more penetration and is suitable for larger animals with thicker hides. A chisel point affords protection to the blades, preserving them longer.
Advantages of Fixed Broadheads
Let's have a look at the advantages of using a fixed broadhead:
Fixed blades and rigid structures mean that these heads have less tendency to fail than their mechanical counterparts that have moving parts. These broadheads are solid and long-lasting.
Maintenance of all your hunting gear is essential to your success. Clean your broadheads thoroughly to avoid rust and keep the blades sharp to ensure optimal cutting power. It's easier to clean and sharpen thicker fixed blades than mechanical blades.
Require Less Kinetic Energy
With fixed blades, all the kinetic energy is dedicated to penetration. None of the force is dissipated to opening the cutters. The smaller cutting diameter also helps reduce the kinetic energy required to penetrate and means that you're less likely to hit bones.
Once you have the bow tuned to accommodate the broadheads you're using, every shot is the same. There’s no risk that the blades will deploy in flight or that you have broken the collar or O-ring holding the cutters closed while stalking your target.
Loose gear and noise are a soldier's and hunter's worst enemy. Anything that can move has the potential to make noise. A fixed broadhead has no moving parts to add a telltale rattle to your equipment.
Although a mechanical broadhead will cut a wider wound channel, the fixed broadhead has a better chance of complete pass-through. There’s less chance that a bone will stop the arrow from making full penetration. Except for doing more internal damage, a complete pass-through also leaves a better blood trail, making the task of tracking a wounded critter easier.
A fixed broadhead has distinct advantages in some situations. If you stalk with a nocked arrow, there’s no chance of blades accidentally deploying before you make your shot. There’s also less chance of a rattle alerting the deer to your presence before you make the shot or while the arrow is in flight.
Maintenance of the broadheads is also easier, giving you a longer lifespan on your heads. You're also guaranteed that the arrow will behave in the same way in every shot.
The increased chance of pass-through is crucial when shooting from a tree stand, as the exit wound will be lower and give you a clear trail to follow.
Advantages of Mechanical Broadheads
Mechanical broadheads also have some distinct advantages, We'll discuss those here:
Mechanical broadheads have longer blades, giving you a larger cutting diameter and broader wound channel. You have more chance of doing internal damage, and the deer will bleed out faster if the shot is well placed.
You should always tune your bow for optimal performance and ensure your form is the best possible. However, if your bow is slightly out of tune or you're not in a position that allows for the best stance when you take your shot, a mechanical broadhead will fly more accurately than a fixed one.
Smaller In-Flight Profile
The in-flight profile of your arrow is smaller with a mechanical broadhead. The smaller profile reduces aerodynamic planing and the effects of wind gusts on your arrow's flight path.
Combined with the forgiving nature of these broadheads, you have a better chance of hitting your aiming point.
We don't recommend shooting from long range with a bow. But at more than 40 yards, the mechanical broadhead's accuracy begins outperforming traditional fixed blade broadheads.
If you need to take a shot from 60 yards with a high-powered bow, you should consider using mechanical broadheads.
More Suitable for High-Speed Bows
It's no coincidence that mechanical broadheads became more popular as bow technology improved. They're more suitable for modern high-speed bows. This is due to the smaller profile, which improves the arrow's fight characteristics at higher speeds.
If you're using a high-speed bow, you'll have to carefully select a good quality broadhead that won't deploy early with centrifugal force.
Using a mechanical broadhead is most advantageous when you're using a high-speed bow and need to take longer shots, especially with smaller prey.
Although bow tuning is still essential, it's not as crucial as with a fixed broadhead. Their configuration is more forgiving of bad form.
The smaller, in-flight profile makes mechanical broadheads ideal for windy conditions and reduces the tendency of arrows to plane or veer.
If you're hunting from a cramped position where you may be unable to maintain the perfect shooting posture, these heads will improve your chance of bagging some game.
What About Removable Broadheads?
Removable broadheads provide an alternative to fixed or mechanical broadheads. Here are some features to consider.
You can remove the blades of this type for safety, storage, or maintenance. Sharpening the removable cutters is often more manageable, as you don't have other razors in the way.
An added benefit is that you can purchase the blades separately and don't need to replace the entire broadhead if a cutter is damaged.
These blades can still be damaged by a bone strike, just like any other type of broadhead. With rare exceptions, using a removable broadhead restricts you to a chisel point design. The removal feature of the blades almost dictates this is the only design you can use.
The most common problem with a removable broadhead is that the blades may become lodged in your prey when you retrieve your arrow. Butchering a carcass with broadhead parts still inside it can be tricky.
Both fixed and expandable broadheads may have replaceable blades. A fulcrum screw with an Allen-head typically holds the cutters in place.
Manufacturers often use Loctite on these screws. If you're having trouble removing it, heat it with a lighter to break the Loctite down.
To replace the blades, align them before inserting them through the slot on the broadhead. Push them through the channel until they line up with the fulcrum point.
You can use the Allen-wrench or a small screwdriver to ensure that the holes line up before tightening the screw.
Wear appropriate safety gear while replacing your broadhead blades. Even without the momentum of an arrow behind them, properly sharpened blades can cause an injury. Instead, work safely to not have your hunting cut short by a careless slip of a cutter.
When and Why Would I Use a Fixed Broadhead?
You need to take a lot of different considerations into account when deciding on which broadhead to choose. We’ve listed a few times when a fixed broadhead is the best option.
If you're hunting animals with a chest cavity larger than two feet, use a cut-on-impact fixed broadhead. Your arrow needs to penetrate at least 18 inches to ensure that you pierce both sides of the vital organs for a quick and humane kill.
You also want the strength of the fixed broadhead to penetrate the thick hide.
Many animals grow thicker fur and hide during the late fall in preparation for winter. You need to adjust your equipment to account for this.
Although you can usually use a chisel point or mechanical broadhead for medium prey, if you're hunting late in the season, you should opt for the sturdier construction of a cut-on-impact fixed head.
If you're hunting in wooded areas, the strength of a fixed broadhead is essential. There’s no risk of an O-ring or collar being displaced, causing the blades to deploy early. If you miss your target, the broadhead is likely to survive an impact with a tree undamaged.
Low Draw Weight
Use a fixed broadhead on bows with low draw weight. Mechanical broadheads require some kinetic energy to deploy and won't achieve sufficient penetration with less powerful bows.
When and Why Would I Use a Mechanical Broadhead?
Mechanical broadheads are ideal for multiple types of situations.
A wide wound channel is critical for smaller animals that you want to drop as quickly as possible. Mechanical broadheads are well suited to small prey, from turkeys to white-tailed deer.
The hunting environment is another factor to consider when selecting the best broadheads to use. Typically, a mechanical broadhead with a small profile is better suited to mountainous areas, open plains, and tundra than fixed heads, as they're less prone to the effects of gusty winds.
If you need to take a chance on a shot of over 40 yards, then a mechanical broadhead generally outperforms a fixed blade.
Within 40 yards, the accuracy of both broadhead types is similar. As the range opens up, a mechanical broadhead shows a marked improvement over a fixed broadhead.
Mechanical broadheads perform better than fixed ones with high-speed bows. Kinetic energy allows the blades to deploy on impact, and the small profile prevents the arrow from planing or veering while it's in flight.
Safety Considerations When Choosing Broadheads
A broadhead is a tool designed to inflict mortal damage. It needs to be treated with the same care and precautions as any other dangerous tool. This includes taking appropriate safety precautions when choosing or using broadheads.
Match Your Choice to Your Bow
Using the wrong arrows or broadheads for bow hunting is as dangerous as using the wrong ammunition for a firearm.
The shaft, broadhead, and fletching need to be appropriate to the bow. A bow manufacturer can help you with recommendations or compare the bow specs with what the broadhead can handle.
Even dull broadheads can do damage. Anything you plan to use for hunting should be razor-sharp. A broadhead wrench covers the blades as you screw the broadhead onto the arrow shaft.
Wear gloves to protect your hands whenever you handle sharp blades. Although this should be common sense, many people seem to be unaware of the danger.
Stow your broadheads securely in a quiver when you're transporting them.
Use a foam or magnetic insert to ensure that the arrows don't move around, This prevents broadheads from injuring you or damaging your equipment.
Store your broadheads as you would store firearm ammunition. The sharpness of the blades can cause injury even when not fired from a bow.
Whenever you ask whether a fixed or mechanical broadhead is better, you'll find as many opinions as there are people in the room. This is because neither one is better or worse, just more suitable for different hunting styles and conditions.
The best way to improve your hunting and recovery rates is to practice with your bow and take the time to tune it to the broadheads that you're using. As you become more familiar with your equipment, your success rate will increase.
Match your broadhead to your bow and hunting environment. Fixed blades perform well with big game, shorter ranges, and less windy environments.
Mechanical blades perform better in windy conditions, at a more extended range, or with high-powered bows. Avoid using mechanical blades if you have a low draw weight since the blades may not deploy.
People Also Ask
We’ve answered a few questions that people often ask about broadheads below:
Do Fixed Blade Broadheads Fly Like Field Points?
No, but you can tune your bow so that the broadheads can fly the same as field points. Some tips on tuning broadheads include spinning your arrows to ensure concentricity, aligning your arrow rest for improved accuracy, and paper testing your broadheads to ensure a straight flight of your arrow.
Do You Have to Tune Mechanical Broadheads?
Yes. Whenever you make any change to your rig, you need to check and tune it. Even if you didn’t make changes and see your accuracy start to diminish, the starting point is always to tune your rig.
What Does It Mean to Tune a Broadhead?
Tuning a broadhead means getting it to hit where you aim.
Ideally, you want the same point of impact for a broadhead and field point. The second part of tuning a broadhead is to get the arrow to fly true.
The first step is to ensure the arrow’s concentricity by conducting a spin test. Ensure that the arrow spins true by rotating it and checking that there is no wobble in the spin. If the arrow is correctly assembled it should spin true. A wobble near the point could indicate that the broadhead isn’t screwing properly onto the arrow. You can usually solve this by using a small rubber o ring.
Another factor that could influence the broadhead’s performance is an arrow shaft that’s not straight. You’ll observe the wobble further back on the shaft and this issue can be solved by flexing the arrow shaft until you’ve identified the problem area and straightened the shaft.
Ensure that your arrow rest is correctly aligned for maximum accuracy. A broadhead will magnify the effects of any small misalignment. Test the alignment by shooting one broadhead and two field tips at a target. Adjust your rest in the direction of the field tips in relation to the broadhead’s point of impact.
The paper test is the last part of the process. A rip through paper should show the broadhead, shaft, and fletching following through the same path, indicating an arrow that flies true.
What is the Deadliest Broadhead?
The deadliest broadhead is the one that flies true and hits the target. Match your shafts, fletchings, and points to the rest of your gear for optimal performance.
Also, ensure that shaft and broadhead weights are within the specified range for your bow. Lastly, use the broadhead type most suited to the kind of hunting you intend to participate in.