Updated Jun 27, 2022 1:02 PM The best hunting arrows are often overlooked. Everyone focuses on bows and a
Updated Jun 27, 2022 1:02 PM
The best hunting arrows are often overlooked. Everyone focuses on bows and accessories, as they should, but rarely do they put the same thought or analysis into arrow selection. The best arrows will vary depending on your bow, hunting style, and preferences.
On a recent visit to a Colorado archery pro shop, I watched a gentleman fret for hours, asking scores of questions and testing various sight and rest options. He wanted to ensure his selections were perfect for his new flagship bow. When it came time to pick his arrows, he changed his tune, going with the cheapest he could find.
I see the attraction; sights, rests, releases, quivers, and stabilizers boast a racy, eye-grabbing appeal. You can customize them, even their color, to match your bow. That’s great. However, it’s the arrow that travels through the air toward your target. The arrow is the only accessory that actually leaves the bow and interacts with the thing your’e aiming at. If you don’t match the arrow’s spine (stiffness) to your bow’s poundage, you will struggle with accuracy. In addition, if you don’t understand the importance of spine and grain weight, you may be shooting a shaft that is unsafe or one that won’t perform well on the game you’re hunting.
Here are some guidelines for your selection process, as well as some picks, of the best hunting arrows on the market.
Things to Consider Before Buying Hunting Arrows
Though they appear simple, arrow shafts have a number of important nuances that require your consideration. Take the following into account every time you purchase a set of arrows.
When it comes to arrow selection, the first thing you need to do is match the arrow’s spine to your bow’s poundage. The task isn’t difficult. Most arrow manufacturers have charts on their website to guide you, and you can always ask a pro shop professional.
In layman’s terms, the spine is the stiffness of the arrow. If you’re pulling a 70-pound bow and shooting a 500-spine arrow, the arrow’s build is too thin and too light to handle the energy transferred into it. Not only is this dangerous (the arrow can explode), but your precision will suffer greatly. The arrow will never stabilize in flight, and you might as well be throwing darts blindfolded.
It’s also possible to be over-spined. If you’re shooting a bow with a 40-pound draw-weight and an arrow branded with a 250-spine rating, you’ll experience slow flight speed, inconsistent accuracy, reduced kinetic energy downrange, and extreme arrow drop. Remember, the larger the number, the less stiff the spine.
It’s also important to understand that spine size is not overall arrow weight. For instance, if you’re shooting a 400-spine arrow, that doesn’t mean your total arrow weight is 400 grains. Total arrow weight is measured in grains per inch, commonly abbreviated as GPI. The stiffer the spine, the more grains per inch the arrow will weigh, but grains per inch and spine are different.
The relationship between speed and weight is ultra-important. If you’re shooting an arrow that’s too heavy for your bow’s poundage, your arrow will seem like it’s moving in slow motion as it travels toward the target. On the flip side, if you’re shooting an arrow that’s flirting with the minimum GPI rating for the poundage you’re pulling, you’ll get remarkable speed, but your arrow will never fully stabilize in flight.
While diameter will play a bit into our next subheading, I do feel it deserves its own space. For years, there were standard diameter arrows and nothing else. Today, many manufacturer’s craft shafts in different diameters. Take Easton, for instance. This legendary arrow builder is well-known for its 6.5, 6, 5, and 4mm lines. Why is this important? First, thinner diameter arrows, if spine and weight are matched correctly with your bow, will penetrate better. The shaft’s slimmer build tracks perfectly behind the broadhead’s wound channel and dives deeper into game. In addition, arrows with a smaller diameter tend to fly better in the wind, especially at distances beyond 50 yards. The reason for this is simple: Reduced surface area gives the wind less area to press against.
What are You Hunting?
Next, think about what you hunt. A pile of arrow designs will work as well in the elk mountains as they do in the whitetail hardwoods, but many boast features that make them a species-specific standout. For instance, some shafts sport boosted F.O.C. (Front of Center) features to increase accuracy and penetration, which is important when hunting tough, thick-skinned critters.
To simplify things, ask yourself what you plan to use your arrow of choice for. If the answer is spring turkey and close-range whitetails out of a tree stand or ground blind, you can get away with an economical arrow with few bells and whistles. If you’re a western bowhunter, or are infatuated with the long-range practice game, I can promise you get what you pay for. Top-end micro-diameter arrows with more weight in the arrow’s front half reduce side-to-side drift caused by crosswinds. And the pencil-thin diameter penetrates deep.
Why It Made the Cut: Accurate and durable, the Gold Tip Airstrike works at ranges near and far.
- .204-inch inside diameter with 204 Accu-Touch Nock included
- Dyna-Tek Slick Shield coating
- Built for speed & long-range accuracy
- Shaft strength
- Easy removal (Dyna-Tek Slick Shield coating)
- Beefy nock collar to accommodate the .204 Accu-Touch Nock
Gold Tip’s Airstrike has proven itself to me time and time again. Western bowhunters cheer the arrow’s micro-diameter build and its ability to blend speed with strength. The Dyna-Tek Slick Shield coating makes arrow removal from targets a breeze and helps with downrange penetration.
Whitetail goers tip a hat to its solid build and applaud the arrow’s ability to work at ranges close and far. I like this shaft for western excursions where the distance between the shooter and the target may stretch beyond 60 yards, but it is equally deadly when sitting 20 feet up waiting on a November giant. During my time in the bowhunting woods, I’ve harvested over 25 animals (elk, mule deer, feral hogs, turkey, pronghorn, and whitetail) with this shaft. It’s the type of arrow, the more you shoot it, the more confidence it provides you as an archer and bowhunter. This arrow could have easily been slotted into most any of the other “Best” categories in this article.
Best for Elk
Easton 5MM FMJ Autumn Orange Easton
Why It Made the Cut: Easton’s 5MM FMJ Autumn Orange is a do-it-all arrow with great accuracy and penetrating power.
- Hidden Insert Technology (HIT)
- Built like a tank with an aluminum jacket over a carbon core
- Deep penetrating, with easy target pull
- Accuracy and reduced wind drift
- Deep penetration
- FOC easily improved with 5MM Brass HIT Break-off inserts
- Aluminum wrap can require intermittent care
To celebrate 100-years of arrow-building perfection, Easton crafted its 5MM FMJ Autumn Orange. A tried-and-true arrow proven in the whitetail woods, sage-dappled plains, and the Rockies, you can’t go wrong when you sling this shaft. Of course, it’s a do-it-all arrow, and we could have easily slugged it as such. I’ve yet to shoot a shaft that more perfectly marries accuracy with deep-penetrating devastation.
The reduced surface area gives the wind less to push against in flight, and HIT inserts create a seamless point-to-shaft bond. The arrow is available in spine sizes of 250, 300, 340, 400, and 500 in appropriate grain-per-inch (GPI) builds. The all-aluminum jacket wraps around the carbon core to penetrate deep and prevents bonding to foam targets. This great do-all shaft will serve you well on a variety of hunts, and is without question the best hunting arrow I’ve ever used for elk.
Why It Made the Cut: Easton’s 4MM Axis Long Range is a long-range arrow that is ideal for hunting in the West and target shooting at long distances.
- Super straight +/- .001 build with nock collar
- Smart Carbon Technology
- Dyna-Tek Slick Shield coating
If you’re looking to become the most accurate bowhunter you can be and shoot at long distances, there’s no better arrow than Easton’s 4MM Axis Long Range. This innovative shaft reduces wind drift and cuts through the air like a laser-guided missile. Spine sizes are plentiful, and the Half-out aluminum inserts are easy to install.
This 4MM Easton offering accepts standard 8-32-thread broadheads for the first time via the Half-out insert; no specialty broadheads or components are needed. The arrow promises excellent velocity and a build that holds up to heavy-bone hits. It’s a solid all-around choice, but if you’re looking to chase pronghorn, mule deer, or bighorn sheep out West, this is your shaft.
Why It Made the Cut: The Gold Tip Hunter XT offers solid straightness, durability, and accuracy that can’t be beat at the price point.
- Tired-and-true performance
- .246-inch robust inner diameter
- Smart Carbon Technology
- Speed and penetration
- Excellent value
- Multiple options
- Accu-Lite Inserts allow points and broadheads to rattle loose easily
A staple in the Gold Tip line, one could argue the legendary Hunter XT has filled more freezers than any other shaft. For the money, you can’t beat this shaft’s +/- .003-inch straightness rating, bulletproof build, and incredible blend of accuracy and speed.
Engineered to be versatile, the arrow will work for any game species you pursue. The Hunter XT it comes complete with GT Nocks and Accu-Lite Inserts. Spine sizes of 250, 300, 340, 400, and 500 are available.
Why It Made the Cut: Carbon Express’ Maxima Sable RZ Select is a lightweight arrow that is fast and flies accurate and true.
- Tri-spine/RED ZONE Technology
- Lightweight build with +/- 1.0 grain match weight
- +/- .001 real straightness
- Boosted durability with Launchpad nocks and Bulldog nock collars
- Flies fast and flat
- A too-close-to-call GPI-to-bow-poundage ratio can lead to poor accuracy and lack of strength
Carbon Express’ Maxima line has given us some remarkable models over the years. For 2022, the story is speed. The Sable RZ Select, available in spine sizes of 350, 400, and 500, was built to increase speed and reduce arrow drop.
The lightweight hunting arrow features TriSpine Technology with 360-degree spine consistency, and the .244-inch inner-diameter hunting arrow is made from 100 percent carbon. A solid choice for short-draw archers looking to boost speed and western hunters expecting longer-range shots.
Why It Made the Cut: The Maxima Red has been a staple in the arrow world since its launch. The shaft is built like a brick, is as accurate as they come, and has led to the demise of thousands of big-game critters across the world.
- Large spin-size range
- Stainless-steel nock bushing and inserts
- +/- 1-grain weight tolerance
- Tough as nails build
- Deep penetration
- The Q2i Raptor vanes limit distances to 50 yards or less
Carbon Express’s original Maxima Red is the best whitetail arrow ever created, as far as I’m concerned. Many bowhunters share this opinion, and it is no wonder why. The arrow manages dynamic spine very well. There are just a pair of spine sizes offered to cover draw-weights between 40 and 92 pounds. Of course, this reduces how much thought bowhunters have to put into finding the correct-spined arrow.
But other top-notch features like a straightness of +/-.0025 inches and only sweeten the pot, and make this my go-to arrow for deer. The RED ZONE reduces arrow oscillation in flight and helps broadheads—fixed, mechanical, and hybrid—hit their mark. Packs of 12 are available, as are 6-packs of fletched shafts.
Best for Younger People
Victory VForce Junior Victory Archery
Why It Made the Cut: Victory’s VForce Junior are low-poundage arrows that come fitted with nocks for young archers.
- Multiple spine sizes
- Rugged carbon build
- Quality nocks and inserts
- Must pay attention to bow weight and spine size to ensure combability
Young archers that chase their compound dreams on the tournament trail and bowhunting woods often struggle to find carbon that fits their needs. Not anymore. Dedicated to creating a shaft designed to meet the needs of every archer, Victory has crafted its VForce Junior.
Available in low-poundage spine sizes of 600, 800, and 1,000; these shafts come fitted with Bohning Blazer nocks installed, and aluminum inserts are included. The arrows can be purchased as raw or fletched shafts. Those that go with a from-the-factory fletch can expect two-inch Q2I Raptor vanes. This is a top-end arrow for youth archers with bow poundage that won’t reasonably accommodate a 500-spine arrow.
Why It Made the Cut: The Victory VAP SS is filled with state-of-the-art tech to increase accuracy, momentum, and durability.
- Stainless-steel layers infused into a 90-degree carbon-fiber weave
- High FOC
- Micro-diameter with SHOK TL Broadhead Adapter
- Tech that works
- Increased speed, penetration, and kinetic energy
Technology is only beneficial if it has a purpose. When you fill your quiver with Victory’s VAP SS arrows, you can bank on the fact that its technologies will make you more accurate, produce hushed arrow flight, and promote a build that is as tough as they come. The micro-diameter shaft cuts through the air easily, and the stainless-steel infused carbon-fiber weave boosts penetration and overall arrow durability.
The build gives the shooter a higher FOC and bone-shattering momentum, and the SHOK TL Adapter accepts standard 5/16-inch broadheads with an 8-32 thread. This patent-pending system sports an impact-protection sleeve that strengthens the arrow tip from fracturing.
During my 20-plus-year bowhunting tenure, I’ve slung plenty of carbon and aluminum downrange. In addition to testing each of these shafts independently with field points and mechanical and fixed-blade broadheads, I have also toted each shaft afield at least once.
During my range testing, arrows were independently weighed using a Hornady digital grain scale, and all were fired through a Caldwell Ballistic Premium Chronograph. Shafts were fired in crosswinds, headwinds, and tailwinds, and each shaft was fired at distances between 20 and 100 yards.
Q: What are the most accurate arrows?
Over the years, I’ve killed big-game critters with shafts branded with industry-leading technologies and those created not to break the bank. After extensive testing, the most accurate arrow I’ve shot to date is Easton’s 4MM Axis Long Range.
However, this arrow isn’t the only shaft on the market that ensures exceptional accuracy. If you’re looking to take your shooting to the next level and put more arrows in the 12-ring, look for micro-diameter shafts that improve FOC, feature quality inserts, nocks, and I do recommend fletching your own.
Also, if you’re a turkey/whitetail fanatic that rarely, if ever, shoots carbon over 50 yards, you don’t need to spend an arm and a leg on pricy carbon. Shafts like Gold Tip’s standard Hunter and XT Hunter will do the job just fine.
Q: What spine should my arrows be?
Remember, the lower the number, the stiffer the arrow. What spine you choose should be dictated by your bow’s poundage. Some draw-weight settings allow you to choose between a range of spine offerings. If you’re looking for maximum speed, go with a lesser-spined arrow that fits your draw-weight category and has a grain-per-inch rating that’s still safe for your poundage but will make the arrow lighter.
If you’re looking for a quiet, hard-hitting shaft that ensures deep penetration, go with a stiffer-spined arrow in your weight category. These arrows will also sport a higher GPI build. I pull 70-pounds of draw weight and shoot arrow spines of 340 and 350. My wife shoots a draw weight of 45 pounds and shoots a 400-spine shaft. If she is looking for a tad bit more speed, she will shoot a 500-spine arrow.
Q: How much do hunting arrows cost?
The more accuracy-enhancing technologies a shaft has, the bigger the number on its price tag. Micro-diameter arrows, for instance, cost the manufacturer more to make, and these shafts often showcase the manufacturer’s top-end arrow technologies. Don’t skimp on quality, but don’t think you have to take out a second mortgage to put an arrow through the lungs of a 40-yard whitetail. Match the quality of arrow to your hunt and the accuracy expectations you put on yourself.
Q: What are the toughest carbon arrows?
You have to shoot what you have confidence in, and for me, that means Easton 4MM Axis Long Range shafts for western big-game and Easton 4MM FMJ shafts for whitetail deer. Both are tough. However, years of testing have taught me that Maxima arrows from Carbon Express and Hunter Series arrows from Gold Tip are nearly bombproof, and you get that build for a good price.
Q: What is the best arrow weight for hunting?
This is a tricky question. But having put a pile of big-game animals from elk to mule deer to pronghorn to bighorn sheep on the ground over the years, I’m confident in my answer. I will go heavy over light every time. Heavy arrows fly quiet and penetrate deep. Plus, extensive testing has proven them to be more accurate. Yes, arrow drop is more. And you may not be able to dial your sight tape to 120 yards. But you will blow through game at distances close and far if you go a tad heavy.
Again, how heavy depends on your draw weight. I shoot 407.3-grain 4MM Axis Long Range arrows out of my 70-pound Hoyt Carbon RX-5 and get a speed rating of 307 fps. Last year, while hunting Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep, I blew through a massive-bodied ram standing at 64.5 yards.
For whitetails, I limit my shots to 40 yards and in. I want a hushed shot and lots of kinetic energy. My RX-5 pushes my 480-grain 4MM FMJ’s at 284 fps and those arrows hit with 85.95-foot-pounds. This build eats whitetails up. It’s also my elk go-to.
Q: Are heavier arrows better for hunting?
In my opinion, heavy is always better. I flirt with speed only when chasing spot-and-stalk pronghorn and mule deer. By flirt, I mean I don’t get crazy. I may drop down to an arrow with the same spine that weighs a tad less per inch. Those who shoot 65- and 70-pounds of draw weight should shoot arrows around 400 grains and go heavier if long-range shots aren’t likely.
Final Thoughts on the Best Hunting Arrows
I believe, next to your bow, which must fit you perfectly, having the best hunting arrow selection is the most critical piece of the fill-the-freezer puzzle. My biggest suggestion is to prove to yourself what arrow should rest between the nocking points inside your D-loop. The more you test and tinker and do your research—the more likely you are to find a shaft that fills you with confidence and puts field points and broadheads in the 10-ring.