The Truth About Crossbow Broadheads
By Gene Schang
It can be overwhelming at times when you walk into the local archery shop and start looking over several aisles worth of broadheads. There are so many options and designs to choose from including broadheads specifically advertised and packaged as crossbow broadheads. Thirty years ago, when I began my bow hunting career, the typical broadhead was around 150 grains and had three rather flimsy fixed blades. We did not have anywhere close to the huge selection we do now staring us in the face when we begin looking for the perfect broadhead to screw onto our arrows. Where does one begin when trying to sort through all of the options?
Crossbow hunters now make up a significant percentage of the total number of archery hunters, with this percentage increasing every year. As a result of this growing market, broadhead manufactures are now producing crossbow versions of many of their popular broadhead designs. We receive many questions on a daily basis from our readers asking our opinions on which broadheads they should shoot out of their crossbows. Of those many questions, a significant portion ask if it is necessary to shoot crossbow specific broadheads to get the best performance they can.
To try to ensure that we tested a wide variety of regular and crossbow broadheads, regular and crossbow broadheads of the same head design and regular and crossbow broadheads of different head designs were reviewed from various manufacturers. Each head was subjected to the same process of measuring ferrule length, ferrule diameter, total weight, and blade thickness. With the mechanical broadheads, the retention systems were inspected and compared. After this inspection process was over, each broadhead was shot for two groups from a solid rest at 30 yards from a CAMX Chaos crossbow shooting 325fps and a Mission MXB400 crossbow shooting 384fps. The arrows were spine indexed Black Eagle Executioners in an effort to keep arrow to arrow variances in check. Each mechanical broadhead was manually pushed through paper and shot through paper at five yards from both bows to check for any early deployment of the blades.
Ramcat has been a force in the industry for some time due to their innovative features. Several years ago, Crossbow Magazine tested their original 100 grain broadheads and awarded them five out of 5 stars. We were impressed and still use their broadheads on many of our hunts throughout the year. The Ramcat is a hybrid design. It has three blades that are fixed in forward flight and held tight with 1/16 inch allen heads screws. In the event that the arrow does not pass through the target, the blades will pivot forward and cut their way back out as the back side of the blades are sharpened as well. We received the 100 grain original and 100 grain crossbow version of the same head with cutting diameters of
1 3/8 inches.
Both heads are constructed of 100% stainless steel and are dimensionally identical in all ways. The blade thicknesses of .032, were identical as well, coming in right at factory specifications. The diameter of the ferrule is slightly smaller than the diameter of the Black Eagle arrows which resulted in a barely perceptible lip where the broadhead meets the insert. Accuracy testing at 30 yards revealed why we like Ramcat broadheads so much. They remain one of the best flying fixed bladed broadheads we have shot. With the CAMX, I averaged 1.43 inches for the regular version and 1.54 inches for the crossbow version. When I stepped up to the Mission, my group sizes changed very little. I averaged 1.55 for the regular version and 1.57 inches for the crossbow version. Since there is the potential for the blades to move with this hybrid design, I did shoot both heads through paper and found perfect 3 blade cuts of the same length which indicated the blades did stay in the locked position during flight from both bows. The bottom line with the Ramcat is that both versions are identical in all ways in design and performance.
G5 Outdoors is a manufacturer of many hunting products. They have an extensive product line that includes broadheads, arrow rests, accessories, and even their own line of compound bows. We previously tested their Montec broadhead and found it to be very durable and accurate. For this project, I took a look at their Havoc broadhead, which is available in regular and crossbow versions weighing 100 grains. The Havoc is a mechanical broadhead with two cutting blades that are rear deployed when enough pressure is exerted on the leading edges of the blades upon entry. Each blade is held into the closed position by what G5 refers to as the Dual Trap Retention System that features a steel collar and an elastomeric ring. G5 includes practice blades in their packaging, along with extra elastomeric rings.
Each version of the Havoc is constructed of 100% stainless steel. The ferrules are again identical in length and diameter, and both versions weighed right in at close to 100 grains with 2 inch cutting diameters. All of the blades measured right at .030, which is what they are advertised at. Now for the differences. The regular Havoc has a blue elastomeric ring, and the crossbow version has a red elastomeric ring. Upon close examination of both rings, the crossbow version is slightly wider and has a larger diameter. I popped the blades open and reset them into their closed positions several times. It became apparent that the blades were harder to reset and required more force to deploy on the crossbow version. When the Havoc was screwed onto the arrow, the elastomeric ring is larger than the diameter of the arrow shaft on both versions, but more soon the crossbow version. Group sizes were very good with both crossbows. The CAMX averaged 2.10 inches with the regular version and 2 inches with the crossbow version. The Mission was able to produce 2.45 inches with the regular version and 2.20 inches with the crossbow version. I did have one early deployment episode with the regular version out of the Mission during paper testing. Interesting enough, only one blade appeared to deploy, based on the paper tear, but it didnot affect accuracy if it occurred during group testing as my group size remained good. This could have very well been user error from not being absolutely sure the blade was fully reset in the closed position. I could not replicate it again, but it did happen. The bottom line on the Havoc is that there are distinct differences between the regular and crossbow versions so I would certainly recommend the crossbow version for today’s crossbows.
Rage Hypodermic and CrossbowX
Rage is one of the most popular broadhead manufacturers in the archery industry. They have an extensive product line that covers all of the bases. We decided to look at their very popular Hypodermic in the regular version and their CrossbowX, which is a crossbow broadhead based off the original Rage that started it all. These broadheads are different in many ways so this will not be a side by side comparison, but an evaluation of each on its own merits. Both of these broadheads feature Rage’s SlipCam technology that allows the blades to be fully deployed upon entry once pressure is placed on the leading edges. Shock Collars behind the ferrule on both broadheads function to hold the blades in the closed position until enough pressure is exerted on the collar causing it to break and free up the blades to slide to the rear. Rage recommends each collar to be used only once, then discarded. A practice head and extra shock collars are included with both broadheads.
The Rage Hypodermic’s ferrule is constructed from stainless steel with a shorter ferrule than the CrossbowX. Each blade is .035 inches in thickness and the total weight came in within a hair of the 100 grain advertised weight. The large 2 inch cutting diameter blades are held in the closed position by the shock collars which appear to be of some plastic material. There is a small tooth on each blade that rests inside of the collar until enough rearward pressure on the blade causes the collar to break, freeing up the blade to slide rearward. When the Hypodermic is screwed onto the arrow, the diameter is smaller, resulting in a step between the broadhead and the arrow’s insert. Groups were very tight with the regular Hypodermics. With the CAMX, I averaged 2.15 inches. With the Mission, my groups opened up to 3.05 inches. This was probably due to some early blade employment from the very fast Mission. The paper told the tale as several shots with the regular Hypodermics tore perfect 2 inch cuts in the paper. Even though the blades deployed on several broadheads, the group size remained respectable.
A longer aluminum ferrule of the CrossbowX houses two rear deploying blades that have a 2 inch cutting diameter when extended. Blade thickness is right at .035, which is the same as the regular Hypodermic. Again, a plastic shock collar retains the blades until enough rearward pressure causes the collar to break, allowing the blades to deploy. The shock collar on the CrossbowX is more robust than on the hypodermic, requiring more force to free the blades. When the CrossbowX is screwed onto the arrow, it fits flush with the insert, unlike the regular Hypodermic. Groups from both the CAMX and Mission were essentially the same, averaging 2.32 inches. I did not experience any early blade deployment with the CrossbowX broadheads. Even though the regular Hypodermic performed well from the modest speeds of the CAMX, I would feel much better opting for the crossbow version of the Hypodermic. I suspect the collar on the crossbow version is more robust than it is on the CrossbowX which performed flawlessly from both bows.
New Archery Products
Spitfire, Killzone, and Slingblade
New Archery Products is one of the most recognized names in the archery industry. They manufacture a quite extensive line of broadheads in addition to arrows rests, quivers, vanes, and many other accessories. NAP’s Spitfire broadhead has long been a staple of many crossbow hunters through the years. As crossbow speeds increased, NAP introduced the crossbow version of the same head. Along with both versions of the Spitfire, NAP also supplied us with regular and crossbow versions of their highly successful Killzone and Slingblade broadheads. All three are mechanical broadheads that weigh 100 grains.
The Spitfire has three blades that mechanically deploy in an over the top, or jackknife fashion. There are no o-rings or bands that hold the blades closed. Both versions have a Micro Grooved aluminum Slimline ferrule that are identical in all ways. Each version has the same 1 1/2 cutting diameter with .035 blade thicknesses and were close to 100 grains. The retention system within the Spitfire’s ferrule works by exerting friction on the blades. I repeatedly opened and close both versions and found more force was necessary on the crossbow version. Since there was no obvious visual difference, I put an email in to NAP, and they confirmed that the crossbow version does require more force to open. Each broadhead fits nice and flush against the insert when screwed onto the shaft of the arrow. I have always gotten great accuracy with Spitfires and my experience was no different this time. From the CAMX, my groups averaged 1.92 from the regular version and 2.00 from the crossbow version. With the Mission, the regular version opened up to 2.95 inches and the crossbow version averaged 2.05 inches. I suspected the regular version may have opened in flight with the Mission, which was confirmed when I shot through paper. The crossbow versions performed perfectly. Neither version opened early out of the CAMX. The bottom line on the Spitfire is that they are very accurate heads, but there are enough differences that I would opt for the crossbow version.
NAP’s Killzone is a rear deploying 2 bladed broadhead. Both versions have aluminum ferrules, a 2 inch diameter cut, and weigh right in at 100 grains. The blade thickness of the
regular version is .035 and the crossbow version is .039. Each version is easy to distinguish from the other as the regular version is a matte gray color with a longer and slimmer ferrule than the black ferrule of the more robust crossbow version. Unlike many of the other broadheads we compared, there are obvious visual differences between both versions of the Killzone. The crossbow version is shorter, with a thicker ferrule. Each broadhead uses NAP’s Spring Clip retention system to keep the blades closed in flight. After opening and closing the blades several times, I found more force is required to deploy the blades of the crossbow version. When screwed into the arrow, both versions fit flush with the insert with no step up or down where the two meet. From the CAMX, the regular version averaged 2.84 inches and the crossbow version shrank to 2.43 inches. From the Mission, I averaged 3.04 inches for the regular version and 2.25 inches from the crossbow version. I could not get either version to open prematurely when shooting through paper with either crossbow. I suspect the longer ferrule of the regular version attributed to the slight increase in group size, but that is speculation. The bottom line on the Killzone is while I did not experience any premature deployment of the blades, the more robust design and slighter better accuracy would lead to me to recommend the crossbow version.
Another rear deploying mechanical broadhead in NAP’s product line is the Slingblade. I received both the regular and crossbow version for testing. Both versions feature aluminum ferrules, weigh in at 100 grains, and have a 17/8 cutting diameter. There is a slight difference in the gray ferrule color between both broadheads to distinguish the two. I found both versions to be identical in all ways, including the pressure needed to deploy the blades. Very little resistance was required to deploy the blades. Even though the Slingblade is a rear deploying broadhead, it differs from the Killzone as the blades do not slide all the way to the rear of the ferrule. Both blades pivot around a central axis in the middle of the ferrule. This allows the blades to pivot from side to side to work around hard obstacles, such as ribs and other bone, without losing forward momentum. When screwed onto the arrow, both versions fit nice and flush to the insert. The Slingblade was exceptionally accurate. From the CAMX, the regular version averaged 1.72 inches and the crossbow version averaged 1.67 inches. From the Mission, the regular version averaged 1.80 inches and the crossbow version averaged 1.78 inches. Since the broadheads are identical, the group sizes were consistent between both versions. The Slingblade was the only broadhead that deployed its blades when I manually pushed it through paper, but the blades never deployed when shot through paper. The unique design of the Slingblade uses the force of forward momentum to hold the rear of the blades tight to the ferrule which keeps the blades fully closed. The bottom line on the Slingblade is that both versions are identical in all ways and very accurate from crossbows.
Flying Arrow Archery
Flying Arrow Archery is a relative newcomer to the broadhead world. In 2012 they were founded and soon introduced a fixed bladed broadhead that nobody had seen before. The Toxic broadhead arrived on the scene and grabbed everyone’s attention as soon as they saw it. Normal doesn’t cut it anymore is their slogan, and the Toxic certainly fits the bill as not your normal broadhead. Utilizing what they refer too as Meatworm technology, the Toxic features six single bevel fixed blades that curve towards each other, forming a coring effect on the target. Even though the Toxic has only a 7/8 inch cutting diameter, the total cutting surfaces approach five inches. Flying Arrow sent us their regular and crossbow versions to test.
Both versions have aluminum ferrules, six fixed blades, and the same 7/8 inch cutting diameter. Each version was close to 100 grains and had the same blade thicknesses. The crossbow vesion is treated to a black finish on the ferrule while the regular version remains virgin aluminum. They are dimensionally identical except for the crossbow version’s ferrule receiving a flare at the rear to mate up better with the typical crossbow arrow. When screwed onto the insert, the regular Toxic’s ferrule is slightly undersized, resulting in a small lip where the two meet. The junction between the ferrule and the insert are flush on the crossbow version. For a fixed bladed broadhead, accuracy was very good from both bows. From the CamX, the regular version averaged 2.28 inches, and the crossbow version averaged 2.17 inches. From the Mission, my group sizes did not change much with 2.32 inches from the regular version and 2.26 inches from the crossbow version. The coring technology becomes very evident when you start shooting for groups into a target. I damaged many vanes and inserts and had a pile of target plugs laying at my feet when I was done. I would not want to be on the receiving end of these broadheads for sure. The bottom line of the Toxic from Flying Arrow Archery is that the differences between the two versions are minimal, but they do exist. Either version will work fine, but the crossbow version does mate up better to crossbow arrows.
Truthfully, I came away from this project feeling pretty impressed with how far the industry has come in regards to broadhead design. I saw very respectable groups with all of the broadheads I shot with some exceptional groups scatered among them. With today’s manufacturing techniques and tighter tolerances, I am confident that just about any broadhead design will perform as expected if the shooter does his/her part. When it comes to choosing broadheads specifically for crossbows, we owe it to our quarry to choose the best options out there. For the most part, there are not many differences between the regular and crossbow versions of the same broadheads when it comes to the fixed bladed designs I tested. If you are a fan of mechanical broadheads, I would certainly recommend crossbow specific versions to ensure the best performance and accuracy from any crossbow. Most had distinct differences in the retention systems, and some were built in a more robust way to handle the added stresses of the higher speeds and kinetic energy associated with crossbows. The bottom line for the crossbow enthusiast is that manufacturers are producing broadheads labeled for use in crossbow that are thoroughly vetted to ensure proper function and accuracy. If you are a new crossbow shooter or a seasoned veteran looking to try another head design, the broadheads marketed for use in crossbows are where your search should begin. To view all of the broadhead designs from these manufacturers, visit their respective web pages at www.ramcatbroadheads.com, www.g5outdoors.com, www.ragebroadheads.com, www.newarchery.com, and www.flyingarrowarcheryusa.com or call them by phone to speak with one of their knowledgeable customer service representatives.