Bow Bootcamp is a 10-part series designed to get you, your gear and your skills in top shape before the first fall season. That means gear checks, accessory adjustments, precision bow tuning, and shooting exercises to get you fully dialed in at the right time. In Part 1, we did a thorough bow check. In Part 2, we picked the best arrow shafts and components. Now it’s time to build your hunting arrows finished.
For starters, we’re going to go ahead and assume you want to build your own arrows, but if you want to keep things simple, you can always pay a bit more to get pre-built arrows or have your bow- shop pro to do it. In any case, you should start by asking yourself three questions. So let’s take them one by one.
1. Do you want a three or four point arrow?
I shoot a four-pointed arrow. Why? Because testing with a high-definition mic has proven to me that the low-profile quad is a bit quieter than a higher-profile three-way setup. My accuracy is also a touch better when I go back to practice at distances beyond 70 yards. But that doesn’t mean you have to choose the four-point option. I’ve killed hundreds of creatures with three-bladed arrows at various ranges. If you prefer to keep things simple, a standard three-lane configuration is all you need.
2. Want to coil your arrow?
I’ve been shooting bandages for 20 years and I love them. They help stick the foil, look cool, and make the arrow easier to see in flight and on target. I’ve also recovered many arrows that I wouldn’t have otherwise by spying part of a brightly colored arrow casing in the grass. They are fun and don’t add enough weight to the back of the arrow to matter.
I stopped adding coils over the past couple of years to save a few bucks and because I build so many arrows for testing I don’t want the added duty. But this is a completely personal decision. If you want wraps, go for it.
3. How do you want your sheets to be oriented on the arrow axis?
Many factory recurved arrows come with what is known as a straight blade, which is just what it sounds like: the blade is attached straight in line with the shaft, with no offset or spiral. A straight blade will provide increased speed but won’t do much to stabilize the arrows. Because the vane is straight, the wind doesn’t catch it to start spinning the arrows. This is the least accurate shovel choice, especially for broadhead shots.
With an offset sheet, the sheets are still straight, as in not curved, but they are placed at a slight angle to the axis of the arrow. This orientation stabilizes arrows well, even with a fixed blade head, especially at close range. Another benefit of an offset fletch is that it doesn’t pull velocity from an arrow as quickly as the third option, below.
And that brings us to the helical blade, which basically means that the blade is attached to the shaft so that there is a slight turn with it. There are many coil options and every archer has their own opinion on what is best. In any case, that added helix or curve increases arrow spin, improving arrow stability and accuracy. Most archers who shoot fixed blade broadheads and want supreme accuracy shoot a coil reed. Many precision-obsessed mechanical fans do too, myself included. I shoot mechanical broadheads on all big game animals and prefer a right 2 degree spiral blade. The reason is simple. I’ve spent years testing every option, and this just works the best for me.
Four steps to build hunting arrows
Now that you’ve answered these key questions, it’s time to start building your arrows. If you’ve never done it before, it can seem a little scary. But the truth is, if you’re even a little handy and have the right tools, you can get the job done perfectly and save some money in the process. Personally, I get a little extra satisfaction, too, from tagging a buck using arrows I built myself. Here is the four-step process.
1. Cut the shafts to size.
For the first step, you’ll need a dart square tool and a dart saw, or you can cut and draw the shafts at a professional shop. My method for measuring darts before cutting is simple. I set my release to a no-fire mode, draw my bow back, and have a friend make a mark with a silver Sharpie on the shaft where I want the cut—usually anywhere from 3/4 of an inch to 2 inches in front of the arrow rack. .
When doing this, consider what type of insert or extension you will be using. If you are shooting an outboard that comes off the shaft, remember that it will add some length to your finished arrow. The most important thing here is not to cut the shafts so short that a wide head attached interferes or turns too far into the rack. This can cause damage to the bow – but, much worse, it can shatter your bow hand. Be careful. For reference, I shoot a draw length of 29 inches, and my finished arrows, with nock and insert, are 28-1/4 inches.
When cutting darts, leave the head in and then square the cut edge with the square tool, which is nothing more than sandpaper glued to a perfectly square piece of metal. Next, you need to remove the knot and mark the back of the arrow. Don’t skip any of the square steps. In order for your joints and heads to be true, those cuts must be perfectly square.
2. Install the insterts.
Once your arrows are cut to size and square, use a cotton swab and some rubbing alcohol or acetone or clean any carbon residue from the inside of the arrow shaft. Allow the cleaning solution to dry and then follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the insert attachment. (For simplicity’s sake, “insert” refers to both inserts and exteriors in this section.) In most cases, inserts can simply be attached using any commercially approved adhesive. Just apply a little glue – not too much – to the part of the insert that goes inside the dart. Rotate the arrow while pushing the insert into the shaft to evenly distribute the adhesive on the wall of the shaft. Once the insert is in place, take a paper towel and remove any excess glue. Then let the glue dry completely according to the instructions.
3. Add a wrapper.
If you plan to add a wrap, this is the time to do it, after the inserts have had time to dry. Lay the quill on a flat surface, line up the back end of the dart (under the joint) with one edge of the quill and roll your dart slowly across it using downward pressure. That’s all there is to it.
4. Fly your arrows.
The final step is to bend your darts, which is basically just a matter of gluing your sheets. For this, you will need a quality arrow. I’ve used the well-known Bitzenburger fletching tool for years, but there are many other good options out there. All come with or offer the option to purchase different arms to create different blade orientations (straight, offset or spiral). One of the reasons I like the Bitzenburger is because while some tools don’t give you the ability to easily switch from a three-tier to a four-tier setup, this one does.
The fletching process is slightly different with different jigs, but very straightforward with any of them. The first step is to apply a bead of glue to each sheet. Don’t get confused; a little goes a long way, and you don’t want too much excess running out from under your sheets. Then follow the spindle instructions to attach the sheets to the spindle. The jig will line up the sheets perfectly in the correct orientation and hold them there until the glue is dry enough to remove the dart from the dart.
That’s it, when you’re done soon, your arrows are built and ready for the next step, which is setting up the bow. Stay tuned.