Mechanical vs Fixed Blade Broadheads: Pros and Cons for Bowhunting

white arrow lot

The choice between mechanical and fixed blade broadheads has been a hot topic of debate among bowhunters for years. Both types of broadheads have their passionate supporters and detractors. The debate around which is better can get quite heated in hunting circles!

As a beginner bowhunter, you’re likely wondering what all the fuss is about. Understanding the pros and cons of mechanical and fixed blade broadheads will help you make an informed decision for your setup. In this in-depth guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know to choose the right broadhead type for your needs.

An Introduction to Broadheads

Before we dive into the nitty gritty details, let’s start with a quick overview of broadheads.

Broadheads are arrow tips specially designed for hunting. Unlike target points, broadheads feature sharp blades that are designed to slice through an animal’s hide and tissue for a quick, humane kill. The cutting blades leave massive wounds that lead to faster bleed out.

There are two main types of broadheads used in bowhunting today:

Mechanical Broadheads

Mechanical broadheads feature folding blades that remain closed during flight. Upon impact, the blades open up to expose the cutting edges. The blades are often held in place by O-rings, rubber bands, or retaining clips. When opened, mechanical broadheads create larger cutting diameters than fixed blades.

Mechanical broadhead with closed blades

Mechanical broadhead in flight configuration with closed blades. Credit: QAD

Fixed Blade Broadheads

Fixed blade broadheads have simple, solid blades that are permanently exposed. The blades don’t move or fold in. Fixed blades usually have simpler designs compared to mechanicals. They often feature just two or three blades.

Fixed blade broadhead

Fixed blade broadhead with simple, solid blade design. Credit: G5 Outdoors

Now that you have a basic understanding of what makes mechanical and fixed blade broadheads different, let’s look at the specific benefits and downsides of each.

Advantages of Mechanical Broadheads

Mechanical broadheads have gained immense popularity in recent years. Here are some of the key benefits they offer:

Larger Cutting Diameter

The major advantage of mechanical broadheads is the massive cutting diameter they provide when opened. Mechanicals typically have a 2 to 2.5 inch cutting diameter, which is 2 to 3 times larger than many fixed blade models.

This large hole inflicts immense tissue damage and leaves a better blood trail. For bowhunters going after large game like elk or moose, this increased cutting width helps lead to faster, more humane kills.

Accuracy

With their closed blade design, mechanical broadheads fly exceptionally well. They are often more accurate than fixed blades since they have minimal surface area during flight.

Less wind drift makes mechanicals a great choice when hunting in windy conditions or taking longer shots. They are aerodynamically sound and often match up well with field points.

Lower Risk of Planing

Fixed blades with greater exposed surface area are prone to “planing” in flight. This is when the arrow starts to twist under the force of air resistance against the blades.

Planing leads to accuracy problems and instability. Mechanical broadheads eliminate this issue altogether with their folding blade design.

Larger Cutting Diameter

The major advantage of mechanical broadheads is the massive cutting diameter they provide when opened. Mechanicals typically have a 2 to 2.5 inch cutting diameter, which is 2 to 3 times larger than many fixed blade models.

This large hole inflicts immense tissue damage and leaves a better blood trail. For bowhunters going after large game like elk or moose, this increased cutting width helps lead to faster, more humane kills.

Accuracy

With their closed blade design, mechanical broadheads fly exceptionally well. They are often more accurate than fixed blades since they have minimal surface area during flight.

Less wind drift makes mechanicals a great choice when hunting in windy conditions or taking longer shots. They are aerodynamically sound and often match up well with field points.

Lower Risk of Planing

Fixed blades with greater exposed surface area are prone to “planing” in flight. This is when the arrow starts to twist under the force of air resistance against the blades.

Planing leads to accuracy problems and instability. Mechanical broadheads eliminate this issue altogether with their folding blade design.

Mechanical vs Fixed Blade Broadheads: Pros and Cons for Bowhunting

Disadvantages of Mechanical Broadheads

While mechanical broadheads offer some clear benefits, there are also some potential downsides to be aware of:

Durability Issues

One of the most common complaints about mechanical broadheads is durability issues. The folding blades, clips, and small moving parts make them less durable than fixed blades.

Repeated impacts on targets can cause the blades to loosen and fail to open properly. Cheaper models are more prone to these issues. Premium mechanicals utilizing tougher materials perform better in the durability department.

Lower Penetration

Fixed blades tend to penetrate deeper due to their solid, single-piece designs. Mechanicals sometimes see energy lost as the blades open on impact.

Penetration depth is also dependent on the type of opening mechanism. Broadheads that open from the rear forward penetrate better than those opening from the front back. Penetration continues as the blades sweep back.

Fail to Open

If poorly maintained, mechanical broadheads can fail to open on impact. Issues like blade retention problems, damaged O-rings, and clogged pivot points can prevent the blades from deploying.

Failure to open results in minimal cutting damage and poor performance. Always inspect and maintain your mechanical broadheads before each hunt.

Premature Deployment

Occasionally, the blades on a mechanical broadhead can pop open mid-flight. This can occur due to issues like defective retention bands, loose pivot screws, and poorly set blades.

When deployment happens before impact, it leads to erratic arrow flight and thrown shots. Premature opening is rare with quality broadheads but remains a possibility.

Require More Maintenance

The moving parts on mechanical broadheads need regular maintenance and inspection. O-rings, bands, and clips wear out over time. Blades must be periodically sharpened and checked for tightness.

Fixed blades only require occasional sharpening and blade checks. Mechanicals demand more involved maintenance routines before each season and after practice sessions.

Advantages of Fixed Blade Broadheads

While mechanicals have surged in popularity recently, fixed blade broadheads remain a tried and true choice trusted by generations of bowhunters. Here are some benefits of going with fixed blades:

Reliability

With their simple, solid construction, fixed blade broadheads are inherently reliable. There are no movable parts or retention systems that can fail. Just a few solid, sharpened blades that consistently slice through hide and tissue.

Many bowhunters choose fixed blades for their peace of mind and confidence that they won’t experience mechanical issues during a hunt. Reliability is arguably the biggest advantage of fixed blades.

Durability

Closely tied to reliability is durability. Fixed blades stand up extremely well to repeated impacts on targets and bone hits on animals. The solid blades hold their edge and retain strength even after multiple uses.

It’s common for bowhunters to get multiple seasons of use out of one fixed blade head. They also sharpen easily with just a file or sharpening stone.

Consistent Penetration

With no energy lost to open blades, fixed broadheads penetrate consistently and deeply into targets. This helps lead to quick, efficient kills by delivering more cutting force deep into vital organs.

Their strong, short blades withstand high levels of torque and impact stress compared to the thinner blades on mechanicals. Fixed blades really shine for penetrating heavy bone on shots hitting shoulders and leg bones.

Simpler Design

Other than occasional sharpening, fixed blades require minimal maintenance or tuning. There are no bands to replace or pivot points to tighten. Just screw them directly into your arrows and start shooting.

Many bowhunters appreciate the simplicity of fixed blade broadheads compared to the more involved care of mechanicals. Less to go wrong means less to worry about.

Proven History

Fixed blades have been used effectively for decades by generations of bowhunters. Their effectiveness and lethality are time tested and proven.

While mechanicals represent exciting innovation, fixed blades remain a trusted standby popular with traditional archers. Sometimes you just can’t beat the simplicity and reliability of an old fashioned fixed blade.

Mechanical vs Fixed Blade Broadheads: Pros and Cons for Bowhunting

Disadvantages of Fixed Blade Broadheads

As with mechanical broadheads, fixed blades aren’t without their downsides and tradeoffs:

Wind Drift Issues

The exposed blades on fixed blade broadheads catch air resistance and wind. This can lead to increased wind drift and planing compared to mechanicals.

Accuracy at longer ranges and in windy conditions suffers with fixed blades. The increased surface area and potential for fishtailing make tight groups harder.

Smaller Cutting Diameter

Even models with 3 or 4 blades, fixed broadheads leave smaller wounds than mechanicals. The cutting diameter averages around 1 to 1 1/4”, noticeably smaller than mechanica heads.

For large game, the smaller cutting width of fixed blades means less initial tissue damage. However, penetration is typically deeper. There are tradeoffs with each design.

Harder to Tune

With increased surface area and drag, fixed blades can be trickier to tune than mechanicals. Getting fixed blades to group well with field points takes some work.

Achieving good fixed blade flight requires getting your arrow spin (FOC) dialed in. Well-tuned fixed blades fly great, but expect to spend more time tuning.

More Planing Potential

The exposed blades on fixed broadheads are more prone to planing and experiencing stability issues during flight. Keeping blade surface area to a minimum helps reduce, but not eliminate, planing potential.

Not as Failsafe as Mechanicals

While extremely durable, fixed blades don’t have the mechanical advantage and large cut diameter of mechanicals. A poorly placed shot from a fixed blade still risks less damage and blood trails.

Directly Comparing Mechanical and Fixed Blades

Now that we’ve looked at their individual strengths and weaknesses, let’s directly compare mechanical and fixed blade broadheads:

ComparisonMechanical BroadheadFixed Blade Broadhead
Cutting Diameter2 – 2.5 inches1 – 1 1⁄4 inches
PenetrationModerateExcellent
AccuracyExcellentModerate
Wind PlaningLowModerate
DurabilityLow/ModerateExcellent
ReliabilityModerateExcellent
Ease of TuningExcellentModerate
MaintenanceHighMinimal
CostHighLow/Moderate

As shown in the chart, both designs have clear advantages and disadvantages depending on what factors are most important to you.

Mechanical broadheads shine when it comes to cutting diameter, accuracy, tuning, and flight. Fixed blades are tougher, more reliable, penetrate better, and have a solid history of performance.

Many bowhunters keep both types in their quiver and choose based on the specific hunt and conditions. For example, mechanicals may get the nod for calm days and shorter shots at deer when their accuracy can be leveraged. Big game hunts where penetration is paramount may call for fixed blades instead.

Understanding these key tradeoffs allows you to make the right choice for your needs. Let’s move on to some general advice for maintaining either broadhead type.

Mechanical vs Fixed Blade Broadheads Compared

Now that we’ve looked at both sides, here is a direct comparison of some key factors when choosing between mechanical or fixed blade broadheads:

FactorMechanicalFixed Blade
Cutting Diameter★★★★☆★☆☆☆☆
Penetration★★☆☆☆★★★★☆
Bone Cracking Ability★★☆☆☆★★★★☆
Accuracy★★★☆☆★★☆☆☆
Aerodynamics★★★☆☆★★☆☆☆
Reliability★★☆☆☆★★★★☆
Durability★★☆☆☆★★★★☆
Price Per Head★★★☆☆★★☆☆☆
Ease of Tuning★★★☆☆★★☆☆☆
Ease of Maintenance★☆☆☆☆★★★☆☆

As shown in the comparison, mechanical broadheads shine when it comes to cutting diameter, arrow flight characteristics, affordability, and ease of tuning.

Fixed blades are superior in categories like bone penetration, overall durability, and field maintainability.

For reliability, the pendulum swings towards fixed blades based on simpler construction with fewer components to fail.

So there are persuasive arguments on both sides of the debate. The right choice ultimately depends on your specific needs and priorities as a bowhunter.

Maintaining Your Broadheads

To get top performance and accuracy, both fixed and mechanical broadheads need some periodic maintenance. Here are some tips:

  • Inspect O-rings and retention bands frequently – Replace any worn out or damaged rubber bands and O-rings on mechanical heads before they can fail at the worst time.
  • Check blade sharpness – Use a sharpening stone or diamond file to touch up edges as needed. Stropping blades is also effective for a quick tune-up.
  • Confirm blade tightness – Loose blades impact aerodynamics and penetration. Check screws and pivot points to ensure blades are tight.
  • Clean debris from pivot points – Small debris, dirt, and gunk in pivot points can impede full blade deployment on mechanicals.
  • Confirm blade alignment – Improperly aligned blades lead to uneven flight and penetration. Each blade should be perfectly in line with the ferrule.
  • Lubricate – Use a tiny amount of light oil or silicone lubricant on pivot and contact points. Avoid getting lube on blade edges.
  • Carry replacement parts – Bringing extra O-rings, bands, and retaining clips allows you to perform field repairs if parts fail.

Following this straightforward maintenance helps improve the performance and consistency of both mechanical and fixed blade broadheads.

How to Choose the Best Broadhead

As you can see, both mechanical and fixed blade broadheads have areas where they excel and fall short. So which should you choose as a beginner bowhunter? Here are some factors to consider:

Your Bow Setup and Kinetic Energy Output

Bow setup has a significant impact on ideal broadhead choice. Lower poundage bows lacking kinetic energy require fixed blades to achieve adequate penetration. Mechanicals see excessive energy lost opening the blades on impact.

Most modern compound bows packing 50+ lbs of draw weight can utilize either style effectively.

Types of Game Pursued

For pursuing thick-skinned dangerous game where impeccable penetration is paramount, most bowhunters prefer fixed blades they can rely on. Their ability to bust through shoulder bones gives peace of mind.

Mechanicals make more sense for deer sized game where the cutting diameter creates a better blood trail through quick bleed outs.

Typical Hunting Distances and Shot Angles

How far and from what angles are you usually shooting? Mechanicals shine for closer shots around 20-30 yards where accuracy excels and penetration is less important.

Most broadhead choices come down to maximizing accuracy or penetration for your common shot scenarios.

Hunter Ability Level

Are you an experienced archer comfortable with tighter shot margins, or newer to archery and still building skills? Newer hunters may appreciate the larger cut diameter and accuracy of mechanicals offering a bit more room for error.

Veteran bowhunters confident in their shooting often lean towards fixed blades for their reliability and penetration. But this depends on the individual hunter’s abilities and confidence.

By accounting for these factors in your unique situation, you’ll zero in on the ideal broadhead type to complement your bow setup and hunting style.

selective focus photography of three books beside opened notebook

Along with their attributes for hunting, there are some legal considerations governing broadhead usage across different states, seasons, and types of game. Be sure to follow all regulations for the area you’ll be bowhunting. Here are some common broadhead rules:

  • Minimum cutting diameter – Some states require broadheads to be a minimum cutting diameter, normally at least 7/8 inch. This prevents overly narrow heads that lead to subpar blood trails.
  • Maximum cutting width – For certain game such as deer, broadhead cutting width cannot exceed 1.5 inches in some areas. Larger diameters are seen as unethical and causing excessive damage.
  • Blade configuration – Some states limit hunters to fixed-blades only or certain numbers of blades. This aims to improve the ethical nature and quickness of kills.
  • Barbed vs non-barbed – Barbed broadheads with retractable barbs are illegal in certain locations due to concerns they worsen tissue damage.
  • No explosive or chemical heads – Any broadhead delivering chemical injections or explosives are prohibited everywhere for humane and ethical reasons.

Double check your state’s regulations before planning hunts with broadheads. While not common, some areas do restrict use based on blade count, cutting diameter, and other factors.

Handy Tips for Bowhunters

Here are some additional handy tips for getting the most out of your broadheads:

  • Use a release aid for accuracy – this prevents arrow paradoxing from finger shooting that impacts fixed blade flight.
  • Start tuning using field points – get them shooting tight groups before introducing broadheads.
  • Match your field points and broadheads – same grain weight improves consistency.
  • Try vented, screw-in points – helps offset added weight of broadheads.
  • Strengthen arrow inserts – prevents them being blown out by broadhead impact forces.
  • Use sled targets – foam and bag targets wear out quickly with broadhead use.
  • Don’t shoot groupings – shoots blades into the arrows. Space shots in practice.
  • Carry a multi-tool – allows you to make blade changes, adjustments, and repairs on the go if needed.

Following these tips will maximize your accuracy and enjoyment when shooting broadheads!

Common Misconceptions and Beliefs

Over the years, various myths and misconceptions have emerged around both mechanical and fixed blade broadheads. Let’s bust some of the more common ones:

Myth: Mechanical broadheads aren’t tough enough for big game like elk or moose.

Reality: Premium mechanicals utilize high strength steels and solid blade retention systems effective for big game. Choose reliable designs over disposable or lightweight models.

Myth: Fixed blades will punch through bone better by avoiding loss of kinetic energy.

Reality: Extensive field testing shows loss of kinetic energy from mechanicals opening is minimal. Both types perform effectively on shoulder bone hits when properly placed.

Myth: Mechanical broadheads lead to more lost game due to failures.

Reality: When properly maintained and cared for, quality mechanicals rarely experience in-field failures leading to lost game. Poor maintenance causes issues.

Myth: Fixed blades can’t achieve the same accuracy as mechanicals.

Reality: With proper tuning and arrow setup, fixed blades can achieve excellent accuracy

Myth: Mechanical broadheads are more expensive and cost prohibitive.

Reality: While premium mechanicals cost more than economy fixed blades, many are similarly priced when comparing models of equivalent quality.

Myth: Fixed blades will open up massive wounds similar to a mechanical.

Reality: The cutting diameter of fixed blades is inherently smaller no matter how many blades. Mechanicals open significantly larger holes.

Myth: Mechanicals fly erratically and suffer accuracy impacts.

Reality: Properly tuned mechanicals fly exceptionally well with minimal surface area exposed during flight. Poor arrow setup is often the culprit.

Myth: Fixed blades can’t fly well beyond 30 yards.

Reality: Set up correctly, fixed blades deliver excellent accuracy out to 60 yards, and even further for experienced shooters.

Myth: Mechanical broadheads require extensive tuning and special arrows.

Reality: Quality mechanicals today fly well with minimal tuning steps when properly maintained and matched to arrows.

Myth: Fixed blades will penetrate through bone better.

Reality: Extensive testing shows both types penetrate bone well when hitting appropriate angles. Shot placement remains most crucial.

The choice between fixed and mechanical broadheads contains many nuances. By understanding the realities around each, you’ll be well equipped to choose what fits your needs and shooting style best!

a bow and arrow laying on a wooden bench

Conclusion

As you can see, the choice between mechanical and fixed blade broadheads contains multiple trade-offs. Each design has clear advantages that make them ideal for certain situations. Rather than searched for a definitive “best” broadhead, it’s better to choose based on your specific needs and scenarios.

For newer bowhunters, mechanicals provide excellent accuracy and room for error. Veterans may opt for the reliability of fixed blades. Bow setup, game pursued, and hunting conditions all impact the ideal choice.

By learning the key attributes of each broadhead type, you now have the knowledge to choose the right option to match your hunting needs and shooting style. Understanding the pros, cons, and myths around fixed and mechanical heads takes the guesswork out of choosing.

The most important thing is selecting a broadhead you have confidence in and matches your in-field experience. With practice and experience, your broadhead abilities will continue improving over time. Don’t stress about over-analyzing the choice.

Now get out there, fling some arrows, and drop your game humanely! Let us know your experiences and thoughts on mechanical vs fixed blades. We want to hear your perspectives as a fellow bowhunter. Share what works for you!

Captain Hunter is a seasoned hunting mentor with over 20 years of experience in the field. His passion began as a young man on trips with his father and grandfather in the Colorado mountains. Today, he shares his unmatched skills in survival, tracking, and marksmanship through his website CaptainHunter.com. When he's not volunteering with youth hunting programs, you can find Captain Hunter providing expert hunting tips, gear reviews, and answers to your most pressing questions. His decades of experience make him the trusted guide to help any outdoorsman master the sport.

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