Crossbow Arrow Components
There is a misconception that modern day hunting crossbows shoot bolts. Partly because in the past, crossbows did shoot bolts, and partly because some arrow manufacturers still market their arrows as bolts. But today’s crossbows shoot arrows. And as a crossbow hunter, you have many options in the arrows you will choose to shoot. You have options on the material your arrow shaft is constructed from, what weight point you want to shoot, the length and style of the fletching, and the type of nock you need. So in this segment of the Crossbow Safety and Education series, we’ll be discussing the components that make up a crossbow arrow and go into detail on what makes them different.
The first part of the arrow we’ll discuss is the arrow shaft. Arrows shafts can be built from 2 main types of material, either aluminum or carbon. And each type does have some advantages and disadvantages. With an aluminum shaft, you’ll get more consistency from arrow to arrow as far as arrow weight, arrow spine, and arrow straightness are concerned. However aluminum shafts tend to be a bit more heavier than carbon shafts and they can have a tendency to bend or crease easily when shooting tight arrow groups.
Carbon arrow shafts are lighter and more durable than aluminum shafts. They hold up better to abuse from other arrows hitting them when group shooting and tend to be more resilient to bending. However, some carbon arrow shafts can be inconsistent in spine even when from the same batch and you may find that you will get one or two out of a dozen that may not group with the other arrows from that same group.
The insert is the part of the arrow that allows you to screw in a practice point or a broadhead. Inserts can be made from plastic, carbon, aluminum, or brass. Generally you’ll find that aluminum arrow shafts will contain the plastic, carbon, or aluminum style inserts in effort to keep the total arrow weight down. The brass inserts are generally found in carbon arrow shafts. Because brass inserts weigh more they help increase the total arrow weight when using the lighter carbon arrow shaft.
In the end of the insert, you’ll find a point of some sort. When practicing with your crossbow, you have a practice point often referred to as a field point. Field points can come in different shapes and weights, with the most common weight for crossbows being 100 grains.
A broadhead is the type of point you’ll use when hunting. The 2 main types of broadheads are fixed bladed and mechanical. Fixed bladed broaheads have their blades attached to them in a fixed position. The most popular styles have either 3 or 4 blades. The height of the blades will determine the overall cutting diameter of the broadhead. A mechanical broadhead has blades that will move when coming into contact with an animal. They generally have a smaller diameter when shot from a crossbow, and then open up to a diameter much larger than most fixed bladed broadheads. However, mechanical broadheads aren’t legal in every state, so you’ll want to consult your states game laws before deciding on a mechanical broadhead. No matter what type of broadhead you choose, you should shoot the same weight as your practice point. And don’t take for granted that your broadhead will shoot in the same place as your practice point. Often times they won’t. So you’ll need to practice with your broadheads too.
At the back of the arrow you’ll find the fletching. Arrow fletching can be made from feathers or plastic, however plastic has become much more popular becasue it is more durable. Most crossbow arrows will have three fletchings, often referred to as vanes. However there are some crossbows that will shoot an arrow with 4 fletchings. The vanes come in different lengths from anywhere between 2 and 5 inches long. And they can be attached to your arrow in different configurations to promote more or less arrow spin when shot, called helical or offset. Most crossbow arrows will have a cock vane, and that is the odd colored vane which will always point downward into the rail of the crossbow.
The end of the arrow that makes contact with the string is called a nock. Your nock may be plastic or aluminum and can come in many different configurations. Most crossbows will shoot either a flat nock which is squared off at the back, or what is known as a half moon nock, which has a crescent cutout at the back of the nock to promote better string engagement. The flat nock can be loaded with any of the vanes in the downward position. The moon nock however must be indexed correctly to your string or you risk potential damage to your crossbow.
Now, Because of advancement in crossbow technology, in recent years we have seen a few more styles of crossbow nocks start to emerge. The omni nock from TenPoint crossbows is a nock that engages the string like a moon nock, but allows you to still load your arrow with any vane in the the downward position like a flat nock. Parker crossbows have come up with a nock called the capture nock which has a deeper throat in it, to actually encompass the string. And Firenock, which builds a line of after market nocks has come up with a full containment style nock that actually snaps onto the string just like a traditional vertical bow nock would.
So what nock should you be using? Well the manufacturer of the crossbow you shoot will recommend the type of nock that works best from their crossbows. And you shouldn’t deviate from their recommendation. Doing so could result in damage to your bow or possible injuries to yourself.
So that’s it. We covered lots of information regarding the components that make up a crossbow arrow. But, one thing we did not cover was arrow length. Your manufacturer will determine what length arrow works best out of your crossbow. Most times your arrow will be either 20” or 22” long. But some crossbows with shorter power strokes may only shoot a 17″ or 18″ arrow. As a rule, always follow the guidelines set forth by your crossbow manufacturer. Deviating from their recommendations are not worth the risk of damaging your crossbow, or worse getting, injured over.