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Carbon vs. Aluminum Arrows for Hunting

By: Vaughn Rader, Field Editor

    For years the standard has been to shoot aluminum arrows for hunting but for the last several years, the trend seems to be changing.  The most important factors for my hunting arrows are that I need a good straight shaft, good insert alignment, fletching clearance with large vanes with a good offset or helical, a durable nock, and a shaft lightweight enough to help me with my yardage estimation errors and of course, and I want a durable shaft. Let's look at some of the technology advances in the last few years that might make us look at a different hunting arrow choice. 
    Easton has always made high quality aluminum shafts for as long as I have been slinging arrows and I have never had any problem with them. In the early 90's when carbon arrows made their way into the archery market, they had very small diameter shafts that used an outsert and a nock that fits over the shaft instead of inside of it. Needless to say, this created problems in tuning and durability. The first carbon arrows were also inconsistent in arrow weight from one shaft to the next and the straightness left a lot to be desired. The first carbon arrows were very expensive when compared to the aluminum arrows of those days. The small diameter carbon shafts created all sorts of problems with vane clearance and were almost impossible to tune as perfect as an aluminum arrow.
    In the last few years, the archery industry has seen several advances that has completely changed the attitudes and equipment of the average bow hunter. We have improved the carbon shaft straightness and weight consistency as well as having shafts that accept inserts and Uni bushing style super nocks and during all these improvements, we have been fortunate enough to see the prices lower to the level that is comparable to that of a good quality aluminum arrow.  The other big advancement that the industry has seen is the popularity of the quality drop away arrow rests. These style rests have been available for years but has only become popular in the last couple of years with hunters. The first drop away rests used magnets or inertia to make the arrow drop away. Some rests today use the same principles but what I have found and many other shooters, is the drop away rests that use a rope or tubing that hooks to your cable or cable slide is the easiest to tune, time and to ensure proper vane clearance for the arrow shaft, especially the smaller diameter carbon shaft.
    Now, with all we have discussed, lets look at the carbon shaft and see if it fits our needs as the perfect hunting arrow. Today's carbon arrows that have a straightness tolerance of .006" or better works very well for hunting and of course the straighter ones cost more but just make sure your hunting arrows are at least .006" or straighter. Today's carbon arrows have inserts just like the ones that we have used in the aluminum arrows and most of the carbon shafts today use a Easton Super Nock or equivalent just like the top of the line aluminum arrows. Carbon arrows are a lot more durable than the aluminum shafts and do not really bend. They are either broken or they are ready to shoot. You should always inspect your shafts closely before shooting them but I have been unpleasantly surprised before when I pulled what I thought was a straight aluminum arrow out of a quiver and shot it only to find that it was bent and it did not hit the intended target.
    A couple of advantages of today's carbon shafts that were not covered above are the fact that carbon shafts take less time to recover from the archer's paradox and therefore means that it has the entire shaft directly behind the arrow point quicker which translates into better penetration and flatter trajectory downrange. One argument that has been going on for ages is does the smaller diameter shafts penetrate better than the larger diameter shafts when a broadhead has already cut a larger hole ahead of the shaft. In my opinion, I get better penetration from carbon arrows than I do from aluminum arrows from the same weight of bow. I don't care if it is because carbon recovers faster or if it is the smaller diameter shaft, the end result is better penetration. Another advantage with the smaller diameter shafts are that the wind does not affect the arrow as much on a smaller shafts as the larger ones if all else is equal and the smaller diameter shafts retains their downrange velocity better than the aluminum counterpart. I chronographed my aluminum hunting arrow set up and my carbon hunting arrow set up at 3 yards and then again at 25 yards. The results were that the aluminum arrow lost approx. 16 fps and the carbon arrow lost only 4 fps. This was not a scientific test and all variable were not exact but it gives you an idea of how the carbon hunting arrow would retain it's speed and help with yardage estimation if it was flying flatter downrange.
    I would have shot carbon arrows years ago for hunting but I could not figure out how to get good fletching clearance for my set up. With the new drop away rests, that is not an issue and with that problem solved, the technology of carbon arrows of today, every bow hunter owes it to themselves to try a carbon hunting arrow. I will cover the new drop away rests for hunting in an upcoming article. I think the results will surprise you, I know it did me. 
 One of the big myths in bow hunting is that a heavier arrow will increase your Kinetic Energy (KE) of your bow and help with penetration. Nothing could be farther from the truth. If you shoot a heavy arrow, your bow speed will be slow, and if you shoot a lighter arrow, your bow speed will increase in a manner that keeps your KE within about 5% of each other. Sometime the lighter arrow will have more energy and sometimes the aluminum will. It depends on your setup. With a given draw length, your bow will only improve its KE by you increasing the poundage of your bow. This can also create poor form and bad habits if you 'overbow' yourself. Don't get me wrong, I still shoot aluminum arrows for some things and they work great but you might want to try something new if you have doubts about your set up.
    Some of the good quality carbon arrows that I have tried are PSE Carbon Force, Gold Tip, Easton, Beman and Carbon Express. Not to say others aren't good but I  have never used any others and would make sure they stand up to these in tolerances and quality and I think you will be pleased with the performance of carbon arrows.

                                                                            Good luck and good shooting!
                                                                            Vaughn Rader
                                                                   Field Editor

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