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Are alloy arrows a viable first choice? Part 2

Konrad LauBy Konrad Lau

Konrad Lau continues his discussion on why he prefers aluminium arrow shafts to the more popular carbon shafts used by most bowhunters today – a viewpoint that is sure to raise a few eyebrows.

In the last issue we discussed a number of "Old Wives Tales" told around hunting campfires and often heard while leaning on archery retailers' counters. I had the opportunity to more fully explain carbon composite construction methods, materials, jargon and the industry's current limitations as compared to aluminium alloy shafts.

In this issue we continue onward with the last two commonly opined "statements of fact" that most drive me batty. Hopefully we will be able to come to more rational conclusions than those gleaned from quasi-educated (sometimes partially inebriated) blowhards so often found kicking sand and other things around the fire.

Topic number 6

Another argument against the alloy shaft widely repeated is "Aluminium arrows bend too easily." And "Aluminium arrows lose their spine quickly." The only time I have ever bent a shaft was by grazing a tree, a rock or bouncing one off of the ground at an oblique angle… or stepping on one (walking on one's arrows is not good for accuracy, but your pro shop will love you for it). I have managed to shoot some rocks and cinder blocks straight on and have only had the tip damaged whereas bitter brutal experience has shown that shooting a carbon arrow under the same conditions produces a splintered shaft with the insert driven into the arrow without fail. A glancing blow can and often does produce cracking in carbon shafts (see photographic insets).

The premier alloy hunting shaft offered by Easton, the XX-78 Super Slam, has a two-year "Precision Tolerances Warranty" guarantee against spine and straightness changes with normal usage (I'm not sure if cinder blocks or large muddy boots fall into the category of "abuse" or not, but I'm thinking probably so). My communications with Easton shows that of all the arrows ever returned to their factory for "changing spine", NONE of the arrows had actually measurably changed spine or developed a spline. If one were to think carefully about the nature of metals, one immediately runs into the fact that all metals "work harden" with continued flexing. If our alloy arrows were being flexed enough during shooting to produce this work hardening effect, the spine would continue to drift upwards until a level of stiffens was reached that produced cracking or breakage under normal shooting conditions. It just does not happen. I practise every day, weather and time permitting, and interestingly my own arrow destruction rate compels me to purchase two dozen new shafts about every two years. (It would seem that even new arrows want to escape to bash themselves on various trees, rocks and other hard objects from time to time.) Another, and in my mind much more acceptable cause of damage, arises from arrows striking one another. This is the primary cause of my dented shafts. Nock-end damage is greatly mitigated by Easton's Super Uni Bushing. Only rarely have I had to throw away a shaft from nock-end damage. The beveled design of the Uni Bushing tends to kick the incoming point to one side. Yes, I may have to replace the nock and/or Uni Bushing, but that is far preferable to replacing the entire arrow (I still always cry) (See photographic insets.)

I will add here that I am of the opinion that should an arrow become bent (if only those trees would quit jumping in front of my target!), attempting to straighten bends using the typical over the counter "arrow straightener" does work harden the shaft wall and will thereby impart a spline to the shaft. This effect will make that particular shaft react differently than others in your quiver when being shot (unacceptable). I scavenge the inserts, Uni Bushings and nocks and then break the bent shaft so there is no confusion or temptation.

Topic number seven

I have also heard, "It is easier to choose the correct spine for a carbon arrow than for aluminium." Yes, for the uninformed or those not interested in optimum accuracy, I guess it is easier to choose a one-size-fits-most carbon shaft. However, because alloy wall concentricity is virtually perfect, there is no spline and an almost limitless range of spines are available, VERY consistent results from shaft to shaft and batch to batch may be obtained after the correct alloy shaft size has been chosen. Looking at resent catalogs shows the standard carbon arrow spine size 400 covers a 14-pound draw weight range (29-inch arrow) whereas the XX-78 2413 covers a much narrower 9-pound draw weight range. The broad selection of alloy sizes affords a much more specific arrow spine to produce the optimum in accuracy potential. The closely dialed-in spine afforded by alloys also directly affects how easily and/or quickly a shaft can be rotationally balanced and how fast the oscillations associated with launch are quelled. The faster both issues are resolved, the more energy remains for the propulsion of the arrow and the higher the likelihood of consistently tight groups. I have found in life a "one size fits most" means compromises on both ends of the spectrum. My feeling is: If I am spending a large pile of shekels, I want the best I can get for my money.

One often hears about the "forgiveness" of various bows, but I believe forgiveness begins with the arrow. If you are like me, your goal is to obtain the very finest equipment that your budget (and in my case the Chief Financial Officer) will tolerate. I begin planning for archery endeavours sometimes a year in advance.

> Saunders Combo point after direct impact with concrete blockSaunders Combo point after direct impact with concrete block.

The justifications for the accumulation of large piles of coin for toys related to jaunts afield can sometimes seem thin. Fortunately, my CFO is supportive of my pursuits (she just shakes her head and smiles), but still I try to make my investment go as far as possible. I have always questioned why someone would spend top dollar for a flagship bow, sights, release, boots, etc and then be satisfied with expensive arrows that had to be specifically positioned (please add an additional $60USD per dozen) to produce the best groups. Why not just buy the best possible product right from the start?

In conclusion I would add my observation that the cost of quality alloy shafts is very competitive when compared with any carbon composite shaft of equal dimensional specifications (ie straightness, weight and wall concentricity).

If you do decide to give aluminium alloy shafting a try, do not choose the lightest available shaft because they have relatively thin, fragile wall sections for their diameters. As stated previously, the primary cause of my arrow damage is from other arrows creasing the shaft walls. A fractured alloy wall can and will produce an "exploding arrow" just like fractured carbon shafts. Whatever route you choose, do not go for the lightest arrow possible. Light arrows give you a bow that makes more noise and it will vibrate in your hand more. All of that energy transferred to the riser, limbs, cables and pulleys instead of being absorbed by the arrow can and usually does stress components rapidly… not to mention your hand and wrist, all for minimal gains in trajectory. If you simply MUST have the flattest shooting, highest kinetic energy thing around, perhaps returning to the 375 really should be considered. We are, after all, discussing archery.

Off side Saunders Combo point after impact< Off side Saunders Combo point after impact

The primary benefit of carbon composite shafting is a manufacturer's ability to produce a shaft of proper spine, decent weight, straightness AND small diameter. Small diameter produces lower drag both in the air and when penetrating targets.

Carbon's deficits are high price and poor wall concentricity (ie spline). Whatever material you do choose to shoot, take the time to properly select correctly spined shafts for your draw weight, cam configuration, release type, point weight and shaft length. If you have any questions about the shaft size you are anticipating using, your archery professionals will be happy to help. There are also arrow selection guides available from all of the arrow manufacturers on-line and in the back of their printed catalogs.

In my opinion, perhaps the best of both worlds is the alloy shaft with carbon composite sheathing (Easton Pro Hunting Series) or visa versa (Easton Full Metal Jacket), but did I mention the price?

Point end of alloy shaft (Easton 2413 Super Slam) no damage or collapse> Point end of alloy shaft (Easton 2413 Super Slam) no damage or collapse

My alloy arrows may not be as flat shooting at 50 yards as Rodger Ramjet's, but when they get there, they hit hard. My bow is quiet without all sorts of doodads hanging from it (no string silencers at all) and when fired, it doesn't kick like it's mad and wants to run away. Additionally, I usually find my arrow buried in the dirt after having gone completely through the animal. In my book there is no better arrow performance than a complete pass-through. A pass-through produces large holes on both sides of the target that will allow for rapid leakage of oxygen carrying fluids. Like the commercial says, "The best blood trail is the one you don't have to follow."

If one's objective is 3-D archery, I agree flatness of trajectory is of paramount importance. All you want to do is hit the highest scoring ring without having to be spot-on in range estimation. Nothing is hurt by a poor or weak hit except perhaps your ego. However, if we are primarily interested in hunting "Big Game", humanely dispatching our quarry is our primary responsibility. As such sacrificing range may be required to guarantee an accurate fully penetrating hit.
Bowhunting and 3-D target shooting are different pursuits. While they are not mutually exclusive, they should be approached differently. The 3-D target won't run into the bush howling and die a painful, lingering death some days later. A hole on both sides of the animal will leak more efficiently than one hole filled with an expensive, pretty, high tech arrow.

Just remember to safely destroy and discard suspect or damaged arrows of any sort whatever their type, shoot safely and always have fun!




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