People often ask me which broadheads, fixed-blade or expandable are best for big game hunting, and my answer is that the choice is simply complex. If you keep in mind that a broadhead has only one function — to cut a hole through hair, hide, muscle, and internal organs — and that to do so it must have blades sharp as a scalpel, be strong enough to withstand some serious abuse, and be designed and manufactured so precisely that it flies like a laser beam, you can now eliminate the cheap stuff and choose from one of dozens of broadheads on today’s market with confidence that fits both your equipment and your personality.
There are two basic types of modern broadheads, fixed-blade and expandable. Here’s a look at each.
Replaceable-blade broadheads were developed to eliminate the need to resharpen broadhead blades. It’s that simple. Fixed-blade heads are favored by many traditional archers, but many more replaceable-blade heads are sold. Over the years the number of blades varied as manufacturers tinkered with finding the right combination of blade number and broadhead flight. I remember 6-blade heads, and for a time 4-blades seemed to be the number, but today the 3-blade design dominates. Both fixed-and replaceable blade heads are solid choices for all big game hunting and, in fact, the only legal broadhead type in Idaho for big game hunting. Fixed-blade heads like the G5 Montec, and replaceable-blade heads like the G5 Stryker, are excellent examples of these designs.
While expandable — or mechanical — broadhead designs began surfacing back in the 1950s, it wasn’t until the late 1980s and the Rocket Aerohead before bowhunters in any number began giving them serious consideration. Their development has paralleled the maturation of both the compound bow and carbon arrow shaft.
As these two products became more efficient, and archers began using a mechanical release clipped onto a string loop instead of fingers on the string, bowhunters began shooting hunting arrows at speeds upwards of 300 fps. At these higher speeds, getting a replaceable-blade broadhead to fly with pinpoint precision – especially at extended distances — requires meticulous bow tuning.
The low profile of the mechanical broadhead eliminates the old issue of wind planing, and the accuracy equation just got much simpler. Mechanicals also produce a wider cutting diameter than replaceable- and fixed-blade broadheads. Along the way, there have been performance and reliability issues, but by and large, the modern expandable broadhead is a strong, accurate, and reliable product. The G5 DeadMeat head is one solid example of a trustworthy expandable broadhead.
Today, the 100-grain broadhead, both fixed-blade and expandable, is by far the largest seller, with 125-grain heads in second place. There are heavier and lighter options, but for virtually all North American big game hunting, one of these two weights will get it done.
The trend in bowhunting is moving slightly back from a decade ago in terms of total arrow weight. For a while, light arrows tipped with lightweight broadheads shot at hyper-speed from souped-up compounds was the trend. However, bowhunters have come to realize that, while raw arrow speed is a good thing, the most important things are accurate, laser beam arrow flight, and penetration. Thus, using medium-weight hunting arrows with enough front-of-center (FOC) balance will fly accurately even at extended ranges, and produce deep penetration with all broadhead designs.
How to Choose Broadheads, Fixed-Blade and Expandable for Hunting
In decades past, game laws prohibited using expandable heads for the continent’s largest big game. Alaska, for example, did not allow mechanicals for big bears, moose, and mountain goats for many years. Today, however, those restrictions have been removed, and mechanical broadheads are pretty much legal for anything and everything. Except in Idaho, where for some reason they are illegal for all big game bowhunting.
That said, I watched an archer cleanly kill a big brown bear in Southeast Alaska three falls ago using a 125-grain G5 Montec fixed-blade broadhead, which cut through one rib and penetrated to the arrow fletches at 35 yards. At the same time, two falls ago I shot a 4-year old bull elk at 27 yards quartering to me with a 125-grain two-blade mechanical head, which buried itself in the off-side ham. Neither animal lived more than 30 seconds after being shot.
All this proves is that today, choosing a lethal broadhead that flies accurately from a properly-tuned bow-and-arrow set-up is a matter of personal preference as much as anything else. When it comes to broadheads, fixed-blade or expandable, bowhunters never had it so good, however.