The kill is seconds away. You’re locked on, you let loose and watch…in horror as the bolt veers harmlessly into the foliage. Your prey darts into the landscape and disappears forever. If you’re tired of missed opportunities like this one, we have the tuning tips you need to ensure your arrows fly true and hit their mark—even when flying at more than 350 fps.
Nocks and Bolts
Compared to a regular arrow shaft, a bolt is heavier, shorter, fatter and less stable in flight but, for the most part, it is a short arrow. When choosing bolts, opt for the straightest ones you can afford, keeping in mind that you get what you pay for. The straighter and more consistent the bolt’s spine is, the better it will fly.
Regardless of the bolt types you choose, make sure they have the nocks that the manufacturer recommends. Some crossbows use a moon nock while others use a flat nock. In some cases, either style will work, but when purchasing bolts, make sure you know what style works best for your crossbow. Many companies recommend a moon nock because it ensures a good string-to-nock connection, greatly reducing the chance of the string going under the bolt and partially dry firing when shooting.
Fletching your bolt, which is attaching the feathers or vanes to an arrow shaft, determines how straight your bolt will fly. To make sure it flies straight every time, you may choose to fletch your own bolt. Many bowhunters who fletch their own bolts use high-profile vanes. They quickly stabilize the arrow in flight and are designed for today’s high-speed bows.
Some crossbow manufacturers recommend a mid-profile feather or vane with a slight-right offset of about 1 degree rather than a straight fletch. High-profile fletching can bottom out in a crossbow barrel’s flight groove. A slight offset will improve arrow flight and not interfere with the flight groove. Keep in mind, however, that cock feathers positioned slightly offset could cause the bolt to not sit properly on the crossbow, resulting in a poor bolt flight.
If you haven’t fletched arrows or bolts, realize that you might make a mess with the glue the first time you do. Use slow-drying glue instead of a fast-drying type so you can make sure you properly position the vanes on the shaft. Fast-drying glues work well after you have mastered the art of fletching because they dry in seconds. In the beginning, however, stick with slow-drying glue so you can take your time.
Gluing in inserts properly is also very important because, if your insert isn’t squared with its end perpendicular to the center of the arrow shaft, the arrow will not fly properly. To add front-of-center weight to the bolt so it stabilizes downrange, you need to buy a heavier insert. Some companies, such as PDP Archery, offer inserts to which you can add weight. You can screw additional weights into the back of the insert.
If you are fletching your own bolts, remember that every crossbow manufacturer has a recommended bolt weight that you should use. If your bolts are heavier than what they recommend, that’s fine. Heavier bolts, in fact, often fly better than lighter ones. On the other hand, if you use a lighter bolt and break a limb or encounter a problem with the crossbow, you could void your warranty. Don’t use a lighter bolt to achieve greater speeds unless you are willing to risk voiding the crossbow warranty.
Broadhead Selection, Inspection
Choosing the right broadhead is also important. Because many hunters want a shaft with more weight in the front, extra-heavy broadheads are becoming very popular. Several companies make broadheads that are 145 grains or more especially for crossbow hunters. Others make extra-short, small-cutting diameter broadheads that fly well when shot from super-fast crossbows. Many crossbow hunters prefer mechanical broadheads because they do not plane like large cut-on-contact fixed-blade broadheads can.
How well the broadhead is seated inside the insert also can affect how straight an arrow flies. A broadhead that isn’t aligned properly or has a little bit of play inside the insert will cause the shaft to wobble and not fly straight.
Every broadhead needs to be tuned to its bolt. If you unscrew it once and screw it back in later, it will need to be tuned again. Broadheads don’t always fit into inserts perfectly, but the goal is to have the tip of the broadhead centered in relationship to the center of the shaft.
Ready for Flight
To properly align a broadhead and ensure the bolt flies true, use an arrow spinner, which is an inexpensive tool that allows you to check your arrow-shaft straightness, broadhead balance and straightness, nock alignment, and feather balance. If a broadhead isn’t seated properly, it will wobble while on the spinner. The same is true if your arrow is not straight. Pine Ridge Archery and Apple Archery make arrow spinners. The Pine Ridge Archery Arrow Inspector breaks down for easy transport when hunting.
To spin-test a bolt, place it on the spinner, put the point of the broadhead against a piece of cardboard, and then spin the bolt. If it is wobbling, the broadhead tip will create a circular motion against the cardboard as it is rolled. If the broadhead is properly aligned, the point will stay in one spot as the broadhead spins. To fix the problem, rotate the bolt to the high side of the circle and mark the top of the broadhead with a marker. Rotate the bolt 180 degrees opposite of the mark and press the broadhead’s tip against a hard surface. This will push the broadhead around inside the insert until its point is aligned to center of the shaft.
You may also want to paper-tune your bolts to make sure they fly properly. Paper-tuning involves setting up a piece of paper on a frame, stretching it taut and shooting bolts through it from a distance of about 6 feet. If they don’t create a perfect hole when they pass through the paper, one of the fletchings or the nock may not be properly aligned. Adjusting a nock slightly if it wasn’t aligned properly can fix the problem.
Finally, weigh each completed arrow before heading to the woods. Sometimes one broadhead might weigh more or a bolt may weigh more. Try mixing and matching broadheads and bolts until you end up with a quiver full of bolts that weigh within 10 grains of each other. This will ensure that they all fly about the same.
Keep in mind that many states have speed restrictions for crossbows. If you have a fast crossbow and live in a state that has a 350-fps restriction on crossbows, you might need an extra-heavy bolt to ensure that you meet the speed limit.
Fletching, tuning and weighing your own bolts can be hard work. But after all is said and done, shooting groups the size of a pie plate at 60 yards is worth the extra work.
Great Bolts to Consider
Many Arrow Companies Make Bolts for Crossbows
Parker Compound Bows, out of Mint Spring, Virginia, has a great bolt designed for crossbows called the Red Hot High Velocity Carbon Arrow. This shaft is built with weight-forward technology so the front has more weight than the back. It comes with an extra-heavy insert that weighs 51 grains. The shaft, which is laser-checked for consistent straightness and spine tolerances, is 20 inches long and weighs 310 grains. They come fletched with high-profile Fusion Vanes. For more information, visit: www.parkerbows.com.
TenPoint’s Pro Elite Premium Hunter Carbon Arrows are 320-grain shafts that are laser-tested for trueness, front-of-center weighted, and weight-matched for accuracy. They also come ready to shoot with 100-grain NAP Spitfire expandable broadheads installed and tuned to the center of their shafts. For more information, visit: www.tenpointcrossbows.com.
Another great bolt is the Laser 2 Kinetic from Gold Tip, from Orem, Utah. These very strong and almost indestructible shafts are built for fast crossbows with a 0.150 spine and a finish weight between 475 to 513 grains with a 100-grain broadhead. They come with a 60-grain brass insert. Gold Tip uses a pre-preg rolled process that is used to build the best fly rods and Gold Tip shafts. For more information, visit: www.goldtip.com. —T.B.
Eyeing Extra-Heavy Broadheads
If you’re in the market for a heavy broadhead that flies well out of a high-speed crossbow, check out the Reign, sold through EP Hunting in Byron Center, Michigan. The broadhead is made entirely of stainless steel and uses Swiveltech technology. Swiveltech technology is a ball bearing holds the large blade in place during flight, and the broadhead uses a pendulum motion to maneuver between and around bone as it passes through the animal. If the right blade meets the bone, the entire blade swings to the left, allowing the head to pass by the bone. The Shatterhead tip features four blades that begin to cut on impact. The tip’s steep angle is designed to split or explode bone outward like a mushrooming bullet. The Reign is available in 150 grains. It has a 1 3/8-inch cutting diameter that creates a devastating hole. I know many crossbow hunters who used this head last year. For more information, visit: www.ephunting.com.
Slick Trick, of Jonesboro, Arkansa, is known for making awesome low-profile broadheads. They have a new one called the Xbow Trick. It weighs 175 grains, which puts lots of weight front and center and creates better downrange accuracy. The blades on the Xbow are 035 SS Lutz Solingen German blades known for their sharpness and strength. Made of two main blades that create a four-blade broadhead, the Xbow has an extra-strong super-steel ferrule. The blades are secured to the ferrule with Slick Tricks’ patented Alcatraz Bladelock System that keeps the blades secure as they pass through bone, making loose blades a thing of the past. Each main blade has a 1 1/8-inch cutting diameter, which gives the head a total cutting area of 2 1/4 inches. For more information, visit: www.slicktrick.net. —T.B.