A bow hunter is only as effective as the arrows they use. Speed and momentum are always critical in getting results you want from an arrow. These elements can be impacted by something as simple as the fletching on your arrow.
Fletching refers to feathers or vanes on an arrow and how these are arranged on the shaft. It stabilizes the arrow during flight by causing the shaft to spin as it leaves the bow, similar to how a football travels in a spiral after a quarterback throws it to a receiver. How you fletch an arrow and what materials you use for fletching can impact how it performs.
Types of Arrow Fletching
Variety characterizes arrow fletching. It comes in many different materials, sizes, and shapes. Selecting the right fletching hinges on what you need. Everything from the shooting distance to what type of broadhead you are using needs to be factored in fletching selection.
The two most commonly used fletching materials are feathers and plastic vanes. Three or more vanes or feathers are used to fletch an arrow. Standard arrow fletching features three vanes or feathers. Two of them, the “hen” vanes or feathers, create a flat path against the riser. A third one, the “cock” vane or feather, points away from the riser when nocked to the string. The cock vane is typically a different color to differentiate it from the hen vanes.
Fletching should be wider than cutting diameter of the broadhead. It also should be 4-to-5 inches long to compensate for the size and weight of the broadhead. 2 and 3-inch long vane fletching is also available for lighter arrows.
If done right, fletching preserves speed, improves accuracy, and maintains momentum. This gives your arrow much greater impact power after you shoot it.
Feathers vs Vanes
Traditionally, feathers were used to create fletching on an arrow. Feathers from a large game bird, such as turkey, are most suitable for use as fletching material. Plastic vanes have become more abundant in modern times because of their durability and color variety. Both choices offer their own set of pros and cons.
Feathers are as much as three times lighter and more flexible than vanes. It imparts a significant boost when it comes to arrow speed. Feathers also create more drag and spin on the arrow. They have good steering capabilities because of their flexibility. When an arrow is released, feathers will fold in the air and around parts of the arrow. They are generally more forgiving while sliding over rests or risers on a bow.
Withstanding harsh elements is a different story. Feathers are much more prone to break or tear over time than vanes. In rainy weather, feathers can get soaked and soon become waterlogged enough that they lie flat when released. Since they are molded from plastic, vanes are typically more durable from feathers and can be used in all types of weather conditions.
Vanes come in a wider variety of shapes and sizes than feathers. A vane’s size creates built-in advantages and disadvantages.
If you use a vane with a wider surface area, for example, it will be heavier and slow the arrow after it’s released. On the other hand, it is better at correcting the flight path of an arrow shot with bad form. High profile vanes will offer a greater degree of stability, but shorter and lower profile vanes will cut down on wind drag after the arrow is released.
If your bow has an elevated rest, vanes are preferred fletching of choice. Using vanes with an elevated rest offers greater arrow clearance than you get with feathers.
How to Fletch an Arrow
Do-it-yourself fletching is simple enough. It’s a basic skill I think all beginning bowhunters need to learn. All you need is some glue, a pencil to mark where to place the fletching and a good fletching jig to clamp the vanes or feathers while you attach them to the shaft.
Before attaching the fletching, clean the shaft and the fletching materials. From there, simply place the vane or feather into the jig and clamp it in place. Apply a layer of glue along the groove and press it into place along the shaft. After the fletching glue has dried, rotate the arrow in the jig 120 degrees two more times and repeat the process.
You can choose from three different fletching orientations:
- Straight – Straight orientation keeps the fletching straight with the shaft. It is effective with close-range shots because it maximizes speed during arrow flight. Straight fletching does not create any spin, however, and is more vulnerable to wind drag.
- Offset – Offset orientation is straight on the shaft, but it is also turned from the front to the back of the fletching. This offers increased arrow stability with broadheads, making it better for taking long-range shots. Offset fletching also picks up some air resistance in flight and loses airspeed before reaching its target.
- Helical – Helical orientation features fletching with a slight curve. It creates maximum arrow stability and the best accuracy at longer distances because the arrow spin is least affected by the wind. Loss of speed is still an issue with helical fletching.