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Fixed blade vs. expandable blade broadheads... which is right for you?

Fixed blade versus expandable blade broadheads

Which broadhead is right for you? Photo credit: Brady Miller

The fall hunting seasons have come and gone and, now, our eyes are on the future. The 2019 spring seasons are upon us and we are already seeing turkeys and bears loading up our social media feeds along with a plethora of smiling hunters. Many of us at this point are probably shooting our bows like mad and tweaking our setups here and there in preparation for these seasons. I think it’s important to reflect on the past year and note any flaws we may have noticed in us or our gear. One of those items on that list is usually broadheads. With so many different heads on the market, there really is a broadhead for everyone. One of the most common questions, though, is, “Should I use a fixed blade or an expandable?” The answer is going to differ depending on whom you ask. Let’s dive into each of them to help you better decide which broadhead is right for you.

Expandable blade broadheads (mechanical)

Rage Hypodermic Trypan expandable blade broadhead

Rage Hypodermic Trypan expandable blade broadhead. Photo credit: Brady Miller

Some people love them and some people hate them. However, you cannot deny the devastation that an expandable blade broadhead packs. Huge wound channels and some downright grotesque blood trails—all with minimal to no adjustments needed when switching from shooting your field points to broadheads. Oh, yes. Field point accuracy in a deadly package. They are designed to be low profile as they fly through the air or rest in your quiver. Once they hit an animal though, this triggers the blades to expand and start cutting. There are many designs on the market, but the overall concept remains. When one of these heads passes through an animal it’s like turning on a faucet—if you put them in the right area, of course.

So, what’s not to love? Well, the biggest thing is that they are mechanical. Things that are mechanical are open to failure. It might be 99 times out of 100 that it doesn’t fail, but that one time might be when the head is trying to make its way through an animal. Many folks are completely fine with this and think the pros outweigh the cons, but some just don’t want to take that chance. I get it. We put so much into our hunts between practice, money and time dedicated to scouting. To leave your hunting fate in the hands of something that could fail is just not something some hunters want to mess with. Whether the broadhead fails or not, you might also be looking at an issue with penetration. In order for these blades to open up, there is some kind of force that needs to do so. Because of this, you will lose a bit of momentum traveling through the animal. On the way through, you face another possible issue. That is hitting bone. These blades are usually not made of the most durable materials and might even break. I’ve had a few break myself even on smaller animals like javelina.

Pros

  • Field point accuracy
  • Great blood trails
  • Affordable

Cons

  • Could fail
  • Not as durable
  • Loss of momentum potentially equals less penetration

Fixed blade broadheads

fixed blades

All other photo credits: Josh Kirchner

This type of broadhead is tried and true and, really, what started it all. Hunters have been hunting with fixed blade broadheads since the dawn of bowhunting. Even the arrowheads of the past were essentially fixed blade heads. No worrying about if the broadhead will fail and not open. No moving parts or adjustment screws. Just pure unadulterated devastation as they slice their way through vitals across the globe. These are going to offer the best performance in terms of penetration when compared to a mechanical.

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There is nothing to hold them up on their way through an animal—except the animal itself. Fixed blade broadheads come in all sizes and shapes. From smaller cutting diameter heads to aid in arrow flight all the way up to big nasty heads looking for a good time. More animals have probably fallen to fixed blades than any other head. So, why stray from what has always worked? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? Some might say otherwise.

practice makes perfect

As humans, we are always striving for progression. Finding the areas that we lack in and trying to fill in the blank spots is something we never stop doing. Believe it or not, there are some downsides to shooting a fixed blade head. One of them is cutting diameter. While there are some fixed blades out there that are on the bigger side, they cannot be compared to that of a big mechanical. How big is too big though? How big of a hole do we really need? If you’ve ever been left with a minimal blood trail, you probably know where I’m going with this. The bigger the hole, the more room for blood to pour out of the animal, leaving us with an easier puzzle to solve. Another area where fixed blades might tend to lack in is arrow flight. Hunters will often have to sight in their bow again with fixed blades come season. This is arguable, in my opinion, because I truly believe a lot of the issues have to do with tuning. If the arrow isn’t coming out of the bow straight to begin with, then those fixed blades are going to catch more wind, thus making them hit in a different spot than your field points. With a mechanical, more times than not, you really don’t have to worry about such things. They are low profile just like your field points and fly very similar. So, the fixed blades might just be more touchy when it comes to arrow flight if you are comparing them to that of field points.

Pros

  • Great penetration
  • Fail-proof
  • More durable (some can actually be reused)

Cons

  • Not as much cutting diameter
  • Potentially will have issues with arrow flight
  • Can get pretty pricey with some models

What are you hunting?

deer tracks spotted

You should always stop and ask yourself, “What am I hunting?” There are certain tools for certain jobs, right? Some tools are more universal while other tools are more specialized for a certain task. I think the same way of thinking should be applied for selecting the right broadhead. For instance, it might not be the best idea to use a super low profile fixed blade on a turkey. Why? Turkeys have a very small kill zone, which doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for error. For that reason, you’d probably want a big mechanical to aid you there. Bears are another animal that you might be better off with a mechanical. They are notorious for not leaving good blood trails. Their fat paired with their hide oftentimes leaves us with little to no blood from time to time. For them, the bigger the hole the better. A deer, though? Different story for a different animal. They don’t have all of that hair to soak up the blood or the inches of fat reserves a bear has to plug a hole back up. If you are elk hunting, a fixed blade might be a better choice for you than a mechanical. Elk are big tough animals and the lack of momentum often paired with a mechanical could be a recipe for disaster. The same can be said for larger game like a moose. Do you see where I’m going here? Yes, you can absolutely use one broadhead for everything, but I think if you are looking to maximize your success, a more strategic approach might be better. There are loads of opinions on this, but sometimes different animals call for different heads and sometimes staples are better than nails. Sorry, that was the roofer in me coming out.

In closing

big buck down

So, in the end, which one is better? Do you go with the tried and true fixed blade or with the mayhem left from a mechanical? The truth is that there are just too many variables to have a right answer for that right off the hip. I know people that regularly shoot mechanical heads into elk with success and will continue to do so. Other folks I know wouldn’t even consider doing such things. There are other factors as well to consider being draw weight, draw length, arrow weight, etc. All of these things make a difference in the end and might allow someone to use one head over the other while, for another person, that might not be the case. Evaluate your setup and your needs as a bowhunter. After that, the fun begins and your targets will never look the same with all of those broadheads flying through them. And, with any luck, those broadheads will be a different color at the end of the season. For another look at broadheads, you can check out my recent article on The lethal factors behind your broadheads.

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8 Comments

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Brad S. - posted 1 week ago on 05-15-2019 07:42:52 pm
goHUNT INSIDER

I do a lot of Bow Hiking, and have only taken a couple of shots at big game animals. With that being said, I have had several mechanicals open while pushing through brush. When you draw back and notice one of your mechanical blades is already deployed and have to let down. It makes you wish you had spent the extra time and just broadhead tuned your bow with fixed blades.

Tom W. - posted 1 week ago on 05-13-2019 10:35:14 am

I hunt with both a trad bow and a compound bow. I have seen more failures with mechanicals to ever trust them. I heard someone talk about how rifle hunters spend hours and hours figuring out just what bullet will preform the best for them. That got me searching for real science and real testing and I found an engineer who decided to make his own Broadhead a. They are hands down the best I have ever tried out of either bow. Super sharp, darn near indestructible. Ironwill. Yep they are spendy but not when you can use them over and over. The bleeder blades make great winds for tracking. I have never had a Broadhead “fly just like the field tips” until I tried these. Worth every penny.
Good lick and good hunting.

Marc M. - posted 1 week ago on 05-13-2019 10:30:21 am
Montana
goHUNT INSIDER

RAMCAT - Fixed blade, large cutting diameter with field point accuracy. Wicked blood trail that typically does not go very far!

Gary B. - posted 1 week ago on 05-13-2019 10:11:19 am
Meridian, Idaho
goHUNT INSIDER

I have only killed 2 elk and 2 deer with archery. The one I used a mechanical, what was a perfect shot, took me two days to find the animal not one drop of blood, not one, that I ever found. 75 degree weather, the meat was ruined, I tagged it and took the antlers home. A few days later I finally found the arrow, the blade had not opened up, I might as well used my field tip. I won't use a mechanical blade.

douglas h. - posted 1 week ago on 05-13-2019 07:14:09 am
goHUNT INSIDER

I have been bowhunting since 1976,and have killed way over a hundred big game animals, over half with and an elburg longbow and handmade cedar shafts, and 2 blade magnus broadheads, including deer elk,bear, and caribou.
When mechanical heads hit the market,I could not understand why anybody would put moving parts on a broadhead. There are way to many variables with this type of head, ie, will it open properly, hitting bone,raking shots,penetration, and most importantly,blade sharpness.How many bowhunters using these heads actually test the sharpness, and touch them up accordingly?Is it even possible?
The most devastating internal damage that I have ever seen, with all the animals that I harvested, is with traditional equipment,with a 2 bladed broadhead,( so sharp you start to bleed just by looking at it)that penetrates 6 to 12 inches in the chest cavity, and because its 2 fixed blades, is allowed to slice and dice,something that just can't happen with a mechanical or 3 or more fixed blade head.
I had no problem finding fixed blade broadheads with traditional, compound or my crossbow, that fly like fieldpoints,my new favorite with my crossbow is "slick trick"
To the bowhunters on the fence on this issue,traditional,compound,or crossbow,great! Aluminum,wood, or carbon,no problem! One site, or 5 pins, whatever. 2 blade,3 blade,4 blade,chisel tip or cut on contact fixed blade, YES!
Mechanical heads, NO!

John D. - posted 2 weeks ago on 05-09-2019 05:56:02 pm
Lewes, DE
goHUNT INSIDER

Some of the strategy with choice also has to do with hunting environment. When I hunt out west there's typically loads of space to track, better ground to trail blood. A fixed blade with better penetration on larger game makes sense and those other elements fall in favor of using that fixed blade.

Where I hunt on the east coast tracts for whitetails are often small, hunting for sika deer means more standing water than dry ground. For those reasons and the fact I'm liable to get an entry and exit on those smaller animals I'm shooting a mechanical with a bigger cutting diameter all day long. I want them down before they head onto a neighbors property I don't have permission to track on or lose the blood trail in the water.

Jay K. - posted 2 weeks ago on 05-08-2019 07:38:06 am
Dallas, TX
goHUNT INSIDER

When I went broadhead shopping last year I ended up buying the Rage Trypan and the Slick Trick Magnum. I shot them both extensively. At least for my setup (Mathews Triax, 70lbs., 27.5 in) I actually shot the Slick Tricks better. There was really no discernible difference between the Slick Tricks and my field tips. The Trypans still shot well. But, there was more variation than with my field tips or the Slick Tricks. I would just encourage people to shoot the fixed and mechanicals out of their own setup before assuming that the mechanical is going to fly better.

Gary H. - posted 2 weeks ago on 05-08-2019 05:03:19 am
goHUNT INSIDER

You spend an entire year and potentially thousands of dollars waiting for that 1 opportunity at an animal. You would be willing to risk it all on something that operated mechanically on the end of your arrow...the one thing that you should NEVER have to worry about in the moment of truth?

Never understood why anyone would shoot a mechanical broadhead.

God made muzzy-4blades for a reason...