Broadhead Science: Why?

Sponsored by: Whitetail University, Bear Archery, Dries Visser Safaris,
ATSKO, Swhacker Broadheads,

By bowhunting biologist, Wade Nolan

Nothing is more important to a bowhunter than his selection of a broadhead. This is the single piece of your bowhunting gear whose performance or failure translates into your success or failure. It should be easy to select a great broadhead..except for the marketing bottleneck. I’m talking about the hype that is used to convince you to buy in on a certain brand. In short, if your sole source of information is TV commercials hosted by hunting celebrities or magazine ads, you’re screwed.


So what criteria should you rely on when selecting a broadhead for performance? I think science would be a good place to begin. I have a science background as a biologist and one criteria we use to validate any experiment is repeatability. The question is: Can someone else repeat the results conducting the same experiment? This is important. Also, was the testing unbiased and set up by standards so every parameter tested is given equal treatment. In short, did you treat every factor in every test the same (Standardized testing). If you did, then you can expect to get real results that will yield reliable data.

All broadhead testing we conducted can be replicated by anyone to verify the results. This testing yielded reliable data you can use to help select a broadhead that meets your requirements.

This past spring I was contracted to set up a series of experiments and tests that would produce real data on the current leading mechanical broadheads. Through a series of articles, I will be sharing the results of this research with you. The factor that will probably gather in your attention is that I tested the broadhead you’re currently shooting and may have some interesting results for you.

Slow motion photography has come a long way baby! Today we use digital technology that is capable of slowing down a 7MM Mag. and showing you a clear color picture to boot. You will be able to see broadheads performing like never before.

I’m not new at broadhead testing. I may be the most experienced person in the industry when it comes to slow-motion testing of broadheads. I’ve conducted testing on over 30 brands of broadheads, both fixed blade and mechanical. Every time I set up a new testing regime and conduct the tests, I learn more about broadhead performance. I’ve developed a number of standards that I test for as these are the factors that constitute broadhead performance.

The tests include Broadhead Accuracy, Broadhead Integrity, Broadhead Penetration, Broadhead Field Performance (angled shots) and a factor I call the Killing Quotient. In addition, these leading factors I believe a discussion of engineering is appropriate as a surprising number of broadheads appear to have been engineered by high school kids, or a group that was more concerned about the “Wow Marketing Factor” than field performance. We tested all of the major brands including the mechanical you may be shooting.

I also have non-negotiable ethical concerns, as I truly appreciate whitetail deer as a wonderful resource that we need to manage based on ethical harvest. With that appreciation, I personally expect repeatable flawless performance out of the broadhead I choose to use. During the testing, I discovered a number of mechanical heads that lost blades when shot into some test substrates as benign as ballistic gelatin and deer ribs. This type of failure is what I’m talking about when I say ethical concerns.


We tested broadhead accuracy by replicating shots out of a hooter shooter at targets at known distances. First, a field-point of equal weight as the test head (100-grain or 125-grain Swhacker mechanical). Then we employed two World Champion IBO shooters  (Levi Morgan and  Colin Boothe) to shoot field-points and Swhackers at targets under field conditions to demonstrate field accuracy. Watch this…

Shooting into a steel drum is a destructive test that sets the bar on integrity. Not all heads have this level of integrity.


This was a twofold test where I shot into a 16-gauge steel drum then also we shot into a steer’s green shoulder blade. Granted we don’t hunt steel drums but this test tells you a lot about broadhead integrity. This is equivalent to a moose shoulder blade (actually, I believe it was thicker than a moose’s shoulder blade) We examined broadheads for damage and performance (did the broadhead loose blades or did the ferulel or the tip fail?

Military spec. ballistic gelatin replicates animal flesh and was the testing medium we used to measure broadhead penetration.


Like the military, I designed this test to yield clear results concerning tissue penetration. For this, we mixed and prepared military spec. ballistic gelatin. Furthermore, we often shot into this by setting a frame of green whitetail deer hide in front of the gelatin block to replicate actual field conditions. Taking it one-step further, we cast deer shoulder blades and ribs into the gelatin blocks and spaced then so the test block replicated a real whitetail.

Author sets up the angled plywood shot. This test is authentic to the extent that knowing how a broadhead will perform on the popular quartering shot will help you choose a mechanical broadhead.


This is a critical test because the one area that mechanical broadheads can fail is on quartering shots. All bowhunters know that a quartering shot is the prime preferred shot because it opens up the chest cavity to the arrows path, increases arrow travel through organs and may avoids rib-bones on the entrance. We used a ½-inch sheet of plywood set up at various angles that you would expect to see in a real hunting situation. The results will surprise you.


This is my name for the total tissue cut by the broadhead after being shot into a gelatin block. This quotient or number expressed in square inches represents the amount of killing power the broadhead expends in the target. A whitetail deer’s chest is typically 13-14 inches from side to side.  For example; If a broadhead is 1 inch wide and it passes through the chest of a deer, that would yield a 13 square inch cut path. The killing quotient would be 13. More is always better in that a broadhead kills by inducing hemorrhaging. The test results may cause you look at your broadhead with suspect.

I will title each article Broadhead Science – then the topic discussed, so you can follow the research step by step. Watch this web site for the articles.