Broadhead Science: Angled Shot/Plywood

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

By: bowhunting biologist Wade Nolan


Broadheads do their most damage when the arrow’s travel path through the deer is greatest. Most bowhunters know this is best achieved with the quartering away shot. The quartering shot also causes the deer to be facing away from the shooter, which reduces the likelihood that your drawing motion will be detected. However, there is a conflict when you get honest and look at the performance of some mechanical broadheads.

Nolan and his team spent an entire day setting up the testing for the angled plywood shot. Lighting is difficult to manage for slow motion cameras due to the fast frame rate.

I was concerned about this factor when I was conducting testing at the shooting lab. To test this factor against various mechanical heads I set up an experiment where a Hooter Shooter would shoot identical arrows tipped with a variety of mechanical heads at an angled piece of ½-inch plywood. The critical factor here is to set the plywood up at exact replicable angles for each shot so we could actually see how various broadheads performed.

Reed Nolan operates the digital slow motion camera used to discover how broadheads perform on angled plywood.

To catch the performance on camera would be a tough assignment but for the $70,000 slow-motion camera that I was using to record the broadheads performance at contact with the plywood. At about 4000 frames per second I was able see the results as the heads came in to contact with the angled plywood.

If you would like to set this test up at a bow shop’s archery range and just test for angle of penetration you can easily do so. I’m confident our test is repeatable. I used a protractor to establish the angle of the plywood in relation to the path of the arrow. I relied on a bow-mounted laser to aim. During set up, I actually employed a mechanical engineer to double check the angles. The distance was 15 yards from riser to target.

Wade Nolan examines the shot window on angled plywood. The angle makes it challenging to aim as the angle accents the aim point.

Although we don’t hunt angled plywood, this is a valid test. We’ve all heard about a steep angling shot on a whitetail with a mechanical when the broadhead traveled down the side of the animal or skipped, rather than penetrating. This results in a wounding loss and is unacceptable. My goal is to use this test to help inform you of mechanical broadhead performance on angled shots. If a broadhead will penetrate steeply angled plywood then you can be confident it will penetrate an angled whitetail or other big game animal.
Conversely, if it deflects and fails to penetrate then you should possibly examine the ethical issues involved in using that particular mechanical on quartering shots. The success or failure of a broadhead during this test is an important factor to consider when choosing terminal arrow tackle.

A quartering shot denotes a 45-degree angle to the path of the arrow. As a deer turns toward totally broadside he angle approached and finally reaches 90-degrees. As the deer turns further away from the path of the arrow the angle reaches 67 ½ degrees. This represents a very steep angling shot. On a whitetail, this shot would necessitate the arrow entry point to be immediately in front or the rump, angling forward.

The protractor taped to the floor was used as the reference to determine shot angles.

I am not going to name names but will note each model is a popular mechanical head. This report, naming each head in the test is available however because you need to know how various mechanical broadheads performed in this series of tests. Because I anticipated some of the arrows deflecting off the plywood, I set up backstop targets to intercept the arrows that skipped off the target.
The slow motion evidence of this test is available at: SHOT ANGLE

We began by shooting a 2 ¼ inch wide 125 grain Swhacker at very steeply angled 1/2 inch sheet of plywood. I began with the steepest angle I’ve ever tested on a broadhead/plywood test…67-degrees.

The Swhacker 125 grain head blasted through the 67-degree plywood, which was the steepest plywood test I have ever attempted.

The slow motion revealed that the Swhacker broadhead design allowed the Trocar-tip to grab the plywood upon contact. The bone-chisel blades then sliced open the wood fibers and the 2 ¼ inch wide cutting blades scissored open as it passed through the plywood. The slow motion revealed an explosion of severed wood fibers as the Swhacker blew through.

Swhacker engineering allows the tip to grab and guide the bone chisel blades into the plywood or animal. After the beveled chisels enter, the big scissor blades open and cut internal organs.

At this point, I thought that most or all mechanicals would perform in a similar fashion. I was very wrong. Next, I set up today’s most popular mechanical broadhead BHD – A,  100-grain 2-inch wide two blade on the test bow and shot it at the exact same target a 67-degree sheet of ½-inch plywood. The tip failed to penetrate the plywood or grab as it made contact. The broadhead skipped off the plywood like a flat  stone skipping on a pond. The plywood wasn’t even nicked by the impact. The arrow did some really fascinating contortions as its deflected kinetic energy followed he deflecting broadhead into the secondary backstop target.

Next, I shot the BHD – B,  100 grain two blade, which is 1.5 inches wide. This mechanical head skipped off the plywood like a grade schooler who just got all A’s on his report card.

The next head to try out the 67-degree plywood was BHD-C with 3 blades cutting 1 3/8 inch cut in a 100 grain version. This broadhead skipped right off of the plywood as did the next candidate BHD – D, a 100-grain 3-blade, 2-inch wide  mechanical, BHD – E  and the 4-blade BHD – F mechanical. The entire lot, all top selling mechanicals totally failed to penetrate the extra steep 67- degree angled plywood.

BHD - A skips off the plywood at 60-degrees and at 4000 frames per second.

Not wanting to make this test too hard for the other broadheads to pass we changed the angle of the plywood to 60-degrees. The results were the same for most. All test broadheads except Swhacker skipped off and deposited its kinetic energy into the backstop. BHD – D did penetrate the plywood at 60-degrees but lost one of its three blades.

I tested BHD-A again at 55-degrees, thinking that the Slipcam design would grab at this shallow and realistic angle, but another stutter for this head. It deflected again. Finally, at 50-degrees, it penetrated the angled plywood, but slow motion revealed that it seemed to find a nick in the plywood that it followed when it finally penetrated.

Engineering is the deciding factor when confronting the angled shot. Most mechanicals failed. Swhacker performed.

What did I learn after shooting these heads into the angled plywood? First, I learned that not many mechanicals would perform on the angled plywood test. I discovered that the design of most heads neglected to address the angled shot as a criterion during design and testing. A “tip forward design” is the key to angle entry and not deflection. An engineering failure here can be the difference between a trophy on the wall and a sad bowhunting story.

9 Responses to "Broadhead Science: Angled Shot/Plywood"

  1. Rich Walton   2011/07/06 at 12:16 pm

    I know Wade Nolan personally and I can tell you, he is exacting in everything he does. There are loads of broadheads out there but tests like Wade’s really make you look at thing differently. All things being equal, Swhacker is impressive on a lot of fronts.

  2. Doug Gilmer   2011/07/08 at 7:39 am

    I agree Rich. Not only is Wade exacting but he is also a man of integrity and would not risk his reputation or character by intentionally skewing results to favor one product over another. Good job Wade.

  3. Dean   2011/07/08 at 7:11 pm

    The next time I go hunting for an angled piece of plywood, I will go buy some swakers- Stop making tests that favor the “advertised” broadhead. When someone takes the time to gather a bunch of road killed deer and then performs their unbiased broadhead tests on THAT- I’m in. Everything else is a CHEAP replication. Until then, I will use my own experience and common sense to buy the right broadhead to kill an animal.
    What a joke…

  4. Dean   2011/07/08 at 7:15 pm

    PS- put your cursor over the photos- The second broadhead was a rage- ooops, so much for not naming the “other” broadhead

  5. Rich Walton   2011/07/12 at 2:39 pm

    Not sure why you are so upset Dean. This is a test conducted under specific conditions with a variety of broadheads. If you don’t agree with the tests, procedures or results you can most certainly conduct your own. If you do I will be more than happy to post it here. If I thought for one minute Wade’s test was skewed or falsified to favor any head I would not post it here. Additionally, if any broadhead company conducted a similar test I would also run that. We run a fair web site and our main concern has been and always will be to supply valid, verifiable information to the bowhunting community. Which is also why your comments are still up.

  6. Dean   2011/07/12 at 5:44 pm

    Rich, I appreciate and respect your response. However, if you go back, Wade also conducted a broadhead test, again with an angled piece of plywood(although maybe not at the exact angle) with his then advertised “Grim Reaper.” If you read and listened to Wade’s comments about the Grim Reaper back then, it would stand to reason he would have referenced that in this test. He did not. I am in no way implying that the actual test was skewed or falsified. It that was implied, I apologize. Although I do think a little transparency would go a long way. I do agree that this is a GREAT website with a robust exchange of opinions and source of information.

  7. Rich Walton   2011/07/13 at 4:29 pm

    Well thank you for that. Robert and I have tried to provide a place for bowhunters to go and I appreciate your thoughts. You are correct, Wade did a huge study of broadhead penetration, durability, etc tests for Grim Reaper and the thing is, when it’s on the web, its there forever and both are on so anyone who wants can look and read both and then determine if there is a compromise. Wade was commissioned by both companies and I think he did a great job with both as both are great broadheads that will perform in the field. I think either would be a good choice and honestly, every broadhead made today will perform well. The question is, like all things, which is superior? Which performs best under all conditions. That is the purpose of Wades tests, for both companies. He provides the tests and then I think it’s up to everyone to evaluate the results and then pick a broadhead you think best fits your needs. I had to chuckel with your note about hunting for angled plywood. That was funny. And, regarding your comments, I have to complement you Dean. I’ve seen some of the absurd attacks on blogs and chats when any product came up for discussion. I know everyone has an opinion and some come from people who either work for or shoot for particular companies. You can certainly express your thoughts without the personal and irrational attacks I’ve seen on other sites. I welcome debate and I appreciate your comments. And that my friend is what tests are meant to do; initiate intelligent, respectful debate. And, any broadhead manufacturer who wants to dispute or challenge Wade’s report will have a place to do so right here on

  8. Rich Walton   2011/07/13 at 4:32 pm

    And…regarding transparency. If you look at the top of the page of Wades report, it is sponsored by —- Swhacker Broadheads. Howd I do? ha

  9. Dean   2011/07/13 at 7:02 pm

    Rich, to answer your last question- you did good.

    Although I do think the Grim Reaper study should have been noted, without the necessity of the reader to have to find it out on their own. Better yet, put it out there that Grim Reaper performed the same as Swhaker did when Grim Reaper sponsored the previous test/report(like Swhacker). That is one aspect of transparency. Maybe the reader shouldn’t have to read the fine print to understand who the “sponsor” is.

    I guess you have noticed that I’ve grown a little sensitive(maybe too much so) to what I consider to be a commercial, rather than an unbiased scientific study. In my opinion, the use of scientific equipment, doesn’t confer legitimacy on the underlying intent of the test. Comments such as Wade made about the other broad heads, while colorfully describing their true performance, lent itself more towards a biased objective to sell a product, rather than a nondiscriminatory test.

    Rich, it’s funny how these posts can go. I’m a little embarrassed to admit to getting caught up in this one.The last word is yours.

    I would like to add that I have read and appreciated Wade’s work in the past, and don’t have an axe to grind against him. I think these types of tests have become commonplace for our whole community.

    Be safe and good hunting this season.