Fletchings of some sort have been around since nearly the beginning of archery. For many thousands of years feathers were the predominant material used for fletching arrows. The early 1970s brought about the popularity of plastic vanes, and recent years have seen an influx of a variety of new and different versions of an age-old solution.
The purpose of fletchings are to provide a manner to steer an arrow in a straight path. In a perfect world an arrow would be launched with zero flex to the shaft from a perfectly tuned bow that imparted no deviation from an exactly straight arrow flight. However, this isn’t the case and all arrows leave the bow with some flex, and unless the bow is perfectly tuned, some amount of imperfect travel. Fletchings serve to steer the arrow into a straight flight by creating balanced forces around the shaft, and in the case of offset or helical fletchings, by imparting spin to the arrow and using the rotational inertia to stabilize the arrow (the same phenomenon that makes a fast moving bicycle more stable than a stationary or slow moving one).
Archers have had to deal with “archer’s paradox” since the beginning of archery. This is the phenomenon of an arrow flexing at the initial release of the bow string. While modern bows and mechanical releases have done much to reduce the amount of flexing of the shaft, the issue has not been eliminated. The flexing occurs for a couple of reasons. The first is mainly a concern for those using their fingers to release the arrow. As the release is made, the string comes off of the fingers with a sideways force that pushes the string away from the fingers, and the arrow towards the bow. Secondly, all arrows are lighter on the nock end than the point; Newton’s law, F=ma, dictates that for an equal force, a lighter body will accelerate faster. This means that the nock end will tend to try to accelerate faster than the point and and flex the arrow. It is up to the stiffness of the arrow to end the flexing and the fletching to keep and/or correct the shaft into a straight flight path.
The shooting equipment will consist of a Hoyt Ultra Elite XT 2000 Bow with C2 cams set at a 29.5” draw and a draw weight of 60 pounds. A RipCord drop-away rest will be used for arrows and a Chrony Chronograph will be used for all speed measurements. The test shafts and points will be identical for all fletching types and configuration: CX Lite Select 4560 shafts (.396 spine), glued in inserts and 100 grain points.
This review will take a look at several effects of fletchings and their performance. Each fletching type will be used on three shafts and unless the fletching type includes a nock, will use the standard CX nock. All fletchings that will require gluing will be done with a Bitzenberger fletching jig with a right helical or straight clamp, according to recommendations by the fletching manufacturer.
All arrows will be shot through a chronograph at point blank, 20, and 30 yard ranges. Each set of arrows will be shot four times, for a total of twelve shots for each fletching type. The two fastest and two slowest with be thrown out and the remainder used to calculate the average speed. The drop between 20 and 30 yards will be determined by shooting arrows at a vertical black line and the drop measured and averaged in the same matter as the speed.
|Aerovane II||Firenock||$24.99 per 36||$2.08||firenock.com|
|Blazer||Bohning||$13.99 per 100||$0.42||lancasterarchery.com|
|Feathers, 4”||Gateway||$0.44 each, $21.75 per 50||$1.32||lancasterarchery.com|
|FFP 418||FlexFletch||$13.25 per 39||$1.02||lancasterarchery.com|
|FOB||Starrflight||$19.99 per 12||$1.67||starrflight.com|
|Fusion||Norway||$8.99 per 36||$0.75||lancasterarchery.com|
|Plastifletch Max PM-20||AAE||$13.99 per 100||$0.42||lancasterarchery.com|
|Quickspin ST Speed Hunter||NAP||$18.99 per 36, $49.99 per 100||$1.58||lancasterarchery.com|
|TurboNock DeadX||TurboNock||$14.96 per 12||$1.25||turbonockfactorystore.com|
|Twisternock||Tree Apron||$6.00 per 3||$2.00||huntingrevolution.com|
Aerovane (Firenock): Aerovanes are touted as some of the most technologically advanced vanes on the market. They have a profile derived from owl feathers for quiet flight complimented by a recess on one side of the vane and a bump on the other that in combination impart spin to the arrow. There are different textures applied to the different areas of the vane to help increase the performance.
2” Blazers: Blazers have become a favorite among archers in both the target and hunting communities. The high profile vane provides good steering for even large broadheads and the resilient material stands up very well to wear. They are probably the most widely used vanes today, especially with broadheads.
4” Feathers: These fletchings were the standard for many years. The individual feather filaments impart excellent spin to an arrow and the feathers are extremely light. The nature of feathers creates significant drag, thus their great steering ability. Feathers are subject to absorbing water and tend to get tattered over time.
FF418 Vane (FlexFletch): Four to five inch vanes were the first real replacement for feathers. They have been in use for several decades and provide many of the same benefits as feathers with added durability. They tend to spin the shaft at a slower rate than feathers fletched with similar offset or helical.
FOB (Starrflight): FOBs, or “Fletching only Better”, are a complete departure from traditional fletchings. The FOB consists of an outer cylinder with three offset fins extending to the shaft. The theory of the FOB is that it provides increased surface area parallel to the arrow shaft for steering, along with adding spin through the offset fins. The area of the FOB perpendicular to the shaft is minimized thus reducing drift in any cross wind. FOBs are intended to allow an archer to shoot any broadhead in adverse conditions. Because the FOB is a rigid material with no breaks around the perimeter, they must be shot with a drop-away rest. FOBs are installed by pushing the nock through the FOB and into the shaft.
2” Fusion (Norway): these vanes have a double curve to the rear that is touted to impart more stability and less cross wind drift. The vane is made of a stiff material that is fused to a softer base that is easier to bond to the arrow shaft. Made by the same company that makes the popular Duravanes, Fusions are a new take on the high-profile style vanes.
Plastifletch Max FP210 (AAE): These are small, low profile vanes made of a stiff material with large grooves molded in. They are primarily used for 3D arrows and release aids since the small vane does not provide much surface area to steer the arrow. Their small profile and light weight should help the arrow maintain higher velocities at longer ranges.
2” Speed Hunter QuickSpin (NAP): The QuickSpin family of fletchings make use of a small tab at the rear of the fletching as well as molded in grooves to impart more spin to the shaft and thus more stabilization. NAP claims that the Speed Hunter Quickspin will spin 300% more than a standard feather fletching.
TurboNocks (TurboNock): These nocks have a spiraled nock groove so that as the nock releases from the string, it immediately begins to spin. The increased rotation from early in the shot is said to stabilize the arrow more quickly and add accuracy downrange. For this test the DeadX version was used.
TwisterNock (Tree Apron): TwisterNocks make use of an internal spring in the nock that releases as the arrow is shot, spining the arrow before it leaves the string. The increased spin is intended to give greater stability to the arrow from the moment of the shot and throughout the entire flight of the arrow. The TwisterNocks must be “cocked” before each shot.
The weight of each fletching type was calculated by weighing three units at a time in three different batches then averaged. FOC (Front of Center) was calculated using the method found on the Front of Center Basics Knowledge article.
|Fletch Angle||Weight per each||Weight per Arrow||FOC|
|Plastifletch Max PM-20||Helical||3.58||10.74||12.69
|Quickspin ST Speed Hunter||Right Offset||6.63||19.89||11.67
There are no real surprises here. One thing that should be considered is that the heavier fletching types have a significant effect on the FOC and archers may want to consider using heavier points when the FOC becomes too low. This will also affect the spine of the arrow as a heavier fletching or lighter point weight will cause the arrow shaft to have a stiffer kinetic spine. It is up to the individual archer to take into consideration what the shooting conditions will be and how to properly weight the arrow.
This is where the fun really begins! All speed readings were taken under the same conditions: mostly sunny skies with the chronograph diffusers installed and the detectors shaded.
Point blank speed values tracked closely with the total weights of the fletchings. Feathers and the small Plastifletch Max vanes were fastest, with the heavier FF 418 and TurboNocks the slowest.
It is fairly common knowledge that feathers will generally slow arrows down more quickly and the testing shows this quite well. At the thirty yard mark feathers have dropped from being the fastest, to the middle of the pack. It can be expected that at further distances they will decelerate even more. Every other fletching type remained in the same initial order of speed throughout all distances, with one of interesting note: FOBs begin to lose speed more quickly at thirty yards; more on this shortly.
Drop Over Distance Testing
This test was much more reliant on shooting skill and thus is good for relative comparisons but not absolute values. In the future it would best to replicate this test with a shooting machine such as the Hooter Shooter (I’ll be taking donations for that now!) To get the best results with what was available for this test, I used a six power scope with a vertical line across the optics. This allowed me to concentrate solely on lining up the scope line with the line on the drop test target.
The target consisted of a zero level aiming line that was sighted in for all fletching types at twenty yards. Below the aiming line were thin lines printed in quarter-inch increments. At thirty yards the same scope line as at twenty was used and thus the arrow drop could be measured. All shots for each fletching (minus the top two and bottom two which were thrown out) were all within one inch of each other on average. Thus I believe the test was fairly accurate and gives a good approximation of what can be expected.
The Plastifletch Max was easily the winner, especially at 40 yards with only a 13″ drop. Feathers were in the middle of the pack until 40 yards where they began to drop more and ended up with the greatest drop. Fusions where a great performer, especially out to 40 yards. Quickspins have often been claimed as dropping fairly quickly, but this testing showed them performing very well. Perhaps it is because they have been fletched with a helical rather than just slightly offset.
Noise is a very subjective measurement and almost impossible to accurately quantify without having a control environment and good measuring equipment. That being said, there were some definite differences in noise between the different fletching types. Feathers were by far the loudest; others that I noticed more than average were the FOBs, then the Blazers and Quickspins were about the same. The quietest were the Aerovane and Plastifletch Max, which were barely audible at all, followed by the Fusions which were noticeably quieter than average. All others fell in the middle with no easily discernible differences.
Aerovane (Firenock): The Aerovanes took more attention to fletch because of the need to line them up as perfectly straight as possible. A small brass bar needs to be attached to a straight fletching clamp to accommodate the vanes and the jig lined up as straight as possible. The harder material used in the vanes makes them easy to fletch once set up, but if they hit each other in the target they can chip and break. Noise level was one of the more impressive aspects of the Aerovane as they were the quietest of all tested types.
Blazers (Bohning): The Blazers performed as expected. They have a long track record of good performance and durability. In the past there have been lots of reported issues of the vanes not sticking well to arrows. I had an older batch on hand that I had previously used and had issues with, and compared them to the new ones used for this test. The material is more pliable on the new versions and there were no adhesion problems. Performance wise the Blazers were in the middle of the pack. Many of the newer vanes on the market owe their high profile and short length design to the success of the Blazers.
Feathers (Gateway): As the lightest and the fastest at short ranges, feathers held their own as the oldest type of fletching used. Out to thirty yards they are as fast or faster than most other types tested, but begin to lose speed quickly. They physically dropped slightly more than average at thirty yards and were the loudest of the bunch. For short yardages they can’t be beat, but as the distances begin to stretch out their performance declines rapidly. For fixed blade broadhead shooters they are still a great choice for those not taking longer shots.
FF418 (FlexFletch ): As the plastic counterpart to feathers, the FF418s were slower overall out to thirty yards but will most likely be at the same speed near forty yards. They dropped approximately the same distance as feathers and with a helical fletch should steer fixed blade broadheads about as well. Longer, plastic vanes still have their place in archery, but they are showing their age compared to the newer and better designs available.
FOB (Starrflight): FOBs have become popular the last few years and are often talked about on the various archery message boards. Because they are a solid plastic, they must use a drop away rest and special care must be taken to properly set up the rest to get good clearance. Originally when I tested them I was getting a lot more drop and deceleration than I had expected. After talking with Paul at Starrflight, he mention that if there is any interference with the rest at all, FOBs will exhibit this behavior.
After playing with the rest, it appears that the rest was bouncing up slightly and touching the FOBs. I also installed a Rest Rocket kit from Starrflight that helps the drop away move even faster. After these changes, the FOBs fell in line with what should be expected from them. My own experience with shooting FOBs with broadheads has shown that they are the best solution for tuning fixed blades, especially in windy conditions.
2” Fusion (Norway): Fusion vanes are fairly new to the market and tend to catch the eye because of their unique shape on the trailing edge. The biggest difference however is not the shape, but rather that they are made of two different materials. My experience was that these vanes were the easiest to fletch and the clear base was especially nice to see if the glue was properly filling all gaps. Fusion vanes performed second only to the smaller Plastifletch vanes in speed retention in the long distance drop testing.
Plastifletch Max FP210 (AAE): These vanes were included in the test to have a smaller, lighter vane to compare to the more widely used larger vanes. Such small vanes are not recommended for hunting, even with expandable broadheads. However, they are an excellent choice for 3D and target shooters as the performance testing shows. Second in speed at point blank only to the lighter feathers, the small profile shows a trend of retaining more speed and less drop than any other solution. The material used by AAE for these vanes bonded readily to the shafts and were easily fletched.
2” Speed Hunter QuickSpin (NAP): The QuickSpin family of vanes is unique from all others with the molded in “kicker” and heavily grooved texture on one side of the vane. Anecdotal information from various sources and critics have claimed that because of the increased spin rate, the vanes tend to lose speed and drop faster than other similarly shaped vanes. This testing did not find that to be true, but rather that the QuickSpins tested very favorably with the drop rate second only to the smallest vanes while maintaining good speed. They did tend to be a bit more noisy than average.
TurboNocks (TurboNock): TurboNocks themselves are not necessarily a fletching solution, but rather a nock system that includes the vanes in one piece. As with TwisterNocks, they were included in this review to give a point of comparison to more traditional vanes. The TurboNocks were the heaviest of the fletchings test, even when taking and extra inch off of the shaft to compensate for the extra length they add. However, even while they were heavier than the FF 418 vanes, they performed slightly better.
Being the heaviest vane/nock tested, it follows that the TurboNocks were near the slowest at point blank range, though they beat out the FF 418 vanes. Their drop rate was near the highest, but trends about the same with the speed and weight rankings. For this testing the tuning of the bow had to be changed specifically for TurboNocks as they tune slightly different than most vanes. There are specific instructions on the TurboNock website that make accounting for this difference easy to take care of.
TwisterNock (Hunting Revolution): The biggest difference with the TwisterNocks and any other fletching solution is that they must be “cocked” before every shot in order for the spring release mechanism to be activated on the shot. They can be cocked in advanced, and in hunting situations this would be the recommended method.
After the bulk of the initial testing was done, I was informed by Jeff from Hunting Revolutions that he has improved the spring and the production method for the TwisterNocks. I did notice that two of the nocks did have some resistance to turning and this should be remedied with the changes. After the updated versions of the TwisterNocks arrived, the speed and drop testing was done again for them. Because the nocks include the section for the vanes, one inch was cut off of the shafts (8.1 grains).
The combination of the drop in weight of the shaft and the updated nocks with better springs gave the TwisterNocks approximately 4 fps more than the first round of testing which pushed them past vanes that weigh less. My hypothesis for this is that the tiny kick from the stored energy in the spring in the nock gives them a small speed boost.
The Bottom Line
It’s hard to deny how effective Mother Nature’s feathers are at guiding arrows, along with man’s first artificial attempt with the original style plastic vanes. Feathers are still an excellent choice for both the target and hunting archer, although there are better performing alternatives now. Traditional vanes are now being supplemented with a new breed of arrow guidance systems such as the FOBs, TurboNocks and Twisternocks.
This testing does show that all of the tested varieties performed well and there are none that failed my personal expectations. The obvious best speed and vertical drop performer was also the lightest and lowest profile vane, the 2″ Plastifletch Max. While a great vane for steering field points, they would certainly not be recommended for broadheads. Next in speed performance was the relatively new Fusion vanes from Norway that not only performed very well, but were also the easiest to work with during the fletching process, mostly because of the different base material fused to the main body of the vane.
Aerovane, Quickspins and Blazers all performed similarly in the speed testing, with the QuickSpins edging out the others in the drop testing and the Aerovanes being the quietest of any fletching. QuickSpins and Aerovanes are also advertised as having better broadhead control because of the added spin enhancing features engineered into their designs.
The new breed of fletching types, FOBs, TwisterNocks and TurboNocks show some great ideas put into motion. TwisterNocks and TurboNocks suffered somewhat from their extra weight, though having an integrated nock does reduce the weight gap somewhat as well as being able to use 1″ shorter arrows. FOBs were a bit of a surprise in the drop testing at first as they appeared to lose altitude somewhat quicker than the rest, something that has been observed by others as well. However, after remedying the issue with rest contact, the FOBs performed quite well. I have personally hunted with FOBs and can attest to their great ability to control a fixed blade broadhead and minimize wind drift.
The testing done in this review is far from complete. There are simply too many factors and different equipment setups to effectively evaluate all the possibilities. Broadhead control is an issue not addressed here and a difficult one to gauge. Many of the vanes presented in this review have features intended to enhance broadhead flight and that is something that may be evaluated in the future.
Thank you to Lancaster Archery for the donation of the test shafts and several of the vane types. They have been very generous in supporting testing on Archery Report and I have always received excellent treatment from them as a customer.