Arrows use fletch to enhance accuracy and most arrows and today’s modern crossbow bolts have them. Fletch comes in a wide variety of shapes, colors, and materials and an archer can quickly become confused as to which is best for their purpose. Does the length matter? What about weight and helical?
Feathers vs. Vanes
Traditional archers prefer feathers because they are more forgiving with recurve and longbows. By “forgiving” I mean that feathers can contact the bow during launch with less arrow deviation than plastic vanes that are harder and cause greater deflection. Most compound shooters and crossbow hunters now use plastic vanes, often just two inches long.
Darin Cooper does a great job of experimenting with “arrow drag and drift” in this post from The Western Hunter. I’ll add one experience which cost me an elk in New Mexico.
I ranged in a bugling bull that stood broadside at 55 yards. I was shooting heavy aluminum arrows, large feathered fletch from a compound bow that shot about 250 feet per second. I aimed, anchored and released and remember the arrow heading right for the bull’s heart, when it suddenly jumped and dodged the arrow.
Back in camp, I had a person shoot my gear at the same distance while I stood behind a large Ponderosa pine by the target butt. I could distinctly hear the arrow approach and believe that the sound of the wind through the fletch spooked the bull. Be careful replicating this experiment, yet I believe it’s worth testing if you use feathered fletch.
Does Size Matter?
Vane size and its effect on drift and drag are tested in this informative post. Finally, you’ll know the answer:
Fletching is one of the most common subjects of all the equipment questions I get asked. “Which vane should I use? How many vanes? How much helical?”
Admittedly, there are many combinations for fletching sizes and shapes, and all the variables involved with how to go about applying them. How many vanes? Straight, offset, or helical? How far from the back of the arrow? Wrap or no wrap?