Maryland Study: Mechanical Broadheads Outperform Fixed-Blades

rage close up

In 1989, the natural resources office of the Naval Support Facility Indian Head, an installation 30 miles south of Washington, D.C. with 3,000 acres of prime habitat on the Potomac River, initiated a management program that relied on bowhunting-only as the primary means for controlling the big deer herd.

The project spanned a remarkable 24 years and was comprised of two parts. From 1989 through 2006, extensive data was collected and analyzed on how many shots hunters launched, how many deer they hit how many of those animals they recovered within a 24-hour period. Click here for the recovery rate results.

From 2007 through 2012, a secondary study was added to try and distinguish recovery rates between hunters using fixed-blade and mechanical broadheads.

So which type performed best? Over the entire 24-year span, hunters using fixed-blades hit 1,066 whitetails and retrieved 874 of them, for a recovery rate of 82 percent. From 2007-2012, when mechanicals were becoming popular, the majority of does and bucks shot on the base were with mechanical heads. During those five years, hunters hit 230 deer with mechanicals and found 209 of them—recovery rate 91 percent.

Mechanicals proved to be more accurate. Hunters using mechanicals for the five years hit the deer they shot at 94.3 percent of the time, compared to 89.4 percent over the entire project for hunters using fixed-blades. I point out that all hunters in the study project were fairly skilled shooters that had to pass a proficiency test, and once on stand they kept their shots at deer close (mostly inside 20 yards).

The impressive numbers for the mechanical broadheads caused Andy Pedersen, an engineer who worked at the Naval facility and a hard-core bowhunter who set the rules, kept the statistics and crunched the numbers for all 24 years of the study, to have an epiphany.

“One reason I lobbied to get mechanicals allowed on the base in 2007 was that I wanted to prove with statistics that they were not as good as fixed-blades,” says Pedersen, who had always been a fixed-blade man. “Turns out they are not only as good, but maybe better.” Pedersen is retired now, but he stills hunts on the base and helps other hunters track bowshot deer. He stills uses fixed-blades, “but the numbers don’t lie, the mechanicals work and often better.”

Which type broadhead have you been shooting…which will you shoot this year? I’ve been practicing with the 100-grain, 3-blade, 1¾-inch-cut Grim Reaper mechanical and am very impressed with the accuracy, now to see how it performs on game.

10 thoughts on “Maryland Study: Mechanical Broadheads Outperform Fixed-Blades

  1. I use the fixed blade Montec 100 by G5. Best fixed blade I’ve ever used. And, I know that mechanicals have improved over the years, but I (as well as other family members and friends) have found too many dead deer with mechanicals that were lodged in bone, and/or didn’t open as they were supposed to. I’ve also seen quite a few videos of deer that were wounded with mechanicals and all they merely did was punch a wound in the hide of the deer. Again, I know mechanicals have improved and that many people are using them. I still prefer a fixed blade head. You can get an arrow/fixed blade broad head tuned up to shoot as good as a field tip, so I don’t personally see the need to go to a mechanical. My opinion.

  2. I use a 4 blade 100 grain, 1 1/8 inch diameter cut slick trick. Flies like a dart and really penetrates.

  3. 3 blade Wasp SST Hammer 100gr fixed. Wanted to try RAGE but just worried about them opening prematurely. I know my WASP will punch through leaves with no real deflection. It’s thick here in the Northeast in September and you might center punch that occasional piece of foliage unexpectedly.

    I guess if I want to switch I should just do it. Nothing better to find results than in the field testing but would be interested in any thoughts.

  4. I have used Rage for a couple of years. They open gaping holes but I really believe that no broadhead will consistently convert marginal hits to success. Bottom line….hit’em where they need hit and a sharp broadhead will do the job. Fixed vs. mechanical….I have used them both and killed beer with them. It’s just a personal preference in my book. Whichever you have the most confidence in is the one you should use. Here’s to a great upcoming season. Straight shooting to ya’.

  5. That is killed deer, not beer in my comments. Not saying I haven’t killed a few beers but, this is a deer hunting page!

  6. I been shooting fixed blades for the last 5 or 6 years and have been getting way better penetration. Last two years I’ve used Slick Trick Vipers. This year going to a Thunderhead Razor. Use the right fixed blade heads and they fly like field tips. I don’t think the study reflects the difference between the two well. If your going back up to 25 years for fixed blade results and only the last 7 years for mechanicals. The bow, arrows, and equipment is so much better than 15 to 25 years ago. I think if you did a 5 year study for both heads now days the results wouldn’t be much different.

    • I agree with Scott. IF your goal is to compare the two types of broad heads, then that is a flawed study. You can’t analyze the success rate with fixed blades going back to the 80′s and then use expandable data from the last 5 years and say that is apples to apples. Not even close.

      With the advancement of archery technology over the past 30 years, it’s a new ballgame. Archery has changed more over that time period than probably ever before in history. I think as a whole, archers are considerably more accurate than in past decades.

  7. Mike – As you noted, I was surprised at the results when I ran the recovery rate statistics for both compound bow and crossbow users. (I authored the Broadhead Study). We know what the results were, but not the why of the results.
    One piece of interesting data is that both compound bow and crossbow users who used fixed blades had virtually identical recovery rates (82% over the 24 yr study period). The (presumably) higher “bone busting” kinetic energy/momentum available with crossbows provided no benefit to the recovery rate. Yet the recovery rates for both compound bow and crossbow users improved significantly with the choice of mech broadheads.
    Here is my spin:
    (1) Accuracy above all else. I have tracked hundreds of deer, and have often noted that the difference between a short tracking job and a long tracking job can be just a matter of an inch or less. (I still recall a doe I helped a guy track many years ago – the hunter had nicked the forward side of the carotid artery with a fixed blade, and the artery didn’t rupture until the doe jumped off an embankment ~120 yds away from the hit site. Just a few drops of blood for 120 yards, and then massive(!) bleeding). If the “average” bowhunter can shrink his broadhead groups under “stressful” hunting conditions by an inch or two by using mechs, that is going to pay a big dividend in the long run. Just the same, an experienced bowhunter who is confident and accurate with fixed blade broadheads, will likely see little benefit in switching over to mechs.
    (2) Penetration is one of the big concerns with the choice of broadhead type. I’ve seen my share of mech broadheads that failed to pass thru deer and left scant blood trails. Deer were often recovered because they did not go far. I’ve also seen my share of fixed blade pass-through hits that were plugged up with fat or guts, so again there was only the sparsest of blood trails. (We sometimes found these deer with grid searches – I would often backtrail the deer to learn more about the relationship of the hit to the bloodtrail or lack there of). In the tradeoff of penetration vs wider cut, the wider cut may win. I believe our recovery rate of gut shot deer on Base has improved with the use of mechs, although I have no specific data to back that up.
    (3) Any effect of a mech’s reliability (prematurely opening or failing to open) were insignificant relative to the benefits of the higher deer recovery rate.

    I think I’ll go kill a beer, lol, cheers all and good hunting…

  8. I switched from G5s to the Grim reaper about 7 years ago. Those were the fold forward blades with the o-ring at the time. I had an issue with them not deploying correctly on contact and caused some issues. After that year i went to the Rage. Every deer i have shot with a Rage since then has not gone further that 50 yards after the shot. Now, each one of these deer was shot at close range (20 or less yards) and all were through the boiler room.

    I think the cutting diameter is the biggest reason for higher recovery rates. When you open a 2 inch hole on both sides you’re doing alot of damage on the way through. You just can’t get the same damage with a fixed bladed broadhead.

    As far as bone crunch ability, in my opinion, you should be trying to shoot through bone on a whitetail. Marginal shots that require you to punch through bone to get to the vitals is a bad shot in my opinion and if you make a bad shot and hit bone, then its just that, a bad shot. Maybe the fixed blade goes through, maybe is doesn’t.

    With that said, i have shot them all and they all do the job. Whatever makes you shoot better with confidence when a deer is in your sights is what you should be using.

    Good luck and happy hunting all!

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