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.