Like most any outdoor pursuit, deer hunting has its unique topics for debate: meat versus trophy, morning versus afternoon, still-hunting versus stand hunting.

Among bowhunters, the most contentious is probably fixed versus mechanical broadheads.

If you have a strong sentiment one way or the other, there’s probably not much that will sway your opinion. But if you’re among the more open-minded, some evidence suggests a preferable option.

The debate spawned from several origins. Like any new technology, mechanical broadheads had their issues when introduced. Some were prone to failure. They require more energy to open and penetrate, energy that might otherwise be imparted on the target. They were new and unfamiliar to seasoned archers, and let’s face it, most folks don’t like change.

One such person was Andy Pedersen. For the past 30 years, he’s been helping bowhunters track white-tailed deer on a military installation on the Potomac River. Initially, he developed a dislike for mechanical heads, but in 2014 decided to quantify his observations. He later added six years of data and published the results in “Quality Whitetails,” a journal from the Quality Deer Management Association.

In general, Pedersen found recovery rates to be fairly high. That result was not particularly surprising given the circumstances. Participants in the special base hunts were required to pass a state-approved bowhunter education class and an annual preseason shooting qualification test. They also were required to sign into and out of specific sites, and submit a daily data sheet on their activities.


Pedersen did find comparative results somewhat more surprising. Among compound bowhunters, the recovery rate for those using fixed blade heads was 82.4 percent, compared to 88.6 percent for mechanical heads. The disparity among crossbow hunters was even greater, with fixed blades providing an 81.7 percent recovery rate versus 93.7 for mechanical heads. These results prompted Pedersen to conclude that mechanical heads are better, and at least in the case of crossbow hunting, offer a significant advantage.

He did qualify his conclusions by noting a lot of variables are involved, including experience and proficiency of the archer, and specific circumstances involved with every hunt. Proper shot placement is paramount in any case, and bowhunters should not consider mechanical heads, larger cutting surfaces or any other technology as a means of making up for what they may lack in their own shooting ability.

Accuracy, comfort with and confidence in your equipment are paramount, which is why Pedersen suggests fixed-blade users who are comfortable with their equipment may want to stick with it. But if you’re thinking of switching, mechanical heads do offer several distinct advantages. One is that they require far less tuning. Without the broad, exposed blades that are sometimes subject to wind planing, they fly truer, and more like practice heads. This allows for longer blades and thus more cutting surface, which creates larger wound channels. And with the energy of even modest contemporary bows, the amount lost on impact is negligible.

Pedersen’s study and results probably won’t settle the debate for good, though they do provide more hard empirical evidence for the mechanical side. Whatever you use, you still have to practice, make sure your equipment is in top working order and avoid marginal shot opportunities. But first you have to create those opportunities.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and registered Maine guide who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at:

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