From compact vanes to feathers curved subtly into helical offsets, fletchings offer archers abundant options for steering their arrows. However, aside from a lengthy trial-and-error process, finding the best solution for your setup can be challenging. Let’s try to simplify things.
Arrow fletchings come in many lengths and profiles, but feathers or plastic vanes are the most common types. Fletchings are designed to steer and stabilize the arrow after its shot out of a bow and correct any slight errors that would otherwise influence the arrow’s flight. Even the most talented archers in the world can induce some errors into a shot when the pressure is high – that’s where vanes come in by correcting the error and keeping the arrow on track towards its target.
Feathers vs. Vanes
According to Riley Arnold, regional sales manager at The Outdoor Group, most traditional archers shoot off the shelf of their recurve or longbow, making feathers an ideal choice because they flex and lie flat as they fly across the shelf’s flat, inflexible surface. Vanes are a poor option for this shooting style because their rigidity creates inconsistent arrow flight and bounce off the bow’s shelf. Feathers usually are longer than vanes, which makes them prone to wind drift when shooting at long distances. Unlike vanes, feathers don’t shed water, which can cause inconsistent arrow flight when they’re soaked.
Vanes are more durable and water-resistant than feathers, making them popular with bowhunters for enduring wet weather and abuse from brush. According to Arnold, vanes come in a variety of shapes and sizes. They’re extruded straight and can then be fletched straight or with a left or right helical. Vanes are very consistent in terms of size and weight from one vane to the next, making them a superior choice for most compound shooters. The low-profile design of most vanes makes them ideal for shooting longer distances since the reduced surface area resists wind drift.
Spin wings are vanes with a significant curled shape and are almost exclusively used by Olympic or other high-level competition recurve shooters. According to Arnold, their aggressive, curled shape shies many compound shooters away from spin wings, as the speed of an arrow shot from a compound is too fast for the vane to work correctly. However, faster arrow spin equates to a more stabilized arrow, making spin wings a superior choice for recurve shooters who demand pinpoint accuracy. Unlike other fletchings that are glued onto the shaft, spin wings are taped, making them easy to replace during competitions.
Fletching jigs make it easy for archers of any skill to fletch their arrows. Simply secure your nock in the jig, and it helps you handle the rest by rotating the arrow to the exact position for each fletching as you turn its adjustment knob.
Most jigs handle specific fletchings, so once you decide on your type of fletching, pick a jig that works with those vanes or feathers. For example, the Bohning Helix jig fletches 2-inch Blazer vanes with a 3-degree helical twist.
To narrow down your search for the perfect fletching, consider the equipment you’re shooting, your shooting style, and what you prioritize in your arrow’s performance. Alex Valley, a bow technician at Buck Rub Archery in Pewaukee, WI, recommends shooting different vane setups side-by-side to understand if a particular style works better than others. If you’re hunting, Valley recommends shooting your broadheads at distances you’ll be targeting game at to compare how different fletchings impact your point of impact. After you find the right fit, don’t be afraid to re-evaluate alternative options in the future. Shooting styles, technology, equipment, and form are always changing, so re-evaluating your setup can be very exciting.