Arrow speed plays an important role in archery. When you are first getting started, it may not be quite as crucial, but as you progress it becomes increasingly important. Once you start competing or bow hunting, faster arrow speed becomes a critical advantage.
You can always adjust arrow speed depending on your shooting needs. Whether it’s shooting lighter arrows, decreasing arrow drag, or increasing draw weight, there’s usually some degree of adjustability.
Whether you’re an experienced archer or not, it’s important to understand arrow speed. Here, we’ll cover why the speed of your arrows matters, how to measure the speed of your arrows, as well as the overall benefits of arrow speed. This information helps you understand how arrow speed directly affects your overall shooting ability.
Arrow Speed 101
Speed is a major consideration for many archers. With all of the technological advancements, today’s compound bows are extremely fast and accurate. More than ever, archers are taking advantage of these advancements with expectations of an increase in arrow speed.
Most manufacturers measure arrow speeds in feet per second (FPS). This measurement refers to the distance the arrow travels every second upon release. More often than not a brace height less than seven inches means the manufacturer is aiming to achieve faster arrow speeds (at the expense of forgiveness).
IBO vs ATA Specifications
IBO stands for “International Bowhunters Organization” and ATA stands for “Archery Trade Association”. Each organization has created there own formula for measuring arrow speed. IBO speed is measured by shooting a bow with an 80-pound draw weight, maximized draw length, and a 400-grain arrow. ATA speed is measured with a 70-pound draw weight, 30-inch draw length, and 350-grain arrow.
Measurements such as these simply help you understand capabilities of the bow and guide your expectations. If you shoot less draw weight and have a shorter draw length than what’s specified, you can expect your arrow speed to be slower. Once you know the IBO or ATA specifications of a bow you’re interested in, you can get a good idea of what to expect for your situation.
Below, you’ll find a number of factors that affect the speed of your arrows. These factors help you understand how to increase or decrease your arrow speed.
Factors Of Arrow Speed
Three of the most important factors that directly affect arrow speed is draw weight, draw length, and the weight of your arrows. At a glance – if you increase draw length, increase draw weight, and/or use lighter arrows, you’ll experience an increase in arrow speed. Adding weight to the bowstring with a peep sight, string silencers, a kisser button, etc. will tend to decrease your arrow speed slightly.
1. Draw Weight
Bows with a heavier draw weight result in faster arrow speeds. Heavy draw weight is able to transfer higher levels of energy to the arrow. For example, a draw weight increase of five pounds can add 10 fps to the speed of your arrows. Just be sure not to add too much draw weight as you want to make sure you can pull the bow comfortably.
2. Draw Length
The longer the draw length the faster the bow will shoot. The farther back you pull your bow the more energy it stores, resulting in a higher degree of kinetic energy transferred to the arrow. While increasing your draw length does bring about faster arrow speeds, there’s little adjustment you can make as a full grown adult. Draw length that is too long will create issues with form and shot execution, so stick to what’s most comfortable.
3. Arrow Weight
Your chosen bow type only produces a specific amount of energy and makes use of that energy to shoot the arrow. There’s an additional factor to speed and that is arrow weight. As arrow weight decreases, arrow speed increases. This means a lighter arrow will fly faster than a heavier arrow shot out of the same bow. Conversely, a heavier arrow will fly slower, but penetrate further than a lighter arrow. Be sure not to shoot an arrow that is too light, as this may cause issues with accuracy… so there’s a happy medium.
4. Bowstring Weight
Keep your bowstring weight down to a minimum, particularly near the center of the string. This alone can add several feet per second to your arrow speed. Using peep sights, string silencers, D-loops, etc. can add weight and decrease power transferred to your arrow. Whatever you use, keep it to a minimum and keep weight in mind.
5. Fletching Type
Fletching size and type matters when it comes to arrow speed. Generally speaking, larger fletching creates more drag and slows arrow speed. Smaller fletching is ideal for increased arrow speed as long as they provide enough stability. The way fletching is applied makes a difference as well. Helical fletching provides the most stability, but slows the arrow most. Straight fletching allows more speed from less drag but has provides the least amount of stability. Offset fletching (what I use) provides a happy medium between the two, fast arrow flight and good stability.
6. Weather & Humidity
Outdoor elements like wind, rain, temperature, and humidity always have an effect on arrow speed. Wind speed and wind direction can both slow an arrow and knock it off course. Heavy rain creates additional resistance and downward pressure on the arrow. This slows the arrow and creates the need for compensation. Temperature and humidity cause changes in air density, which again, directly affects arrow speed.
How To Measure Arrow Speed
Your goal is consistent arrow speed as your accuracy depends on your arrows shooting at the same speed. Read below to learn how to measure arrow speed.
Calculating Arrow Speed
Figuring out your exact arrow speed requires the use of an arrow speed calculator. You’ll need to enter your IBO rating for the bow, the actual draw weight of the bow, peak draw weight in pounds, total arrow weight in grains, and any additional weight added to the string to get an estimated fps. While this is probably the easiest way to determine arrow speed, it’s not exact.
How To Measure With A Chronograph
A chronograph is a tool specifically made to measure speed. This calculating instrument measures how many feet per second an arrow travels upon release. Using a chronograph is the most accurate way to measure arrow speed.
Steps to properly use an archery chronograph:
- Gather your things (bow, target, chronograph, etc.)
- Set up the chronograph (make sure it’s stable)
- Turn on the chronograph
- Prepare to shoot (stand a few feet from the chronograph and shoot through the measurement window into your target down range)
- Check the chronograph for arrow speed
- Repeat this process a few times and take the average
The Benefits Of Arrow Speed
While arrow speed once meant sacrificing accuracy, today’s bows shoot faster and more accurately than ever before. Faster arrows mean more velocity. This additional velocity can greatly improve your margin for error. For example, if you guess the wrong distance to your target, arrow speed can compensate for the miscalculation. This means arrow speed can make the difference between hitting your target or not. This is why most bow hunters place a large focus on arrow speed.
1. Flatter Trajectory
Faster arrows fly flatter. Flatter flying arrows travel further before gravity begins to drag them down. This equates to arrows maintaining enough energy to reach their target. A flatter trajectory means you don’t have to focus as much on getting the perfect range when shooting at distances more than 20 yards away.
On average, recurve bows have the ability to shoot up to 225 fps and compound bows have the ability to shoot up to 350 fps.
2. Distance Estimation
There’s minimal room for error for hunters estimating their shot. Being off by a few yards tends to be fine because their arrows shoot so flat that a miscalculation is less crucial than with a slower bow. It’s good to practice distance estimation, but arrow speed will help those who are improving their estimation skills.
3. Increased Kinetic Energy
More speed equals more kinetic energy equals more power. An increase in arrow speed means your arrow has more kinetic energy down range and will impact with more power. Adding more draw weight or shooting a more powerful bow can achieve this. Technology has greatly enhanced the overall performance of modern bows.
*Calculate kinetic energy using the following equation: KE = total arrow grain weight divided by 450,800 multiplied by the arrow velocity in fps squared.
4. Less Clearance Issues
Fast arrows shoot flatter out to further distances. This means your arrows don’t need to arch as much when shooting. Sometimes, you’re challenged with a small window of clearance through brush and limbs. This could present an impossible shot for those with a slow shooting bow. A flatter shooting bow can therefore make a better shot and gain the advantage over a slower shooting bow.
5. String Jump
When hunting, some animals instantly drop or jump at the sound of a bowstring upon release. It’s for this reason noise needs to be managed. In quiet conditions, animals will hear you. Limb, string, and cable silencers help to reduce noisy vibrations but they can’t eliminate them altogether. The best you can do is to buy a bow with high speed potential (so the arrow reaches it’s target faster) and use accessories to keep the bow quiet. There’s a fine balance here between power and noise, so experiment to find what works best for you.
Arrow speed is an important consideration. If you’ve ever miscalculated a shot, then you understand the importance of arrow speed. Now that you know how to measure arrow speed, you can determine just how fast, or how slow, your arrows are flying. Making adjustments to increase the speed of your arrows is a simple process. When making adjustments to speed and power, just be aware of your arrow flight. Improvements in power can cause your arrow spine to become too weak, so be aware of that!
Depending on the number of adjustments you make, know that one or more small adjustments can create a significant change in arrow speed. If done right, your adjustments won’t undermine your accuracy. Instead, you should expect to maintain accuracy while increasing speed and your overall ability as an archer.