High Deer Recovery Rates for Fixed-Blade and Mechanical Broadheads

broadheads_574_227_s

Every year at the Southeast Deer Study Group meeting, a few research presentations stand out from the others and leave the audience murmuring long after the question-and-answer period has been cut off. QDMA member Andy Pedersen gave one such presentation on February 18 when he shared his study of the effectiveness of fixed-blade and mechanical broadheads.

Many hunters who have heard about his findings have a tendency to focus their discussion on which type of broadhead performed better, and by doing so they miss a more important point. So, I’m going to highlight that point first: The bowhunters in Andy’s study recovered 83 percent of the deer they hit (1,083 recovered out of 1,296 hit from 1989 to 2012). This is an extremely high rate, on par with data I have seen for rifle hunters, and far higher than the archery wounding rates you hear animal-rights groups pushing in their propaganda. It’s a rate that clearly says bowhunting is an extremely effective option in almost any situation, but especially when urban and suburban deer populations need to be managed. So, before you dig into the fine details, celebrate the big picture: Archers of all kinds, whether using crossbows or compound bows, whether using mechanical or fixed-blade broadheads, scored very high recovery rates on deer.

About the Study Area

Andy Pedersen is a retired senior engineer at Naval Support Facility Indian Head, a military installation on the Potomac River in Maryland, just south of Washington, D.C. The base is involved in explosives manufacturing and research, among other things, so the public is not allowed on site. Prior to 1989, sharpshooters were used to control the overpopulation of deer. In 1989, the base’s Natural Resources Office established a formal bowhunting program, open to military and civilian employees, to help maintain the deer population within the carrying capacity of the habitat. Andy helped get that program running. Hunters are required to pass the National Bowhunter Education Foundation’s Bowhunter Education Course and an annual pre-season shooting proficiency test (The test is relatively easy: Given five arrows, you must put three of them in kill zones in 3-D deer targets spaced from 10 to 25 yards, and if all three of your kill-zone arrows are in the 10-yard target, that’s okay).

Being in research and development, Andy has an interest in data analysis, so he lobbied for data-collection requirements. Hunters must file reports on whether they shoot at, hit, or recover a deer (The base defines “recovered” as found within 24 hours). The base’s Natural Resources Office collects biological data, such as live and dressed weights and jawbone age, from every deer killed.

The base is not large or heavily hunted. Two areas totaling 3,000 acres are open to hunting; on one of the areas, there is an earn-a-buck requirement, and bucks must net 130 inches Pope & Young. On the other area, there’s no earn-a-buck requirement, and bucks must have at least three points on one side. A total of 209 bowhunters have pursued deer on the base in the 24 seasons available for study.

What Andy Learned

Andy has sliced and diced those 24 seasons worth of bowhunting data to examine it from a number of angles. Here are some snapshots he presented at the Southeast Deer Study Group meeting.

Hunting Success: 135 of the 209 bowhunters recovered at least one deer, dragging out a total of 1,083 after putting in 35,011 hours of hunting effort. That’s one deer for every 32.5 hours in the stand. It’s also an average of about eight deer per successful bowhunter (Andy reported that several of their most skilled, long-term bowhunters have taken a lot more than eight deer in the years they’ve been hunting the base, including Andy).

Overall Recovery Rate: To get 1,083 deer, hunters reported hitting 1,296 deer from 1989 through 2012. That’s a very strong recovery rate of 83.6%.

Crossbows vs. Compounds: Separated by bow type, crossbow hunters had an 89 percent recovery rate compared to 83 percent for compound bows.

Shot Distance: Crossbow hunters reported an average shot distance of 19.7 yards, while compound bow hunters kept it closer, reporting 17.6 yards.

Mechanical vs. Fixed-Blade: Stratified by broadhead type (including both compound bows and crossbows), hunters using fixed-blade broadheads recovered 82 percent of their deer (874 recovered out of 1,066 hit). Hunters using mechanical broadheads recovered 91 percent of their deer (209 out of 230 hit). Note: Total numbers of deer are lower for mechanicals because they have only been approved for use on the base since 2007, although the majority of deer shot since then were shot with mechanicals. More on that shortly.

Broadhead Type for Compound Bows: Looking only at compound bow users, those using mechanical broadheads recovered 143 of 161 deer for an 89 percent recovery rate; those using fixed blades recovered 821 out of 1,001 deer for an 82 percent recovery rate.

Broadhead Type for Crossbows: Looking only at crossbows, those using mechanical broadheads recovered 66 out of 69 deer for a whopping 96 percent recovery rate; those using fixed blades recovered 53 out of 65 deer for an 82 percent recovery rate.

Looking at these last three comparisons involving mechanical vs. fixed-blade, it brings up a question that was asked by the audience at the Southeast Deer Study Group meeting. These comparisons involve deer killed with mechanical broadheads only from 2007 on, but with fixed-blade broadheads going back all the way to 1989. Is that fair? Could it be that the efficiency and accuracy of compound bows and crossbows are higher since 2007, after mechanical broadheads were allowed on the hunts? Andy, being an admitted data geek, had anticipated that question. He separated fixed-blade recovery rates into pre- and post-mechanical eras. There was no statistically significant difference. Recovery rates with fixed-blade broadheads shot from compound bows were 82.2 percent from 1989 to 2006 and 81.0 percent from 2007 to 2012. For crossbows: 81.7 percent in the early years, 80.0 percent more recently.

Another question people often raise about Andy’s data: How does he know hunters aren’t declining to report deer they hit and failed to recover? There are several reasons why he believes this probably never happens. First, permission to hunt this base is highly exclusive and desirable, and you can lose it if you don’t follow the rules. Also, because of base safety and security requirements, hunters are not allowed to move from their designated stand sites without notifying the “hunt captain.” So, to blood-trail a deer you almost always have to alert others you are doing so. Finally, hunters almost always ask for help with blood-trailing because recovery is so important. If it’s a doe, you want the credit for earn-a-buck. If it’s a buck, it’s a nice one because of the antler requirements. Given the rules, the incentives, and the close nature of the base and hunting communities, Andy said it would be very difficult to hit and lose a deer on base without anyone else knowing it.

Hits and Misses: Here’s one more interesting item based on shots that did not hit their targets. Crossbow users got a slightly higher accuracy score than compound users, hitting their target 94.5 percent of the time compared to 89.9 percent for compounds. The comparison was almost exactly the same for broadhead type. Mechanical users were slightly higher, hitting the deer 94.3 percent of the time compared to 89.4 percent for fixed-blade.

Don’t Miss the Target

I know that some hard-core archers are going to thoroughly examine and debate these numbers, but I would urge them to recall my earlier summary: The differences in performance between bow types and broadhead types are small.

All types of bows and broadheads are capable of producing extremely high recovery rates, but you cannot overlook the education and proficiency requirements for these hunters, and that they reported an average shot distance of less than 20 yards. The hunters on this base are clearly selective and careful about their shots, which contributed to the high recovery rates. Regardless of equipment, we all share a responsibility to practice regularly and choose the right shots. The choices you make before the arrow is released are just as important as the clinical physics of broadhead performance.

In the hands of informed, proficient and selective archers, bows are more than sufficient to the task of managing deer herds in suburban areas, small military bases, and anywhere else deer herds require management but where firearms are not a practical solution. Andy’s data can be used to help secure new hunting opportunities for archers of all types – no matter what equipment they prefer – wherever there are deer that need hunters, and archers who need a place to hunt.

  • Larry Murray

    I would like to see stats that include broadhead weight. I also wonder why traditional bows (longbows and recurve bows) do not get any mention.

    • Andy Pedersen

      There is no mention of traditional bows in the Study, simply because no bowhunter has ever passed the pre-season qualification test with a traditional bow (we are now in our 29th year). However, only a few bowhunters have ever tried.
      (Some insight: most of the bowhunters on the Navy Base are military and many are relatively inexperienced bowhunters. There is a regular influx of new hunters every year as military transfer out in their normal course of duties. Accordingly, the bowhunter population on Base turns over an average of just over three years. Entry-level bowhunters are unlikely to pick up a recurve or longbow, which may require considerable practice to become proficient. Instead, these guys are opting for crossbows (which became legal to use in the regular MD bowseason in 2010). Close to 70% of the harvest this 2017 season has been with a crossbow).;

      • Larry Murray

        Andy,

        This question was of interest to me as I own an archery shop which sells only traditional bows. I am disappointed there haven’t been any hunters which could qualify.

        Larry

  • Larry Murray

    I would like to see stats that include broadhead weight. I also wonder why traditional bows (longbows and recurve bows) do not get any mention.

  • Rob Sand

    looks like the fixed v mech recovery rate difference is small, yes, but statistically significant. Right? At what confidence level?

    • Andy Pedersen

      Rob

      The difference is deer recovery between the choice of fixed blade and mechanical broadheads is statistically significant. I rejected the null hypothesis: “the choice of broadhead type does not affect deer recovery” to a level of significance of 0.001. In other words, the choice of broadhead does affect deer recovery.

      Since the time, “A Comparative Study on the Effectiveness of Fixed Blade and Mechanical Broadheads” was published, we have continued to gather deer recovery data on the Indian Head Navy Base. Last year, I informally incorporated three more years of recovery data into the data base (2013 – 2015, 104 hit deer) . (Note that blue tongue/ EHD had adversely affected the deer harvest on Indian Head after 2012). This additional data further strenghtened the original finding that bowhunters who used mechanical broadheads had better recovery rates than bowhunters who used fixed blade broadheads. As of now, I do not have plans to publish another paper on the subject.

      This table summarizes the recovery data to date:

      …………………………..Percentage of Hit Deer Recovered per Choice of Broadhead

      Period………………… Fixed Broadhead………………………… ….Mechanical Broadhead
      1989-2006……………..82.1% (746/908)……………………. N/A (Mechs were not allowed)
      2007-12…………………81.0% (128/158)………………………………….. 90.9% (209/230)
      2013-15……………….. 81.1% (30/37)……………………………………… 91.0% (61/67)
      Total
      1989-2015……………..82.0% (904/1103)…………………………………. 90.9% (270/297)

    • Andy Pedersen

      Rob

      The difference in deer recovery rates with the choice of fixed blade or mechanical broadhead is statistically significant. I rejected the null hypothesis, “The choice of broadhead type does not affect deer recovery” to a level of significance, p = 0.0014. In other words, the choice of broadhead type did affect how likely a hunter would recover a hit deer.

      Since publishing “A Comparative Study on the Effectiveness of Fixed Blade and Mechanical Broadheads”, we have continued to gather deer recovery data. Last year, I informally incorporated three more years of recovery data (2013 – 2015, 104 hit deer) into the data base. The additional data make it very unlikely that broadhead choice does not influence deer recovery (p = 0.00028).

      This table summarizes the recovery data to date:

      …………………………..Percentage of Hit Deer Recovered per Choice of Broadhead

      Period………………… Fixed Broadhead………………………… ….Mechanical Broadhead

      1989-2006……………..82.1% (746/908)……………………. N/A (Mechs were not allowed)

      2007-12…………………81.0% (128/158)………………………………….. 90.9% (209/230)

      2013-15……………….. 81.1% (30/37)……………………………………… 91.0% (61/67)

      Total

      1989-2015……………..82.0% (904/1103)…………………………………. 90.9% (270/297)

      Note that while the difference in recovery rates for broadhead choice may appear to be small, bowhunters who used mechanical broadheads had ~1/2 the wounding (or loss) rate of bowhunters
      who used fixed blade broadheads.

      • Rob Sand

        That’s great data, Andy! Were you able to control for other variables, such as shot distance?

        • Andy Pedersen

          The broadhead study did not attempt to control any of the many, many variables that could affect deer recovery. We examined “Was a hit deer recovered” for compound bow & crossbow users who used either fixed blade or mechanical broadheads. Hunter experience/skill, shot distance, deer alertness, shot angle, tracking effort, etc., etc., was assumed not to be biased towards one group or another. (But note that the requirement for bowhunter education and an annual proficiency test established a minimum proficiency standard for all bowhunters).The large sample size (now 1400 deer) allows the many uncontrolled variables to be averaged out.

          I can still add some interesting information about shot distance. I examined how wounding rates varied with shot distance – no surprise here, taking longer shots results in higher wounding rates (on average, as there is not enough data to establish statistical significance). So I informally looked at the shot distances that fixed blade and mech users reported. While the difference in the average shot distance for the two groups was not statistically significant, I noted that mech users averaged taking ~1 yard longer shots than fixed blade users. The better recovery statistics achieved with the use of mechs is not because bowhunters took closer shots at deer when using mechs.

          • Rob Sand

            Certainly that 1 yard is not explaining the difference, so that does it! This is great Andy- thanks. You’ve done a real service for the bowhunting community. You are right about confidence in your broadhead- the was the issue the one time I brought mechanicals into the field. But I trust your data and that will give me confidence next in them next time. I just need to get used to them.

          • Phil

            Really interesting article. I love QDMA research. I have a couple of questions though.

            Wouldn’t the quality of sampling be determined just as much by the number of hunters? For example, of the 161 kills with mechanical blades in the first study, how many hunters were responsible for those 161 kills versus the amount using fixed blade? In order to make the claim that either is better, wouldn’t both samples need to be representative of the population of hunters that use each? And I wonder how many of each category had properly tuned their bows (paper tuned, bare shaft tuned, french tuned, etc.).

            As an aside, it would be cool to do this same study with an additional parameter where the hunter logs whether or not the arrow was a complete pass-through.

          • Andy Pedersen

            “Really interesting article. I love QDMA research.”

            QDMA took the courtesy of reporting on this research, they did not sponsor
            or direct it. I respond to comments on the QDMA article per their request.

            “Wouldn’t the quality of sampling be determined just as much by the number
            of hunters? For example, of the 161 kills with mechanical blades in the first
            study, how many hunters were responsible for those 161 kills versus the amount
            using fixed blade? “

            Relative to the published broadhead
            study:

            27 compound bow users accounted for 161
            hits (143 kills) with mechs

            119 compound bow users accounted for
            1001 hits (821 kills) with fixed blades

            (Some individuals killed deer with mechs
            and with fixed blades).

            “In order to make the claim that
            either is better, wouldn’t both samples need to be representative of the
            population of hunters that use each?”

            The simple answer is no.

            The operative word is that this was
            a “comparative” study. The sample populations on the Navy Base do not
            necessarily have to be representative of, or proportioned to, the bowhunter
            population at large in order to see how broadhead choice might affect deer
            recovery. All that is needed is a “large” number of hit deer and a “sufficient”
            number of hunters participating in each group. The greater the number of hit
            deer, the higher the statistical confidence one has in the proportion measure of
            deer that were recovered. One can still compare two proportions with differing
            confidence levels to determine if there is a statistical difference.

            “And I wonder how many of each category
            had properly tuned their bows (paper tuned, bare shaft tuned, french tuned,
            etc.).”

            Every bowhunter on Base was required
            to pass a Bowhunter Education class, and an annual proficiency test with their
            broadheads. These requirements established a minimum skill set for all
            bowhunters and helped to eliminate “incompetent” bowhunters from participating
            in the hunting program. (Note that free “expert” assistance was generally
            available to anyone who wanted help with tuning their bow/broadheads, and many,
            many novice bowhunters were helped – an anecdotal observation).

            “As an aside, it would be cool to do
            this same study with an additional parameter where the hunter logs whether or
            not the arrow was a complete pass-through.”

            There are a lot of interesting data gaps (pass-throughs,
            arrow energy/momentum, tracking distance, wait-time before beginning to track,
            etc, etc) that if filled in might help us better understand the “why”
            in this results-oriented study. But in the end, the only thing that really
            matters is whether or not you found your deer.

          • Andy Pedersen

            “Really interesting article. I love QDMA research. I have a couple of
            questions though.”

            QDMA took the courtesy of reporting on this research, but they did not sponsor
            it. I respond to comments on the QDMA article per their request.

            “Wouldn’t the quality of sampling be determined just as much by the number of hunters? For example, of the 161 kills with mechanical blades in the first study, how many hunters were responsible for those 161 kills versus the amount using fixed blade? “

            Relative to the published broadhead study:
            27 compound bow users accounted for 161 hits (143 kills) with mechs
            119 compound bow users accounted for 1001 hits (821 kills) with fixed blades
            (Some individuals killed deer with mechs and with fixed blades).

            “In order to make the claim that either is better, wouldn’t both samples need to be representative of the population of hunters that use each?”

            The simple answer is no.
            This was a “comparative” study. The sample populations on the Navy Base do not necessarily have to be representative or proportioned to the bowhunter population at large in order to
            see how broadhead choice might affect deer recovery. All that is needed is a “large” number of hit deer and a “sufficient” number of bowhunters participating in each group. The greater the number of hit deer, the higher the statistical confidence one has in the proportion measure of deer that were recovered. One can still compare two proportions with differing confidence levels to determine if there is a statistical difference.

            “And I wonder how many of each category had properly tuned their bows (paper
            tuned, bare shaft tuned, french tuned, etc.).”

            Every bowhunter on the Navy Base was required to pass a Bowhunter Education class, and an annual proficiency test with their broadheads. These requirements established a minimum skill set for all bowhunters and helped to eliminate “incompetent” bowhunters from participating
            in the hunting program. (Free “expert” assistance was generally available to anyone who wanted help with tuning their bow/broadheads, and many, many novice bowhunters were helped – an anecdotal observation).

            “As an aside, it would be cool to do this same study with an additional parameter where the hunter logs whether or not the arrow was a complete pass-through.”

            There are a lot of interesting data gaps (pass-throughs, arrow energy/momentum, tracking distance, wait-time before beginning to track, broadhead brand, etc.) that if filled in might help us better understand the “why” in this results-oriented study.

      • Rob Sand

        I’m planning on switching to mechanicals because of this data. Looks like it is the more ethical choice if you can cut non-recovery in half.

        • Andy Pedersen

          If you hunt with a crossbow, there is no question in my mind that you should use
          mechs with it. However, if you hunt with a compound bow, are accurate, and are comfortable with fixed blade performance, then you should probably stay with fixed blades. (Confidence breeds success). But then if you feel like experimenting with mechs, don’t worry about the reliability or penetration issues oft expressed in Internet forums. My data shows (on average!) that these concerns are negligible.

        • Andy Pedersen

          If you hunt with a crossbow, there is no question in my mind that you should use mechs with it. If you hunt with a compound bow, use fixed blades, are accurate and comfortable with fixed blade performance, then you should probably stay with fixed blades. (Confidence breeds success). But then if you feel like experimenting with mechs, don’t worry about the reliability or penetration concerns oft expressed in Internet forums. The data show that these issues are of negligible consequence (on average!).

          • Bob Rose

            Did they look at the rear deploying VS the fold back style in the mechanicals?

          • Andy Pedersen

            Bob – we did not have any data that would have allowed us to differentiate the different broadhead styles; mechanical broadheads in the Study were simply represented as “having moving parts”.

  • Courierdewoods

    I do not believe the recovery rates are this high in the general archery seasons. Although, I do not know what may have influenced such high rates of recovery in this study, I am pleased it was this high. I would think mechanical broadheads would have a lower recovery rate than a solid broadheads, since they scavage energy to open on contact. Also, studies performed by non-hunters and hunters may be un- intentionally biased so it would be great to see more studies performed from around North America and from dis- invested parties.

  • Lindsay Thomas Jr.

    John, given my personal experiences among bowhunters on public and private hunting land, I doubt the average recovery rate is much lower, if at all, than what Andy found. Are there individual bowhunters who are not proficient and should not even be going to the woods with a bow? Certainly. But we’ve always known that hunter education is important for all groups, not just those who hunt sensitive military installations. That’s why we have the hunter education system, the Bowhunters Education Foundation, and many other groups who promote hunting ethics and responsibility. Andy’s example makes it clear that education works.

  • “The hunters on this base are clearly selective and careful about their shots, which contributed to the high recovery rates.”

    Lindsay, I appreciate the data extracted from this study, but the above statement somewhat questions whether this same data can be used to support the avg. bowhunter who may not be so selective or careful because they are not subject to the same stringent parameters?


About Lindsay Thomas Jr.

Lindsay Thomas Jr. is the editor of Quality Whitetails magazine, the journal of QDMA, and he is QDMA's Director of Communications. He has been a member of the QDMA staff since 2003. Prior to joining the staff of QDMA, Lindsay was an editor at a Georgia hunting and fishing news magazine for nine years. Throughout his career as an editor, he has written and published numerous articles on deer management and hunting. He earned his journalism degree at the University of Georgia.