I got this question from a fairly new archer in Portugal:
When I was watching some archery videos I noticed that some archers in indoor tournaments use X7 aluminum arrows with at least 4˝ feathers and others use Easton X10 arrows; that’s just a matter of preference, right? But usually aluminium arrows are better for 18 meters and carbon/aluminium arrows are the best for longer distances, isn’t that so?
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It is wonderful that we now have a video storehouse for archers to browse through. (Thank you, YouTube!) And, at the same time, I have to warn you about what you see. Just because people do something doesn’t mean it is the right thing to do, it just means (usually) somebody was successful doing it.
Please realize that there is a lot of copying amongst archers. Less successful archers copy the behaviors of more successful archers. I consider this to being due in part to our evolution (Monkey see, monkey do.). There is a story that at the Las Vegas Indoor tournament a quite successful archer was dealing with a bow hand injury and so wore a glove on his bow hand. The next year, quite a number of archers showed up with gloved bow hands! (There is no advantage to using a glove other than keeping your hand warm (Vegas is hot indoors) but there are potential disadvantages from doing so.)
The use of “fat” arrows indoors was caused by the more demanding competitions of compound archers. Since arrows that barely touch the line of a higher scoring ring get that score, then having large diameter (aka “fatter”) arrows should help. Arrows that might have missed touching that higher scoring ring. Whether this applies to other than compound archers remains to be proven, but many a Olympic Recurve archer trades in his/her X10s for 2012 aluminums (a popular shaft of about the right spine) when shooting indoors.
I was “taught” that (by watching what others did and then copying) but, being an experimental scientist, on a couple of occasions I used a set of “thin” aluminum-carbon arrows to shoot an indoor NFAA 300 Round (60 arrows at 20 yards, 5-4-3-2-1 scoring). I then took a small piece of large diameter shafting and placed it over any hole that looked very close to touching the next ring and I found out that “fat shafts” are worth about a maximum of 1-2 points per round. If you are in a position to be needing those 1-2 points to win, then maybe it is a good idea.
The whole idea of using 4-5˝ feathers on indoor arrows is another “monkey see” phenomenon. The argument goes that indoors, with the distance being so short, “steerage” is more important than arrow speed. (Feathers/vanes cause the arrows to fly straighter by actually slowing them down through aerodynamic drag.) So, they took the idea from bow hunters to use large feathers as they were reputed to supply more steerage. Unfortunately this is another example of trickle down misinformation. Hunters used 4-5˝ feathers when the only thing available was feathers. Since they had arrows with heavier points (with the blades necessary for bow hunting) they felt the large vanes helped them “steer” the arrows better. Well, 4-5˝ feathers do steer arrows better than 2˝ feathers, but feathers also have a neat trick. When the arrow is first shot, feathers “lay down” and give less drag by creating much less surface area (feathers are made of individual pieces called barbs that “hook” together which is why you can separate them in so many places, these barbs slide against one another resulting in a very small feather during arrow launch). Arrows with feathers are therefore faster than arrows with equal sized plastic vanes because of this “lay down” phenomenon. In other words, feathers offer less steerage than vanes do over the first 220-40 meters or so. So archers desiring more steerage should use 4-5˝ vanes, not feathers.
So, I found myself shooting large diameter aluminum arrows with 4˝ feathers indoors because … because all of the other kids were doing it. Do you know what I was shooting when I shot my one and only 300/300 round (with 42X)? I was shooting small diameter aluminum-carbon shafts with 2˝ Flex-Fletch vanes.
The collective wisdom of archery is a mishmash of ideas from different eras and different styles passed around uncritically. I recommend that you always try to think things through and ask a lot of questions (even if they seem to be “dumb” questions). If something doesn’t make sense, there are probably good reasons why.