A Surprising Way Arrows Work

Ever wondered what’s going on in the background when you fire an arrow with your bow? The actual physics behind how arrows work is amazing.

So take a few minutes to read this and you will understand exactly how arrows function.

So here is the main takeaway from the article.

Arrows receive the energy released from the bow and fly from the bow to the target. The trajectory of a flying arrow is an arch. While traveling the arrow is stabilized by its fletchings, which in some cases even spin the arrow for added accuracy. When hitting the target the arrowhead helps the arrow penetrate the target.

If you want to see some other cool things that happen while the arrow is in flight then keep reading.

How Does An Arrow Fly?

An arrow flies in an arch from the archer towards the target. The reason for that comes down to the fact that archers aim slightly higher than the desired target because they have to take into account the fact that arrows lose altitude due to gravity while traveling.

So, here is a basic animation done by me to illustrate this point.

Trajectory of an arrow

I know the drawing sucks but bear with me.

The archer aims his arrow just above the desired target. This means the arrow flies in an arch where it slowly descended during flight to hit the target. The larger the distance the larger the arch.

How much to aim your arrows above the target depending on the distance comes down to experience. I would love to give you some hard and fast rules regarding that but no such rule was invented yet. It comes down to trial and error.

But while flying in the air the arrow still makes some weird moves. We will talk about one of them right now.

Does An Arrow Spin In Flight?

Yes, an arrow spins in flight if it has appropriate fletchings that make it spin. Helical or offset fletchings cause the arrow to spin during flight. Straight fletchings meanwhile do not make the arrow spin.

Let me explain.

At the back of the arrow, you will find a stabilization device commonly referred to as a “fletching”.

Fletching on an arrow

The purpose of a fletching is to stabilize the arrow as it is fired from the bow. Straight fletching, meaning vanes or feathers that are placed straight on the arrow, stabilize the arrow as it is fired, making sure it flies straight.

There are other types of vanes such as offset or helical vanes. Their job is to make the arrow spin in flight. Helical vanes provide the greatest spin while sacrificing the speed of the arrow.

Different types of fletching

Offset vanes, meaning the ones that are placed on the arrow at a slight angle, in my opinion, provide the best combination between accuracy and speed. The arrow will spin with offset vanes, with barely any loss in speed.

Offset fletching

So should an arrow spin or not? In my opinion, yes. Arrows should have at least a little spin to them to ensure greater accuracy. Therefore I am a big proponent of using offset fletchings on your arrows.

For more information on how to choose the best vanes click here for an article on just that.

Now, there is one more thing an arrow does while traveling to the target. It bends.

Arrow Bending In Flight

An Arrow bends in flight. This happens for one main reason:

  1. The force from the released bowstring causes the back of the arrow to move faster than the front of the arrow, this causes the arrow to bend.

This is the main factor why the arrow wobbles in flight. Here is how this can look.

2 nodes on an arrow

The arrow bends left to right. You would think that this would affect the accuracy but it doesn’t. As long as the nodes align with the target the arrow will hit its mark. The nodes are two points of the arrow that never bend. They remain fixed.

The bending of the arrow is crucial to its accuracy of the arrow. An arrow that does not bend does not fly to the target. We will cover that in a second.

So, the bending of the arrow is an important factor. It is called the spine of the arrow. The spine is an archery term that refers to how much the arrow can bend. The lower the spine the less the arrow bends, the higher the spine the more it bends.

For an archer, it is vital to choose the best arrow for his bow, which means you choose the right arrows for your bow. Otherwise, things get messy for an archer.

You can see a beautiful depiction of the arrow bending in flight on this youtube video here.

To Recap

An arrow that is fired from a bow travels in an arch towards its target. While flying through the air the arrow bends side to side, due to the force exerted upon it by the bowstring. If the arrow is equipped with the right fletchings it also spins.

Let’s cover one last important thing. Sometimes your arrows will not behave as they should. Let’s see why is that.

Why Your Arrows Don’t Fly Straight?

There are two main reasons why your arrows will not fly straight:

  1. Your form is bad.
  2. The Spine of your arrows is incorrect (your arrows are either too stiff or too bendy).

While there are a few other possible reasons those two are the most common ones.

So let’s start with the first reason.

Your Form Is Bad

This one is quite simple. Your form sucks. This can be the result of a poor stance, bad aiming, or just as common a bad release of the bowstring.

You could have a fellow archer take a look at your form and be open to making any changes. The other option is to check this article on how to aim a bow.

With that let us proceed to the next one.

The Spine Of Your Arrows Is Incorrect

Your arrows are either too stiff or too bendy. In other words, your spine is incorrect.

Having an incorrect spine is the most common reason why your arrows fly a few inches to the left. So, if you ever hear an archer complaining “my arrows will not go straight, or they go too much to the left”.

The reason why arrows do not fly straight is that the spine of the arrow does not match the draw weight of the bow.

So, the solution is obviously to consult a professional at your local archery shop and get their recommendations on which arrows to use. Test them out and notice the difference.

The cool part is once you have your arrows fine-tuned you can choose the next set of arrows a lot faster.

One More Thing

One more thing to keep in mind is the vanes on your arrow. If the vanes on your arrow hit the side of the bow as it’s fired that will negatively affect the trajectory of the arrow. Meaning your arrow will not fly straight.

You can fix that by either using feathers as your vanes or installing an elevated rest on your bow to minimize the contact between the arrow and the bow.

In Conclusion

To recap.

Arrows work by absorbing the energy released from the bow which allows it to travel from the bow to the target in an arch. While traveling the arrow bends sideways. While flying through the air the arrow can also spin, depending on its fletching.

This is the whole story.

So, I hope you enjoyed this article, maybe learned something new.

You can see how an archer can make his turn mid-flight if you wish in this article.

And of course, you can see how to stop your arrows from falling from the rest every time you draw if you go here.

Thank you for reading and see you next time.

Take care.

Recent Posts