Crossbow bolts don’t have fletchings made of feathers but instead have three plastic fletchings, also referred to as vanes occasionally. They have been designed this way and have never used fletchings made from bird feathers.
The terms “arrows” and “bolts” seem interchangeable among archers when referring to a pointed projectile to shoot with a bow. While “arrow” is the most common term, “bolt” is the proper term to follow when referring to crossbows.
Aside from terminology, bolts differ from arrows in weight, length, and damage. Although they have the same parts, they differ in such aspects, making them recognizable in the market. Crossbow bolts are heavier, deadlier, and shorter than regular arrows.
Another significant difference between bolts from arrows is their fletching material composition. Soft light materials such as feathers, silicone rubber, and plastic compose an arrow’s fletching part. However, while arrows have bird feathers fletching, bolts don’t have them.
Instead of feathers, plastic material composes a crossbow bolt’s fletching, also referred to as vanes occasionally. It has three plastic fletchings, now referred to as vanes, attached close to the nock to keep its trajectory stable while in flight.
You can frequently find crossbow bolts in the market with three plastic fletchings around the shaft circle spaced at 120 degrees apart. On the other hand, you may wonder why bolts use vanes, not fletching feathers.
Unlike other bow types, many archers use crossbows for hunting rather than target shooting. Because of the crossbow’s design and powerful shots, there is a need to use a projectile designed only for it.
Since regular arrows will bump into the slope of a crossbow and break, they won’t work with crossbows. Another reason is that vanes last longer without getting too much damage when shot through obstacles which are very handy for hunters.
Vanes are also less susceptible to moisture and wear than regular arrows with feather fletchings which is ideal for hunting since your archery materials will likely get exposed to environmental factors out of your control, such as rain and wind.
Therefore, the design of bolts differs a little from arrows to cater to crossbows. That’s why bolts have plastic fletchings instead of feathers to not get in the way and break.
What are the types of crossbow bolt fletching?
The various types of crossbow bolt fletching are straight, offset, and helical. Offset fletching is the most preferred method by crossbow hunters compared to the other two.
Instead of “fletching,” it is proper to use the word “vanes” as we refer to the three plastic materials attached in three distinct positions in the crossbow bolt’s shaft. In this case, we will use the term fletching since it is the most commonly used word to describe its types.
Vanes or fletchings exist to help the bolt steer to the target, and there are three different types you can choose from that you can deem to work well for you:
- Straight fletching
- Offset fletching
- Helical fletching
Straight fletches have the vanes aligned perfectly with the bolt shaft centerline. It usually has the lowest air resistance in flight or the slightest drag, which permits the bolt to continue with a flatter trajectory as it approaches the target.
Due to the straight fletching’s low air resistance, crossbow hunters don’t usually prefer using it, especially when shooting broadheads. Compared to field points, broadheads have a larger surface area; thus, straight fletching will have trouble controlling the bolt.
Besides the plain straight fletching, offset fletching is another option you can consider. In offset fletching, the vane tilts in the same direction as the arrow’s centerline.
Although technically in a straight line, you can notice that the angle of the vanes is at one to four degrees from the arrow’s linear path. As a result of this slight tilt, a small amount of drag gets added, resulting in better control of the bolt’s trajectory.
Therefore, it is no wonder that crossbow hunters prefer the offset type of fletching over others because of providing the right amount of drag needed.
Helical fletching is the third type, and you can find it oriented spirally on the bolt’s shaft winding its way around. In general, it is the most effective among the three fletchings since it causes the bolt to rotate, similar to a bullet fired from a rifle.
However, helical fletching is not always practical for crossbows because it tends to cause the bolt to become more erratic in flight.
The vane’s radical twist will cause it to come in contact with the arrow channel once pushed down the rail, making crossbow hunters have second thoughts about using this fletching type.
Therefore, if you compare the three fletching types, offset fletching is the most reasonable and preferable one to choose.
Additional points to remember about fletchings are:
- Outside temperatures can influence the vane’s characteristics. For instance, humid temperatures make them more pliable and softer, whereas cold temperatures make them stiffer.
- Be careful not to offset your vanes too much since it can decrease the downrange velocity and accuracy of the bolt.
To ensure your bolts are not encountering problems, observe if the fletching type you chose fits well with your shooting skill and crossbow.
What material is best for crossbow bolts?
Three materials usually make up a crossbow bolt: carbon, aluminum, or a combination of both. Among these three, carbon is the best material for crossbow bolts because it penetrates better and is incredibly durable than its counterparts.
As a new user of crossbows, you may have difficulties determining which crossbow bolt is the best to use, especially when hunting.
You cannot treat the crossbow precisely like other bow types because it is more complex and similar to firearms in terms of usage. Hence, before concluding, it would be best to know what crossbow bolt materials are available to consider.
Every crossbow bolt material has its advantages and disadvantages. Some can be less durable than others, while others are cheaper. The list goes on; that’s why identifying the differences between each material is crucial in helping you arrive at the correct conclusion.
Below are the different crossbow bolt materials you can use or choose from:
- Combination of both aluminum and carbon
Aluminum is a popular material used in kitchen utensils, foils, beer kegs, cans, airplane parts, and window frames. On the other hand, aluminum is also a famous material used in bolts and arrows.
Crossbow bolts made of aluminum are an excellent option if you are looking for a crossbow bolt with a wide array of variations in terms of length and weight. They are also known for their high level of accuracy and energy.
Aluminum crossbow bolts have a stiffer spine which most hunting crossbows generally like. Additionally, they tend to weigh less than carbon crossbow bolts, adding to their accuracy.
Aside from being famously lightweight, they are also the cheapest among the crossbow bolt materials, and you can find them readily available everywhere. With the right equipment, when bent, you can quickly repair them.
When shot, aluminum crossbow bolts can reasonably handle the impact. An excellent aluminum crossbow bolt available in the market is TenPoint’s 435 grain XX75 Wicked Ridge Aluminum Arrow and Easton’s Xx75 Magnum Bolt 20In Flat Nock 2219 Factory, 4″ Vanes.
Despite the advantages mentioned, aluminum crossbow bolts are not perfect.
Due to the material’s lightweight, it is very prone to bending or external damage. It means you won’t be able to use them a lot since they easily bend and will break sooner than other materials.
For example, if you try to shoot an animal, an aluminum crossbow bolt produces less penetration which, in turn, you may have to follow up your shoot quickly. Thus, it will lead to more bolts needed to fire.
Even though aluminum crossbow bolts are economically cheaper, you may have to replace the old ones with new ones more frequently, which can strain your wallet in the long run.
Remember that a bent bolt with no way to straighten it anymore has no value left to you and ends up in the trash can.
Since they are less durable, they are not always fit for hunting and are mostly better for practice shooting. However, this is not always the case because once you take a high number of practice shots with aluminum crossbow bolts, it soon leads to breakage.
Moreover, they are challenging to straighten back out unless you have the proper equipment to help you.
Another crossbow bolt material to choose from is carbon. It is the most recommended crossbow bolt material by archers because of its known incomparable sturdiness.
Compared to other crossbow bolt materials, it is the most durable and penetrates the target deeply for a sure-kill. Carbon crossbow bolts also fly very well and are resilient to bending.
Because of its durability, it is very much suited for hunting, and there is no doubt crossbow hunters generally prefer using it over their counterparts. For instance, it has enough weight to penetrate the deer successfully without breaking immediately, unlike lightweight aluminum bolts.
As carbon crossbow bolts have reduced flexion, they can stop suddenly on impact with the least amount of stress on the shaft. As a result, choosing them means you have a bolt tailor-made for repeated use without any risk of material integrity degradation.
Since it is less prone to breakage, you will be able to use it for a long time and won’t have to worry that you need to replace it anytime soon.
Another great thing about using carbon crossbow bolts is that you can quickly tell if they are straight or broken, like cracks and splinters. Because damaged carbon bolts are easily noticeable, you will not have to worry too much about using one.
Moreover, you will be less likely to encounter accuracy issues with carbon crossbow bolts than with aluminum ones.
TenPoint’s Non-Lighted Pro Elite 400 Carbon Crossbow Arrows, Gold Tip Ballistic Crossbow Bolt, and Carbon Express Maxima Hunter Fletched BuffTuff are some of the best carbon bolts on the market.
However, carbon crossbow bolts are expensive compared to other bolt materials. Because of its advantages, expect a higher price tag. Also, repairing them is quite challenging since they are difficult to clean, and applying glue adhesion to them can be tricky.
Last on our list is a crossbow bolt material with a hybrid combination of aluminum and carbon. You can expect that it offers the best of both worlds and is an excellent alternative if you are looking for a budget-friendly and efficient one.
Since they have the qualities of both materials, you can expect they provide accuracy and speed with a carbon’s durability.
Nevertheless, there is little to know about this material since only a few companies produce them. If you want, check out Easton’s FMJ Crossbow Bolts Flat Nock, which earned 4.8 out of 5 stars on Amazon.
You may wonder why crossbow bolts are only available in aluminum, carbon, or a combination of both. You may have come across bolt materials such as wood and fiberglass.
However, please refrain from buying these materials because they are not ideal and safe for use, especially for modern crossbows.
Based on the advantages and disadvantages of each crossbow bolt material above, carbon is the best material you can choose if you are looking for high durability, deep penetration, and better accuracy.
Crossbow bolts don’t have fletching feathers, but they have plastic vanes instead to help them steer toward their intended target.
Don’t forget to find out which fletching type and crossbow bolt material suits you the best so it won’t influence your bolt’s trajectory and overall performance.