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Can you use broadheads to shoot targets?


So we’re all geared up for hunting season and got a brand new bow and a bunch of brand new arrows.  You get to thinking, “Can I hit with these things?”  We all know that field points are for shooting targets and broadheads are for shooting animals.  But can you use broadheads to shoot targets? 

Practicing with field points gets you used to shooting arrows with field points so it would make sense to practice with broadheads to get used to shooting arrows with broadheads.  Thankfully, you can use broadheads to shoot targets, however, depending on the material that the target is made from you could risk breaking or dulling your broadheads.  It is best to only shoot foam targets with broadheads and use field points for every other type of target.

Let’s consider some of the different types of targets and how they might affect a broadhead.

Hay Bales

If you ask someone who is into archery what would be the cheapest thing you could use for a target, one of the most common answers will be: a hay bale.  Hay bales are pretty common and easy to come by.  That’s why they’re probably one of the most popular targets to practice with.

A well-wrapped hay bale is pretty dense but when you shoot an arrow at it it’s going to hit with enough force to very easily penetrate very deep into the hay bale.  That means that you might lose an arrow deep in the hay bale or you could damage your fletchings (either feathers or vanes).

That being said you won’t do much damage to their broadhead if it’s a fixed blade.  The reason is that straw and hay are pretty easy to cut through with a sharp blade.  For a mechanical broadhead there is a much higher risk of damage and for that reason, it’s not recommended to shoot hay bales with mechanical broadheads.

In general, it’s better to use a hay bale as a backstop to your main target or filler with some kind of outer target (like cardboard).  In that case, all you would have to be worried about is finding your arrows.  But as far as damaging your broadhead, I’d say there’s a low-risk.

Cardboard Targets

A lot of us archers don’t live in a rural setting or have access to hay bales.  So when we start to think about possible ways to make targets the obvious choice is cardboard.

When it comes to making a target out of cardboard, the basic method is to stack pieces of cardboard against each other to make layers and then shoot at the thing.  The only question is: what side do you shoot at?  There are two basic options: shooting into the end-grain OR shooting flat side (across the grain).

If you choose to shoot at the end-grain of the cardboard you can expect a higher chance of bending or breaking one of your broadhead blades.  The reason is that the sheets of cardboard have been bound together tightly.  When you shoot the arrow at the target the blades have to split those layers apart and work against the force squeezing the layers together.  If the broadhead does not come to rest in a manner where the blades line up perfectly with the layers of cardboard, there will be a bending force applied to the blades that will cause them to break.  For this reason, it’s not recommended that you shoot at the end-grain of a stack of cardboard with fixed-blade broadheads.  For the same reason, it’s also not recommended that you shoot at the end-grain of a cardboard target with mechanical broadheads.

If, on the other hand, you decide to shoot at the flat side of the cardboard (across the grain) there will be some other problems for your broadheads.  It’s true that shooting at the flat side of a stack of cardboard makes a very dense target to shoot at.  However, the deeper the arrow penetrates into the layers of cardboard the more difficult it will be to pull your arrow out.  Those same layers that make it dense and a good arrow-stopper also make it difficult to pull the arrow out since the blades will get caught on the sheets of cardboard if they don’t line up with the cut channel.  If the blades don’t line up with the cut channel, there’s a higher risk of breaking one of the blades or damaging them when you pull your arrow out.  We can conclude that it’s best to shoot field points at cardboard targets and save your broadheads and some damage.

Sand targets

If you don’t have access to hay bales and you’re just all out of any cardboard boxes, the next most abundant material to make a target out of is simply a bunch of dirt or sand.  Unless you’re shooting at an indoor range you’re probably going to be shooting outdoors.  That means you’re going to have access to a lot of dirt.  It’s pretty easy to make a pile of dirt and shoot into it for target practice.  If you can find some cardboard boxes you can fill them up with some dirt and start shooting at them.  Your local hardware store or even your gas station may have pallets with sandbags for sale and those could be used to make a target.

While this might be a good idea and easy to do with field points, it’s not a great idea to use broadheads to shoot at dirt or sand.  The reason is that you will definitely dull, blunt or break your broadhead.  Depending on the type of dirt it could either be a mostly organic material, which is pretty soft, or it could be a mixture of sand and clay and organic material.  There’s no telling how many rocks, pebbles or bits of gravel might be in that pile of dirt.  Anyone of those could break your broadhead.

Sand is made up of silica and silica is much harder than the blades of your broadhead.  Every time you shoot the broadhead into the sand you’re dulling the blade and possibly going to chip or full-on break your broadhead.

So, because you don’t quite know what is in the dirt, and because silica is harder than the blades, it’s best to shoot at dirt and sand only with field points.

Foam Targets

Now we come to the best target option for shooting broadheads:  foam targets.  Foam can be moulded into any sort of shape and any kind of target you can imagine.  All you need is the right mould.  Foam can be manufactured to provide just the right amount of density and just the right amount of softness so that a broadhead does not break or become dull with the repeated shooting.

Nowadays, foam targets are readily available from most outdoors stores.  You can find plain old foam blocks and any number of 3D targets in the form of any kind of animal.  They can range in prices from $30 all the way up to $3,000.  I even found a 3D moose target for close to $4,000! 

The point is: foam targets are pretty readily available.

The only downside is the more you shoot at them with broadheads the shorter the lifespan of the target.  That’s simply because you’re cutting it up every time you shoot it with a broadhead.  So if you want to prolong the life of a foam target, it’s best to shoot it with field points.  But if you want to shoot your new broadheads to get a feel for how much they’ll drop and how they compare to your field points you can definitely use foam targets for this purpose without worrying about damaging or dulling the blades.

Related Topics

Steel Plates

This last one is really not a recommendation but only a suggestion if you want to give yourself a little more of a challenge and a little more gratification.  Nothing quite verifies a hit like the ringing “ping” sound when you strike a steel plate.  The best part is AR500 steel plates are very easy to find so they might be a good option to consider if you want to shoot steel targets with your bow. 

And it doesn’t have to be steel either.  Any metal plate that you can find that will provide that audible signal will do just fine.

You should absolutely not shoot steel plates with your broadheads … unless you are trying to break them.  Only ever shoot steel plates with field points.  And only those field points that you want to blunt. 

If you’re going to shoot steel plates with your bow and arrow at all, make sure you are a safe distance away and the steel plates can either swing or be knocked down on impact.  This will prevent any arrows bouncing off and coming back at you and causing any injury to you or anyone around you.

Peter Sontrop

I live in Alberta, Canada where I enjoy field archery and target shooting with traditional bows and compound bows. On this site, I share everything I’ve learned about archery along the way.

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