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This is Why Arrows Have Different Colored Feathers


Whether it be for decoration or for purpose, arrows can have different colored feathers for several reasons. 

Colored feathers attached to the ends of arrows distinguish the index feather, which orients the arrow to shoot straight.  While two feathers are the same color, the index feather will be a different color.     

The feathers attached to arrows come in different colors, though the purpose of the index feather is for orientation. 

To find out more about why feathers are colored, where they are attached to the arrow, the difference between authentic feathers and plastic manufactured vanes, how it affects the shooting of the arrow, as well as other basic information, continue reading below.

Why are Feathers Colored?

The reason why feathers are colored is to distinguish the index feather.  Depending on how many feathers an arrow has, the index feather will be the odd different color.

In addition to distinguishing the index feather, colored feathers are used for different purposes such as:

  • To track the shooting arrow
  • To see where your arrow hit

Also, some archers prefer to use lighter-colored feathers when they are shooting in darker lighting.  This makes the arrow’s location visible as it is in the air or at the target. This is convenient for subtle hunting or minimal distractions.

Otherwise, using a light-colored feather can easily camouflage into a bright background.

On the other hand, you would want to use darker or bright neon colored feathers for visibility in the daylight. 

Using colored feathers also makes it easier for you to identify which arrows belong to you. 

If you are in a group at the range, you will be able to identify your arrows easier. This helps distinguish your arrows and make them easier to find.

What Does the Index Feather Do?

The purpose of the index feather is to guide the arrow on its airborne path.

The index feather on an arrow can be identified easily because it is the feather that is a different color. 

Even though the purpose of the index feather is not entirely clear, you use the index feather to position the arrowhead properly.

When you position the arrow correctly, this allows the arrow to shoot out straight. It’s important to properly position the arrowhead as to not skew the aerodynamics of your arrow—which could result in a faulty shot.

Also, the way you position the index arrow will depend on the type of bow you are using. 

For instance:

  • If you use a traditional longbow, the index feather should be pointed out towards the left. 
  • If you are using a compound bow, the index feather will be pointing straight up or straight down.

The reason why the index feather needs to be positioned properly on different types of bows is so that it does not make contact with the rest, when shooting the arrow.

If the index feather is not positioned correctly, the feather will touch the arrow rest and will throw off its trajectory.

How Many Feathers are on an Arrow?

Arrows can have three to four feathers.

For an arrow with three feathers:

  • Two feathers typically come in the same color while the third feather is a different color. 
  • The third feather is called an index feather and is titled at a certain angle.
  • The index feather (third feather) is used to help the arrow shoot accurately and straight.  It gives the shooter a clearer image of their shot without the worry of torque skewing their image.

The reason why the index feather is at an angle is so that it does not make contact and hit the shelf when you draw the arrow. 

For an arrow that has four feathers, the feathers are balanced out and symmetrical which does not affect the orientation of the arrow the way that having three feathers on an arrow would. 

It is usually easier to use an arrow with four feathers because it will not make contact with the shelf when shooting the arrow.

Which Feathers are Better to Use?

Traditionally, the feathers used on arrows are turkey feathers or goose feathers.  Nowadays, however, there are also feathers made out of synthetic materials like plastic.

Natural feathers are recommended as opposed to plastic feathers.

  • A natural feather will have a less impact when you shoot an arrow because it is softer as it shoots over the arrow rest.
  • Plastic feathers are sturdier and will make contact with the arrow shelf and likely affect the trajectory of your arrow.

However, because of the manufacturing process, natural feathers can be costly.  Whereas, plastic feathers (or vanes) can be manufactured in bulk and at a lower cost.

Natural feathers are more expensive because they need to be prepared and trimmed to the proper shape before gluing them to the arrow.

Each feather on the arrow should have an identical shape so that it does not affect the draw of the arrow due to minuscule changes in the aerodynamics.

What Part of an Arrow is the Feathers Attached?

Feathers, also called fletching, are attached to the back end of the arrow across from the arrowhead.

If you don’t already know, an arrow is made up a few simple parts:

  • The front part, where the arrow head is attached to
  • The middle part, called the shaft
  • The end, where the feathers or fletching’s are attached

Although arrows appear similar, they vary in weight and length and are manufactured with different materials. 

Also, arrows can be made out of different materials, used for certain types of bows and are used for different purposes such as for hunting or just target practice.

What is Fletching?

In addition to understanding the purpose of why feathers are colored and the parts of an arrow, it is important to learn some of the terminology. 

Because an arrow faces many forces in its trajectory like air turbulence, drag, and air resistance, it’s important to understand that—like airplanes, an arrow needs multiple ways of combatting these forces.

Feathers or plastic vanes are known as a fletching. The fletching acts as stabilizers so that the arrow can shoot straight and in the direction that you aim towards rather than spinning out of path, or taking on a curve.

  • The term used to identify where the feathers are attached to an arrow is called fletching. 
  • The fletching part of the arrow is what allows the arrow to shoot straight and in the direction of the intended target.

Fletching acts like small fins or airfoils during the arrow’s flight which help cut through any turbulent flow in the air. 

They are designed to keep the arrow pointing in the direction of travel by dampening the forces due to pitch or yaw.

Fletchings are traditionally made from feathers often from a goose or turkey but are now more commonly made from plastic.

Do All Arrows have Fletching?

Most arrows are manufactured with feathers or a plastic vane fletching.  However, an arrow does not need to have fletching.

But just like a plane, rocket, or any aircraft, the stability and efficiency of an arrow are significantly improved with fletching.

Arrows with fletching will shoot and hit the target with more accuracy.

If you shoot an arrow without fletching, your arrow will:

  • Not have stability
  • Will be spinning and possibly fishtail out of control due to the forces of air acting on it

Nonetheless, if you decide to shoot an arrow without fletching, it is best to shoot a target that is closer.  You can also use them for practice or training.

Just remember that fletching is best for arrows that fly at a faster rate and a further distance.

Additional Information About Feathers, Arrows, Bows, and Archery

As a beginner, there is a vast amount of information still to learn about fletching, arrows, bows and archery.

Natural feathers are classic fletching and are more expensive than plastic vanes.  However, a natural feather works better with your bow because it is softer and will create less friction as it shoots over the arrow rest.

Different arrowheads are also manufactured for practicing or hunting. They are also different types of arrowheads used for beginners and young children.

Just like fletching can be made with natural feathers or plastic vanes, arrows are also made from different materials such as:

  • Wood
  • Bamboo
  • Carbon
  • Aluminum

When you think of a bow, you might picture a traditional classic longbow or a recurve bow.  If you have some knowledge, you will also be familiar with a compound bow. 

However, there are many other types of traditional and modern types of bows available.  And, it is good to learn the type of arrow and fletching that will work more efficiently with the bow of your choice.

Is There Anything Else I Should Know?

As a novice in the sport of archery, there is only so much to discuss about colored feathers, fletching and the parts of an arrow.

Additionally, while it is beneficial to understand the types of fletching material and which is best used for better trajectory, it is also good to know that different arrowheads are also used for different targets.

Therefore, if you choose to have natural feather fletching on your bow to enhance your shot, you will also want to use efficient arrowheads.

Customizing your bow with an efficient combination of good fletching and an arrowhead on your arrow will make you a better shot.

Type of Arrowheads

In archery, there are different types of arrowheads designated for specific purposes such as:

  • Serrated arrowheads
  • Blunt arrowheads
  • Target arrowheads
  • Broadhead arrows
  • Field point arrows

For target practicing, you might want to use target arrowheads.  These arrowheads will not get stuck in the target and are typically used by beginners who are learning how to use a bow properly.  Plus, if you have bright neon fletching on your arrow, you will be able to identify where your arrow hit the target. 

For hunting, you might want to use a serrated or a broadhead arrowhead because it is easier to hit your target.  It is worth mentioning that a broadhead arrow should only be used for hunting.

A Few Things to Remember

Whatever way you want to customize the fletching on your arrow, remember that the purpose of the odd colored one is meant to position your arrow correctly.

Feathers are colored to help you distinguish the index feather which needs to be positioned correctly.

The index feather will be positioned differently for a traditional bow and a compound bow.

Remember that fletching is either natural feathers or plastic vanes.

If you prefer to use natural feathers, they are softer and will not make much contact with the arrow rest when shooting. On the other hand, plastic vanes will make contact with the rest and can throw off your shot.

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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