The History of the Broadhead

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Do You Bow Hunt?

Mechanical broadheads are a new thing, right? Nobody hunts with flint arrowheads anymore, do they? Take a look -- chances are there's a whole lot you don't know about the history of the broadhead.

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Flint Arrowheads

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1 | Flint Arrowheads

Ancient man used nothing more than a sharpened stick to collect his dinner, but soon learned that adding a sharp piece of flint to the business end of his missiles would make them more deadly.

Many primitive archers still use hand-chipped arrowheads while bowhunting (where legal), an example shown at top, one of a dozen flint-tipped arrows with which the author has tagged wild boar and whitetail.

Trade Points

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2 | Trade Points

With the arrival of Europeans to the New World, Native Americans discovered iron, first in “trade points” used in bartering for furs and similar wilderness commodities. Steel trade points, like the examples shown here, were more reliable and allowed arrowheads to be resharpened and used again.

Barbed Broadheads

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3 | Barbed Broadheads

Barbed points were standard issue when bowhunting was still in its infancy. Many early bowhunters wanted arrows to stay in the animal after a hit to inflict more damage. With increased insight, barbed heads would eventually become illegal, as today we understand if an arrow can be extracted, an animal is more likely to survive an accidental flesh wound. 

Parallel-tubing Ferrules

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4 | Parallel-tubing Ferrules

Nearly all early broadheads used parallel-tubing ferrules. A straight-walled wooden shaft simply slipped into the straight-walled broadhead socket. Arthur Pope and Saxton Young hunted with such heads. Many of these designs were fashioned by melting the lead core from a .35-caliber bullet, cutting a slot in the tip and dip-soldering the blade into place.

Multiple Blades

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5 | Multiple Blades

Bowhunters have long understood broadheads kill through hemorrhaging and not shock. In an effort to produce more cutting action, producing a quicker kill and wider blood trails, many early bowhunters began to add additional cutting surfaces to broadheads. 

Vented Blades

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6 | Vented Blades

As bows began to spit out ever-faster arrows, archers discovered that bane of bowhunters the world over: wind planing. The easy solution was creating vents through broadhead blades to ease the pressure passing air had on blade surfaces. 

Bleeder Blades

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7 | Bleeder Blades

Early broadhead makers discovered punching a wedge of metal from the ferrule wall and bending it 90 degrees created an effective bleeder blade without added finished weight. Cliff Zwickey was one of the first to fashion such bleeders, dubbing it Eskimo due to the native culture’s custom of putting small cross pieces of sharpened bone through their arrowheads to create a crosscut. 

Three-blades

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8 | Three-blades

Another method bowhunters soon discovered for producing wider wound channels, while maintaining super flight characteristics, was in the three-blade design. The triangle cross section is super strong and less prone to wind-planing. 

Replaceable Bleeder Blade

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9 | Replaceable Bleeder Blade

Fred Bear brought us the replaceable bleeder blade, a concept he worked on as early as 1952 and didn’t perfect until introducing the 1956 Razorhead. Fixed bleeder-blade designs can be tricky to sharpen. Bear’s replaceable design allowed adding a razor-sharp blade in seconds. The design is still favored by many for a combination of deep penetration and wider blood trails.

Early Replacement Blades

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10 | Early Replacement Blades

It didn’t take long for bowhunters to understand the advantages of instantly replaceable broadhead blades. Richard Maleski changed the face of bowhunting with his 1972 Wasp broadhead (far left front), followed quickly by the 1972 Missile Spike, 1975 Dawson Trophy, 1979 Saber Spike and in the 1980s the New Archery Products’ Thunderhead 180 and 160 and Muzzy Matador I and II. Shown in the background are a scattering of modern replaceable-blade broadheads bowhunters enjoy today as a result of these broadhead pioneers.

First Mechanical Broadheads

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11 | First Mechanical Broadheads

Think the mechanical broadhead is a recent development? Archers had been experimenting with expanding broadhead blades for decades before Greg Johnson brought us the first Rocket Aeroheads in the late 1980s. Just a few of the early attempts at creating wider wound channels include, left to right front; 1956 Mohawk (in open position), 1959 Geronimo (open), 1972 Pioneer Game Tamer (a.k.a. Pizza Cutter) and 1983 Viper. Top, left to right, are modern versions of the mechanical broadhead, including Rage 125, Steel Force SOB, Swacker and Rocket Sidewinder.

Synthetic Broadhead Materials

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12 | Synthetic Broadhead Materials

Nylon and plastics were a wondrous development in the 1950s, so it’s no wonder many manufacturers attempted to use these space-age materials in broadhead ferrules. Most of these designs proved remarkably popular in their day, but eventually faded away for obvious reasons, though manufactures have more recently used plastics with varying results. 

Molded Broadheads

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13 | Molded Broadheads

In the times we live in MIM (Metal Injection Molded) parts and broadheads are considered cutting-edge bowhunting gear. G5 Outdoors' Montec (rear left) and New Archery Products’ Crossfire (rear right) are made with this modern manufacturing method. Molded broadheads are nothing new, though the technology and materials have certainly improved. Molded heads of old include (left to right front) the 1949 Hager’s (magnesium), 1953 Ply-Flex (aluminum), 1954 Roper’s Indian Arrowhead (aluminum) and 1955 Aztec (copper-beryllium).

"Apple Coring" Broadheads

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14 | "Apple Coring" Broadheads

The “apple-coring” concept is still being explored. These designs hold a circular cutting ring intended to punch a blood-letting plug from an animal’s side – granted your bow produces enough energy to shove the ring through your target. The ring also has the ability to stabilize arrows in flight. Like just about anything else in regards to broadhead design the idea has been visited in the past as early as the 1950s.

Ultra-light Broadheads

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15 | Ultra-light Broadheads

Bowhunters have long obsessed with speed. This is why very small and extremely lightweight broadheads have always been with us and continue to hold a firm market share today.

Wide Cutting Diameter

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16 | Wide Cutting Diameter

At the opposite end of the spectrum are those looking for the biggest cutting width available. This makes a lot of sense when bowhunting around wet, dense vegetation, or with fat-laden, thick-furred bears at close range.

Specialty Points

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17 | Specialty Points

Shooting a bow has long been about having fun, meaning not all arrowheads are made for the dispatch of big game. Here are some unique arrow tips to ponder, left to right: A 1960s shotgun head designed to load with shot and wad and shoot flying birds with flu-flu arrows. A 1950s archery golf head includes a nail secured through a standard field point, designed to stick into grass turf when shot from low-poundage bows. Black Copperhead’s 1963 Shocker is one of the first specifically designed as a better small-game option. The 1959 Kittredge Frog tip allowed archers to gig frogs in watery environments. Finally, this 1960s Zwickey Judo Point changed the face of small-game and stump shooting.

The Thunderhead

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18 | The Thunderhead

Since its conception during the early 1980s New Archery Products’ (NAP) Thunderhead has likely surpassed Fred Bear’s Razorhead as the world’s killingest broadhead. It has remained in high demand since it first hit the market, and is a bowhunting standby to this day. It has evolved with the times, first becoming smaller, then adopting new technology to make it fly straighter at high speeds and do its job better on impact.

Spitfires

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19 | Spitfires

The Spitfire holds blades in place during flight with retaining clips instead of bands or O-rings. Like the Thunderhead, the Spitfire has undergone many revisions, making it better with continued engineering input.

Muzzy Broadheads

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20 | Muzzy Broadheads

Muzzy quickly gained a loyal bowhunting following by providing a bullet-proof, deep-driving replaceable-blade design that’ll stand up to severe punishment. This is made possible through a blade design that interlocks inside the ferrule body, held in place by a cutting trocar tip.

Modern Mechanical Broadheads

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21 | Modern Mechanical Broadheads

Mechanical broadheads have come a long way since even their renaissance in the early 1990s. Some have used rubber bands and o-rings to hold blades closed in flight, but other mechanisms, from plunger tips to scissoring designs to blade-retaining clips to rear-deploying designs to cam leverage (such as the Swacker) have all been popular at one time or another — and effective on game.

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