Indoor target season is right around the corner, and now is the time to start thinking about your setup for the coming leagues and competitions.
When it comes to arrows for compound archers, fat is definitely the preferred way to go. Large-diameter arrows will help you pick up points on shots that are less than perfect. They occupy more area on the target, which means they’ve got the best chance at cutting lines that make up the scoring rings. And all you have to do is touch the very outside of a scoring ring to collect the points awarded by that ring.
But those fat arrows tend to be pretty stiff and not very aerodynamic. You want to get them spinning as soon as possible when they leave the bow so they travel in a perfect line to the target. And that’s why fletching choice for indoor arrows is critical.
The purpose of fletching is to steer your arrow. With big, indoor arrows, you want fletchings that will quickly correct imperfect flight caused by flaws in your form or in tuning. You want them to cause the arrow to spin fast, which keeps the arrow on the correct path to the target.
Think about the flight of a football tossed by the quarterback. Typically, the best passes are those where the ball flies in a perfect spiral. That spin keeps the ball on the line the quarterback sent it. For indoor compound target archery, we want lots of spin.
Before we talk about fletchings, let’s talk about the arrows we are putting them on for indoor archery. For tournaments and leagues that adhere to World Archery and USA Archery rules, the maximum outside diameter allowed is 23/64 inch. NFAA and other organizations allow arrows up to 27/64 inch. Fletching solutions for both arrows are going to be similar, although it’s not uncommon to see the most extreme options on the 27/64 arrows.
Weather is not a factor indoors, so either plastic vanes or feathers are good choices. There was a time when everyone shot feathers over plastic for indoor arrows, but that was before vane construction evolved. Today, there is far more variety in vanes — soft, rigid, tall, short — than there used to be, and so more indoor target archers are choosing vanes over feathers for their increased durability. Feathers are feathers. The only real variation is in length and shape.
Think big when you are choosing a fletching for your indoor arrows. Big fletchings provide the best steering, and so 4- and 5-inch fletchings are common on indoor shooting lines. You can go a little shorter — say 3 to 4 inches — if you opt to build a four-fletch arrow as opposed to having three fletchings. The four shorter fletchings will steer your arrow just as well as three longer ones.
Soft vanes are forgiving, while stiff ones steer quickly. Choose soft if you want to run a long vane at a harsh offset/helical, like 4 or 5 degrees. An offset pitches the fletching at an angle left or right of center down the shaft and helical curves the fletching. Both induce spin.
A long vane fletched at 4 or 5 degrees with helical has to be able to bend. Soft vanes bend better than stiff ones. Then again, a rigid vane doesn’t need as much offset/helical to steer an arrow.
While we are on the subject, let’s talk about offset and helical fletching. You want to fletch your shafts to promote spin in the direction the arrow naturally wants to spin coming off the bow. That’s how you get your arrow spinning as soon as possible on every shot.
Take one of your indoor shafts with no fletchings on it. Nock it and draw a short line down the center of the arrow at the nock end. Stand about 10 feet in front of a target and shoot the bare shaft. At the target, look at the line to see which way the arrow turned without any fletching. If the line is left of its center position, the arrow spins counterclockwise. If it’s to the right, the arrow spins clockwise.
Fletch with a left offset/helical to promote counterclockwise spinning. Fletch with a right offset/helical to promote clockwise spinning.
How much offset/helical you use is up to you to determine through experimentation. For indoor, I wouldn’t go less than 3 degrees whether your fletching is soft or stiff. The standard indoor round is shot at 20 yards, which isn’t far. The arrow needs to get spinning and on course in a very short space. The amount of offset/helical you fletch with dictates that steering. Play around with different setups to see which provides the most accurate results.
Should your fletchings be tall or short? Tall fletchings offer the best steering. You can reduce the height some if you go with a longer vane, although you don’t want fletching that’s super low profile. But if you choose a shorter fletching — like 3 inches — try to get one with a nice, tall profile to make up for the lack of fletching length.
When you pick out fletchings for indoor target archery, don’t think like a bowhunter. Noise is irrelevant and there is no wind, so don’t worry about fletchings prone to create drag. Also, arrow speed is nearly irrelevant since you’re shooting indoors at only 20 yards. So don’t worry about fletchings that might slow down your arrow. You want some speed for forgiveness, but pinpoint accuracy is most important.