Even when you’ve decided which type of bow you’d like to use on your archery journey, there are many other variables you should consider before committing to the sport. A big part of what can make or break your success as an archer is the speed at which your arrow travels, which is particularly important if you intend on hunting game and/or shooting over long distances. This being said, what factors influence the speed at which an arrow travels? Let’s have a look at a few of the variables you should take into account when choosing a high-velocity arrow, and what exactly makes these arrows conducive to high-speed flight.
What Is the Average Speed of an Arrow?
Relatively speaking, arrows tend to travel pretty quickly, much faster than the naked eye can follow, but how fast are they on average? There isn’t really a baseline speed for an arrow as there are loads of variables one needs to account for in order to determine the average flight speed of any one arrow. Understanding the anatomy of an arrow and the function for each individual will allow you to understand how fast an arrow is capable of traveling, at least in theory.
Bow Draw Weight
Bow draw weight refers to the amount of effort it takes to draw your arrow back before releasing it. The force exerted on the drawstring is transferred to the arrow as potential energy which then becomes kinetic energy once the arrow starts moving. Therefore, the more effort it takes to pull the bowstring back the more energy will be transferred to the arrow.
The draw weight is essentially the resistance on the drawstring as it adds tension to the limbs of the bow. This compounding tension is transferred into energy and if the arrow is capable of handling it, will travel at an impressive speed. Modern bows have ways of implanting mechanical advantage to reduce the effort needed to draw the bowstring without sacrificing the amount of energy stored by the bow.
Bowstring Draw Length
One of the most common ways for you to increase the power of your shot is to alter the draw length of your bow. The longer your bowstring can be drawn back the more power you should be able to put into your arrow, which allows it to fly faster. There is a general rule of thumb that dictates for every inch of draw length you have on your bowstring; it should equate to around 10 FPS (feet per second) of arrow speed.
Thanks to advances in technology, we have far better materials available to us today than we’ve ever had before. Initially, the limbs of crossbows and conventional bows were made of wood, but these days we have materials like carbon fiber, plastic, aluminum, and carbon ceramic composites which are capable of storing loads of more energy while retaining their shape and bouncing right back into position.
Bow String Material
The bowstring you use is also really important to the speed at which your arrow travels. Back in the day archers used things like hair, sinew, silk, hide, and even vegetable fibers. These materials are great at transferring energy (and can leave a nasty mark if you’re hit by them). Modern bows use far better materials like Dacron string which is far more durable and is capable of transferring even more energy.
The material your bow is made of is extremely important when arrow speed is concerned. Again, the material’s ability to be bent out of shape, store energy, and then successfully transfer said energy into your arrow is extremely important. Wood used to be the go-to material as far as bows were concerned, but these days the body of a bow can be made out of carbon fiber, with the limbs being made of pretty much any material (or combination of materials) that allows them to function more effectively.
Average Arrow Speed of Different Bows
The speed of an arrow depends on the type of arrow being fired, over what distance the arrow is being fired, what type of fletching’s have been attached to the arrow, what the arrow is made of, and what type of bow the arrow is being fired from. This being said, let’s have a look at the different types of bows available to you and how they differ in arrow speed.
Traditional Bow (Longbow)
It’s not a secret that the longbow is the least powerful of all of the bow types. To be fair, the longbow is pretty much the first iteration of the bow and arrow, and as a result, most of them haven’t been upgraded or developed since the advent of recurve and compound bows. The speed of an arrow fired from a longbow tends to average around 165 to 170 FPS.
Compounds bows are by far the most powerful bow and arrow concept on the market. These bows use a series of cams to increase the potential energy stored while decreasing the amount of effort needed to draw the bowstring. This results in an explosive arrow speed of 300 FPS which is more than sufficient for any application including hunting and target archery.
Recurve bows are pretty much the only option you have if you’re not in the market for a compound bow but don’t want to lug around a longbow. They are more compact, generate more power, are typically made of more modern materials, and fire arrows faster than a longbow. The speed of an arrow fired from a recurve bow averages around 225 FPS.
Which Characteristics of an Arrow Affect Its Speed?
We’ve established that the bow you’re using is capable of producing a certain amount of energy, but the amount of energy it’s able to transfer is made redundant if the arrow you’re firing isn’t capable of harnessing it effectively. This being said, having a powerful bow isn’t enough you need an arrow capable of utilizing that kinetic energy, or in simpler terms, one that won’t soak up all of that energy but instead convert it into momentum. Here are a few things that will ensure you have the fastest possible arrow speed.
The physics of a projectile remains the same regardless of the means of propulsion (at least here on earth). In the case of a bow and arrow, you’re essentially flinging the arrow in your chosen direction. Therefore, the lighter the arrow, the further and faster it’s capable of traveling. Arrow weight is typically referred to by grain count, which is expressed in GPI (grains per inch).
GPI refers to the weight of the arrow shaft, and the diameter, length, and thickness of said shaft. Keep in mind that GPI does not include the arrowhead, nock, or fletching, therefore does not reflect the overall weight of a complete arrow. Arrow speed isn’t everything though, as a lighter arrow has less stopping power and therefore will not penetrate a target as effectively as a heavier arrow.
Type of Fletching
How fast does an arrow travel with different fletchings? As we mentioned previously, the physics of projectiles remain largely the same no matter the weapon. Arrows are simple, cylindrical projectiles that cut through the air and are capable of traveling at high speeds due to their shape. This is because their lean form provides little air resistance, and therefore anything that adds resistance to said arrow will slow it down while in motion.
Arrows usually have little “wings” at their back end called vanes or fletching that stabilize them along their flight path. The larger the fletching the more stable the flight of the arrow, but larger vanes create more air resistance, slowing the arrow down. However, even though smaller fletchings allow an arrow to travel faster, they won’t be as stable as those with larger fletchings attached.
How fast does an arrow travel in adverse weather? It might seem a bit obvious to mention but wind speed, rain, and even humidity can affect the speed your arrow travels at. If winds are strong enough, they can knock your arrow off its trajectory and decrease its overall speed. Humid environments make for denser air, which your arrow will have to work through and will end up reducing its speed.
Rain on the other hand has a downward effect on the trajectory of an arrow. Because rain falls toward the ground the droplets create downward pressure on an arrow in motion, which not only reduces its speed but can cause your arrow to nose plant over a long enough distance, especially if it’s a lightweight arrow.
How Do You Calculate Arrow Speed?
How do you calculate arrow speed? Arrow speed is something every archer ponders at some point or another, even if you only shoot recreationally. There are two ways to calculate arrow speed, the first being an arrow speed calculator which you can find online (or using an app) or you could use a chronograph, which tends to be the most realistic indicator of arrow speed.
Arrow Speed Calculator
Arrow speed calculators provide more of a theoretical answer when trying to determine arrow speed. All you need to do is enter information like your arrow’s IBO rating, your peak draw weight, the actual draw weight of your bow, the grain count of your arrow, and any additional weight present on your bow string while firing. By entering this information, you should get your arrow speed in FPS quickly, but again, this is more of an estimate.
A chronograph is arguably the most accurate way of determining the speed of a projectile. Considering that they’re usually used to determine the speed of bullets, you should be able to gauge how fast your arrow is quite easily. All that you need to do is set up your chronograph, line up your shot, and let your arrow fly. The chronograph will give you an extremely accurate readout of your arrow’s speed, and there are no calculations needed!
Now that you know why arrow speed is important, what characteristics of a bow affect the speed of an arrow, what characteristics of an arrow affect its own speed, and how to calculate the speed of an arrow, it’s time for you to get out there and put your newfound knowledge to the test. Remember that speed and stopping power aren’t always the same thing, and that good archers make equal use of both of these forces.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Fast Does a Compound Bow Shoot?
How fast does a compound bow shoot? Compound bows are capable of generating a lot of force thanks to their cam system and as a result, shoot arrows faster than any other type of bow and arrow. Compound bows are capable of firing arrows in excess of 300 FPS.
How Fast Does a Recurve Bow Shoot an Arrow?
Recurve bow arrow speed might not be the fastest of all the bow variations but it’s still pretty quick. Recurve bows rely on their limb curvature, bow material, and small size to make their power. The average recurve bow arrow speed can be in excess of 225 FPS in ideal conditions.
What Is the Average Speed of an Arrow?
The average speed of an arrow is completely subjective and therefore is difficult to say for sure. Different types of bows provide varying levels of force and different types of arrows travel at varying speeds. The more power provided by the bow and the lighter the arrow, the faster an arrow will travel.