Parts Of An Arrow Explained

Written By Shawn Lentz 

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When you really dig into the anatomy of an arrow, there is a lot more going on than many folks realize. Each part of an arrow has a specific job and comes in a vast array of sizes, weights, colors, and materials.

These components work together to create a lethal delivery system that, God-willing, helps fill your freezer with lean, organic meat for the year.

We break down and identify five parts of an arrow and tell you a little bit about each to help you gain a better understanding of each part's role.

Parts Of An Arrow Diagram

Parts Of An Arrow Diagram

1. The Arrow Shaft

Arrow Shafts

The arrow shaft makes up the majority of the arrow itself. Historically made of wood, the arrow shafts of modern hunting arrows are also made of fiberglass, carbon fiber, aluminum, or a combination of carbon and aluminum.

Traditional archery hunters still use wood, but wood hunting arrows are not recommended for compound bows' faster speeds. Instead, lightweight aluminum or carbon arrows are better choices when using a compound bow with cams and cables. 

Regardless of the materials, the arrow spine is a vital attribute to note when considering an arrow shaft. The arrow spine is how much an arrow flexes or bends.

Knowing which spine rating to go with is dependent on three numbers: your draw weight, the arrow shaft length, and the arrow tip weight.

Matching up the arrow spine to your exact hunting set-up directly impacts the accuracy of your shots.

The type of material for your arrow shaft and the spine of the arrow will largely be determined by the type of bow you will be shooting.

Click here to learn more about compound bow vs recurve.

2. The Insert

arrow insert

Inserts are what enable the arrow point to attach to the arrow shafts. The inserts are usually glued inside the arrow shaft once they are cut to the appropriate length.

Inserts feature threads that the arrow tip screws into, creating a solid fit.

Most inserts have a visible edge, or lip, that abuts against the end of the arrow shaft. Like Easton's Full Metal Jacket, others feature hidden insert technology (HIT).

HIT inserts are seated completely inside the shaft, showing no visible parts.

Not all arrows use inserts. Wooden arrows for instance, do not use inserts. The point slips over the wooden shaft.

For this reason, some articles will talk about the 4 parts of an arrow.

3. The Arrow Fletching Or Vanes

Arrow Fletching

Arrow fletching or vanes cause the arrow to spin while in flight. Like the spin on a football, it stabilizes the arrow while maintaining speed and accuracy.

Therefore the job of the fletching is to correct an arrow's flight. Without it, the arrow won't stay in its flight path and will simply kick off to the side. So it's doubtful the arrow will shoot accurately beyond about 10 yards.

Arrows are usually fletched with three or more vanes, with three being the current standard. This critical feature of an arrow is made from different materials, including feathers and plastic.


Feather Fletching

Feathers are the quintessential historical fletching material and are the choice for hunters using trad gear like recurves and longbows. The reason isn't purely for nostalgia, though – it is also functional.

Feather's lay flat. Plastic vanes do not. So, arrows won't be impeded when shooting recurve bows "off the shelf" or off the top of their hand. This is an important feature of feathers since rigid plastic vanes can deflect off the hand or riser resulting in inaccurate shots.

For this reason, we suggest using feathers if you are not using an elevated rest. An elevated arrow rest will ensure your feather fletches clear the riser.

Click here for a guide to the best drop away arrow rest.

Traditional fletches are usually made from turkey pointer feathers. Because of the natural curvature, these are considered the ideal feathers to use. That's a bonus for turkey hunters!

The downside to using feathers for fletching is that they become wet and distorted when deer hunting in the rain

For this reason, most bowhunters use plastic fletching.

Let's have a look.


Plastic Fletching

Typically called vanes, plastic fletches are made from soft plastic or vinyl. They come in various sizes, colors, flexibilities, and profiles. Plastic is by far the dominant material used to fletch the modern hunting arrow.

The two main shapes of plastic vanes are parabolic cut and shield cut.

Vanes can be used effectively on aluminum arrows, wooden arrows, and carbon arrows.

Blazer Vanes

blazer vanes

Blazer vanes have become the unofficial standard for compound bow hunting. Due to their shortened length and high profile, the blazer vanes correct the arrow more quickly than parabolic or shield cut vanes.

This is a significant advantage when hunting since outdoor conditions will be variable, not to mention the effect of air drag on broadheads.

Blazer vanes are most commonly seen on a carbon hunting arrows.

4. The Nock

Arrow Nock

Nocks make up about the last 3/4 inch of the arrow's rear end and include a slotted plastic tip. They make attaching your arrow to the bowstring possible. Not only do they connect the arrow to the string, but they must do so with the right amount of tension.

If the string sits in the throat of the nock too tightly, it will affect your accuracy. If the nock fit is too loose, this will also create accuracy problems or cause the arrow to fall off the string altogether, which could result in dry firing a bow.

The notch (known as the mouth and throat) that the bowstring fits into should be oriented, so the odd fletch or cock feather is up when your arrow is "nocked."

It's easy enough to twist the push-in style nock into the correct orientation with pliers or a multi-tool. Unfortunately, you can’t turn glue-on style nocks, so you'll need to make sure to fletch the shafts appropriately.

In recent years, lighted nocks have become very popular on the modern hunting arrow, making it easier to locate your arrow after a shot, especially if you're hunting in heavy brush.

Nocks come in two general styles - regular nocks and lighted nocks.

Regular Arrow Nocks

Regular arrow nocks are made from plastic, wood, and even bone. Nocks are available in a variety of different colors and most simply push into the back of the arrow.

For traditional archery hunters, there are also glue-on nocks made for wood or bamboo arrows. A strong adhesive like epoxy is typically used to attach these styles of nocks.

There is a nock to fit every arrow shaft and bowstring diameter! So, make sure to buy the correct ones for your set-up to insure less sound from the bowstring.

Typically, nocks already come inserted into the arrows you will purchase. But an archery shop can help if you need replacements or if the pre-inserted nocks don't fit correctly.

If nocks don’t fit right, you can either get new nocks or adjust the string serving size.

If you are shooting a compound bow with a bow release, we recommend using a D-loop on the bowstring to avoid damaging the nock with the release aid.

Lighted Arrow Nocks

lighted nock

Lighted arrow nocks have become a favorite among bowhunters. Not only do they look cool in flight, but they really help in locating your arrow after the shot.

Of course, if you end up shooting your arrow into super thick blackberry or salal, nothing is going to help you. But in most typical cases, the high-visibility light beaming off the end of your arrow is going to be very beneficial.

Lighted nocks such as Lumenok lighted nocks have a replaceable battery. You use other brands like Nockturnal until they burn out, then replace the whole nock.

5. The Arrow Point

The arrow point is the business end of the arrow and will have varying characteristics depending on what you're hunting. What you'll come to know is that arrow points will fly differently from one to the next. The most significant difference is usually seen between field points and broadheads since these two are shot at the greatest distance.

Before the invention of modern bow sights, the arrow point was used to aim the arrow at the target.

Arrow points come in various weights and styles within each category of point-type. Whether they're for target practice or small game hunting, most arrow tips screw into the arrow shaft.

Below are the five main types.

Field Points

Field Points

Hunters, myself included, have been known to use them for some small game, but field points are mainly used for target practice.

Some field points are rounded like a small-caliber bullet, while others are more contoured. But, no matter the slight differences in shape, field points are highly aerodynamic. 

The lack of protruding blades makes arrows easier to pull out of targets. Not having blades also keeps arrows from going through targets not designed to handle sharp points like broadheads.


Broadheads are the go-to hunting arrow tip for anything bigger than a grouse or cottontail. They come in two, three, and four-blade configurations and different cutting diameters.

They also come in broadheads for recurve bows, compound bows and crossbow broadheads.

The two main categories of broadheads are fixed-blade and mechanical styles. Both styles come in weights of 100-grain or 125-grain.

Fixed-Blade Broadheads

fixed blade broadhead

Fixed-blade broadheads have blades that are stationary or "fixed" in place. Fixed-blade broadheads come in one-piece and removable blade designs.

One-piece designs are constructed from a single piece of metal and are extremely strong. They will usually cut through tissue and smash through rib cages without suffering warping or damage. However, with one-piece broadheads, you'll constantly have to sharpen the blades.

With a removable blade design, the hunter will have to assemble the razor-sharp blades onto the ferrule and lock them into place with a collar. But once they are locked in, the blades are immovable.

These broadheads are convenient because once you’ve dulled out the blades, you can replace them. No sharpening is required.

We consider fixed-blade broadheads the strongest, no-fail style of broadhead for deer hunting. Strongly consider using fixed-blade broadheads on larger game like moose, buffalo, and grizzly bear to avert wounding and losing an animal.

Some would also include elk as a game animal to be hunted with fixed-blades. However, mechanical broadheads definitely perform. Speaking from experience, they are very deadly on elk.

The cutting diameter of a fixed-blade broadhead is typically in the 1 1/4 inch to 1 1/2 inch range.

Mechanical Broadheads

mechanical broadhead

Since their inception, mechanical broadheads have come a long way in their design and strength. But unfortunately, there is still a degree of distrust in them, depending on who you talk to. But the pros of using them are hard to deny.

The fact you don't have to tune them like fixed-blade broadheads is a major advantage. The blades are folded in on the ferrule and spring open on impact.

This feature means mechanicals fly close to how your field points fly. So, time on the range can be spent shooting and not going through the tedious process of dialing in your arrows for hunting season.

Another bonus is the increased cutting diameter - up to 2 3/8 inches. A cut that large means better blood trails and, theoretically, easier tracking.

Click here for a guide to the best broadheads (fixed blade and mechanical).

Blunt Points

Blunt Point

Blunt arrow points are made for hunting small game like rabbit, grouse, squirrels, and such. They are made from rubber, plastic, or steel and come in weights of 100 grains, 125 grains, and 145 grains.

Cylindrically shaped or flared out with a flat end, blunt points kill by shock instead of hemorrhaging like broadheads.

Depending on the type of arrows used, a small game hunter can attach blunt points to the arrow shaft as a screw-in, glue-on, or slip-over.

Judo Points

Judo Point

Judo points, like blunt points, can be used for small game hunting or stump shooting. One of the great things about judo points is the little wire springs attached to the arrow point.

These wires act like little hooks that grab vegetation, so your arrow doesn't disappear into the brush after the shot. They also help keep the judo arrow point from sticking into trees.

Judo points screw in like a field point or broadhead and typically come in 100-grain or 125-grain weights.

Fish Points

Fish Point

Made of steel and featuring a strong barb, fish points are designed specifically to penetrate, then hold the fish while you reel it in.

The tip is unscrewed on entry-level fish points to take off the barbs and release the fish. Other more sophisticated points fold the barbs down by turning the tip counter-clockwise. You can then pull the fish off your arrow.

Consider a higher-end fish point when bowfishing waters with a lot of rock, stumps, or otherwise hard surfaces.

Final Thoughts

Whew! See what I mean? There's a lot to consider from the arrow nock to the arrow tip when determining the best arrows for your hunting set-up. 

Be it aluminum shafts or wood arrows, lighted nocks, or feathers for fletching, your arrows must be assembled and tuned to your particular bow set-up to perform correctly. Making clean, ethical shots on game depends on it. 

We hope this guide gave you a better understanding of the five parts of an arrow. 

RELATED: Proper Archery Form

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the four parts of an arrow?

A: The four parts of an arrow are the shaft, the nock, the fletching and the point. Modern arrows use an insert for fastening the point to the shaft, so modern arrows have 5 parts.

What is the difference between crossbow bolts and arrows?

A: The difference between crossbow bolts and arrows is the length and the diameter. Crossbow bolts are shorter and have a larger diameter than regular arrows. The larger diameter is to increase the spine, or strength of the arrow to accommodate the greater power of the different types of crossbows. Because of this greater power, crossbow bolts shoot much faster and farther than arrows. Click here to learn more about crossbow vs compound bow and How To Shoot A Crossbow.

RELATED: Best Crossbow

How do archers carry arrows?

A: Archers carry arrows in a quiver. Quivers can be bow mounted, hip quivers and back quivers. The quiver that the archer chooses will depend on how they carry the bow.

How do archers store arrows?

A: Archers store arrows in a quiver, or in a bow case with their bow.

Are arrows the same for left and right handed bows?

Yes, arrows are the same for left and right handed bows. The difference lies in which side of the riser the arrow rest is on. So the arrows will be shot from the left side of a right handed bow and the right side of a left handed bow. Click here to learn more a left or right handed bows.

See Also: Can A Felon Own A Bow And Arrows?

Photo of author

Shawn Lentz

Shawn Lentz is a freelance outdoor writer, avid bowhunter, and fish hatchery specialist with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. He regularly writes for online and print publications such as, Wide Open Spaces, Fair Chase Magazine, Stone Road Media, and more. For more info go to

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