Some bowhunters prefer vinyl vanes; some like feathers.
Most professional and traditional archers believe feathers are definitely a little more forgiving, fly a little faster and are a bit more accurate than vanes.
Nevertheless, a majority of modern bowhunters choose vinyl or plastic vanes instead of feathers for other reasons.
I like vinyl vanes because the weather doesn't affect them. They don't collapse when they get wet, seem to be a bit more durable and last longer than feathers.
I really can't detect any noticeable difference in my shooting, whether I use vinyl or plastic, but I'm not a professional archer.
Until a couple years ago, many bowhunters used 3- and 4-inch-long vanes because the general belief was the longer the vane, the quicker the arrow would stabilize coming off the arrow rest.
Most bowhunter tournaments required longer vanes, but some tournaments no longer have minimum-vane length restrictions.
Today some of the newer vanes on the market are shorter, stiffer and by all accounts, stabilize faster and actually fly straighter than arrows with the older 3- and 4-inch vanes. Several N.C. archery pro dealers and pro-staff shooters claim this characteristic of shorter vanes is true.
Stiffness is the one attribute of the new shorter vanes that makes them better, said Rusty Moore of Gibsonville, a pro-staff shooter for BowTech bows.
The older vanes weren't as stiff. Subsequently, it was found these vanes tended to flutter or waffle during flight. However, the newer, shorter, stiffer vanes reduce arrow flutter.
The upshot, so to speak, of the lack of stiffness in older vanes allowed arrows to wobble more and longer while in flight, which contributed to larger shot groups and less accuracy. Obviously, shorter vanes should be an asset when it comes to accuracy.
"Less (vane length) is more," said Rodney Boggs, a pro-staff employee at Gander Mountain in Greensboro, when referring to comparative accuracy.
Shorter vane length also is better for arrow-rest clearance (when an arrow passes over a rest after being released). "Short" arrows with these vanes have a better chance of clearing an arrow rest cleanly without making contact.
Why is that important? Well, any contact with the arrow rest affects the attitude of the shaft as it clears the bow and subsequent straightness of the arrow's flight. The more contact vanes have with an arrow rest, the longer it takes for the arrow to stabilize, which affects not only accuracy but arrow speed.
(Editor's note: Some archery experts believe longer vanes or fletchings more quickly correct arrow wobble because of greater air resistance. The answer to the problem likely rests with a well-tuned bow and arrows - which means taking your bow to an archery shop where an expert can evaluate the problem.)
Short vanes also are somewhat lighter, so that increases arrow speed.
Currently, there are two popular brands of fletchings - Blazer vanes (on the market for about two years) and Quik-Spin vanes (introduced about a year ago).
Both have basically the same profiles and stiffness, but Quik-Spin vanes have a kicker strip on the left rear edge of the vane. This is a small strip of material that acts as a mini-fin that reacts with air contact to help the arrow rotate quicker and faster. The more spin an arrow has the more forgiving and less susceptible it will be to broadhead "planing."
(Editor's note: "Planing" is a problem for "fixed" broadheads, not mechanical tips that fly open at contact. Planing basically is the tendency of an arrow with fixed surfaces at the front and back, like an arrow with vanes and a broadhead at the tip, to try to steer itself from the front and back at the same time. Wild shots can occur unless the bow and the arrows are "tuned" properly.)
Blazer vanes sell for $8 to $10 for 36 vanes, enough to fletch a dozen arrows.
Quik-Spin vanes sell for about $20 for 36 vanes and are still available in 3- and 4-inch lengths for anyone who still prefers the longer ones.
Many archers also are using an arrow wrap, a vinyl strip of material with adhesive backing that comes in a variety of colors. Wraps are rolled onto the shaft just in front of the nock insert before vanes are glued onto them.
Some wraps have a light-reflective finish, which aids in locating lost arrows at night with a flashlight.
The many combinations of colors and graphic designs of wraps and vanes allows bowhunters to custom design and dress up their arrows to be immediately identified as their own.
Fletching glues used for attaching vanes to shafts also work better and hold longer when glued to vinyl wraps. A product named Glo-Wrap is available that already has Quik-Spin vanes glued to it. The product is a shrink-wrap tube that can be attached to the shaft by submerging it in hot water or with use of a hot-air hair drier. These would work well during a hunting trip when a quick fix is needed to repair fletchings.
Boggs said increasing numbers of bowhunters are fletching their own arrows.
However, it's recommended that when attaching vanes to a shaft, new vanes should not be affixed with any right or left helical offset. If anything, a slight straight-right offset should be used.
Boggs recommends the Bitzenburger FletchMaster single-stage fletching tool. It sells for about $70. Other brands of fletching jigs can be purchased with prices starting at $30.
Fletching one's own arrows involves a trial-and-error process, and there's a definite learning curve, Boggs said, to achieve desired results. But in the long run, the satisfaction of fletching arrows and knowing they've been attached correctly to shafts makes the hard work worth the effort.
Bowhunter tip: Vinyl vanes that lose their shape and become crooked or wavy from constant use or pulling through targets can be reshaped by dipping them in hot water or by using a hot-air hair blower on them. The vanes will return to their original shape.
Ramon Bell of Stokesdale is president of the N.C. Bowhunters Association and an official measurer for NCBA, Pope&Young and Boone and Crockett clubs. Check out www.ncbowhunter.com or contact him at 336-643-4455 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.