Have you ever looked at arrows and wondered why they have three feathers? Three feathers have become the standard sold at most stores, and you may wonder about the purpose behind them.
Why do arrows have 3 feathers? The three feathers on the arrow stabilize it aerodynamically and impart a natural spin on the arrow. This allows it to fly straight and hit the target accurately. Feathers on the arrow help it to speed past launch errors because the slight drag would cause it to fishtail.
Would you like to learn more about the three feathers on an arrow? Keep reading because I will show you the key purpose behind this design.
Three Feathers: The Minimum Needed to Stabilize the Arrow
We may have settled on three feathers because of how most people see that as the minimum to stabilize the arrow. You could put four feathers on an arrow, but many archers find it unnecessary. If you’d like to learn more about what happens when you put four feathers on an arrow, check out my article, “Are 3 or 4 Fletch Arrows Better?”
To sum it up, four-fletch arrows are often seen as unnecessary because three does the trick without the need for four. How many feathers you use may depend on the preference of the person, but an estimated 80 percent of archers would prefer the three-fletch arrows over the four-fletch arrows.
What Happens When You Add Three Feathers?
The three feathers on the arrow will add to the drag of the arrow. Especially for long-range shots, the arrow will stabilize better and have improved accuracy. The one downside to drag is that it does slow down the arrow. For example, if you shoot a four-fletch arrow, it will hurt the fps by 2 to 3 fps.
Three feathers have become the universal standard because people see it as the minimum needed. Many don’t find the slight advantage from four-fletch arrows worth it, which has made three feathers more common. You do find that hunters will often use four-fletch arrows, but it isn’t necessary.
Three Feathers? It Depends on the Application…
The use of three feathers on the arrow has the most versatility to where you could use it for almost everything. However, some people say that two-feather arrows would make more sense in cases where you shoot for short distances. The arrow will stabilize better in cases like this, but it won’t prove much help over long distances.
The Plains’ Indians were known to shoot two-feather arrows. Two-fletch arrows have greater issues, however, in that they will fishtail more commonly. Want to know why your arrows seem to be hitting the target from an angle? Check out the article that I wrote here about why my arrows hit the target from an angle.
Many archers don’t see the need for four-feather arrows and two-feather arrows will only work for short distances. For the best adaptability, three feathers work for almost everything.
How the Wind Resistance Works
Previously, I spoke about drag and wind resistance. The feathers on the arrow create wind resistance that will keep the arrow from fishtailing. Let’s say that the back end of the arrow starts to swing-out. The three feathers on the arrow will drag it back into a straight direction to hit its target accurately.
This works similar to what you would have with an airplane. Most planes will have a large vertical stabilizer in the back. It sits behind the center of gravity and keeps the plane pointed in the right direction.
You may also notice how the manufacturer makes the arrows so that the fletching attaches at a slight angle. The angle on the fletching helps to put a spin on the arrow to create a projectile motion. Basically, they have three feathers on the arrows because this best helps the arrow to offset the wind.
You can learn more about the physics of archery here:
Should You Use an Arrow with Three Feathers?
I would recommend that you start with arrows that use three feathers, but you may want to experiment with four-feather arrows or even two-feather arrows once you get better with archery. Ask around and you may learn how many archers have different opinions of this.
Usually, only hunters will use arrows with four feathers, but you can use this in target practice to distinguish your arrows more easily. In many ways, we find everything but the three-feather arrows to be excessive, but it can come in handy.
How Many Feathers Does an Arrow Need?
At a minimum, your arrows will require two feathers to function, but most archers choose the three-feather arrow. You could also choose a four-feather arrow, which they commonly use for hunting. These three choices are the only feather configurations that you can choose with an arrow.
What are the Best Feathers for Arrows?
Wild turkey feathers make for some of the best fletchings on arrows. Notice how we said wild turkey feathers.
Domesticated turkeys don’t have the same sturdiness and water resistance. Wild turkey feathers will remain untreated, which helps them to retain their oils. Many manufacturers choose to use turkey feathers for their arrows.
Some archers prefer Canadian goose feathers because they hold up better when wet. The only downside comes from how they don’t look as good during flight as turkey feathers. Goose feathers along a riverway can prove much easier to find than going out into nature to hunt for wild turkey feathers.
Many people also say that they don’t find the Canadian goose feathers any less durable than the turkey feathers.
Feathers vs Vanes: What to Know
Should you choose three feathers on an arrow or three vanes? Vanes are usually made from plastic, and they can withstand weather of all types. Feathers, even the wild turkey feathers, don’t endure as well as what vanes can. In rainy conditions, vanes do better even if you have the feathers treated to handle the moisture better.
Feathers do have advantages over vanes. For example, feathers are usually longer than vanes and can add drag that improves the stability of the arrow. If you plan to shoot a larger broadhead, you want more drag on the arrow. Shooting broadheads, in general, will have a greater advantage for those who shoot them with feathers because of the faster stability.
Using feathers will be lighter than vanes, but they do make more noise when you shoot them. If you do plan to use a three-feather arrow, we would say to prepare for some level of maintenance.
Which one you choose depends on you. Every archer will have a preference either for one or the other. Like experimenting with the number of feathers, I would recommend that you experiment with the feathers and vanes to see which one you like the best.
An Arrow without Three Feathers: Bowfishing Arrows
Bowfishing arrows lack fletching of any kind because it helps the arrow to penetrate the water better. The feathers would misdirect the arrow once it hits the water, otherwise. You may be wondering, “How does an arrow without feathers shoot accurately?” The difference here lies in the distance and weight of the arrows.
First, you never shoot farther than 25 yards in bowfishing. Most bowfishermen take shots from as close as 10 yards. The closer shots hand you better accuracy. If I’m taking a shot at 25 yards in bowfishing, I can usually expect that the arrow may suffer an accuracy loss.
Common fiberglass bowfishing arrows weigh between 1,400 and 1,500 grains. Contrasted with regular light arrows, they might weigh 350 grains. Your typical arrow weighs between 420 grains and 500 grains.
Arrows have three feathers on them because of how it stabilizes them in the middle of the flight. This shows you the most common feather configuration that people shoot with. You also have the two-feather arrows, and more commonly, the four-feather arrows. I would recommend starting with the three-feather arrows and experimenting with the other fletching later on.
Like with the vertical stabilizer in the back of a plane, the three feathers guide the arrow and keep the wind from taking it in another direction. Most people who try a four-feather arrow don’t talk about a huge difference between the three feather arrows and the four feather arrows.