Archery is an ancient practice involving one of mankind’s oldest and best weapons, and one that is still employed and enjoyed by millions of people around the world today.
Whether you are shooting at targets on your land, hunting big game, or competing at a national or international level, there’s always something you can do to take your game a little further.
Science has melded with art and produced bows and arrows of incredible quality and accuracy, but with this comes many variables to keep track of and tinker with if you want maximum performance.
Helical fletching is an option that can produce excellent stabilization of the arrow in flight, but some archers are unsure if they should choose left or right-hand helical fletching. Which should you choose?
Either. Both impart significant rotation to an arrow. Left- or right-turn helical fletching will both improve stability and accuracy compared to straight fletching. However, only right-turn helical fletching may help prevent broadheads from loosening up inside the target.
You’ll commonly hear tales on the internet and in bow shops about somebody tuning their bow to shoot just right by changing the direction of rotation using helical fletching, or reducing or increasing the rate of rotation to the same effect.
I’m not saying these people aren’t telling the truth, as helical fletching does indeed provide benefits and some drawbacks but I can say with some confidence that the direction of rotation plays very little part in the accuracy equation.
Keep reading and I will tell you more about helical fletching and its impact when you shoot a bow.
What is Helical Fletching?
Helical fletching is a special type of fletching applied to the tail-end of an arrow which causes it to spin as it flies through the air.
This spinning action helps stabilize the arrow in flight and makes it much more accurate, especially at distance, by correcting any errant heading or “attitude” in flight.
Helical fletching can be applied to arrows in either a left- or right-hand configuration, and all of the vanes or feathers must be matched for proper performance and accuracy.
Left-hand helical results in counterclockwise rotation and right-hand helical fletching results in clockwise rotation.
The shape, length and turn of the fletching will affect the speed of the rotation, but it’s a subtle operation: it is generally not recommended to adjust any of these parameters by more than a little at any time to test performance.
How Does Helical Fletching Differ from Straight Fletching?
The difference is pretty much in the name: helical fletching imparts a spin (rotation) to the arrow in flight while straight fletching does not, or at least does not impart much of a spin.
Just like putting a spiral on a football when you throw it, the result is that helical fletching helps stabilize the arrow in flight, and makes it much more accurate, especially over longer distances.
Now, straight fletching can still of course be used and is still chosen for some applications. This is because helical fletching, despite its advantages, also has some drawbacks.
We’ll talk about those in a minute, but first let us look at why you’d want helical fletching in the first place.
Which Direction Should You Choose?
So, which should you choose? Traditionally, a right-handed archer is supposed to shoot right-turn fletching, and vice-versa for lefties.
But there is no practical basis for this grounded in performance and I say it does not really matter.
If your bow isn’t shooting just right, then it might be worth experimenting with left- or right-hand helical fletching to try and dial in, but most shooters will find that there are many other more important factors to check and correct first.
Especially if you’re new to archery and shanking shots all over, don’t just automatically assume that helical fletching is the answer to your woes!
Just remember this is only one aspect of the “package”, so don’t forget about other factors that may also be affecting your group size such as arrow rest position, arrow spine and weight selection.
But if your arrows are generally flying true and you want improved stability and accuracy at longer ranges, then helical fletching is probably a great choice.
I go with right-turn/clockwise fletching as a default since it won’t loosen your broadheads, but there are some folks that swear by left-hand for various reasons.
Why Does the Rotation of the Arrow Matter to Me?
You might be thinking that rotation is all fine and good, but it is a trifling concern if you are dropping your shots where you want them to be. And you’d be right!
If your bow, arrows, and technique are all meshing to provide you with adequate accuracy at the ranges you normally shoot at, carry on!
But, if you are looking to improve performance under certain circumstances, helical fletching might contribute to that.
Right up front, helical fletching that is functioning properly will improve accuracy under all conditions.
It can make the difference between hitting a 10-ring and missing it, or even potentially between hitting the target at all.
The stabilization also allows it to better resist wind and other factors that might otherwise throw off its path.
I resisted switching to helical fletching once upon a time because I was generally happy with my setup, but after I started working toward longer and longer shots, I noticed a steady decline in my own performance.
I told myself that it was I that needed to get better, not blaming the tools and all that, but once I switched to helical fletching and got dialed in with them the improvement was immediately apparent.
But it isn’t just pure accuracy we are talking about here: helical fletching might at times be a necessary upgrade.
Probably the most important benefit of helical fletching for hunters is that the rotation imparted will greatly help stability with large, fixed broadhead points from any given bow.
Shooting broadheads with straight-fletched arrows from a bow that isn’t optimized can lead to lots of wobble and poor attitude.
Finally, one of the more practical applications of helical fletching (in the case of right-turn fletching) is that it helps prevent broadheads from loosening up inside the target, be it animal or something else.
The clockwise rotation of the arrow helps to snug the broadheads tight upon impact, sometimes preventing loss.
Is Helical Fletching Always a Good Thing?
Contrary to popular opinion, helical fletching is not so totally superior to straight and offset fletching that you should only ever use it. It does, indeed, have drawbacks all its own.
Consider these factors before you commit to new arrows or want to re-do the fletching on your older ones.
First, helical fletching imparts more drag because it is imparting more spin. This drag equals reduced velocity, which is noticeable- and especially noticeable with heavier vanes and heads!
If you are doing your own fletching, you’ll find that helical fletching is significantly more sensitive to misalignment. If you make a mistake, the arrow may start to fishtail. For this reason, using a fletching jig is imperative.
Finally, helical fletching can cause problems with some arrow rests due to a lack of clearance.
No, not because it will turn a fletch into the rest: the arrow effectively does not begin to rotate until it has left the bow.
But, because of its shape and size helical fletching can contact certain arrow rests. Make sure you check compatibility before you buy or be prepared to modify!
Caution: Counterclockwise Rotation May Loosen Broadheads
One other thing to be aware of with left-hand helical fletching is that it can cause broadheads to loosen up after impact.
The counterclockwise rotation of the arrow is actually working against you in this case even while it is improving accuracy and stability, so be careful to tightly and securely seat your arrowheads to prevent this.
In conclusion, helical fletching does impart incredible stabilizing benefits for an arrow, and can improve accuracy under certain conditions or when using fixed-blade broadheads.
Tom Marlowe practically grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, Tom has the experience to help civilian shooters figure out what will work best for them.