The Best Arrow Weight For Deer Hunting

What you need to know when deciding the best arrow weight for deer hunting. 

I would argue bowhunting is more trendy then the fashion industry. For example, 25 years ago all the talk around compound bows was speed. Hunters wanted fast bows with light arrows. Somewhere around 2018 a hard line was drawn in the sand and a new trend started to emerge. Heavy arrows and high FOC. Speed suddenly became an afterthought to total arrow weight.

Now that the can of worms has been opened. Is there an optimum arrow weight for deer hunting where bowhunters have more than enough KE and Momentum yet still have great arrow speed and trajectory?

Just like the Chevy vs Ford debate, the deer hunting arrow weight debate can be looked at from many different angles and provide many different answers. Some answers are logical and some based on nothing more than opinion, but the one thing to keep top of mind is what our goal is as a compound bow hunter. TWO HOLES. An entry AND exit hole ultimately leads to better blood trail, easier recoverys, and ethical harvests. To accomplish this we need enough KE and Momentum to properly penetrate and pass through a deer.

However, we also need enough speed and trajectory to allow for mishaps when judging yardage. Total arrow weight greatly affects KE, Momentum, Speed, and Trajectory. So what should you prioritize to find the perfect hunting arrow weight?


Cutting right to the chase, there are measurable metrics when it comes to arrow performance around passing through a whitetail deer. However, keep in mind, these are not set in stone, rather a guideline. With so many variables like broadhead performance, bow tuning specifications, arrow flight characteristics, types of shots taken, each scenario will be a little bit different. However, keeping these KE and Momentum metrics top of mind is a great way to get started. 

  • Minimum  KE required for deer hunting: 25-41 FT-LBS
  • Minimum P required for deer hunting: .207-.305 SLUG FPS

Reverse engineering these metrics with your bow setup, you can easily calculate where your total arrow weight needs to be for deer hunting with a compound bow.

The most common sense approach to tackling the questions around what is the perfect deer hunting arrow weight ultimately revolves around obtaining enough KE and P to achieve a pass through yet getting the arrow to its mark as fast as possible with the best trajectory possible.  

Yes, building a 600 grain arrow will undoubtedly provide you with higher KE and P numbers however your speed and trajectory suffer. There's a point where you have diminished returns with arrow weight. 

Clint Campbell, host of The Truth From The Stand Podcast, says about lethality metrics:

"After a few seasons of of shooting arrows on the heavier side for my draw and arrow length I recently settled into a set up that I really like. Right around 460 grain. I shoot flatter now that I was previously, making shooting a single pin much easier. Once I had a better understanding of how to calculate the kinetic energy of my arrow, I was comfortable dropping the weight to shoot a little flatter without giving up its effectiveness down range."


Over the years, collectively as bowhunters, we have gotten more aggressive with capitalizing on shot opportunities.

The days of only taking perfectly broadside shots and the casting sacrilegious thoughts to those bowhunters who took quartering away/to and frontal shots are thankfully past us.

We can thank having access to better equipment and better education for giving bowhunters expanded shot opportunities. However, not all bowhunters and equipment have the same abilities.

To achieve the best total arrow weight for your deer hunting setup, you first must understand your shot execution abilities and plan for any shot opportunities that you feel confident in taking. For example, if you are a patient and disciplined bowhunter who only takes broadside shots then there are a plethora of broadhead options and arrow build options.

If you are a bowhunter that is willing take ultra aggressive shots your equipment options are more limited, you'll likely want to stay with a fixed blade cut on contact broadhead and a more durable arrow build with more mass. 

Aaron Hepler, Exodus Black Hat Team member, knows a thing or two about executing tough shots and says this about aggressive shot opportunities:

"Buck fever, blackouts, and adrenaline rushes are often a reality. The goal of so much practice is that when an available shot presents itself your mind and body go on autopilot to execute it. Put your target in thick cover or behind obstacles and make that practice harder. Practice frontal shots and hard quartering shots and then study what your arrow did. It will help you understand what shots you should or shouldn’t be taking."

Whitetail deer are certainly not the toughest animals to zip an arrow through however, they do have their own unique set of challenges.

Hit a leg bone or rigid part of a scapula and you better be rubbing that lucky rabbit's foot or saying a prayer, IF you have the wrong arrow setup.

The correct arrow and bow setup won't have many problems punching through a deer's scapula.

The point is, you need to plan for the type of shots you are willing to take. If you haven't already picked this up, one of my favorite ways to problem solve is to reverse engineer. Working backwards, at least to me, is the fastest way to a straightforward answer.

If you are specifically getting setup to only hunt whitetails, it only makes sense to understand a whitetails anatomy and grasp the basics of what you are actually shooting through to obtain two holes. 


Arrow speed is something that used to get a lot of buzz, but these days it seems like an afterthought to total arrow weight.

I believe this largely due to the fact that speed exposes flaws in the bow setup, arrow build, and the shooter.

The faster your arrow is traveling the less room for error.

At the end of the day, most bowhunters are not world class archers or bow technicians.

We do not have perfect form and our bows are not always perfectly tuned. So having an arrow with moderate speeds allows an "average" bowhunter to obtain good results but this scenario is definitely leaving some performance on the table.

Along this train of thought comes the folks who can eye up a bow, say it's within spec, launch a 700 grain arrow and say everything is good. In this scenario tuning, shooting form, and arrow flaws are masked due to how slow the arrow is traveling. 

Speed does come into play and make a big difference when judging yardage.

A few years back I shot at a Missouri buck, it was my second last day during the last few minutes of legal shooting light. I ranged a cedar tree when I first got setup, 40 yards, so I thought to myself if he's in front of tree hold low and if he's behind the tree hold high.

It's not rocket science right...We'll in the moment of truth it turned into rocket science as I held my 40 yard pin on the vital V of that buck and shot well below that buck. That turned out to be my only opportunity on that hunt. When I retrieved the arrow, I ranged back to my setup, 44 yards. The best I could tell, that 4 yard distance error was the difference between punching a tag and eating tag soup. Would a faster arrow or more efficient arrow down range with better trajectory made a difference, likely so.  

Dan Bayus, experienced archery and bow technician, says this about speed and trajectory.

"I’ve experimented extensively with light and heavy arrow weights, and I'm currently at a happy medium. At this weight my flight trajectory is not compromised, yet I carry enough to maximize potential for pass throughs. In a hunting scenario I tend to range certain objects like a tree or a rock etc… The deer I’m hunting never seem to be spiderman climbing that exact tree or Billy goat hopping the rocks, so their range varies a few yards or more at the moment of the shot. My arrow drop is minimized at my current weight and set up for these scenarios.  I’m currently running the Exodus MMT’s at a total arrow weight of 463gr."


Let's hear what some of the industry professionals and down right killers have to say about their approach to setting up the best possible hunting arrow weight for whitetail deer hunting with a compound bow.  

Dan Johnson, owner of Sportsmen Empire Podcast Network says this about arrow weight and penetration.

"In my opinion, and where I started to see a major difference in arrow performance, was around 500 grains total arrow weight. I have a 30 inch draw and 70lbs draw weight. The penetration difference was eye opening even on marginal shots, easily blowing through shoulders and pass throughs on broadside shots inside 40 yards. This is even amplified with a fixed blade broadhead. On top of that, my accuracy has improved drastically with a stiffer arrow spine and heavier total arrow weight. I'm not a huge believer in speed or FOC, just a well balanced arrow that destroys whatever it hits." 

Byron Horton, Exodus Staff Coordinator and owner of The Whitetail Experience Podcast, says this about his hunting arrow setup.

"Give me a "medium weight arrow" so somewhere north of 450 and below 600.  I am blessed to have a 30" draw so my arrows are moving with pretty good energy. Forcing shots is something that is situational but during the rut I really don't like to force things because a 2-3 day blood trail event sounds terrible when I could let him walk to be rewarded 20 minutes or 1 day later with another buck."

In closing, I would like to reiterate. The best possible hunting arrow out of a compound bow is one that carries no less than the minimum KE and P metrics outlined for whitetail deer, yet finds its mark as fast as possible. A well constructed and built arrow tipped with a fixed cut on contact broadhead weighing between 13-16 GPI will do anything you ask it to in the whitetail woods IF the bow and shooter do their jobs. 

Author: Chad Sylvester, Exodus Co-Founder/Owner