Bears are medium to large game animals with strong hides and large dense bones. When we look at harvesting a bear with a bow, a lot of us start questioning what we should change from our normal arrow setup. What is the best arrow setup for a bear? That question is what we are going to cover in this article.
The best hunting arrow for a black bear is minimally 400 grains of total arrow weight with a cut on contact broadhead. The best hunting arrow for a grizzly is minimally 500 grains with a single bevel two-blade tip for clean pass-throughs. For both bears, the recommended arrow weight is 650gr total.
Bears are different from other animals primarily in one area: their bones are very large. This is something to keep in mind when building arrows. A light arrow is not ideal. Even with the gained speed and flatter trajectory you would experience with a light arrow, a heavy arrow is still better. More on that later.
We are going to cover the most important aspects of arrow builds for bear hunting, namely: arrow kinetic energy and momentum for bears, arrow weight, insert selection, and broadhead selection.
Arrow Kinetic Energy and Momentum for Bears
A bow and arrow setup should be able to put out 42-65 ft-lbs of kinetic energy (KE) for black bears. For grizzlies, the minimum recommended arrow kinetic energy for a complete pass-through is 65 ft-lbs. The minimum momentum for a black bear is 0.349-0.433 slug and grizzlies need 0.481-0.532 slug for good results.
On a black bear, anything below 42 ft-lbs of kinetic energy (KE) will lead to inadequate penetration and possibly wound the animal. Over 65 ft-lbs of KE is a positive, but it is not always necessary for an ethical harvest. Grizzlies have more body mass and larger bones, so a minimum of 65 ft-lbs KE is recommended.
A low draw weight will not have the speeds offered at higher poundages. We have a full blog post on arrow kinetic energy for whitetails that will describe more fully what kinetic energy (KE) is and the impact it has on penetration. We show that velocity and arrow weight are the two contributors to arrow KE and show how to calculate the arrow KE and momentum based on known performance numbers.
For any speed of bow, you want to use an arrow that will carry momentum. A light arrow will be fast and have some KE but will not have the momentum a heavy arrow does. This is why most established bowhunters recommend an absolute minimum of 400 grains for a black bear and 500gr for a grizzly; a lighter arrow will not have adequate momentum.
Momentum is directly related to the weight of the arrow. The heavier the arrow the greater the momentum. There are a plethora of momentum calculators found on the web, you just need to know your arrow velocity and total arrow weight. These are helpful tools to get a good idea of the performance your bow can put out with different arrow weights. For more on why momentum is the biggest factor to having killer hunting arrows read this article, "Is KE or P More Important For Lethal Hunting Arrows".
What Is a Good Arrow Weight for a Bear?
A black bear has medium thickness skin but has thick bones. A Grizzly on the other hand has a tough hide and massive bone structure. A light arrow will stop rapidly if it is shot into a shoulder or rib. For this reason, a heavy arrow is recommended for bears.
A good arrow weight for a black bear is 400 to 650 grains. For a grizzly, minimally a 500-grain arrow, over 650 grains is recommended. This is the total weight of the arrow including the nock, arrow shaft, vanes, insert, and tip. A lower weight may not provide the momentum necessary for a pass-through, while a heavier arrow will negatively affect the overall trajectory and speed.
Arrow FOC for Bears
Another thing to consider with arrow weight is the desired FOC balance. An arrow with high FOC will perform well at short ranges but at longer ranges will fall faster or nose dive. 20-30% FOC is recommended for grizzlies and a 20% FOC is a good baseline for black bears.
Instead of just using a heavy 200-grain tip, grabbing a heavier arrow and screwing on a 150gr tip may be a better option if you think you will end up shooting long-range. A lower FOC leads to a straighter trajectory but also contributes to some erratic flight characteristics. A heavier tip stabilizes the arrow’s direction of travel.
The weight of your tip will also factor into your arrow spine selection. Shooting a heavier tip on the same spine arrow will effectively weaken the shaft leading to poor flight characteristics. The arrow can veer off target while flying an erratic inconsistent pattern. Take your actual draw weight, the length of the arrow, and tip weight into consideration when choosing your arrow spine. If this sound like too much for you, consider using the custom arrow builder from Exodus.
Arrow Inserts for Bear Hunting
When your arrow encounters a heavy dense bone, the weakest point of the arrow is the most likely to break. The broadhead will transfer the torsion and pressure caused by hitting the bone to the insert. The insert will then transfer that resistance to the arrow shaft. This is where you have to ask yourself if you want a short aluminum insert to hold your broadhead on. For me, the answer to that question is no. I want a longer insert to keep the broadhead straight.
An insert is stiffer than the arrow shaft. Anytime a material encounters flex or torsion (stress) it is most likely to break at the point where there is a strength inconsistency. If one part of the material is very rigid and right next to it is flexible, it creates a stress point. The fracture or break will occur at that point.
For this reason, a longer insert is necessary. In the case of custom hunting arrows from Exodus, an entire 6" carbon tube is inserted on the front portion of the shaft in conjunction with the insert. This will provide more support to the broadhead to keep it straight. Using a longer insert does cause some issues though. A long insert effectively shortens your arrow, in the way it behaves in flight, because the arrow can not flex in that area. This means you may need to choose a different arrow spine than you normally would. A long insert also weighs more, this is all something you will need to factor in when calculating your FOC and desired arrow weight.
I know that when hunting big game I want all the peace of mind I can get, I would choose to use a long insert to help stabilize the broadhead and keep it straight if it did hit the bone.
What Broadhead to Use for Bears?
The best broadhead to use on a black bear is one with a sharp cut on the contact tip. A single bevel two-blade tip should be used for Grizzlies. It should be sturdy, and made with high-quality materials that are not likely to break when in contact with heavy bone. Broadheads made primarily with steel are more durable and will hold up better when in contact with a bone.
What it really comes down to is shot placement. Hitting a bear in the shoulder will stop an arrow that is too light or has the wrong broadhead. A mechanical broadhead put in the right place will create a devastating amount of damage which will lead to a very short blood trail but will not hold up as well as a fixed blade on a bad shot.
Hunters that are less confident in their ability to repeatedly make accurate shots with high nerves will be better suited with a fixed blade broadhead in the case of a shoulder hit or rib strike.
A bear’s rib cage is stacked close together, and its bones are dense and big. For this reason, a fixed blade broadhead with a cutting diameter of 1 1/8 inches or larger is recommended. While an expandable broadhead can be used, the likelihood of a mechanical head holding together when in contact with a bear's bone is lower than a well-built fixed blade. There are more moving parts.
Broadhead Blade Count
Blade count is important. Too many blades can significantly slow down an arrow on impact, reducing kinetic energy and momentum. For black bears, we recommend up to three blades. Additional blades will not give a big blood trail advantage because of their negative effect on penetration. As you add blades the tip loses its mechanical advantage.
A single bevel two-blade broadhead has historically been the best-performing blade on grizzlies and other large game animals. When paired with the right arrow and a well-tuned bow, they penetrate well and leave clean wound channels for good blood trails. This is why we recommend them without hesitation.
Some broadheads come sharp out of the box but many don’t. The way a broadhead feels or looks doesn't mean it is sharp. Give yourself some peace of mind by making sure your blades are as sharp as possible. Some broadhead manufacturers make sharpening recommendations and some do not.
If your broadhead is not easily slicing through paper, it's time to sharpen it. Use a fine ceramic sharpener or stone, and get those blades cutting before heading to the field. A small amount of work will lead to better penetration and lethality.
Hunting a predator like a grizzly or a black bear means we need to take a different approach to our hunting equipment. As bowhunters, the hunting arrow we shoot can make or break the hunt. Using a heavy arrow gives more momentum which leads to better penetration even when an arrow comes in contact with heavy bone. When you set yourself up with the right equipment for your hunt, you can be confident of a positive hunting experience and an ethical harvest.
Featured Image: Brian Halbleib of the Habitat Podcast
Author: Evan Grimm, Exodus Black Hat Team Member