heavy arrows and filed points for kinetic energy arrow testing

Arrow Spine Is Simple – “Yeah Right!”

At the core of the arrow spine conundrum, we have stiffness

First, The Basics | What Is Arrow Spine?

The archery world has set a standard for arrow spine. Most companies follow it in this order: 

  1. The higher the number (400 spine), the softer, or more flexible arrow. 
  2. The lower number (250 spine) is a stiffer, or less flexible arrow. 

I like to say one is “bendier” and the other is less “bendy.” I’m not sure that is even a word…. oh wait, I said it, so it IS a word, because I. AM. SPECIAL. Ha!!

arrow flexing in flight after being shot from bow

Every arrow shaft has a certain degree of “bendiness.” This is known as the arrow spine.

Anyhoo, here is a very high-level overview of arrow spine…

The standard is to press the center of each arrow shaft at 28” width with a gizmo. This “gizmo” (arrow spine tester) only pushes so far. The gizmo has a gauge showing pressure and it shows the amount the arrow flexes. If it’s a softer spine, it bends further. If it’s stiffer, it bends less. 

spine tester for arrows

This is an example of an arrow spine tester. What could be more “gizmo” than this!

The arrow companies try to build a mixture of carbon and wall thickness to achieve consistent results to hit their targeted spine offerings. 

Ok Class, Let’s Review!

So let’s review to be sure everyone is following the ‘ole Ranch Fairy’s tutelage…

Higher number = softer spine. 

Lower number = stiffer spine. 

Until you cut them. Then its tin foil hat time!


Arrows, PVC and gardening wives… Just stay with me here

Since I like simple ideas, I am going to use one moving forward.

KEEP THIS PICTURE IN YOUR HEAD… You have a wife who is a gardener. (Of note, I have intimate knowledge of the following scenario… The names have been changed to protect the innocent.)

So anyway, this wife of mine, AHEM, I mean of yours, loves to plant new plants and RELOCATE existing plants and trees, despite the previously planted forest of plants and relocated plants. 

flowers and sprinkler

Why the flowery springtime imagery? We’re supposed to be talking arrow spine here! Calm down, we’re getting there!

You also have a sprinkler system. 

This woman, to whom you are betrothed, is amazing at requiring a couple of her 10 plants to be planted right on top of a sprinkler line. Now, you suspect you’re going to hit a water line, but when, when, when????” (I mean, she doesn’t even have water witching sticks or anything to be considerate!!!)

As you dig hole number 6 of 10, you feel the crunch/crush of PVC.  

Your day just extended. 

But, since you know this was inevitable, you have extra PVC supplies. So, you go get a stick of ½” PVC. It’s 10 feet long.

You grab the PVC in the middle to relocate it to your new “project.” There’s a certain amount of sag on both ends. But when you cut it down to 6 feet….what happens to the stiffness?

Ok – keep that in your head. I’m gonna add one more thing… If you have a full stick of PVC and only cut 1” off, or 1 foot off, or 2 feet off, does it stiffen with each cut? 

man bending pvc pipe with n1 outdoors just pass'n through tee

If you cut a piece of PVC, what happens to the stiffness? Wonder what happens to arrow shaft spine when you cut it? Hmmmm.

PVC? I thought we were talking arrow shafts here!

When it comes to carbon arrows, it’s easy – there are only 4 spines… (RANCH FAIRY DISCLAIMER!! see caption below before you blow me up with your comments!)

Remember this… flying sticks change when you cut them! FACT.

arrow shafts showing spine number

If you are an archery nerd, you’re going to rat me out because there are in fact more than 4 spines. Some companies offer 600 and 500 spines, then much stiffer 200 and 150. A couple of the companies have their own way of doing things like: 320 / 260 / 140….oh I feel the love of being an individual! But, PRACTICALLY SPEAKING, there are 4 spines for the average yahoo trying to kill a deer, with a bow: (400/350/300/250). This is because 90% of us yahoos shoot 50-70#. So, those are the most common starting points to build a reasonable arrow for hunting from 400 grains and a flapper (skeet load) to 700 grains and a hammer (magnum).


The reality is that there are gazillions of spine charts and programs out there. The quality of the information is wide and varied, so I am not going to worry about that now. 

I want you to understand what happens to the flying stick, when you change the length of that flying stick.

I have tested everything from here forward so, let’s get something real straight. EVERY minor length change to the stick, changes the stick.

So, let’s say you snort the fairy dust and start with an arrow spine your bow shop may have selected. Or, you figured it out yourself.

Let’s say you require and tune up some 300 spine sticks. You’re shooting 60# at 29” draw and 225 grains up front. 

It’s flying great and you think this crazy Ranch Fairy guy might be onto something. So, you’re talking to your friend who shoots a twizzler and he’s been sad about bouncing arrows off animals.

ranch fairy logo

(If you need help with an arrow build email me [email protected] please include: draw weight, draw length, and point mass)

But, your buddy shoots 27” at 60#

I would still put him in a 300 spine. 

However, his arrow is 2” shorter. It started out at 300 spine but it’s cut shorter than 28” where the companies measure spine. ***Remember the PVC question?

So, this means that since you’re longer than 28”, where the spine is measured, (you are shooting at 29” long), your arrow now is roughly a 310 spine (softer).

But, your buddy is shooting a 290 spine (stiffer), because he is 1” shorter than 28” where the spine was originally measured by the arrow company.

So, you aren’t shooting the same spine (300 spine arrows), even though it started with a 300 spine arrow and it’s the correct arrow for both of you to start with.

Are you having fun yet?

(Of note, the 310 and 290 spine are guesstimates, this is an example. Practically speaking, the shorter arrow is incrementally stiffer and vice versa.)

I know it sounds like I am splitting atoms, but the more I do this, the more annoying this flying stick sport becomes. 

There are so many small (yet massive) details. 

So let’s say you spitball some arrows. You know 29” is the length that flies for you.

Life is dreamy!

BUT, you decide to cut a few down to 28.5” so they are .06 FPS faster.

Seriously, the spine changes a little bit.  

Or, even better, you get a “deal” on 30” long arrows and decide that’s close enough.

NOPE – it’s not.  

But I recommend you bare shaft and recheck everything, any change, for perfect arrow flight.  Heck – it might work….it might not. 

Oh, I don’t think it’s going to be doing loops. But, broadheads may be just that much different. They may wander 2” left or do some other annoying thing that changes a quick kill to a longer trail. 

There are more details… yup, super annoying! Yup, super massive! It would be a ton to digest all at once. 

sirius arrow shafts and heavy field points

Point weight, broadheads, lighted nocks, even fletching style (somewhat) and any amount of weight added (think wraps) to the back of the arrow messes with the flying stick. Even when the stick length doesn’t change. Isn’t that just wonderful?

Arrow Spine (Not So) Final Thoughts…

At the end of the day, remember this about any Ranch Fairy video or article… I am only concerned with one thing.  Maximum arrow lethality on impact

Targets are boring. Perfect arrow flight to get the flying stick there is required. I have multiple videos on arrow tuning.  But read this and ponder. 

“An arrow is always flying, in the air, or in hair, meat, and bone, it is always flying”

Dr. Ed Ashby

If that arrow is a little sideways in the air at TAC, 3-D tournaments or your local indoor range, who cares?

One inch of penetration on a target is the same score as 12” of penetration.

But, at impact on any target animal, “The arrow is always flying.” Flying that arrow just a little sideways erodes penetration, and lack of penetration reduces lethality. Your goal is maximum arrow lethality

Stay tuned.

ranch fairy wearing shoot adult arrows shirt
You can find Troy Fowler (AKA The Ranch Fairy) on YouTube HERE.
ranch fairy logo

From “Failure” To “Fairy” | How the Ranch Fairy came to be

It all began with failure. 

Simply put, my hunting arrows were hitting the mark, but my success rate was less than stellar, and I had nowhere else to go. I could try something different or grab the rifle. After all, as my friend Chris says, “lead is very efficient.”

A Little History on “The Ranch Fairy” Name

Before we get into all the nitty gritty details of hunting arrows, you might be wondering… why “Ranch Fairy?” After all, bowhunting dudes are rough and tough. They take on the ultimate close-range challenge and they sport lots of cool gear (the toys never end, and the bowhunting message boards will keep your head swimming with ideas… some of them are actually good ideas – but beware!)

ranch fairy troy fowler with dead hog and iron will broadhead

Bowhunters can’t be fairies… can they?

Soooo, anyway, “The Ranch Fairy…” The short version is this…

My wife’s family has a ranch in Texas, and I am the dude who manages the details, such as: feeders, blinds, keeping the A/C and toilets running, occasional plumbing, electrical, mechanical, and the “could you look at the cameras and then tell me where the biggest buck is showing up….and at what time” tasks.

The “to do” list, well, it’s a scroll… the end is never reached, because it just keeps unrolling.

So, about 10 years ago, I just off-handedly started calling myself “The Ranch Fairy,” instead of “ranch manager.” 

But, I actually enjoy the piddling and managing things. It’s good for the psyche.


Wonderfully Weird

Of note, I’m a bit weird! I killed a 150” deer in 2007 and for some reason I just don’t care to kill another one. 

Weird? Yup. 

I caught a 9’6” Tiger shark (plus a couple big bull sharks) off the Texas beach after 15 years of trying, and I don’t care to catch a 10+. 

Yup… weird. 

ranch fairy with a 9 foot shark

Catching a 9’6″ tiger shark and then losing interest is just one of the “weird” things about the ‘ole Ranch Fairy.

I am currently trying to catch a 10-pound bass. I suspect that after it happens, I won’t worry about bass anymore… onward to new ideas. 

Troy Fowler the ranch fairy holding a largemouth bass

After I reach the 10-pound bass goal, I’ll probably just move on to some other challenge!

But alas, for some reason, I have never given up on mature feral hogs. 

What do I mean by “mature?” Well, 200+ pounds is where they are considered big at our place (if you think your pigs are big – buy a scale and be amazed at your lack of weight-guessing skill). 

Like anywhere, food and time helps animals get big. Some places have legit 300’s. But, we just don’t have the food piece… no agriculture.  So, our pigs work pretty hard at being, well… pigs.

Fairy Failure

So, now let’s explore failure.

One of the luxuries of pigs and deer feeders is high-volume shooting. I’ll bring this up later. 

So anyway, up until 2015, I was really failing – to the tune of only a 50% recovery rate on big pigs. The little 100-pound zoomers… not a big deal. But the big boys… well, you may hunt one for months before he shows up. You shoot, and… BONK… half an arrow of penetration, and you pray you find it. 

(Remember what Chris says, “Lead is very efficient.” It was in consideration. After all, head shots with any round you have flat out work!)

kids holding rifle standing next to dead hog

As one of my good friends says, “lead is very efficient.” But, I HAD to find a way to be efficient with a bow!

Like many of you, I owned or considered every arrow platform on the earth. Mechs, 4 blade, 3 blade, 2 blade, different “arrows” and magic sights that solve complex calculus while you draw back. 

Honestly, it’s as bad as golf. Did I mention I was a single-digit handicap at one time? Then… you guessed it… I stopped playing!

Don’t get me started.

ranch fairy troy fowler and big hog

I had been failing at killing big pigs with my bow and had tried every broadhead on planet earth. And then…


If At First You Don’t Succeed… Try Something Else!

So, because I was failing, I had absolutely no reason to duplicate the 12 penetration factors made famous by Dr. Ed Ashby in his 20+ year Natal Study. 

I’m not real smart, but if what you’re doing isn’t working, you have nothing to lose. 

So, I wandered off into the tin foil hat world, left my friends and colleagues to the message board warlocks, and went on the road less traveled. (Remember, I have a high volume, live target, known-distance place to test these things.)

I ran an arrow up to 670 grains, bare shaft perfect flight, long 3:1 single bevel, and went off to find out what would happen. 

What happened with these “adult arrows” was truly amazing. 

tuffhead single bevel broadhead

My change to single-bevel broadheads like this one and heavy arrows was a game-changer!

The arrows started penetrating through the pigs and then into the dirt

The big pigs started going 60 yards and then, I mean they were dead, dead in 10 seconds (it’s still working). 

The biggest thing I discovered during all of this is that I am now only limited by lethal shot placement. When I do my job in that area, the pigs are dead and there are no issue finding them. 

Before that, I either perfectly heart shot one and it was devastating, or I didn’t shoot it perfectly and there was no blood trail, long nights, and a Duracell bunny that came along to test battery longevity. 

Not The Bat Cave, The Ranch Fairy Lab!

So, I decided to turn the ranch into a live target test lab. 

Nope, this is not a hunting show (though many of my detractors slam that one on me).  It’s an arrow lethality and penetration study. 

Yeah, shooting pigs is still super fun! But to have high volume, year around, 24/7, no laws and high shot reliability.  It’s handy.  The set-up shots at whitetail distances (the average whitetail is still taken under 20 yards if you don’t know that), allowed me to really test different high mass, high FOC, arrow systems. I already had 15 years of the other stuff. 

So, there you go, that’s how The Ranch Fairy came to be. I mean, I was technically already the Ranch Fairy.

ranch fairy approved logo

You can bet if it’s “Ranch Fairy Approved,” that I’ve done the testing at the Ranch Fairy Lab!

I am no marketing genius. But, when I typed “Ranch Fairy” into Google, the results were 0 – none. So, in the social media algorithms, you’re either unique or super popular. 

Well, unique I hit, because bowhunters, as noted earlier, are rough and tough and super manly. No one forgets a bowhunting fairy!  

Stay tuned to the Ranch Fairy.  We have some serious science and physics coming up that will pop the message board cronies’ heads off!

But, hey, if you want to argue with Sir Isaac Newton, feel free. Because, when you argue with math, the old saying kicks you in the rear.  “Liars can figure, but figures don’t lie.”  

ranch fairy wearing shoot adult arrows shirt
Troy Fowler, AKA, The Ranch Fairy
ehd cwd dead head deer skull

EHD Versus CWD in Deer | From Bad To Worse

Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD) and Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) are the two biggest diseases that can impact your deer herd, but more specifically, your mature bucks. 

If you have never heard of either one, let me give you a quick summary. 

Before moving on to the specifics of EHD and CWD, here is a table to explain the differences between the two:

Caused by:Virus Mis-shaped prion protein
Mortality when contracted:5-50%100%
Duration of clinical illness:24 hrs to several weeks18-24 months, followed by death
Antibodies produced:YesNone yet
Long-term herd effect:Build up Immunity, herd rebounds Unknown, but might lower herd productivity if prevalence gets too high.  Mature males harder to grow. 
Geographic range:Almost entire lower 48 Parts of 24 states and 2 Canadian Provinces
Human health impact:Cannot infect people No evidence of human health impacts
small whitetail buck in corn

Mature bucks may be hard to come by once CWD gets a foothold in the deer herd.

EHD | The Specifics

EHD is in the same group of viruses as Bluetongue (BT) Virus and because clinical symptoms are similar between the two, they are generally clumped together and called Hemorrhagic Disease. 

EHD and Bluetongue viruses are transmitted by a biting midge, usually in late Summer or early Fall but can also occur in the Springtime. 

Clinical symptoms are highly variable. Initial symptoms include a feverish state where some animals can lose their fear of humans. 

buck dead on the ground

CWD can devastate what used to be a healthy deer herd.

There was a video of a buck that went viral because it stumbled through a burning campfire on its way to drowning itself in a river, all while people stood around wondering what the heck was going on. 

Deer with EHD may die within 1-3 days after getting bitten if they have no immunity to the strain of virus that has infected them. 

As deer attempt to relieve their fever, they often become dehydrated and will be found near water. 

Once a hard frost hits the landscape, the threat of further EHD outbreaks is complete for that growing season, but as soon as midges come back in the spring there is a chance for further outbreaks.

map of ehd distribution in us

This is a map from the Southeastern Cooperative Disease Study showing where EHD has been found across the US from 1980-2015:

CWD | The Specifics

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), on the other hand, is caused by a protein that changes its shape to a non-functional version.  This prion protein normally resides all over the body, but is concentrated in the lymphatic system, brain and spinal tissues. 

Infected deer show no clinical symptoms for up to 18 months but are capable of spreading prions even before they show any outward sign of illness. 

In the later stages of the disease, animals lose coordination and become lame.  They also lose their appetite and fear of humans. They are typically found with dropping ears and head in a lower position. 

buck in velvet

In areas where CWD prevalence is above 50%, mature bucks stand a higher chance of contracting the disease and dying.

CWD has gotten a lot of press lately because of the concern to potentially impact humans, whereas EHD poses no direct threat to humans. 

Notice how I said ‘potentially’ impact?  That’s because there’s currently no evidence that it will impact humans, but that doesn’t mean it will always be that way. 

CWD is in a group of diseases known as Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies and in that same group of diseases is one that infects humans, called Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease (CJD). 

A variant Creutzfeldt Jakob disease (vCJD) can be acquired by eating meat from cattle infected with a similar disease called Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), also known as Mad Cow Disease. 

The fear is that one day humans will someday be susceptible to CWD, even though that day has yet to come. That’s because all animals carry some type of prion protein, but a major difference is that the human prion protein has slightly different amino acid structure than deer. 

There has also been recent concern that CWD can be transmitted to macaque monkeys, which are genetically much more similar to humans, but that information has yet to be published in scientific literature. 

What causes the normal prion protein to change into the mis-shaped disease state remains uncertain, although there are many theories about how this could happen. 

map of CWD distributiion in deer in the united states

Here is a map from the USGS showing the distribution of CWD across North America.

EHD Compared to CWD

The take home point is that both EHD and CWD can impact deer, but EHD is less of a long-term concern with your deer herd, because the more a deer herd is exposed, the more immunity it can build up. 

whitetail buck walking in high grass

Bucks have a greater chance of spreading CWD to the herd because the mutually groom each other while in their bachelor groups during the summer months. (photography by Jeff Coldwell)

CWD, on the other hand, progressively gets worse until mature bucks are almost impossible to grow on the landscape because they become infected and die before they can reach the older age classes. 

This phenomenon is rare because CWD prevalence is low across most of the range of white-tailed deer, but can occur in certain areas where the prevalence is above 50%. 

That means the chance of a buck having CWD would be the same as flipping a coin to heads, and if you see a buck older than 3 years old in that area, they are more and more likely to contract it and die before reaching 6 years old. 

This is because mature bucks move about the landscape more often than females, especially during the breeding season. 

Bucks also mutually groom each other in bachelor groups during the summer months, so they have more opportunity to spread the disease than female groups, which tend to keep a more consistent home range throughout their lifetime.      

How to limit EHD In Your Deer Herd

So, what should you do as a hunter to help prevent the spread of EHD on your hunting property?

  • If you have a pond edge, plant vegetation that can withstand moist soil right up the edge of the water.
  • Spread quick growing seeds like rye grain on areas of a creek bottom that have been exposed to flooding and try to reduce the amount of mud exposed.
  • Fogging for insects around ponds on a still morning may also reduce adult populations thus limiting the spread of disease. 
  • You can also keep your herd healthy by supplemental feeding and using minerals. Ani-Logics Outdoors has produced a health additive for their feed and minerals that can increase immune system function.  When the immune system is firing on all cylinders, the deer that gets bitten by an infected midge has an increased chance of survival.  Those that are in poor bodily condition when bitten by the midge have a much higher chance of dying.

 How To Limit CWD

As for CWD, the best thing you can do to prevent the spread is not to move the carcass of deer harvested in a CWD area. Also, dispose of the remains in a state approved landfill or incinerator. 

If you harvest a trophy buck in a CWD area, make sure the taxidermist you use is local, and make sure they properly dispose of the brain and spinal cord tissue without putting it back on the landscape. 

If everyone hunting deer in a CWD area removed all the CWD positive carcasses off the landscape, prevalence would remain low enough that no population level concerns would ever occur. 

There would be no way to eliminate the amount of prion proteins already deposited on the landscape, but at least we wouldn’t be adding more fuel to the CWD fire by always putting more diseased prions in the woods. 

If you hunt in an area that is not known to have CWD, you should still get your deer tested because deer have been known to make very long excursions outside of their normal range. 

Here in Minnesota, the DNR recently tracked a collared deer that made a 75-mile one-way trek.  Thankfully it was not CWD positive at the time, but if one deer did it, that means other can as well.

Best of luck in having a healthy deer herd!

*deer skull article photo used by permission from Brad Alan