One of my favorite way's to spend time in the field is with my bow. I love to bow hunt for birds and big game, and like my fishing, I love to tinker with my archery and hunting gear. One of the most fun things about hunting and fishing, in my opinion, is the time spent preparing for my days afield. One such activity that's simple, in-expensive and a helluva lot of fun, is re-fletching arrows.
There are basically three types of fletching; plastic vanes, feather vanes and feathers used to make "flu-flu" arrow's for shooting ducks and geese. In this post I'm going to cover fletching with plastic vanes, because "flu-flu" arrows are a totally different technique and feather fletchings are applied the same as plastic. As you can tell from the above pictures, plastic vanes can and do break down and become brittle with age from ultra-violet rays from the sun. Heat can also cause them to become brittle faster. Properly applied vanes will last several seasons without any problems. Some vanes will get pulled off the shaft when one grabs the arrow around the vane when pulling it out of a target. Vanes can also get cut when practicing with broadheads.
The equipment needed to fletch your own arrows can be purchased at several local archery shops or ordered on line. The fletching jig costs anywhere from $20 to about $60 for a good one. These prices are for jigs that will allow you to do one arrow at a time. It takes awhile, but unless your doing dozens of arrows, most archers can do just fine with a single fletching jig. A tube of fletching glue will set you back about three bucks and the vanes cost about $5 or $6 to do a dozen 3-vane arrows. I used to shoot 4-vane arrows, but I'm not sure they provide any better arrow flight than a 3-vane. If you look closely at the above pic, you'll notice I have white and orange plastic vanes in the box. These vanes are 4", but they come in a variety of lengths. Remember that one vane, called the "cock" vane will be the one, off-colored vane that will help you properly place the nocked arrow on your bow string. I like white vanes, because deer and elk are color blind and see everything in shades of grey. I also like them because white stands out really well when hitting an animal, aiding you in trying to determine how well (or poorly) a shot was placed on the animal.
I start out by removing all of the old vane or fletching. An aluminum arrow shaft will not be harmed by using a small pocket knife to first cut, and then scrape the old fletching and glue completely from the shaft.
Once I've removed all the old glue, I use automotive brake cleaner to remove any debris or oils from the aluminum shaft. You want them totally clean and free from anything that could prevent the glue from properly adhering to the shafts.
I use a clean paper towel to remove the excess brake cleaning fluid and dry the shaft.
Once the arrow is completely clean, I line up the jig so that when I place the nocked arrow in the bottom of the jig, it's lined up and ready for the vanes to be glued in place. Your jig will have directions for how to start and get everything lined up. Mine has marks that clearly show me where to set the jig when I start a new arrow. Then I place my "cock" feather (vane) in the portion of the jig that is designed to hold the vane in place. Mine has various marks and measurements that I can use to adjust where the vane is placed on the shaft when put on the jig.
I carefully place a continuous bead of fletching glue along the base of the vane while the vane is placed in the jig.
Once the glue dries (usually in about 10 minutes) the portion of the jig holding the vane can be removed, the nocked arrow is rotated to the next position for another vane and the process of gluing and attaching the vane with the jig is repeated until all three vanes are placed and glued to the shaft.
The finished arrow can then be removed from the jig.
I finish the fletching job by placing a small drop of fletching glue at each end of each fletching. This helps keep the vanes in place, especially if the arrow passes through targets or critters.
The arrows in the pictures above are 25 years old and this is the 3rd or 4th time I've replaced the plastic vanes. If your like me, you probably have a bunch of arrows laying around needing new fletching. Its alot of fun and a whole lot cheaper than going out and buying new arrows.