There are several choices in the size and shape of the feathers that
you use for your arrows as well as several ways to get these shapes.
Remember that the purpose of the feathers is to provide drag on the nock
end of the arrow which stabilizes the arrow in flight. Feather sizes for
hunting arrows generally fall within the size range of 4" to 5 1/2".
I would say that the most common size used for hunting arrows is 5".
(No scientific survey here, just my own observations). Feathers can
be fashioned in numerous shapes. The attached inset shows several sizes
and shapes including shield, Pope and Young, parabolic and banana. I don't
know that any one shape is inherently better than another. The higher
profile shapes will have a tendency to make more noise than the lower profile
shapes. Shapes that are more abrupt at the trailing end will also have
a tendency to make more noise. The higher profile feathers will also
produce more drag which will offer more stability to the arrow, but which
will also result in a quicker loss of arrow speed. However, at typical
hunting distances of 20 yards or so, I don't believe that loss of speed
is really an important factor in choosing feather size and shape.
There are a couple of ways to get the shape that you want. First you
can purchase die cut feathers that are cut at the factory. These feathers
are a little more expensive that buying full length uncut feathers, but
they are very consistent and there is no bother with cutting or burning
feathers. You just put them in the fletching jig clamp and glue the suckers
The more do-it-yourself methods involve chopping or burning feathers.
The attached photo shows two feather choppers and a Young feather burner.
To chop feathers you will need to purchase a feather chopper. The Little
Choppers, available from most traditional archery suppliers, are a good
choice. You will need to buy one for each size and shape that you want.
They cost about $18 each. As an example, if you want a 5" left
wing parabolic feather then you will need to buy a chopper for those exact
specifications. I have an inventory of about 10 choppers in different
shapes and lengths for both left and right wing feathers. If you want
to chop but don't like the shapes that are offered, if you will draw out
a exact scale of the shape you want, the manufacturer will make you a chopper
to that exact shape. The one drawback that I have found with the choppers
is that sometimes the feather will want to roll up as you chop it and you
will get a slight variation in the leading edge of the feather. You can
take care of this by trimming it off with a sharp pair of scissors. To
chop the feather you just place a full-length feather in the chopper and
give it a moderate rap with a rubber or rawhide mallet. If you are chopping
5" feathers I would suggest just trying to get one finished feather
per full-length feather. Use the middle part of the full length feather
for the best results. If you are chopping 4" feathers you can sometimes
get two good feathers from a full-length feather.
The other method of trimming full length feathers is to use a feather
burner. The Young feather burner has been around for a long time. The
method used is to cut your feathers to their desired length and then glue
them to the shaft using a fletching jig. The burning ribbon on the feather
burner can be made to whatever shape that you desire. It is important
that you get the feather burner set up properly and that you do a couple
of test runs with an old shaft before trimming your new arrows. Once
the feather burner is set up properly it is just a matter of putting in
each fletched arrow and slowly turning the shaft. A couple of notes of
caution. If the burning ribbon is set too close to the shaft, you may
scorch the finish on the shaft. It is better to leave it off of the shaft
a little even if you end up having to trim a little piece of feather on
each end. If you are married, don't do this indoors!!!! Your wife
will not appreciate the smell. I even get heck for burning feathers in
the garage. Burning feathers will produce a very uniform shape and you
have the ability to experiment with shapes until you get just what you
want. The ends will have a slight brown scorch that can be easily removed
by scraping the edge slightly with a knife or razor blade.