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Mechanical Broadhead Field Test

Broadhead design and performance is the subject of endless hunting camp debate, and countless theories and myths have developed along the way.

Our testing spanned several days of examining, assembling, constructing, shooting, ooing, ahing, measuring, cussing, applying Band-Aids, reshooting, ducking, photographing, calculating and recalculating.

Mark and I had been eager to dive into this Field Test because we knew, as our first test of mechanicals eight years ago revealed, there would be some surprising results that would spawn new thinking and shatter some nonsense myths. And we found ’em. Read on. –Mike Strandlund

**Choose a button to check out what we found or click below on the broadheads.

Choose a Broadhead

Fuse Kumasi

Firstcut Tri-Force

G-5 Tekan

Vortex 100-Grain Solid

Rocky Mountain Snyper


Aftershock Hypershock

Mini-Max Pro Extreme

RAGE 2-BLADE

Spitfire & Shockwave

Grim Reaper Razortip

Tru-Fire Switchblade

TR Undertaker

Wasp Jak-Hammer SST

Firstcut EXP Magnum

Sullivan EXP 3-Blade


FUSE KUMASI

$25 FOR 3

fuse kamasiThe Kumasi is a recently introduced three-blade with blades that flip open from the front. It has a quite compact ferrule and sharp conical tip with edges that line up with blades. That design should theoretically minimize risk of a blade hanging up on hide and maximize penetration.

That design concept seems to serve the Kumasi well as it was among the three top-penetrating and total cutting heads in our test.

Other things I like about the Kumasi: it operates with no rubber bands or washers required. That might make one wonder if there could be problems with the blades opening prematurely, or perhaps post maturely, but there was no indication of that. They shot tight groups for me at 50 yards, and our test medium indicated that the broadhead opened upon impact, creating a full-size entry wound. This is one fine broadhead. —Mike Strandlund

(801) 363-2990, www.fusearchery.com

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EASTMAN FIRSTCUT TRI-FORCE

$21 FOR 3

eastman firstcutMuch like its EXP Magnum brother, the Tri-Force offers a “hybrid” combo of both a leading-edge fixed head (.68-inch diameter) and expandable blades—in this case three of them that offer a cutting diameter of 11⁄2 inches.

The Tri-Force opened dependably, but most notable is this head’s impressive total cutting area—the best in the test, but understandable when you consider this is essentially a five-blade head.

Also like the EXP Magnum, the Tri-Force makes use of relatively “old school,” “leveraction” mechanical blades that are held in their “in-flight” position via a rubber band.

During our destruction test all blades remained intact while the head protruded 1 1⁄2 inches beyond the Durock—a solid display of strength. Not only was it a top performer, but also one of the best bargains in the test! —Mark Melotik

(800) 241-4833; www.eastmanoutfitters.com

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G-5 TEKAN

$40 FOR 3

tekanI’ve used G-5’s rock-solid Montec in quite a bit of hunting and was eager to give its mechanical Tekan a try. The Tekan is a wicked-looking number—almost Gothic, I’d say. It combines a “traditional” sharpened knife-tip at the end of a one-piece stainless steel ferrule, with two mechanical blades that open from the rear by using friction on their fronts causing them to slide back along the ferrule and outward. The tip and blades are positioned transversely to create an “X” cut.

While TCA performance was low, penetration of the Tekan was impressive. It was in the second tier penetration-wise. Performance on the cement board was even better—it blew completely through, landing on the ground beyond, unscathed. A blade did break off removing the arrow in the penetration test.

We screwed up in our initial shooting with the Tekan. We found that blades were driven back so hard into the arrow tip that we couldn’t unscrew the head, and the arrow tip was damaged. Then we discovered the steel washers in the packaging’s “hidden compartment.” Trust us, you will want to use them. Several models of mechanicals require this washer.

One distinguishing feature of the Tekan is that it has no mirror surfaces at all—ferrule and blades are flat black. Have you ever wondered what effect the sun catching on a shiny blade at just the right angle would have on an approaching buck? We like this idea a lot, but as someone pointed out—they are hard to see and easy to misplace, so be careful.

Tekans come with replacement rubber o-rings, a set of practice blades, and a special wrench. —Mike Strandlund

(866) 456-8836; www.g5outdoors.com

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VORTEX 100-GRAIN SOLID

$26 FOR 3

vortexOne of the oldest basic designs in our test, the Vortex Solid has gotten a recent facelift in the form of a new manufacturing process the company says has created a much stronger, straighter body—and by the results of our torture test we’d have to agree.

We’d guess the Vortex Solid’s one-piece aluminum ferrule and integrated tip played heavily into its ability to pass through our Durock test medium; the unscathed ferrule was fully exposed out the backside with the front of the arrow shaft wedged between the half-inch layers. Even more impressive was that the two 21⁄2-inch-diameter, .032-inch-thick blades—the longest and widest-cutting in the test—opened fully as promised and made it through without breaking. The last inch of each was badly curled, but completely intact.

It’s interesting to note that even in the “closed” position both the Solid and Mini-Max heads offer a minimum cutting width of 7⁄8 inch, allowing them to be used legally in the states (check your regs) that have this minimum “in flight” requirement.

Technically the Solid delivered the second-worst penetration in our test—though considering it offered the largest cutting diameter by a full half-inch, it compared favorably with virtually all of the 2-inch-cut heads. —Mark Melotik

(888) 620-9888; www.vortexbroadheads.com

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ROCKY MOUNTAIN SNYPER

$30 FOR 3

rocky mountain snyperThis is a two-blade head that features rear-deploying blades with a 17⁄16-inch cutting diameter. It has a sharp-to-the-tip razor point perpendicular to the blades, both of which are .035 stainless steel.

Performance of the Snyper was very good, with an ample penetration of almost 81⁄2 inches. This head, with a point that appears to emphasize cutting over smashing, held up perfectly in the torture test, blowing a large hole through both layers of cement board and emerging good to go.

I shot the Snyper quite a bit at varying yardages and found it flew true and shot tight groups. I would hunt with this broadhead anytime. —Mike Strandlund

(800) 282-4868; www.fieldlogic.com

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AFTERSHOCK HYPERSHOCK

$30 FOR 3

hypershockOne of the more unique designs in our test, the HyperShock features two relatively thick (.032 inch), radically curved stainless steel blades that are held in their “in-flight” position via a thick rubber O-ring, combined with a rock-solid one-piece aluminum ferrule.

Aftershock says the blades are curved to “slice instead of chop,” allowing the head to conserve kinetic energy so it can be used effectively with lower-poundage bows, and for large game with average bows. Our test couldn’t confirm or deny either of those statements, but it did reveal several very impressive attributes.

Especially cool was that our test found even faster blade deployment than claimed by the company. A check of the package shows a graphic of the blades deploying fully sometime after hide penetration, whereas we found the blades fully deployed immediately after piercing the outerlayers of our test medium, positively delivering their impressive 2-inch-diameter cut.

Maybe most impressive is the head’s extreme strength/durability, as evidenced by it blowing completely through our Durock board, allowing the arrow to fly several more yards. Both ferrule and blades were left impressively unscathed while the rubber O-ring was pushed back on the arrow and could have been used again.

One gripe with this head: They require assembly (attaching the blades) before you can launch them.

The HyperShock is also available in 80 grains (11⁄8-inch diameter) and 125 grains (23⁄4 inches). —Mark Melotik

(248) 668-0875; www.aftershockarchery.com

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VORTEX MINI-MAX PRO EXTREME

$27 FOR 3

mini max extremeSimilar to its Vortex Solid brother also in our test, the Mini-Max Pro Extreme is another proven performer that offers a wide-cutting, two-blade design that requires the user to assemble its blades before use. Included for this process is a miniature hex wrench and screws; be forewarned that the process, which requires a certain amount of manual dexterity, should not be attempted in the field lest you risk losing the miniature components.

The Pro Extreme’s .032-inch-thick blades offer a relatively wide 2-inch-diameter cut that—also like the Solid—provide a cutting width of 7⁄8 inch even while in the “closed” position during flight.

Most impressive was this head’s durability during our torture test. The Mini-Max made it virtually all the way through the Durock medium and, save for slightly bent blades, showed no other signs of wear. And after several shots, much like the Solid and Wasp Jackhammer, the beefy rubber blade-retaining O-ring was unscathed and could have been shot again.

Though it compared somewhat favorably with our test’s other 2-inch-diameter-cut heads, the Mini-Max delivered the worst penetration in the test. More notable is that it was bested in this regard by its similar, and larger, 21⁄2-inch-cut Solid brother. —Mark Melotik

(888) 620-9888; www.vortexbroadheads.com

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RAGE 2-BLADE

$40 FOR 3

rageThis head features two blades that open by sliding back along the ferrule and outward when the leading edges of the blades encounter friction. The point is a sharp-to-the- tip razor about 3⁄8-inch wide bolted to the ferrule perpendicular to the two-inch blades. In flight, it is 3⁄4 inch wide.

Each 3-pack of super-sharp heads comes with an extra practice head. I tried them all and found they all shot well and consistently with field points.

Our test heads penetrated about 8 inches and produced a TCA of almost 38. In the first shot in the torture test, it blew through the cement board and lost a blade when it inadvertently embedded in the oak support on the backside. On the second shot, it blew through unscathed. We were most impressed by the entry wound in the penetration test—actually greater than the two-inch cutting diameter—and the huge hole blasted through the torturetest cement board. —Mike Strandlund

(888)779-0092: www.ragebroadheads.com

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NAP SPITFIRE & SHOCKWAVE

Spitfire $38 FOR 3

Shockwave $30 FOR 3

spitfireThe Spitfire is one of those heads that has passed the most severe test of all—the test of time. In fact it’s been around so long it was among those we tried in our first mechanical Field Test eight years ago.

Back then it was in the middle of the pack penetration-wise, and surprisingly enough it performed even better up against the newest generation of competitors. Plus, its sizeable cutting diameter (1 1⁄2 inches) resulted in a pretty impressive 38 inches of total cutting area. Its long blades suffered some bending in the torture test.

Like all NAP offerings the Spitfire is built with super high quality design and construction. It’s taken a lot of game, proven its staying power, and we think will carry on indefinitely.

We also tested the Shockwave, another NAP mechanical with three forward-facing blades that pivot from the rear, similar to the Spitfire. It is a bit shorter than the Spitfire and has a larger conical head.

The Shockwave didn’t do as well as its big brother in penetration and yielded the least TCA. But the Shockwave is a simple and solidly built head, and it showed in our torture test. It blew well through the Durock and emerged unscathed. It was even still sharp! —Mike Strandlund

(800) 323-1279, www.newarchery.com

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GRIM REAPER RAZORTIP

$34 FOR 3

razortipThe Razortip is a mechanical head employing a familiar fold-back, frontal deploying design concept with some unique features. Our test model was a 13⁄8-inch cutting diameter head (a 1 3⁄4 is also available) with a wicked-looking hollow-ground Trocar tip with a tiny razor embedded behind each of the three edges. The three sturdy blades (.035-inch thick tapering to .020 toward the end) each open in line with the razors and sweep back to about 45 degrees. You examine an open Grim Reaper and say, “This head is designed for penetrating.”

And it is. While I use mechanical heads quite a bit, I always said I would never use them on hogs, the hardest substance on four legs. For this test, I decided to give them a go on a springtime Texas hog hunt. On my first shot, the head sailed through the 75-pound pig like so much warm butter. The next evening I was at full draw for a long time on a porker that wouldn’t hold still.

When he finally did and I let fly, I discovered that his buddy, to my surprise and his misfortune, had wandered behind him in perfect alignment. I hammered two hogs with one shot—and the second one was hit harder than the first, leaving a much clearer blood trail!

So I wasn’t surprised that in our tests, the Razortip was the top penetrator. I was more surprised that the head, which is more complicated than most with some rather tender looking parts, blasted through the cement board, hanging up in fibers on the backside, with no visible damage.

I did notice that repeated shots into a foam target would cause it to loosen up a bit. I’ll be taking this head hunting this fall. —Mike Strandlund

(877) 474-6732; grimreaperbroadheads.com

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TRU-FIRE SWITCHBLADE

$40 FOR 3

tru fire switchbladeAt first glance back in January, Tru-Fire’s all-new Switchblade easily made my list of 2008’s most-intriguing new gear, and after testing I’m still intrigued. Especially by this head’s rear-deploying blades that positively lock open—a ground-breaking design that in my opinion improves on a major mechanical-head fault: The fact that most every current mechanical out there can—if its kinetic energy is halted inside the target animal— simply fold up and back harmlessly out of its entrance hole. In theory, if the threeblade

Switchblade stops within an animal, it will retain its deadly cutting ability like any fixed-blade head.

Testing revealed some question marks we would have liked to explore in more depth. We found the blades opened dependably on impact without use of rubber bands or O-rings (a definite benefit), and the head produced solid, middle-of-the-pack cutting area. But Tru-Fire touts a 13⁄8-inch-wide cutting diameter; our test consistently produced a 1-inch-diameter entrance hole. Not a huge difference, especially with a three-blade head. More encouraging is that, when fully opened, we discovered the head produced a 11⁄2- inch diameter (slightly larger than the company touts).

Questions were raised after the Switchblade’s performance in our torture test. At the first shot it blew apart with the arrow ricocheting backward; on the next shot a new head (and the entire arrow) blew completely through the Durock—but the head also blew apart on impact. You can argue that being shot into Durock is not a “real-world” test, yet the vast majority of heads came away from this extreme test intact. —Mark Melotik

(920) 923-6866; www.trufire.com

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TROPHY RIDGE UNDERTAKER

$36 FOR 3

undertakerThe Undertaker, formerly Piston Point, is one of the newest and most intriguing mechanical broadhead designs. Blades are hinged in the front, rather than the rear like most. The ferrule is designed something like a slide hammer, with the rear “piston” sliding forward on a shaft upon impact. Inertia causes blades open, (from the rear, without folding back), which suggests they open with less wasted energy and theoretically, anyway, better penetration.

Other impressive design features are a very sharp and hard chisel tip, and blades that sweep like a curved Persian cutlass, both of which further suggest enhanced penetration. And our tests confirm it: the Undertaker furnished ample penetration and Total Cutting Area. Plus our test showed that the entry wound was the full cutting diameter of the head—it opened on impact.

The Undertaker’s performance in our torture test wasn’t quite so inspiring. It emerged through the backside but didn’t pass through like some of the others, and all of its blades broke off in the cement board.

I shot the Undertaker out to 50 yards and could not discern any difference in arrow flight with field points. This is a head that I plan to experiment with further on big game. —Mike Strandlund

(800) 694-9494, www.trophyridge.com

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WASP JAK-HAMMER SST

$29 FOR 3

wasp jackhammerOne of three “Jak-Hammer” mechanicals from Wasp, the SST features the same pre-aligned, Stainless Smart Tip (SST) shared by the entire series. The company touts the stainless steel tip as one of the sharpest and strongest of any broadhead, but we like the fact the tip’s sharp, hollow-ground edges are factory-aligned with the three stainless steel blades—in theory creating a cutting path that should help ensure maximum penetration.

We also like the three beefy .036-inchthick blades—the head’s most striking feature and among the thickest in the test—which no doubt helped this head deliver an admirable showing in our torture test. It penetrated one inch out the backside of the Durock sheets, and both the ferrule and blades emerged virtually unscathed. Even the beefy rubber O-ring could have been used again.

Penetration was excellent and it was in the top tier in Total Cutting Area. Like most heads this one also produced very fast blade deployment to its full cutting diameter. —Mark Melotik

(860) 283-0246; www.wasparchery.com

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EASTMAN FIRSTCUT EXP MAGNUM 125

$24 FOR 3

first cut magnumFew heads are more wicked-looking than this “double-threat” hybrid design that effectively solves what some believe is another potential mechanical-head drawback: What happens if the blades don’t open as planned? We found the EXP Magnum’s two 13⁄8-inch-diameter mechanical blades that are held in place via rubber band did open quickly and consistently as promised, but even if they didn’t the relatively large leading two-blade fixed head (11⁄8-inch diameter) should still do considerable damage. With both options this head is essentially a deadly four-blade design with the potential to wreak as much internal havoc as any head in this test, and in most cases more. Its looks aren’t deceiving; this head was second only to its FirstCut Tri-Force brother in Total Cutting Area with an impressive score of 45.

I’ve previously used this head—on a recent Illinois whitetail hunt—and while I never drew my bow, my extensive pre-hunt practice virtually eliminated my concern that the large leading two-blade design might affect high-speed accuracy. Admittedly this one wouldn’t be my first choice for consistent long-range work, but out to 30 yards, I found the EXP produced consistent groups.

It’s interesting to note that even during our relatively mild penetration test the leading tip curled over. Based on this fact we expected a poor showing in our torture test but the head came through in one piece—including retaining its mechanical blades.

Note this head is 125 grains; we stipulated this would be a 100-grain test but included this one as a “control.” This head is also available in 100 grains with a 1-inch fixed blade.—Mark Melotik

(800) 241-4833; www.eastmanoutfitters.com

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SULLIVAN INNERLOC EXP 3-BLADE

$34 FOR 3

sullivan innerlocInnerloc makes several styles and models of fixed-blade heads but only one mechanical, the EXP that it offers in our tested 3-blade style, as well as a 2-blade (same price) that offers the same two options for cutting diameter—1 1⁄8 or 1 7⁄8 inches—as regulated by its unique stop collar. Simply reversing the base-mounted collar gives you the second cutting-diameter option. Wisely, the company recommends the smaller diameter for maximum penetration, especially with lower-poundage bows, and the larger when there are no worries about penetration depth.

Based on our testing, Innerloc may not need any more mechanical choices; the EXP and its “O-ring- and rubberbandless” design is plenty good, turning in one of the most impressive overall showings in our test. Penetration (we tested the larger 17⁄8-inch option) was among the best in the test.

Durability was also stellar; the EXP pierced our Durock torture-test medium and came within fractions of completely sticking out the backside. Even more impressive is that the head was virtually unscathed.

A unique feature of this head is that it can be shot “open”—ideal for shooting through blind mesh for turkeys, or when seeking maximum confidence for angled shots any time. Simply pull the blades open and they will remain open. —Mark Melotik

(800) 861-8090; www.innerloc.com

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THE TESTS

broadhead testWe tested these broadheads for proper functioning, penetration, total cutting damage produced, toughness in encountering hard material, and shooting accuracy.

Our intent in the penetration test was to simulate actual big game animal tissue as closely as possible using very consistent, readily available, and reasonably inexpensive material. Our medium consisted of five layers in this order: rubber-backed felt carpeting, countertop type plastic laminate; eighth-inch hardboard, two-inch extruded polystyrene rigid insulation, and a block of foam target material supplied by Rinehart Targets. Our rationale was that the carpeting would resemble hair and skin; the laminate and hardboard would simulate the hard-surfaced, fibrous material of a rib, and the foam would be a reasonable facsimile of muscle and organ tissue. We chose the Rinehart foam, the largest component, because it is a dense, rubbery material more like tissue than most drier foams. We made sure the medium was thick enough that the arrows would stop within the material for reliable penetration comparisons.

The purpose of the construction foam layer was to give us an understanding of how the heads were performing as they traveled through the medium. After shooting we could pull the arrows out until we felt them starting to exit the Rinehart block, then separate the layers there to measure the cuts and determine how far the blades had been deployed at that point.

Before shooting, we saturated the various materials with water to provide a lubricity as an arrow penetrating an animal would have.

We calculated penetration by measuring the length of arrow that had not penetrated, subtracted that from total arrow length, then added back on the length of the head. We measured to the nearest sixteenth of an inch. Our Total Cutting Area formula consists of cutting diameter x total penetration x number of blades. We consider this a critical and revealing number although there are often tradeoffs. For this factor we made the judgment call of crediting a second cutting diameter to heads with razor tips transverse to the main blades. We did not credit those with razor tips lining up with main blades; it could be presumed that the benefits of such a design would show up in the penetration measurement (and indeed the top-penetrating head was of such design). Conical-tipped heads can be presumed to perform better when encountering heavy bone, or at least designed with that a priority.

Our torture-test material consisted of two layers of half-inch, fiber-reinforced Durock cement board. All shooting was from 12 feet with a Mathews Drenalin bow weighing in at 70 pounds draw with CX Maxima 350 arrows, 281⁄4 inches long. –Mike Strandlund

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HIGHLIGHTS

broadhead test• The main purpose for the existence of mechanical broadheads is to increase arrow flight consistency and accuracy in hunting. And most of the heads tested here convinced us they can group with field points. Only those with the largest profiles gave noticeable deviation—and it was generally less than we’ve experienced with conventional broadheads.

• Our findings showed a significant variation in performance among the tested heads. The best-penetrating heads plowed 22-percent deeper than the least. The difference in Total Cutting Area covered an even wider spectrum—a whopping 69 percent.

• The best-penetrating heads in the test were the Grim Reaper, Fuse Kumasi and Innerloc EXP, all achieving 9 inches or more. A dozen of the other heads were bunched up around the 81⁄2-inch mark. Five heads stopped short of 8 inches.

• Three heads were clearly superior in the Total Cutting Area category: both the Eastman heads and the Wasp produced 15 percent more than the five heads that managed just short of 40 inches TCA. Note the EXP is 130 grains. A heavier head would be expected to outperform a lighter one in these tests, all else being equal.

• We found some discrepancies in weights and cutting diameters listed by companies. We were surprised that after taking careful measurements, we found some heads actually had more cutting diameter than claimed.

• With a few notable exceptions, the heads showed surprising resilience in the torture test. Only one was destroyed; two others lost blades, a couple had bent blades and a couple had mashed tips.

• Only one head failed to fully deploy after passing through the first three layers (about 3 inches) of penetration medium.

• The tip of one head curled back on the comparatively pliant penetration medium.

• For comparison purposes we introduced two “control subjects” into the test: The Trophy Ridge Rocket Steelhead 100 (see sidebar) and a 100-grain replaceable 3-blade (fixed-blade) head with a hard chisel point. We chose the fixed model because it is popular and has been a consistently high performer in our tests of heads in that category. Common wisdom is that mechanicals consume energy in opening and thus penetrate less than similar fixed-blade heads. Identical to our first mechanical heads Field Test, published in the December 2000 issue of Bowhunting World, the fixed-blade did in fact out-penetrate mechanicals—but not all of them. We found four mechanicals (including the Steelhead) edged out the fixed-blade with around 10 percent more penetration, and a dozen were nearly identical.

• We were quite amazed that all but a couple of the mechanicals in this test beat the fixed-blade in Total Cutting Area!

• We must point out that it may be tempting to put too much importance in Total Cutting Area performance. That’s because there are often tradeoffs. We believe that in shooting big game with broadheads the order of priority is 1) shot placement 2) achieving pass-through for ample wound and bloodtrail and 3) maximum Total Cutting Area. –Mike Strandlund

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THE TORTURE TEST

Penetration is one thing. But what happens to heads that are matched against bone or, in our case, two layers of half-inch, fiber-reinforced Durock concrete sheetrock? Pictured below are heads following the torture test, keyed to names and descriptions.

1: VORTEX Solids: Head completely penetrated. Shaft stuck in target. Last inch of each blade curled.

2: VORTEX Pro Extreme Mini Max: Hung up on fibers exiting backside. Slightly bent blades. Otherwise, no visible destruction.

3: INNERLOC EXP: Head almost completely penetrated Durock. Unscathed.

4: HYPERSHOCK: Blew through Durock. Unscathed.

5: EASTMAN EXP 125 Magnum: Penetrated halfway with tip protruding. Tip curled.

6: EASTMAN Tricut: Tip protruded 11⁄2 inches beyond backside.

7: TRU-FIRE Switchblade: First shot, glanced off and broke up. Second shot, blew through. Ferrule broke in half.

8: WASP Jackhammer: Went 1 inch beyond backside. Unscathed.

9: GRIM REAPER: Hung up going out the backside. Unscathed.

10: ROCKY MOUNTAIN Snyper 2-Blade: Went 1⁄2 inch through the backside. Unscathed.

11: RAGE 2-Blade: Had 1-inch protrusion through backside. Lost blade on first shot when we hit the oak support inadvertently. Unscathed on second shot.

12: TROPHY RIDGE Undertaker: Tip went 1 inch through backside. All blades busted off.

13: NAP Shockwave: Penetrated completely 1 foot beyond backside. Unscathed.

14: NAP Spitfire: Hung up on exiting backside. Blades slightly bent.

15: G5 Tekan II: Blew through. Landed on ground unscathed.

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