Bow hunting is a big part of the industry, and arrows play a major factor in a hunter’s success. When looking to take down big bucks, what better arrow to use than broadheads? Broadheads are designed specifically for a quick kill, making it humane. Iron Will Outfitter’s Co-Founder Bill Vanderheyden designs a broadhead that delivers. He shares a premium product that’s up for the challenge and can handle the task.
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Iron Will Broadhead – Bill Vanderheyden
I’m staying here in Colorado. I’m meeting up with a fellow Wisconsinite, Bill Vanderheyden. Bill is the owner of Iron Will Broadhead. Bill, welcome to the show.
Thanks, Bruce. Thank you for having me on.
We had a great warm-up, and I get a lot of background because Bill has brought out a tool for you to use that is exceptional. There are a lot of broadheads out there, they all do their job. Bill’s with his background in engineering has come up with a tool that’s going to help you no matter where you go in the world. Bill, welcome to the show and let’s jump right into your broadhead.
I spent several years in engineering trying to make this broadhead the best I could. I was going after on max penetration on big animals like elk when I got started. I had a bad experience where I hit an elk, shot a little too far forward, hit the shoulder blade and had a broadhead fail. I decided to use my mechanical engineering product development background to try to engineer a better broadhead. I wanted a broadhead that’s going to be able to go through that shoulder blade and stay sharp, not bend or break. I spent a lot of years working on the geometry and the design along with the materials used to try and make the best broadhead I can.
I know a lot of the audience are whitetail hunters. A lot of us head out west or we might go to Alaska or other places and hunt moose or elk which are huge animals. They weigh hundreds of pounds and their bones are relatively large. Let’s talk about the application of Iron Will on that animal.
We’ve got a lot of guys using this on elk and big moose in the Yukon as well. The performance has been excellent. We’ve had a number of guys have shots through the shoulder blade and get a complete pass through on elk, quartering on shots, pass through the shoulder blade. That’s the difference between this broadhead than the ones you’re typically going to buy. Our blade is A2 tool steel, 62,000ths thick. With A2, we can get high hardness, 60 Rockwell C. You can get an extremely sharp edge with that. It retains that edge well. It can go through ribs or a shoulder blade or whatever, and it’s still going to stay sharp and penetrate through. A2 also has excellent impact strength so not only is it hard. Most stainless-steel blades, when they’re that hard, they’re going to be brittle but in the case of A2, it’s got a high impact strength as well. It’s about three times the typical blade steel so the performance through the bone has been great.
In the past, I always used 125s and I shot Rocky Mountain Supremes when I first started out hunting. The total weight of my arrow and broadhead was 450 grains. We were talking about kinetic energy and the importance of it. How does that kinetic energy relate to your broadheads?
The kinetic energy for the bigger animals, 450 grains is a pretty good weight. I would recommend not going below 400 and 450 is a good point. There are a lot of guys shooting 500 or higher as well. A little heavier total arrow weight will give you better retain momentum and your bow is going to be a little more efficient. When you take that shot, immediately when the arrow leaves the bow, it’s going to have a little more kinetic energy than it would with a lighter arrow because of the efficiency of your bow. Also, that faster arrow is going to have more drags proportionally to velocity squared. You end up with more drag. If you’re shooting that 40 or 50 yards shot, that is always going to slow down more. Whereas the heavier arrow is going to have more retained momentum and so you’re going to have better penetration when you hit that animal out there ways.
I’m hunting whitetails in I-80 Wisconsin. Why do I need a bone breaker broadhead?
It gives you more margin. As a design engineer, whenever you develop a product, when that product comes to market you would think of, “What are all the potential failure modes? Am I going to have those issues here?” I’ve tried to design this broadhead so there’s going to be zero failure modes on an animal, especially in a whitetail. Let’s say that animal turns or spins and you’re hitting through the shoulder or lower down with a thicker part of the leg, maybe the heart is right behind there but you’ve got to get through that to make a shot. That’s a situation where this broadhead would shine where others wouldn’t. I’ve got buddies of mine back in Wisconsin that do quality deer management. They’ve been targeting 5.5, 6.5-year-old bucks and they were choosing mechanicals for years, and they found with these bigger older bucks, their bones are bigger.
They’re having issues on ribs in some cases. Our ferrule material is a great five titanium which has an excellent strength-to-weight ratio. Since it’s lighter than steel, you can have more material to it. You can have thick wall sections in very strong material. Not only is that blade going to pound through the bone okay, but the ferrule is going to hold it and not bend. It’s making sure that energy is going through the animal. I go back and hunt whitetail in Wisconsin and Indiana. Is it needed? No. If you shot in place, then it’s perfect, a lot of broadheads that will do the job. When something happens, it gives you more margin that it’s not going to fail.
When you think of other broadheads in the marketplace, $30, $40 for three is the sweet spot or any number of broadheads. Yours that is at $100 is like, “Nope.” How do I justify spending $70 more on the same three blades? They’re not the same three blades, but apart on the arrows, they are.
I understand what you’re saying. I designed this broadhead to be the ultimate performance for myself initially and with my friends and family. We were all shooting and we shot about 50 animals before I decided to bring it to market. If you look at manufacturing cost versus selling price, you’re probably getting twice the value with this broadhead than you are at most. Most of everybody out there is using cheap blade steel, 420 G2 pretty low-end blade steel. With that steel, a lot of times they are not that sharp to start with but by the time you go high through a rib, there’s not much of an edge left. You’re not slicing all the way through the animal at that point, you’re pushing the tissue aside as you’re going through. Whereas with the sharp edges, it’s slicing all the way through it. It kills quicker and with better bleeding. You pay for this A2 tool steel. It costs more to process this. We set up and do 36 grinding passes on this to hit all the edges and do three passes per edge to get extremely sharp edges. I go through a heat treat process where I do a cryogenic treatment. That’s a low temperature to get the microstructure to all be uniform and strong and not have any weak spots.
After that, we go through a triple tempering process or three draws to the temper which takes a lot longer but it gives you that excellent impact strength. That’s why the blade cost more. The titanium ferrule costs five times as much to make as it does an aluminum ferrule. Most hunter grains have 70, 75 or 60, 61 aluminum. Titanium is two to three times stronger but it also costs a lot more. I’ve seen with aluminum that if there’s heavy bone impact, a lot of times you’re going to bend that ferrule and you don’t do that on titanium. For our heavier weights, we use hardened stainless steel and we harden it and machine it in the hardened condition so we hold tight tolerances. We’re typically at about a 10,000ths of an inch concentricity. They spin true and are repeatable, but all that engineering that has gone into it in trying to make the best broadhead makes them cost more. That’s the difference of why I’m selling it for 2.5 times as much as the typical broadhead because they cost about five times as much to make. You pay for performance here.A very quick kill when hunting is humane. Click To Tweet
You don’t need it for any animal but a lot of guys are going on that elk hunt, moose hunt or mountain goat and sheep. They got a lot riding on that shot and they want to make sure the broadhead is going to do the job. Me personally, I feel like every animal I shoot I’ve got a lot riding on the shot. I’ve had a broadhead fail and I know how they can turn a trip into a nightmare. Having that success instead of failure is certainly worth $30 more for a broadhead to me. I love the stories I’m getting this year of people saying, “I got this animal, it moved on me. The one guy shot a moose right through the heavy part of the shoulder bone and went through the heart.” He says, “Another broadhead would have failed.” It’s a huge Yukon moose. I’m loving all the success stories that are coming in and able to help people succeed.
One reason I wanted Bill on the show is simply to think about what we got invested in our hunt. I don’t care if you’re going to the back 40. If you’re going to the back 40, you get to ATV. We all use that all the time. You’ve got three or four sets? Fine. You’ve got the cross boots, rubber boots and you’ve got Treezyn camo or SITKA. You get your bow and it might be a Mathews or Bowtech. For me I shoot an Excalibur crossbow, they’ll cost a couple of bucks. Before we even leave the truck to get into our ATV to drive to the thing, we have thousands and thousands of dollars. In that moment of truth, there’s one thing that either is going to fail you or it’s going to back you up and that’s your broadhead.
You can have Carbon Express, you can have the best setup, you can be drawing it from 60 yards. You don’t miss but if something happens that the animal takes that step, he throws his shoulder open. He closes his shoulder, he moves his butt around anything like that all of a sudden, your double long isn’t a double long anymore. That’s why I want Bill to come on and express the value of his product. We owe it to that critter, to that deer, moose, buffalo, it doesn’t matter what you’re shooting. We owe it to them to finish the job that we started and do it as ethically as possible. Bill, your thoughts?
At the moment of truth there when that animal walks out and you’re taking that shot, what matters the most at that point is the broadhead and your bow and arrows as well. A lot of that other gear that you buy is not going to matter at that point, it’s the broadhead. “Is it going to make it through?” I agree with making an ethical shot. I was talking to a guy and he had come to realize how much sharpness matters. I realized that over the last few years as we tried to refine that sharping process and get it better and get those edges extremely sharp. I see a huge difference when shooting an animal.
I’d say the last dozen animals I’ve taken with it, the arrow zips through and they barely know what happened. They’ll know something happened, they’ll run 20 or 40 yards and stop and look around and then dropped dead. That’s what I want it to be a quick kill, humane, slice through get it done. I want to have it go halfway through and take it out. On an elk, this happens a lot. People will not penetrate enough and hit one lung. That elk is going to go a long way on one lung. You’re probably not going to find them, not that day anyway. I don’t want that to happen. I’ve experienced that on a big bull once and that was enough for me to know that I’m going to do everything I can to engineer broadhead so that doesn’t happen to me anymore or my friends and family. I’m glad I get to extend that in and it helped a lot of other people with it too.
We all have choices. You mentioned that you met up with Bill Pellegrino at the ATA. You walk the halls there and you see that we’re part of a huge industry that’s all dying for our dollars and dying to give us the best equipment we can have when we go in the field. Whitetail hunters, we’re seventeen million strong and represent $30 billion of annual revenues for that industry. We’re a force to be reckoned with in the retail side and people know that. Where I’m going with this is that for the readers, make sure whoever you’re buying your stuff from comes through. If you have a problem with their broadhead, let them know anything that you get and they’ll get better.
One thing we do is we give a lifetime guarantee. People aren’t used to shooting a broadhead more than once. This one, you can’t. We had a guy who hunts on Alabama. He shot four whitetails with the same broadhead. They can shoot one a day down there. He was helping reduce the doe population for a rancher down there. He said it was still shaving hair after three and then after the fourth, he hit a rock and decided to quit using it. It still spun through and it had a little bit of a ding in the edge at that point. Most people aren’t used to that and they’re also used to broadheads failing or blades breaking and they accept it as is. We should expect a higher standard there, too. You mentioned the ATA show and it was my first time there. I didn’t expect to be anybody knows about us but I was amazed how many people had heard about us already and the acceptance there. Everybody that I talked to was excited about a high-end premium broadhead coming out. In fact, Petersen’s Bow Hunter did an article on the Archer’s Dozen, The Twelve Best Products at the ATA Show. They listed our broadhead as one of those products. There are a few different gear reviews coming out, some of the big on bowhunting magazines as well. I believe you’re going to see our broadhead in those also.
People who hunt, they’re 80 or they get on an airplane and go someplace else. They’re passionate about doing the best job they can for the critters. I’ve already addressed this as ethical hunting. When you think about that, they’re going like, “How can I do my job better?” Bill Pellegrino is one of those guys, “How can I take care of my customers better?” That’s why I’m excited about your product and want to see where it goes. It’s the right product for the right time and the money is there. There’s no question about, they have to say, “Why am I doing this? Why am I spending 2.5 times the money?” Not everybody will. There’s plenty of room for everybody, don’t get me wrong.
This isn’t going to be for everybody. I talked to a ton of pro shop dealers at the show and a lot of them said, “We got a lot of guys in here. They want to go buy any $1,000 bow every year but they don’t want to pay more than $10 for a broadhead.” It’s what people are used to and where they think the value. I’ve also heard that almost everybody has a broadhead failure story to tell you about. I don’t think there were a lot of choices out there either, even though there must have been a dozen broadhead companies or more at the show as I walked through and looked everything coming out. When people are selling a broadhead for $10 or $13, they are only putting about $3 into the manufacturing.
A big company will typically target maybe 30% of the selling prices. At most, it’s going to be used for materials and manufacturing. With $3, you don’t have much choice. They’re using the cheapest materials they can to get that built for that. That might not be everybody but it’s a great majority of them. You’re coming out with different designs and unique things here and there, but they’re still using low-cost materials, manufacturing processes because they have to. What the consumer has demanded is, “I want a broadhead for $10 or $13.” That’s what they’ve had to do, but I’m hoping people will put more value on the broadheads going forward.
If you get any questions WhitetailRendezvous@Gmail.com and I’ll certainly get them on to Bill. Are you developing a Pro Staff, Bill?
We do. We have a half dozen people in the Pro Staff so far. If people want to join that, we have a Contact Us form on our website. Put your information in there or request it and we’ll get you an application for that, and our website is IronWillOutfitters.com. You can see our products there and use the contact us form if you have any questions for us as well also our phone numbers on there, (970) 776-5022.
Thanks for that. Bill and I were talking about Iron Will Outfitters or Iron Will Broadheads and there was a little confusion. I didn’t know how he wanted me to introduce him. Bill, I want you to cover that.
Our company name is Iron Will Outfitters. The only product we’re making at this point is broadheads and that’s the Iron Will Broadheads. We’re using the Iron Will Broadheads name more because we’ve had a little confusion with people thinking we’re an elk guide service for hunting and we’re thinking of outfitters more like, “We’re going to outfit you with the gear that you need.” That’s why the website is IronWillOutfitters.com but if you go to IronWillBroadheads.com, it will route you to the same site so that’s the difference there. I love Colorado because I was able to hunt antelope, elk, bear and mule deer. The bear here, there’s no spot and stalk, there is no mating. I got an antelope, a nice Pope and Young buck there. I did get a mule deer as well. I did not kill my elk this time. I went back and I hunted in Wisconsin and Indiana. I got a buck in Indiana. It was four animals so it was a good year and my freezer is full.Most people are used to broadheads failing or blades breaking and they accept it as is. We should expect a higher standard there. Click To Tweet
You had to draw a deer tag. How many points did that earn?
I didn’t earn any in that. The unit I got, it’s a leftover tag.
That works out well. All deer in Colorado are by limited draw. There are some leftover tags. There are some special whitetail areas but for the most part, if you’re thinking of that big 180 mule deer, typically you have to draw for them.
I shouldn’t say it was a leftover. It was a second-choice tag. I got a reference point and then with my second choice, I drew a tag in an area where you can draw with the second choice.
Let’s talk about the hunting tradition and why Bill is involved in the outdoor industry and why you love the hunt so much.
I’ve always loved the hunt. My grandfather and my father hunted and they’re both bowhunters. I’ve got a brother. In fact, my brother Tim was with me on that elk hunt years ago where I hit that shoulder and the broadhead failed. He helped me look for that elk for about five days there. It was working with him where I decided I’m going to try and engineer a better broadhead. We worked together on that. He did a lot of testing. That guy probably killed 100 whitetails. He is a killing machine. He’s an incredible hunter but he gave me a lot of feedback throughout the years on the design of the broadhead. There were several iterations to it and we’d both hunt with it. Eventually, we got it where we wanted to go. At this point, I go back and hunt with my four brothers. We all bow hunt together and we have a good time so it’s a family deal. I love the industry as well and all the guys I was meeting. I met Cameron Hanes, Adam Greentree and Curt Wells. I met a lot of guys at the show that are in the industry and they’re all great guys, so I’m enjoying being a part of that.
It’s a large industry but it’s a small family if you will. There are some people would argue with me that things happen in business and I get that. Collectively, everybody’s supportive of everybody else and that’s a nice place to be.
It is and everybody I’ve talked to has been helpful. It seems like a small family. Everybody’s pretty friendly and helping each other out.
When somebody comes to you and says, “I’m going for a Yukon moose,” how do you set them up?
It’s up to them on what they want to use for an arrow weight and broadhead weight. Our biggest Yukon moose was shot with a 100-grain head. That guy likes to use a 400-grain total arrow weight. On that Elk he shot, it was 55 yards. There’s a testimonial on our website on it. He missed charges a little bit, a little bit high and he put it through the shoulder blade near side and buried it in the far side shoulder blade. He said the broadhead was in good shape and it was buried so deep into the bone. He couldn’t pull it out and it dropped that elk so that was with the 400-grain arrow at 50 yards away.
We’ve had two guys use 125 grains and shoot a big Yukon moose. One of those guys had shot a 60-pound bow this total arrow weight, I forgot but it wasn’t heavy either. He got a complete pass through. In fact, twice the elk didn’t know, he shot it again and it zipped right through. One of his shots went through the elk and it split up a sap by the two-inch ten yards on the other side of the elk. We’ve been seeing great penetration. He’s not a big guy and he’s shooting 60-pound bow is all. He said 27.5 inches draw so not a lot of energy there to be getting that kind of pass-through on a massive three-foot-wide Yukon moose. Our broadheads will work well at any weight you want to shoot at.The heavier arrow is going to have more retained momentum, thus a better penetration when you hit the animal. Click To Tweet
One thing we need to touch on with traditional archers. How are they embracing your broadhead?
Pretty well. Mostly it’s been compound guys that are buying them. That’s been a great majority but we have a few guys shooting stick bows and had good success. We got a lot more guys on getting them up, picking them up and I’m trying to learn more about it myself. I’m talking to some people that are experienced. In fact, I’m going to meet with one of them to learn more about the trad hunters and what they look for. It will work well for them being that cut on contact, extremely sharp, great penetration, that’s what the trad guys need. They don’t typically have as much energy with their bows and their arrow is fishtailing more and uses up more of that energy. Any added penetration they can get is a good thing.
That will be interesting to see because, with traditional archery, they need all the help they can get because of the dimension. People at ten yards and twenty yards as people that can shoot way better than I ever shot. When you’re starting to break in and everything, all the help you can get on the front end will help you get more games.
Some traditional archers are excellent shots. I know a lot that are getting into it and they’re not shooting those take groups like the compound guys do. Any margin for getting through that shoulder blade or whatever they might hit is a good thing.
Bill, on behalf of thousands who read across North America. This has been a fun show and I was looking forward to it because you bring on a product that is setting the bar pretty high. The process you went through to bring it to market and the results are supporting it well.
It’s not going to be for everybody but there’s been a great acceptance. A lot of people have been trying. I’m talking about them on the forums, doing YouTube, independent guys buying them and doing reviews. Search on Iron Will Broadheads on YouTube or in the forums and you’ll see the reviews guys are doing. Shooting them into cinder blocks, popping balloons at 100 yards, and shoot well at long range. Check it out. It has been excellent.
One the next episode, we’re heading to the Midwest Fort Wayne, Indiana. We’re going to meet with John Heingartner from Uncle Bucky’s Outdoor Adventures. John does have a mouthful because he loves to talk and chit chat. He’s a humorous guy and he’s got great stories. One of the best stories is that in 2004 he was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. He was running a construction company and his life changed, but his love for hunting didn’t. John is a man that flat out and gets it done. He gets up in the morning, puts a smile on his face and sees what the day has for him. He’s got a great relationship with God and that’s important to him. As you read his stories in the next episode, you’re going to realize that he’s a special man. I’m happy to call him my friend.
- Iron Will Broadhead
- Excalibur crossbow
- The Twelve Best Products at the ATA Show – article
- Contact Us – Iron Will Outfitters
- John Heingartner – Next episode
- Uncle Bucky’s Outdoor Adventures
About Bill Vanderheyden
Co-Founder and Lead Engineer of Iron Will Broadhead
It all started with family for Bill Vanderheyden. His grandfather and father had long been telling of the adventure to be found from within the Wisconsin woodland. Many deer and intriguing stories had come home from those adventures. Then, at age 15, he stepped into the chronicles by taking his first buck, and was forever hooked.
Bill’s love of the outdoors paralleled his affinity for math and science, especially physics, which led him to become a mechanical engineer. He strove to be the best and graduated number one of 1232 at the University of Wisconsin’s College of Engineering with a perfect 4.0 GPA. Soon after graduating, he began working in the high tech industry on product development and became experienced in state-of-the-art engineering methods and tools, including 3D modeling, structural analysis, materials engineering, hydrodynamics, and shock and vibration testing. He has earned a total of 50 patents throughout his career. All the while, his passion for the outdoors continued to grow, with ever more time spent hunting and exploring remote locales.
Since moving to Colorado in 1999, Bill began supplementing his whitetail hunts with backcountry elk hunts. Finally, in 2004, after many years of hard work with no payoff, it all came together and he shot a nice bull. Dreadfully, the broadhead apparently hit the back edge of the shoulder blade and penetrated only a few inches. After days of searching and contemplating what had gone wrong, that bull was never recovered. With all the time and effort put into earning the opportunity for a shot, the loss was devastating. He resolved to do what was necessary to become a successful archery elk hunter and utilize his engineering skillset to find the best broadhead.
The pursuit began by analyzing the physics behind every aspect of the shot and reading scientific studies. Current broadhead offerings were researched, purchased, and thoroughly tested. Bill was looking for a broadhead that would achieve maximum penetration, pass through bone undamaged, maintain a razor-sharp edge, and fly great at long distances. Every broadhead tested fell short in one or more of these areas. Frustrated with the offerings, he decided to engineer his own broadhead. This started the seven-year process of designing, analyzing, prototyping, testing, and iterating on the design.
Friends and family took over 50 animals while field-testing the iterations, providing valuable feedback along the way. Bill’s brother Tim played a particularly large role in early testing, taking nearly 25 animals through the iterations. Along with the field tests, 3D modeling, computer simulations, materials testing, impact testing, and high-speed camera analysis were all utilized.
As the broadhead design was being refined, elk hunting become an obsession. To increase opportunity during archery season, he worked on mountain fitness and shooting skills nearly daily. This effort culminated in 2014 and 2015 when he took back-to-back six-point bull elk in Colorado’s backcountry. The relentless pursuit for archery elk success and development of the ultimate large game broadhead came together. The penetration, long-range shooting, edge holding ability, and strength were all optimized, creating the ideal broadhead to maximize every bow hunting opportunity.