Bow Tuning – success depends on it
For every bowhunter I know who makes sure his or her equipment is in peak condition, numerous others don’t. Today’s compound bows and arrows are highly technical. They are engineered for perfection, so bow tuning and routine maintenance is key to ensuring their accuracy. Without routine maintenance, you may as well stay home. So, here’s how to guarantee your gear will be ready when the time comes to make that crucial shot.
Standing just 20 yards from my 3-D target, my guest took a shot. His first arrow hit three inches left. The second was on the mark left to right, but high. His third, well…we won’t talk about that one.
I would be guiding my guest on an Alberta Whitetail hunt when upon closer inspection, I found that his timing was off. Indeed, his top and bottom cams were rolling over inconsistently, so there was no way he could possibly shoot with any consistency. It was a problem with no easy fix, and we had to do a complete tune-up before he could hunt.
This situation happens more than you might think. I’m guessing you’ve been there yourself. The buck you’d been waiting for stepped out, so you drew, and all was right with the world. Or so you thought. Upon release, for some reason, your shot went awry, resulting in either a miss or even worse, a wounded animal. After mentally reprimanding yourself, the dust settled and you checked your bow, only to discover that it is hitting far left and low. Why? It’s most likely that you neglected to properly tune or maintain one or several aspects of either your bow, arrow or even your release. Sound familiar?
You might be the best archer in your state or province, but no matter how many arrows you throw, one guarantee is that you will only ever be as accurate as your equipment is set up to shoot. Did you know that a majority of bows out there are out of tune? In turn, most aren’t performing to their potential. They are deadly accurate if tuned properly. The unfortunate fact is that few folks know how to do this properly.
Match Arrows to Bows
The first step to properly tuning any bow is matching your arrows to the bow and the poundage you’re shooting. Ideally, hunting arrows should weigh around six grains per pound of draw weight you’re shooting. To calculate this, take the total weight of your arrow (i.e., grain weight per inch multiplied by your arrow length), then add the combined weight of your nock, fletching, and broadhead/field tip), and divide this number by your draw weight. If the final number falls around six grains or even a fraction higher, you’ve probably got a well-balanced hunting arrow for your set-up. Remember, each manufacturer has arrow selection charts that simplify your choice, but this is just one step.
One of the most common problems causing inconsistent arrow flight is timing. In other words, see if your top and bottom cams (if your bow has two) are rolling over consistently, or if one is ahead of the other.
I recently did a short survey. I asked a sample group of my friends and acquaintances two questions. The first was: Have you checked the timing on your bow? If so, I then asked: Was the timing found on or off? Believe it or not, at least half responded that no, they had not checked their timing. The other half who had checked indicated they needed to have a technician adjust it to ensure that both the top and bottom cams were rotating in sync.
Again, it doesn’t matter how skilled you are as an archer. If your timing is out, it’s impossible to shoot consistent groups. This is one of the most crucial aspects of bow tuning any compound bow.
Check D-Loop/Nock Height
Another crucial consideration is D-Loop or nock height. It might seem obvious to some, but you’d be surprised how many bows have D-Loops, or nocks, that are set too high or even too low.
Most of today’s bow strings are pre-stretched, but string stretch can occur, particularly on older strings. If a D-Loop or nock point is set in error or if it creeps upward or downward, or if it wasn’t set right in the first place, a bow can shoot accurately. It’s that simple. Be sure to use a bow square or even better a level to set the D-Loop or nock, height properly.
Blade, Fletching Alignment
Although some folks argue about how relevant this is, most technical archers believe in aligning their fletching with their bowstrings. Likewise, particularly with three-blade broadheads, many even believe in also aligning the blades with the fletching. Consistent alignment usually improves arrow flight.
Fine-Tune Center Shot
Center shot refers to the straightness of the arrow rest, or the alignment of the arrow with your bowstring on the rest. If it is canted, it will launch the arrow to the left or right. Center shots can be tested at close range by shooting your bow through paper and examining the tear to determine which direction the arrow is kicking.
However, if you have the luxury of shooting longer distances, say out to 60 yards, the center shot can easily be determined because your arrow will begin to hit left or right with greater variance the further you shoot. By carefully shifting your rest to the left or right, you will eventually achieve precision.
Sight-In with Field Tips, Broadheads
Slighting in with field tips is your first step to tuning a bow. Whenever you set up a bow, start at close range. Begin at 10 yards, then move further away, i.e., 20, 30, 40 yards, and so on. With today’s compound bows, it is not uncommon to shoot three-inch groups out to at least 30 yards.
By setting your vertical adjustment first to confirm height and then your horizontal adjustment second to confirm left and right, you will simplify the sighting process. Remember, to chase the arrow with your adjustments. For instance, if you’re shooting consistently high and left, you’ll need to move your pin up and to the left until you are consistently putting your arrows on the button. Only when your sight pins are accurately set can you proceed with fine-tuning the center shot.
Bow tuning with field tips is important for the off-season, but as you move into hunting season, always tune with the broadhead you will use for hunting. Any variations evident with field tips will usually be exaggerated when you shoot with broadheads. Most compound bows require some sight adjustment to dial in fixed blade broadheads.
Strings, Cables and Cams
Over time, string wear is inevitable, but by servicing your bowstring every couple hundred shots can keep it in top working condition. This is important, even with a new bow.
Start with a quick visual inspection to see if it needs treatment. If the string appears to be frayed, dry or grey, or it no longer feels tacky to the touch, it needs attention. If it’s seriously frayed, replace it. Proper maintenance of a dry string requires applying a modest coating of bowstring wax and thoroughly working it into the strands. Rub the string between your thumb and forefinger, creating friction so that the wax melts and is absorbed into the fibers. Take care not to apply wax to the serving or the length of string that travels around the cam, which can get gummed up and impede rollover. Keeping your string in top condition will extend its life and keep it moving freely through the cable guards.
Next, cables should still be regularly inspected for wear and damage and replaced if necessary. Also, check your cams. Bowstrings stretch, some more than others, which can cause the timing between the top and bottom cams to go off. Each cam should roll over in sync, so if one is ahead of the other, make the necessary timing adjustments. With the right equipment, it is possible to do this on your own, however, most will want to have a skilled bow technician do it.
Inspect, Tighten Screws and Bolts
A compound bow is designed for precision, so if all the parts are assembled correctly and the screws and bolts are properly tightened, it will perform as well as you can shoot it. Every time you shoot your bow, however, the resulting shock and vibration will gradually cause the hardware to loosen—and that’s when problems arise.
Using an imperial Allen key set, ensure all the bolts and screws are snug, being careful not to overtighten them. The ones that receive the most stress are the ones likely to loosen. That includes the draw-length bolts on the cam module, the string stops, and the hardware on the draw stops and cable guard. Be sure to also tighten all screws that hold accessories such as sights and stabilizers in place. Some bowhunters use instant adhesive to secure various bolts and screws, though you can also apply a little bowstring wax to the threads before inserting and tightening them.
Remember the Arrows
Whenever you get a new batch of shafts, conduct a spin test on every arrow using a commercial spin tester, or simply spin them by hand. Ensure that there is no wobble at all as the arrow spins. If it is bent or otherwise broken, it won’t fly properly and should be discarded. Know that some damage is almost undetectable, and not all arrows are the same. Some are straighter than others, even when they’re new. Finally, run each new shaft through an arrow square to true up the tip before gluing in the insert.
After shooting arrows at the range, always check them for dings, bends or other damage, again using the spin test. Also, carefully inspect the tips for fine splinters, and make sure the inserts are in tight and the broadheads are seated properly. If vanes or other fletching are damaged, replace them immediately. Do all this and you can be certain you’ve covered every detail and that your gear is ready to shoot.
Good As Gold
Last but not least, one of the best tips I can offer is to find a skilled bow technician. A competent bow tech is a precious commodity these days. Most are mediocre, some you should never let touch your bow, and relatively few are amazing. Once you find a truly skilled technician, keep that person close. Believe me, the good ones are invaluable.
Beyond these important steps, bow tuning and maintenance is an ongoing process. It requires diligence and attention to detail. Today’s compounds are precision shooting instruments. They need to be checked regularly and adjusted when necessary.
Archery is a skill that requires practice, practice and yes…more practice. Only by refining your shooting skills can you develop the sensitivities that will allow you to recognize when something isn’t right with your bow. Similarly, tuning and maintenance become second nature the more you do it. Take care of your bow and arrows, and they’ll take care of you.