How to Tune and Maintain Your Bow
… Your success in the field depends on it
Standing just 20 yards from my 3D 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 him on an Alberta whitetail hunt. Upon closer inspection of the bow, his timing was off. Indeed, his top and bottom cams were rolling over inconsistently. There was literally no way that he could possibly shoot with any consistency. A problem with no easy fix, we had to do a complete tune-up before he could hunt.
Why We Miss
It happens more than you might think. In fact, 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 in either a miss or, even worse, a wounded animal. After mentally reprimanding yourself, the dust settled and you checked your bow only discover it’s hitting far left and low. Why? Most likely because you neglected to properly tune or maintain one or several aspects of either your bow, arrow, or even your release. Sound familiar?
For every bowhunter I know who makes sure his or her equipment is in peak condition, there are numerous others who don’t. Today’s compound bows and arrows are highly technical. Engineered for perfection, tuning and routine maintenance is key to ensuring accuracy. Without routine maintenance, you may as well stay home. Here’s how to guarantee your gear will be ready when the time comes to make that crucial shot.
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 few folks know how to do this properly.
Match Your Arrows to Your Bow
The first step to properly tuning any bow is matching your arrows to the bow and poundage you’re shooting. Ideally hunting arrows should weigh around 6 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 6 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 really 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 they checked the timing on their bow? If so, I then asked if they found that it was on or off? Believe it or not, at least half said no, they had not checked their timing and the other half who had, indicated that they needed to have a technician adjust it to ensure that both their 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 tuning any compound bow.
Properly Set 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 creeps upward or even downward or if it wasn’t set right in the first place, a bow can not 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 just how relevant this is, most technical archers believe in aligning their fletching with their bow string. Likewise, particularly with three-blade broadheads, many even believe in also aligning the blades with the fletching. With consistent alignment usually comes improved arrow flight.
Fine Tune Center Shot
Center shot refers to the straightness of the arrow rest, or the alignment of the arrow with your bow string on the rest. If it is canted, it will launch the arrow to the left or right. Center shot 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, 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, Then Broadheads
Sighting-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 in 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 center shot.
Tuning with field tips is important for the off-season, but as you move into hunting season, always tune with the broadhead you will be hunting with. 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.
Check and Maintain Strings, Cables and Cams
Over time, string wear is inevitable, but by servicing your bowstring every couple of hundred shots, you 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 gets 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 roll over. 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 and 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.
Don’t Forget 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 there’s 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 your gear is ready to shoot.
Remember, A Good Bow Technician is 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 them 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 and 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 own 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 becomes second nature the more you do it. Take care of your bow and arrows, and they’ll take care of you.