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Step-By-Step Bow Tuning for Beginners

Confidence in your setup is usually followed by success in the field. To achieve it, your bow needs tuned for top-notch accuracy.

Step-By-Step Bow Tuning for Beginners

A well-tuned bow is a blessing in the deer woods. Accuracy will improve and penetration on game will be astonishing.

Nothing is more pleasing to the bowhunter than using a well-tuned bow. Accuracy is a whole lot easier to achieve and arrow penetration on game is truly impressive. The bow will shoot quieter and be more forgiving as well. The end result is an archer that feels more confident about his or her equipment and the ability to place the arrow exactly on target.

A perfect example is found in a bull elk I harvested a couple seasons ago. After following a step-by-step process of tuning my bow, I practiced hard all summer long, watching my broadhead-tipped arrows fly with amazing accuracy. By the time opening day rolled around, I was brimming with confidence. I didn’t feel worried or concerned about my skill to place the arrow into an elk’s boiler room. I just knew that if given a chance my setup would perform.

About mid-way through the hunt, I was finally given an opportunity. It was a fairly long shot across a large waterhole, but when I eased the sight pin to the bull’s rib cage, everything felt just right, and before I knew it the arrow was off. I caught a glimpse of the arrow in flight, then I heard the unmistakable thud of the broadhead piercing the bull’s chest as he stood slightly quartering away. The arrow seemed to whiz right through the massive bull with little resistance. I couldn’t believe it. The arrow hit the mark perfectly and with incredible force, despite using a bow that pulled only 60 pounds and a 27 ¼-inch draw length! That’s the power of effective bow tuning.

Now that I’ve established a convincing case for proper bow tuning, here’s the method I use for tuning each one of my setups. It’s fairly fast and easy to do. The key is to follow each step in sequential fashion while maintaining a relaxed, methodical approach. Don’t rush the process. If you start to get frustrated at some point because something isn’t working as planned, consider stopping and starting again on another day. When you adopt this type of mindset, bow tuning is much more productive and even enjoyable. Give it a try!

Step 1 — Set Draw Length & Draw Weight

Do not begin tuning a bow without first adjusting the draw length. At full draw, you should be very comfortable as you focus solely on aiming. If you feel tense or hurried to trigger the shot, then your draw length is probably off. In most cases, bowhunters use a draw length that is too long. The telltale sign of improper draw length is a draw-arm elbow that doesn’t align with the arrow at full draw (when viewed from the rear) and a draw-arm hand that doesn’t anchor solidly somewhere along the back of the draw bone (just in front of the earlobe). Experiment with different draw settings until you find the sweet spot.

Do not begin tuning until you set your draw length just right. A telltale sign of improper draw length is a draw-arm elbow that doesn’t align with the arrow at full draw when viewed from the rear.

Draw weight is next. I won’t say too much on this one, only that you should be able to draw you bow very smoothly without raising the top pin more than a few inches above the target. If you have to draw way up to the air or down to the ground, reduce draw weight until drawing is much smoother. This will benefit you greatly when a buck or bull is in range, and you must draw undetected.

You’ll know when your draw length and draw weight are set perfectly. At full draw you’ll feel almost like you can watch TV; aiming should be that effortless and relaxing.

Step 2 — Adjust the Bow’s Cams

Cam synchronization is important because it ensures each cam is working in harmony with one another. This allows for a smooth, consistent cycling of the arrow. This step is absolutely necessary for fast, precise tuning.

Before tuning, be sure to adjust the bow’s cam system to the manufacturer’s recommendation. Also make sure the bow’s draw length is set perfectly for you. Adjusting any of these after the fact could alter good arrow flight, requiring that you redo the tuning process.

The simplest method for evaluating a bow’s cam timing is to draw your bow back while a friend or family member watches closely from the side. Their job is to determine if the top and bottom string harness are hitting each draw stop at the same time. If the bottom cam strikes the stop before the top cam, then you’ll need to twist up the string cable on the bottom harness until it bisects the draw stop at the same time as the top one. This adjust-and-then-check process is how you synchronize the cam system. This step can be time consuming and tedious, but it makes a huge difference in how smooth and fast the arrow accelerates out of the bow.

A bow press is needed to adjust these string harnesses. The most affordable option is to use a portable press like the Bowmaster G2 or the Ratchet-Loc by Ram Products. Or you can invest in a full-size press such as the EZ Green Press. Either option will work just fine.

Step 3 — Adjust Nock Height and Center Shot

Next, adjust the arrow rest to the proper center-shot position as specified by the bow’s manufacturer. In most cases, the midpoint of the arrow shaft should sit about 11/16- to 13/16-inch from the bow’s riser edge while bisecting the threaded rest hole. This places the arrow perfectly in line with the bowstring’s natural forward-moving path. If the center shot is off, the nock-end of the arrow will fishtail drastically to the left or to the right, depending on the setting.

A 90-degree nock height is a good place to begin tuning from. A business card can serve as an effective guide to align the shaft with the bowstring at this angle.

The correct nock-height position on the string is important for the same reason. If it’s set too high or too low, it will cause all sorts of arrow flight issues. Most bows are designed to shoot well with the arrow shaft positioned at a 90-degree angle to the bowstring. You can use a business card as a guide to align the shaft with the bowstring at this angle, then set the arrow’s nock height and D-loop position.


Step 4 — Begin Paper Tuning

There are many arrow-tuning methods to use, but paper tuning seems to be the simplest and most effective. To do it, simply create a 16x16-inch frame out of pieces of wood or carboard, then stretch a piece of painter’s paper across the opening. Then position it several feet in front of a target butt. This will allow you to shoot an arrow through the taut paper from about 4 to 6 feet away, while allowing the arrow to completely clear the paper and then impact the target butt. With paper tuning, make sure you are completely relaxed and using good shooting form. Grip the bow exactly the same way each time as you shoot and be sure your anchor point is comfortable and consistent. If you use sloppy shooting form, you’ll get inconsistent results.

Paper tuning with an unfletched arrow allows for greater tuning precision. This translates into incredibly straight arrow flight and more shooting forgiveness when using broadheads.

Also, make sure you’re using the right arrows spined correctly for your bow. A weak arrow will oscillate excessively as it cycles through the bow, causing all sorts of weird tears. Be sure you follow an arrow manufacturer’s chart and choose the right arrow spine based on your draw weight, arrow length and point weight. If on the cusp of two different spine sizes, choose the stiffer/heavier spined shaft.

Begin the paper-tuning process using a “bare shaft.” Strip the vanes off one of your arrows and then add a three to four-inch strip of electrician’s tape to the rear of the shaft, in the same location where the vanes are applied. This keeps the arrow properly balanced and weighted, just as if the vanes were in place.

Next, shoot this bare shaft through the paper from 4 to 6 feet away. The goal with paper tuning is to achieve a “bullet-hole” tear in the paper — the same circumference of shaft’s width. This indicates perfectly straight arrow flight.

The idea behind using a “bare shaft” is to add precision and to eliminate the fletching from obscuring any slight left/right or up/down tears that would probably go undetected. A bare shaft also eliminates fletching-clearance issues. This way, once perfect flight is achieved, shown by a bullet-hole tear, you’ll know there are issues with the vanes colliding with the arrow rest or bow cables once a fletched arrow produces a different tear. To remedy vane contact, you can apply foot-powder to the rear of the arrow and determine what part of the fletching area is causing contact. Many times, by twisting the nock in a different position, you can eliminate this contact. If not, you may have to use lower-profile vanes to solve the problem.

With paper tuning, always tune out vertical tears first. For a high tear, lower the D-loop on the bowstring or move the arrow rest up. For a low tear, raise the D-loop or move the arrow rest down. Move the arrow position in very small increments until the high or low tear is eliminated.

Next, correct horizontal tears. For a tail-left tear, you’ll move the arrow rest very slightly (1/16-inch) to the right. For a tail-right tear, you’ll move the arrow rest very slightly to the left. Once this is done, follow up shooting with a fletched arrow to confirm the tear.

Step 5 — Trouble Shoot Whacky Tears

If for some reason a large tear exists despite various adjustments to the D-loop and arrow rest, then you may have to consider two other issues to fix: nock fit and/or pinch, and limb-harness adjustment.

Start with nock fit. For better tuning, the nock should clip to the bowstring’s center serving with a solid “snap,” but not so tight that the nock can’t move up and down or twist from side to side with moderate ease. If you try to turn the arrow horizontally from left or right, once it’s clipped to the string, and it wants to twist the entire bowstring with it, then the nock fit is way too tight. To fix this problem, you can try different nocks intended for different center-serving diameters.

Nock pinch is an often-overlooked issue that causes tuning trouble. Drawing an arrow with the field point removed will often indicate there’s a problem with nock pinch, evident by the front of the shaft lifting off the arrow rest.

Nock pinch is something else altogether. It describes the downward force placed on an arrow as the arrow is drawn. An easy way to determine if nock pinch is occurring with your setup is to remove the field tip from the shaft and then draw the bow back. If the front of the arrow lifts off the arrow rest, then there’s pinch. To remedy this, you must tie in a threaded nockset just below the arrow’s nock position inside the D-loop. This will eliminate the pinch and improve arrow flight and tuning.

You can use dental floss or small-diameter center serving material to make nocksets. Simply use alternating knots, one above and one below the bowstring until you make 8 to 10 overhand knots. Finish the last knot with two or three knots, trim off, and then burn flush with a lighter.

A wacky tear could also be occurring due to the way the bow’s string harnesses are set. These harnesses are usually “tuned” prior to leaving the manufacturing plant, but after some shooting and settling in, they tend to elongate and need to be readjusted. If not tuned and equalized for tension, the harness can cause side torque to the limb, causing poor arrow flight and impossible tuning. Adjusting these harnesses is also known as “yoke tuning” and is usually reserved for an archery pro or technician. However, if you’re interested in employing this technique without visiting a pro shop, click here to visit another one of my Bowhunter web articles (“Bow Tuning Techniques for Peak Performance.”) It outlines this procedure step by step.

Step 6 — Verify Accuracy & Make Minor Adjustments

Once you’ve achieved a clean paper tear from 4 to 6 feet away, verify the tune by shooting from 12 feet and then 10 yards away using the same unfletched tuning arrow. A clean tear should still exist. If not, the tune is not perfect. Go back and double check tears from 6 feet, 12 feet, and then 10 yards.

Once your bow is perfectly paper tuned, you can make minor adjustments to the nock height or center-shot position to enhance accuracy further. “Bare-shaft” tuning from 15 or 20 yards is ideal as a final tuning technique for improving such accuracy.

As a final tuning tweak, compare impact points using two fletched arrows versus the unfletched “bare shaft.” Shoot a bull’s eye from 10 to 20 yards away. Ideally, the arrows should all collide in the same spot. If not, make some minor adjustments to your D-loop and/or arrow rest to bring the arrows together.

If the unfletched arrow strikes above the fletched arrow, move the arrow rest down or D-loop up. If it strikes below, move the arrow rest up or D-loop down. If it impacts to the left of the fletched arrow, move arrow rest to the left. If it impacts to the right, move the arrow rest to the right. Make small 1/16- to 1/18-inch adjustments at a time.

Bow tuning doesn’t have to be a huge chore. Simply follow the steps outlined in this article, while maintaining a relaxed, methodical approach, and you’ll be achieving perfect arrow flight in no time. In the end, you’ll be stacking arrows and feeling much more confident and ready to take on whatever shooting challenge comes your way.

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