August 01, 2018
By Joe Bell
In life, every decision and every detail has a way of affecting the overall outcome or result. Archery is not immune to this same principle.
I for one believe that in life and in archery, it's the little things that count for a lot. Solid "building blocks" such as quality gear, a bow that fits you correctly, and tackle that operates reliably, certainly make up foundational items necessary for consistent shooting. However, to reach new heights of proficiency — otherwise known as hair-splitting accuracy — making a few small steps here and there can make a tremendous difference.
A great example can be found in a bow I recently tuned and prepared for the field. Out of the box, this bow felt great. It drew nice and tuned quickly. All in all, it was a solid-shooting setup, delivering relatively tight groups in short order. I could certainly kill animals with it. However, accuracy wise, it didn't knock my socks off, at least not on those long-range shots where a bow's forgiveness really shines.
But after a few days of fine-tuning, it began delivering goose bump-like precision. Here are five factors I took into consideration during the setup process of this bow — elements that pay off big for improving any bow's accuracy output.
Customizing Contact Points
When shooting a bow, there are three main contact points: the grip, the release on the bowstring, and the string against your face and/or nose. All need to be perfected for extreme shooting consistency.
The grip is perhaps the most important, and it should provide a comfortable, torque-free engagement. As addressed in an earlier column (Jan/Feb 2018), a worthwhile grip is somewhat narrow in shape, so you can consistently place your hand in the same spot every time. The best place for this happens to be at the base of your thumb, just inside the lifeline. This applies the bow's pressure point directly against the radius bone in your arm, allowing for bone-on-grip contact. By doing this, the hand cannot move or collapse or torque the bow in any way, unless you grab it with your fingers — a big no-no. To improve a relaxed bow hand during the shot, use a bow sling and keep your fingers loosely wrapped around the grip until the arrow strikes.
Next is the release clipped to the bowstring, and the string contacting your face at full draw. For optimum results, your release hand should be relaxed and in line with the arrow as well as your drawing arm's elbow — you should be able to make a straight line from these points of reference all the way through. If not, then the bow's draw length is not adjusted properly, or your release hand is contorted or tense and causing undue twisting on the bowstring — a true accuracy destroyer. Also, the bowstring should not be pressed hard into the face or nose at full draw. Any string pressure in these areas will disrupt shooting consistency. To reduce this effect, shorten the bow's draw length. A properly set-up bow allows for complete relaxation at full draw, with only a very light touch of the bowstring against your face and/or nose.
I've set up and tuned a lot of bows in my career. I've also helped myriad friends tune and refine their shooting rigs. One thing that has stuck out the most during this process is this: All else being equal, a balanced bow usually shoots the best. Professional target shooters know this all too well, as do expert bow engineers, which is why they're always reengineering bow-riser geometry in an attempt to find that magical shape that improves weight and balance.
Unfortunately, due to brace-height position, bow accessories, and overall placement of the arrow shelf and arrow path, a bow that balances perfectly right out of the box is nearly impossible. Therefore, customization is needed via counterweights and stabilizers. Every stabilizer company makes small counterweights and brackets that you can use to "trick out" your bow and improve holding balance.
For best results, a well-balanced bow should hold perfectly plumb in your extended hand, not tilting to the left or right. A forward tilt caused by a front-mounted stabilizer is not a bad thing, if it remains comfortable and doesn't cause an excessive "down pull" as you aim. You must experiment to determine what's right for you.
Every bow has a specified "sweet spot" in terms of how the cams should be oriented or positioned at rest, and in the full-draw position. Reference your bow's owner's manual, or contact the manufacturer directly. Maintaining this cam positioning is vital for a quieter, more accurate setup.
Also, it's critical that the cable harnesses contact the draw stops in unison, or one should hit slightly before the other to allow for an improved dynamic tune.
There are two things you can do to refine cam synchronization. Get a bow-drawing device, so you can precisely check each cable's contact points at full draw, and periodically check these to ensure increased consistency. Second, you should "creep-tune" your bow by shooting several arrow groups at a 20-yard horizontal strip of tape. To begin with, shoot three to five arrows by holding "slightly off the wall," and record the results.
Next, shoot another group of arrows, but this time "pull hard into the wall" and recheck arrow impact. If the arrows hit high pulling hard into the wall, place the bow in a press and twist the control cable on the top cam's peg one-half twist, then cycle a few extra arrows through the bow to settle in the strings before attempting another arrow grouping on the tape. If the arrows impact low, twist the bottom cam's buss cable one-half twist. Ideally, you want both groups of arrows to strike in relatively the same spot (closer together vertically). This will yield the most forgiving setup possible.
Most bowhunters don't put too much thought into the length and shape of their D-loop. However, it can be a contributing factor of horizontal string torque, depending on the style of release aid you use and how you anchor at full draw.
Here's what I've found to be true: An ultra-short loop can cause undue string twist when using release aids that don't allow rotation of the connecting head. Also, T-handle releases (thumb trigger or back tension) that use a rigid hook closure also require a longer loop for a more torque-free shot.
This is one reason why I prefer a wrist-strap release with a flexible nylon connecting strap, or one with a head that allows for a full 360-degree rotation. Generally speaking, you need a string loop that allows for at least a half-inch extension in length when using a standard wrist-strap release. With T-handles and non-rotating heads, a three-quarter-inch minimum is best. You should experiment to determine which size yields optimum shooting consistency.
Refining Nock Fit
Proper nock fit is often defined as a snug fit, with a positive click on engagement, but not so snug that you can't slide the nock easily up and down the serving with light pressure, or rotate it 360 degrees around the string without it moving the bowstring in any direction. Also, "snug" means no visible wobble or gap within the throat region.
Overall, I like to err on the side of my arrows' nocks gripping the string slightly too loose rather than slightly too tight. As long as the D-loop positively captures the nock and the fit can't cause the arrow to pop off the string, this seems to yield great consistency with my setups.
Remember, to get the nocks to fit right, you may have to change the bowstring's center serving to a thinner or thicker diameter thread, or you can try outfitting your arrows with nocks that feature a larger string groove. For a slightly looser fit with thicker center servings, I've had good luck using Easton's 3D Super Nocks, or large-groove G Nocks.
Archery and bowhunting are disciplines that incorporate a lot of detail. By customizing and fine-tuning your hunting bow, you'll heighten your ability to shoot better. This extra effort can pay off big, too, especially in those bowhunting situations that demand extra confidence and shooting precision.