Nearly 20 years ago, I decided to step onto the archery tournament line. It wasn’t because I wanted to become a competitive shooter; it was because I wanted to become a better bowhunter!
The truth is, after several years of constant mishaps, making shooting errors, battling buck fever and having poor knowledge of how to be accurate, I finally had enough. I wanted to be better, and I needed to be better. I became a target archer so I could gain the knowledge and skill I knew could help me become a consistently successful hunter.
Looking back, I can say that gaining the shooting and bow-tuning skills necessary to earn a spot on a U.S. national team has certainly done that.
One of the most important aspects of my journey was becoming aware of how all the small things can add up to big bucks on the ground. In this article, I want to give you the knowledge to ensure you aren’t costing yourself big with small mistakes.
1. Nock Fit
It’s amazing how important the last inch of your arrow is. Your nocks exercise a lot of control over the size of your arrow groupings, in three significant ways. The first is how the nock fits the string.
Nock fit is critical, because if the string is too tight in the nock it will cause the arrow to pull the string forward as it fires past brace height. If this happens, the accuracy of the setup quickly goes down the toilet.
Another issue a tight serving causes is more string noise. Like I said, if it pulls the string too far forward of brace height it will have a louder twang when it releases and it is also more likely to come in contact with your bow arm.
A third problem a tight nock fit can cause is that the string won’t be able to spin freely in the throat of the nock. Many strings will want to slightly turn as they are drawn back, and if the string can’t freely spin in the throat of the nock then it can cause the arrow to push against the side of the arrow rest launcher arms instead of sitting perfectly in the center. Again, this sideways pressure is going to result in inaccurate shots.
In addition to nocks that fit too tightly, you can also have nocks that fit too loosely. In this case, the most likely negative affect will be the arrow coming off the string when you are at full draw or trying to let the bow down.
I remember the first time I found this out the hard way as a hunter. I drew on a buck and he didn’t give me the shot I needed, so I had to let the bow down and wait for him to turn. As I let down the arrow slipped off my string and clanked down to the ground through several rungs of my metal ladder stand. I’m sure you know how that story ended.
So, I bet by now you are wondering, “What is the right fit for my nocks?” I have a simple way of measuring that. When I clip a nock on a string, I like to be able to hear a click more so than a snap or twang. Then it’s important that you are able to roll/spin the string freely in the throat of the nock.
This will guarantee that the arrow will stay on the string throughout the draw cycle yet offer no resistance to the string if it wants to turn.
To check if the nock fit is too loose, I simply nock an arrow and turn the bow so the string is horizontal with the floor, arrow pointing down. Then tap the top of the string with your finger. If the arrow easily falls off, you don’t want that as a hunter. Remember, click and spin.
You have a few options if your nock fit isn’t right. First is to try different nocks. Some nocks fit tighter than others. Some lighted nocks actually have a better fit than some standard nocks.
Another option is to replace the center serving on your bowstring with larger- or smaller-diameter thread. Companies such as BCY make serving thread in a .018-, .021- and .025-inch sizes for this exact reason. If your nocks fit too loosely, use a wider serving thread. And if your nocks are too tight, use a narrower serving thread.
A final option is to purchase a custom bowstring designed exclusively for your setup. Tell them what nocks you have and let them build a string for the perfect fit. Honestly, most archery pro shops can help you with any of these solutions if you make them aware of your problem.
2. Easy Install
Arrow nocks are important not just for accuracy but also for safety. I’m sure most of you have seen several of the arrow injury photos that circulate on the Internet.
Many of these injuries are due to a nock that failed the instant the string was released, resulting in shards of carbon rammed through the shooter’s hand. Ouch!
Such accidents usually occur due to a nock that has cracked, either from your arrows slamming against each other in your target or improper nock installation.
Regardless of the reason, the bottom line is you need to constantly check and maintain your nocks! They are a cheap yearly investment well worth the price for increased accuracy and safety.
The correct way to install an arrow nock is to use a little bit of string wax to get it to slide in without restriction. The tolerance between a nock and the inside of the arrow shaft is very tight (and needs to be for accuracy), so often times a fresh nock is REALLY tight.
String wax is the perfect remedy. To avoid bending or cracking a nock, I highly recommend using a proper nock tool for the install instead of pliers, teeth or forcefully ramming it in using the bowstring. These are minimal investments for a maximum return.
3. Nock Indexing
Another small consideration that is often overlooked is nock indexing. Nock indexing is simply how the nock is positioned relative to your arrow fletching. By rotating the nock you can change the direction the vanes face as the arrow passes through the rest.
This is very important, because some arrow rests need the cock vane up, down or out. However, if you are shooting a drop-away rest you shouldn’t need to worry much about this.
How the arrow passes through the rest isn’t the only thing you need to worry about. Many modern compound bows now offer various flexing cable-guard devices designed to reduce accuracy-robbing riser torque by allowing the cables to move inward toward the center of the rig as the bow is drawn.
Although these relatively new innovations are great at reducing riser torque, they do create the potential for vane contact since they bring the cables much closer to the bowstring than the traditional cable slides that have been around for many years.
Last year while shooting in my backyard, I noticed that every so often I had an arrow than would fly terribly, fishtailing all the way to the target and missing the mark. After hours of frustration, I finally discovered that when I replaced the nock on that shaft I didn’t index it correctly. As a result, one of my vanes was contacting the cables as I shot, thus kicking the back end of the arrow off to the side.
This is something that is also related to the recent trend of archers shooting shorter but taller vanes. A tall vane does offer control for a broadhead but it also can potentially create clearance problems.
The best way to identify your clearance is to nock an arrow on the string and look perfectly down the back of the arrow and see how the fletching looks for clearance on the cables, rest and riser.
Once you find the ideal spot to give the most clearance, you should take a marker and draw a line on the nock and arrow so that you have an easy reference to ensure your nock hasn’t moved each time you clip the arrow on the string. Do the same with every arrow in your quiver and make sure they are all the same! It goes a long way toward eliminating wandering arrows.
4. Don’t Go Loopy
Most bow setups today have a nocking loop installed for the release aid. Nocking loops are great — if they are installed correctly. If not, you can cost yourself dearly.
First off is making sure your nocking loop does not pinch the nock too much at full draw. Nock pinch is something many people overlook, yet it is so simple to check.
With any bow, when you draw it back the string forms a triangle at full draw. The length of the bow, length of the draw and brace height all help determine how severe the string angle is. The more acute the string angle, the more likely the string is to pinch your nocks.
To check this, simply remove any point from the front of your arrow and draw it back with your bow. If the arrow rises off the arrow rest at full draw, then you have too much pinch!
Another test is to draw the bow both with and without a fieldpoint on your arrow and point it down as it you are aiming down from a treestand. Again, if the arrow lifts off the rest at full draw, you have too much pinch.
For my bow and draw length, I have about half a millimeter of extra space between my arrow nock and the nocking points tied onto my center serving. This space goes away at full draw and gives perfect accuracy with no pinch. If nock pinch is an issue for you, you’ll need to experiment with widening the gap inside your nocking loop to create extra space that will eliminate the problem at full draw.
The next thing to pay attention to regarding your nocking loop is what direction it is pointing. You want the loop facing straight back toward you! The reason is when you fire the bow and the arrow leaves the string you want the loop to stay behind the arrow nock and not come in contact with it. I’ve noticed a lot of hunters shooting bows with nocking loops that start moving sideways as soon as their arrows are released.
However, instead of addressing the problem, they just clip on the loop and force the string to spin around backwards as they pull. What happens with this is once the string is released that loop tries to spin back around to where it started. And the momentum of the loosed bowstring can make it spin even further than where it started, ultimately causing it to slap the back of the arrow as it is propelled through the bow.
This causes poor arrow flight and terrible inconsistency. Make sure your loop is pointing backward, and if it isn’t then get a bow technician at your local pro shop to help you make some adjustments.
5. Get In Synch
It’s important with any compound bow system that you have your cams properly synchronized. The industry has done a good job marketing different names for this, such as “timing,” “indexing,” “rotation,” “positioning” and “synchronization,” just to name a few. The bottom line is that with any bow, there is a position that is best for the bow to shoot well.
With any bow that has two cams, you need to check that both are stopping at the same place at full draw. This really helps with efficiency, speed, feel and consistency.
The cams come to a stop at full draw by either stopping against the cable(s) or the limb(s) via a draw stop. Since I shoot a Hoyt bow, I will show you what I check with my cams. I look for the cable to touch the stopping part of the module at full draw. You can do this either by drawing your bow and letting a friend stay safely out of the way while they look at the stops as you settle in to full draw.
You can also use a shooting machine or a draw board that allows you to winch the string back one click at a time. If you aren’t an at-home bow mechanic, a trusted archery retailer can certainly assist you. If you notice your cams aren’t in synch, you will need to either adjust the length of the cable by adding (to shorten) or removing (to lengthen) twists or adjust the position of the stopping peg, depending on the model of bow you have.
Invest in Your Success
Every year, bowhunters across America spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on new equipment. Most often it is because they see the advantage of having the latest and greatest.
My experience as a professional archer and avid bowhunter is that the big purchases are meaningless if you are overlooking the small things. The difference is always in the details! You have to look at the big picture but also spend some time in the fine print.
The little tips and tricks I discussed here will make you more accurate, and now is the time to implement them, before the season is upon us!