As a kid, I loved to stick my hand out the window of my parents’ speeding car just to feel the flow of air. I soon learned that small changes in the angle of my fingers resulted in forces that pulled my hand up, down, right and left.
It was great fun, and since we didn’t have much money, it was as close as I came to owning a toy. Well, maybe that is an exaggeration, but it was my first lesson in the finer points of killing game with a bow!
I learned another good lesson in junior high when my friends and I used to push pencils across the table at lunch. The goal was to keep the lead on the table and draw a line while pushing with just one finger on the eraser. The first one to the other end wins. It took some practice, but eventually we were able to do this with surprising speed.
It was lesson number two. I was well on my way to making accurate shots at whitetails, and I didn’t even own a bow yet. Both of those experiences parlayed directly into the skill set needed to tune a bow and quiver full of arrows to produce perfect accuracy with broadheads.
Fieldpoint accuracy with fixed-blade broadheads is bowhunting’s Holy Grail. We know it is probably out there somewhere, but certainly not easily attainable. In this article, I hope to show you how you can achieve this elusive goal and become more accurate than you ever imagined with hunting gear in your hands.
The wind forces that made my hand shoot up, corkscrew to the left and then slam back down in the car’s window frame are the same ones that drive an ill-tuned hunting arrow out of control. It’s called wind planing, and its effect on accuracy can be devastating.
If you never tried that youthful hand-out-the-car-window experiment, maybe you can identify with this second analogy. Throwing a paper airplane straight relies on a lot more engineering than most people appreciate. The wings have to be flat and level, the tip lined up with craft’s centerline.
The throwing motion and release point must be perfectly coordinated to assure that the entire airplane points straight ahead when you cut it free. Now, tweak any of these variables and the paper bird will spin to the ground like a winged duck. Again, it is the same with a hunting arrow.
The arrow’s broadhead-equipped front end must line up with the shaft, the shaft must be straight and the arrow has to leave the bow with the nock perfectly following the tip for precision guided control. If all three of these factors are in order, a hunting arrow will fly just as true as a practice arrow.
If any of these are not perfectly controlled, the arrow will fly with a mind of its own — one this way and one that. What a mess!
So, it comes down to solving two challenges: perfectly aligned arrows and perfectly tuned bows. These challenges are the main reasons mechanical broadheads have become so popular. As a result, we’ve seen a decreased emphasis on old-fashioned tuning skills. No longer is it essential that your bow and arrows be set up perfectly. You can always just screw in a few mechanical heads and be back in the kill zone.
While there’s nothing wrong with being more accurate in the field (that’s one definition of ethical bowhunting), there are still many bowhunters who won’t switch to mechanical heads for a variety of reasons. Besides, being able to tune to perfection will improve consistency, accuracy and penetration no matter what point you screw on the end of the arrow.
Similar to the pencil on the table trick, how you push an arrow is critical to the path it takes. If the string is moving up, down or sideways as it speeds forward, the tail of the arrow will not track the point.
For this reason, some bows are just easier to tune. You have very limited ability to adjust the nock travel on most bows. If you just can’t seem to get your bow to tune, you may have a lemon — simple as that. Possibly a good archery pro can help you, but there is a good chance that you will never produce fieldpoint accuracy with fixed-blade broadheads using that bow.
Assuming the bow is a good one, tuning comes down to nock position on the string, rest alignment, arrow spine and shooting form.
Rest and nock set position: Release-aid shooters should install a nock point (or nocking loop) so the upper edge of the arrow’s nock is approximately 1/8 to 1/4 inch above the center of the bow’s rest mounting hole. Finger shooters should start 3⁄8 to 1⁄2 inch above center.
Now, adjust the rest vertically until the center of the arrow shaft crosses the very center of the rest-mounting hole. The nocked arrow should make a 90-degree angle with the string. Proper left-to-right position of your arrow rest can also speed-up the tuning process. When setting up for a release aid, your nocked arrow should line up perfectly with the forward thrust of the string.
If you release with fingers, your arrow should point slightly to the left of square (for right-handed shooters).
To find “center-shot” set the bow down on the floor resting on its bottom cam. Now, look down on it from above while comparing the arrow to the stabilizer, arrow shelf and limbs. Move the rest to the side until the arrow is parallel with the stabilizer and arrow shelf and perpendicular to the bow limbs. This should get you very close to the bow’s true center.
Paper tuning: Paper tuning is the easiest way to visualize how your arrows are flying when they leave the bow. You can tape a piece of copier paper across a hole you cut in the bottom of a cardboard box to produce a simple paper-tuning fixture.
Stand about six feet from the paper when tuning. When shooting a release aid, you should be able to adjust your rest and nock point so that you can produce a perfect bullet hole through the paper — the nock follows the tip with no slashing to the side. You can easily see the way the arrow is flying by studying the tears. With a finger release, perfection is more difficult, and a slight tear (half an inch wide or less) is acceptable.
It may take a couple evenings of tinkering to come up with the right combination, but you will arrive at the solution eventually. Previously, I provided a thorough, step-by-step explanation of how to paper tune your bow.
Micro-tune your rest: Bullet holes in paper are the goal, but they are not the truest test of your bow’s tune. Paper tuning feedback is not super precise. You can get a bullet hole and still not have dead perfect arrow flight that produces broadhead arrow groups that hit the same holes as fieldpoint arrow groups. Either live with the slight difference and move your sight pins to account for it or micro-tune your arrow rest.
To micro-tune, you move your rest very slightly in the direction you want your hunting arrows to go. If the broadhead-tipped arrows are high, low, left or right of the practice arrows, move the rest very slightly downward or upward, to the right or to the left, respectively. These tiny adjustments are all that is needed to align your arrows dead-on with the string.
Sighting in: Of course, once you have tuned your bow, you will need to sight in very carefully over the course of at least a week of shooting to achieve the final benefit of perfection.
Choosing broadheads: I’ve tested many broadheads through the years that weren’t perfectly straight. It was impossible to shoot tight groups with these crooked heads. Remember, if the tip of the paper airplane doesn’t line up with the center of the craft, there is no way to throw it straight.
So, the first order of business is to find broadheads that center in your arrow’s inserts when they’re installed. Most of the popular broadheads from reputable companies accomplish this goal.
When you spin the arrow with the broadhead installed, the tip of the broadhead should not waver. I place every hunting arrow on the leathery part of my hand and then spin it. If I feel any wobble in the tip, I remove the broadhead and try others. If they also wobble, I set the shaft aside and use it only for practice. If it doesn’t spin perfectly, it doesn’t go in my quiver.
You can perform the same test by building a small cradle to lay the arrows in (can be as simple as V-cuts on opposite sides of a shoe box). As you turn the arrow slowly in the cradle, compare the tip of the broadhead to a fixed point. It should never waver.
Faulty arrows can sometimes be fixed by squaring the end of the shaft (using a product such as G5’s Arrow Squaring Device) or by removing the insert and installing a different one if they are removable. Not all of them are.
Tradeoffs: Arrow speed impacts the accuracy of arrows equipped with fixed-blade broadheads more than those carrying mechanical heads. As speed increases, fixed-blade broadheads become harder to control. It’s like trying to throw a paper airplane harder — it gets a lot tougher to make it go straight and any problems with the plane’s design are exaggerated at these speeds.
Everything has to be perfect. On the other hand, it is no big deal to get mechanical heads to fly accurately at high arrow speeds. Be realistic; don’t expect fixed blade heads to similarly match your fieldpoints at speeds past about 280 feet per second.
Also consider cutting diameter when choosing a broadhead. Fixed-blade heads with large cutting diameters have more blade surface area and therefore are better able to steer your arrows off line than heads with smaller cutting diameters. Heads with cutting diameters of 1 ¼ inches or less are moderate and will permit greater accuracy and less tuning headaches than larger heads.
Arrow Straightness: Much is made of straightness when selling arrows, but a straightness rating of +/-.005-inch is acceptable for typical bowhunting situations. The problem comes with wear and tear on those shafts. Arrows that are struck by other arrows in the target eventually get beat up and possibly exhibit a soft spot. These damaged shafts are dangerous to begin with, but they are also less consistent. It is best to start each season with at least six brand new arrows.
The arrow’s nocks can also get beat up and crooked from repeated impact in the target. Again, if you are not pushing the end of the arrow directly in line with the shaft, it will not fly straight.
Fletching: You can’t throw a football accurately without a spiral and you can’t shoot a hunting arrow accurately without spinning it. Helical fletching spins your arrows. Regardless of the style of broadhead you shoot, you need to use helical fletching.
The better you tune your bow and arrows, the more accurate you will be this fall and the more fun it will be to practice this summer. Nothing produces pre-season confidence like seeing your arrows zip to the target like laser shots.