In this column, I want to go into more detail regarding the important process of paper tuning. This is the quickest and surest way to make the adjustments needed for laser-straight arrow flight.
The Paper-Tuning Fixture
You don’t need a fancy fixture to properly paper tune your bow. Although many pro shops have elaborate frames dedicated to paper tuning, you can get by with a simple cardboard box.
Cut a hole smaller than a piece of copier paper in the bottom of a cardboard box. You can tape the paper over the hole and shoot through the box. Set it on something to attain the correct height in front of the target and you are in business.
Another option is even simpler; simply purchase a Paper Tune-It kit from .30-06 Outdoors ($11.95). The kit comes with a pre-made cardboard frame to hold your paper and 10 sheets of tuning paper with pre-printed instructions on how to correct imperfect tears.
You need a clean shot through the paper with no outside interference. Place the tuning paper at least three feet from the target so there is no chance the arrow will hit the target before it goes all the way through the paper.
Stand or sit about six feet from the paper when shooting your bow. Be sure the paper is roughly at shoulder height so you can use normal shooting form. This is important.
Since paper tuning is a test of both your bow’s setup and your shooting form, you need to focus on making perfect shots or you will be chasing your tail, adjusting your bow when your shooting form is actually the culprit.
If you grab the grip when you trigger the release or punch the trigger, you are likely to see tears even if your bow is set up perfectly. Keep your grip very relaxed all the way through the shot and hold a steady follow-through until the arrow hits the target.
Understanding Your Tears
When you look at the paper, post-shot, you will see a rounded hole where the fieldpoint went through and some type of tear caused by the vanes and the end of the arrow.
The value of paper tuning comes down to your ability to read these tears and make the correct adjustments to your bow and shooting form to eliminate them. Your goal is a round “bullet” hole with three narrow cuts radiating outward caused by the vanes.
Such a hole results from an arrow that is flying true, with the nock following directly behind the point. Any variation in this perfect flight will rob you of accuracy and penetration when hunting.
Tail-High Tears: There are four reasons your bow may be throwing a tail-high arrow. First, the nock point may be too high on the string. Second, the rest may be too low. Third, the arrow’s vanes may be hitting the rest, causing the arrow to deflect upward. Fourth, the cam timing of the bow may be off, causing the nock to move up as the string moves forward.
When a modern compound bow is set up correctly, the arrow will form a 90-degree angle with the string and will cross the rest right at the center of the rest-mounting hole. You can make small adjustments to the nock point position to bring the tail down (1⁄8 inch at a time), but do not make large adjustments.
If you have to make large adjustments to see a change in the paper tears, the problem lies elsewhere: cam timing or vane contact with the rest.
If the vanes are hitting the rest, you should see scuffs or markings on one of the vanes. If not, you probably don’t have contact. But, to be sure, try rotating the nock on the arrow to change the orientation of the vanes compared to the rest. That can make a difference.
If you can’t eliminate contact this way, consider a different rest or increasing the tension on your activation cord (on a drop-away rest) to see if that helps by getting the launcher out of the way faster.
If the tail-high tear persists after adjusting the nocking point and eliminating contact, the issue likely involves the bow’s cam timing. Unfortunately, I don’t have room here to dive into this subject, but will cover it in the video above. Adjusting cam timing can be complex, and unless you know what you are doing, you should just take the bow to a good archery shop for help.
Tail-Low Tears: Tail-low arrow flight is uncommon and generally the result of a bow with incorrect cam timing. It is also possible your nocking point is too low or your rest too high, but you can rule that out very quickly by just moving your nocking point up 1⁄8 inch to ¼ inch. Again, if the prognosis is cam
timing, your best solution is to seek professional help.
Tail-Left and Trail-Right Tears: Sideways paper tears can be tough to eliminate because they have four possible causes, only two of which are easy to fix. I will start with the easy ones. First, move your rest in toward the bow if the arrow is tearing right or out from the bow if it is tearing left.
Sometimes you get some strange interaction with sideways string movement and your results don’t make sense. For that reason, you should also try moving the rest slightly the opposite direction just to rule out some oddball harmonics in the string.
If that doesn’t fix it, consider an arrow that has a different spine — or just a different brand. I have bows that produce good arrow flight with one make of arrow and not with others, even though they are supposedly the same stiffness. A little experimenting in the archery shop can eliminate a lot of frustration.
Now for the hard fixes. Sideways string travel can cause left or right rips that are impossible to fix, short of making mechanical changes to the bow to assure that the cams start out vertical and stay vertical when you draw the string. This is a hard fix for most bowhunters; so again, it is time to visit the pro shop for help. But before you do, make sure your shooting form isn’t the cause of these sideways tears.
If you flinch during the shot, grab the grip when you release, use a grip position that creates torque on the riser or apply side pressure to the string with your release, will end up with erratic arrow flight — normally sideways paper tears.
Unfortunately, you have to work through your shooting form with great attention to detail before you can ultimately say the problem lies with the bow. This can take weeks, even months, as you work to improve your form. I have chased tuning problems for weeks only to finally realize it was something I was doing. Sure, I learned a lot about archery in the process, but I also pulled out a lot of hair!
Tuning a bow is not a dark science, but it does take some effort, and quite possibly, some expert help. But the payoff is worth the investment. Seeing your arrows fly like lasers is the true magic of archery.