By Randy Ulmer
A friend recently told me he took his bow to a pro shop to have it tuned. Because he lives in another state, I wasn’t familiar with the pro shop he went to. I’m always interested in how other people tune bows — especially people who are in the business of tuning bows. So, I asked him what procedure/technique they used — paper tuning, etc., etc., etc. He said he wasn’t sure how they had tuned it, because he didn’t stay to watch. I was flabbergasted, to say the least!
I certainly shouldn’t have been surprised, because I have heard this same story many times before: A customer drops their bow off at a pro shop and then comes back a few days later to pick up their now “perfectly tuned” bow.
The bottom line is this: It is impossible to tune an archer’s bow without involving them! No one else can “perfectly tune” your bow. People can certainly lend their expertise and experience to help you tune it, but this is possible only if you are the one actually shooting the bow. I repeat: People can’t tune your bow by shooting it themselves (or shooting it through a shooting machine).
The Target Tells
Let me tell you a story that will illustrate my point. A very good, long-time friend (who happens to be an icon in the archery industry) once had me shoot his new bow. He was shooting the latest Mathews bow and was so impressed with it that he was eager to show it off. Now, I’ve always shot Hoyt bows. So, the whole Ford vs. Chevy kind of debate has always been a part of our banter. (I have to brag here: He’s never beaten my Hoyt with his Mathews!)
Now, this friend has been shooting archery since he was young enough to walk. He also shot competitive archery for many years and has written several books about tuning/shooting and equipment. My point is, this guy really knows what he is doing when it comes to shooting a bow.
I shot his bow at a 40-yard target and nearly missed the entire bale! I was incredulous. His bow was perfectly sighted in for him, and he was shooting very respectable groups at that distance. Theoretically, I should have hit relatively close to the center of the target with his setup. There was only one conclusion I could come to: Our forms were radically different, and each of us was putting much different forces on the bow during the shot. The reason this surprised me so much was that we were both very experienced archers.
When I was competing at the world level, I could take almost any of my top competitors’ bows and hit the bull’s-eye using their sight settings. They could also take my bow and hit the bull’s-eye. Our forms were very close to being the same.
I was very interested in exploring this phenomenon further, so we took his bow into the shop and each of us shot an arrow through paper. My friend’s shot made a perfect bullet hole, while my shot created a large horizontal tear in the paper. We then repeated the process with each of us shooting my bow. We experienced the exact opposite results: His shot created a large horizontal tear in the opposite direction as I had with his bow, and my arrow produced a bullet hole.
Wanting to solve this mystery, I tried torquing his bow (twisting on the handle) to the left and then to the right during the shot. I first twisted to the right and the paper tear got worse. Then I twisted to the left and was able to produce a perfect bullet hole (but only if I held just the right amount of clockwise tension on the riser).
In summary, we are all individuals, and we all hold a bow and exhibit forces on the handle differently. Those of us who come from a rifle-shooting background (almost all of us) know you can sight in another person’s gun. You can also shoot someone’s gun and hit where you aimed. This is absolutely not the case with a bow.
A bow is a very dynamic shooting system, whereas a rifle is a much more passive system in terms of the shooter’s experience. When shooting a bow, you are creating and holding all of the stored energy in the system; so, you are an integral part of the shot process. Any changes in form between shots or archers will have a much greater impact on where the arrow will strike compared to a bullet.
Another often overlooked factor is that it takes much longer for an arrow to leave a bow than it takes a bullet to leave the barrel of a rifle — ten times as long. If the weapon starts moving during the shot, the arrow will be affected to a much greater degree than the bullet.
So, even if your pro-shop dude has the best shooting form in the entire world and he tunes your bow, your bow is probably not well-tuned for you. This is simply because he is not you!
I have also heard of pro shops tuning bows using a shooting machine. This process sounds very good in theory — there is nothing better than a machine for precision operations, right? Unfortunately, the same principal applies here. I own the very best shooting machine money can buy. However, I can tune my bow to shoot a perfect bullet hole through paper (with me shooting the bow), then take the same bow, place it into the machine and shoot it through paper. It will tear a hole with both a horizontal and vertical component.
Here’s why: When a person holds a bow, their arm and hand must come in from the side. (The string has to get around your arm.) This angled approach to the handle creates torque. Not so with a shooting machine. The bar that holds the bow (the mechanical equivalent of your bow hand) applies pressure to the handle directly in line with the string’s plane of motion, creating very little torque. This bar also sits in the very throat of the handle and applies its pressure there. A human, by comparison, places his or her hand into the throat of the bow, but the pivot point — the point where the bow receives its pressure — is actually about two inches below the throat. This creates a very different vertical component to the shot, especially when shooting short axle-to-axle bows.
The take-home message here is that you are an integral part of the bow-tuning process. There is only one way to tune your bow properly, and that is with you shooting it. If a pro shop tells you differently, it might be time to find a different pro shop.