How Important is Paper Tuning?

How Important is Paper Tuning?

As I've mentioned before, I feel the readers of Petersen's BOWHUNTING are a fairly sophisticated group of bowhunters. So, with that in mind, I'm delving deeper into the fine art of shooting well. That includes paper tuning.

Back when I started shooting competitively, Arizona was home to some of the best shooters in the world. Looking back, I'm certain that had a lot to do with my early tournament success. When you are surrounded by great archers, you can't help but learn from them. You tend to rise to the level of the competition.

One of the big dogs at that time was Frank Pearson. Frank was extremely gregarious and wasn't afraid to share his knowledge and voice his opinions. I hung out with Frank whenever possible, and over the years, Frank taught me a great deal about shooting a bow. However, I found I had to be a little discriminating when listening to Frank, because some of the techniques he advocated were out of step with the rest of the archery community.

Paper Tuning Explained

One of the techniques used by nearly everyone else at that time, but rejected by Frank, was paper tuning. He said he'd tried it and it just wasn't for him (though he spent a great deal of time tuning his bow in other ways). He told me it didn't matter how an arrow came out of the bow as long as it hit the right spot.

In other words, he was more concerned with how his arrows grouped than what kind of holes they made in paper. Though I thought his logic was a little simplistic, I couldn't argue his basic point. Though Frank's methods were often seen as unorthodox, he used them because they worked — at least they did for him.


Everyone else loved paper tuning because it provided a glimpse into their arrows' "attitude" as they left the bow. They could place a sheet of paper a few feet in front of their bow, shoot and examine the hole the arrow made. By examining this hole, they could determine how the arrow came out of the bow. They could then move back a few feet and figure out what their arrow was doing at that point. They could keep moving back in short increments to find out exactly what their arrow was doing throughout its flight.

Rather than fading away with time, paper tuning has become more and more important as bows have become faster and arrows have become smaller and more difficult to see. It's getting increasingly difficult to "eyeball" the arrow and figure out what it is doing as it leaves the bow.

"Rather than fading away with time, paper tuning has become more and more important as bows have become faster and arrows have become smaller and more difficult to see."

Back then, I tried to get my mind wrapped around Frank's tuning technique and accept it, but I just couldn't. I figured it was only logical that the arrow should come out of the bow in a perfectly straight line — the same line it was on when the bow was at full draw. If you could get the arrow to do this, the fletching wouldn't have much work to do to straighten the arrow out. I thought an arrow should be like a bullet fired from a rifle — it shouldn't have any wobble. So, for years I tuned my bows to shoot a perfect bullet hole through paper.

Perfect Flight vs. Great Groups

As I became competitive at the national level, I spent more and more time fine-tuning my bows and arrows. I always began the tuning process by adjusting my setup to shoot a nearly perfect bullet hole through paper. Then I would use other techniques (we'll discuss those in future columns) to fine-tune the bow. I used these other techniques to adjust my bows to shoot the best groups they were capable of shooting. I would then go back and shoot the group-tuned bow through paper. Most of the time, these bows would no longer shoot a perfect bullet hole through paper. In fact, most of the best-shooting bows I've owned through the years have not torn a perfect hole through paper.

I still use paper tuning to begin the tuning process on my bows, but I've changed my opinions about what I'm trying to ultimately achieve. Like Frank, I am not as concerned about perfect flight (which is what paper tuning will give you) as I am with great groups.


Over the years, I've theorized this is why Frank didn't like paper tuning. If you tuned your bows by making them shoot a perfect bullet hole through paper and stopped there, your bow may not group that well. This would be especially noticeable if you shot as well as Frank did.

Every arrow shot from a bow is going to flex because of the tremendous acceleration that occurs when the string is released. If a bow has been paper tuned so the arrow is coming out of the bow perfectly straight, the arrow may not always bend in the same direction. It may bend left one time, right the next, up the next, etc.

If the arrows bend differently on each shot, they may not group well. I have a theory that an arrow needs to be influenced at the beginning of the shot to bend in the same direction on each shot. I call this influence "directional predisposition."

In the near future, I will explain this theory and make some practical suggestions about how to make your bow shoot its best.

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