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Paper Tuning: How to Read Your Tear

Paper tuning can be a dreaded chore, but it doesn't have to be. Here's how to master the process one step at a time.

Paper Tuning: How to Read Your Tear

Setting up a paper tuning rack isn't difficult. The tougher part — and one that even experienced shooters struggle with — is learning how to make the proper adjustments to your rig after seeing the tears in the paper. 

A lot of bowhunters don’t progress much due to lack of shooting confidence. This usually has to do with poor equipment and/or setup and improper shooting technique. As a result, these archers may achieve some level of accuracy, but it’s never the type of consistency that leaves them with goose bumps all over the place.

For the most part, to be a lethal bowhunter, you must know you’ll connect on that big buck given the chance. To reach this level, your bow must be fine-tuned to perfection. This begins by dialing in arrow flight so it’s as straight as you can possibly make it. From there, shooting with true accuracy, forgiveness, and deep penetration using broadhead-tipped arrows becomes the end result. Once this happens, increasing shooting and hunting confidence are only a few short steps away.

Paper tuning is the preferred method for correcting improper arrow flight. Unfortunately, many archers find paper tuning to be confusing and difficult — especially when it comes to reading the actual tear. However, it shouldn’t be. Here are some basic steps to follow to simplify this highly effective tuning technique.

Design a Paper Rack

You can’t begin paper tuning without some sort of rack to hold the paper in place. It can be as simple as a sheet of carboard with a 14- to 16-inch square hole in it (and two pieces of wood to support it), or it can be as fancy as a full-fledged PVC paper-tuning rack. Either option will work so long as the paper is tightly stretched and fixed across the opening. You don’t want any ripples in the paper. Different types of paper can be used for paper tuning, but rolled painter’s paper works outstanding, plus it’s available at any hardware store and is affordable.


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Paper tuning racks don’t have to be fancy. However, one made of PVC is easy to store and will last a lifetime of arrow tuning.

For best results, position the rack about 3 to 4 feet from a target backstop, so the arrow can completely exit the paper before impacting the backstop.


Strip the Fletching

To make paper tuning more precise, consider using an arrow without fletching on it. This does two important things. It eliminates fletching contact with the arrow rest, and it makes reading the paper tear ultra simple. Instead of a gaping tear left by a wobbly fletched shaft, you’ll see a much smaller rip, left only by the shaft’s footprint. To make the tear even easier to read, you can take a marker (a bright red or orange color preferably) and dab the tip of the field point. When the arrow is shot, the marker leaves smeared edges that identify the “field-point end,” so you easily distinguish the point from the tail-end of the arrow. It’s simple and effective.

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The best way to paper-tune is to use an arrow without fletching attached. This does two things: it eliminates the chance for fletching contact with the bow’s arrow rest, riser or cables, and it keeps the paper tears small and easy to read.

To keep the arrow properly balanced and weighted, I also take a three to four-inch strip of electrical tape and wrap it around the back of the shaft, right where the vanes are usually glued in place. The tape maintains the shaft’s narrow profile, while keeping the arrow tear small and well defined. It works like a charm.

Know How to Read the Tears

This is the part where most archers stumble. If your first few shots identify a tail-high or tail-low tear, as well as some sort of tail-left or tail-right tear – a combination of the two – be sure to focus only on the tail-high or tail-low tear first. Of course, a tail-high tear means the shaft is exiting the bow with the point-end flying slightly downward, while the nock-end it slightly upward. The tail-low tear depicts the opposite. Either way, there’s a gross disturbance in arrow flight that can cause fletching contact with the bow’s riser or sight aperture, or with the arrow rest, resulting in ugly arrow flight and poor shooting.

To correct this up/down flight deviation, move the D-loop down for a tail-high rip, or move the D-loop up for a tail-down rip. This changes the arrow’s nock-height location on the bowstring. After making the adjustment, reshoot the arrow and reevaluate the tear. Continue this process until the up or down tear is eliminated. You can also move the arrow rest (to some degree, anyway) to achieve the same result. However, with a high tear, you would move the arrow rest up. With a low tear, move the arrow rest down.





Next, begin correcting the left or right tear. With a tail-left tear, try moving the arrow rest to the right. With a tail-right tear, try moving the arrow rest to the left. If the tear persists, despite moving the arrow rest left or right, use one or two other arrows without fletching attached to see if the result is the same. Some arrow brands lack consistent arrow spine. If this is the case, the shafts will “flex” differently in flight from one arrow to the next.

If the tears remain the same, despite trying different arrows, you’ll have to troubleshoot the tears using the following methods.

Solving Persistent Tears

Many times, certain tears will persist despite moving the D-loop and/or arrow rest one way or the other. When this occurs, it means the bow’s cams might need to be synchronized (so they roll over at exactly the same time, using the same orientation) or the vertical position of the cams are somehow out of alignment with the bowstring, causing torque on the bow’s limbs during the arrow-launch cycle. Either way, at high speed, the arrow will be whipped around all over the place, causing the paper-tuning predicament.

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However, don’t lose hope. By staying calm and working systematically, you can eliminate this tuning error. Oftentimes, all that’s needed is a few adjustments to bow’s cables and arrow flight will be restored. Here’s the best way to do it, in two basic steps:

Synchronize the Cams: Many times, a tail-high or tail-low tear persists is due to improper cam roll-over or synchronization. To correct this, you’ll have to draw the bow back and ease into the draw valley while a friend looks closely at the bow’s cams, cables and draw stops. Ideally, each cable should strike the cam’s draw stop at exactly the same time.

To correct out-of-synch cams, you’ll need to twist up the cable that strikes the draw stop before the other one. To do this, you must place the bow in a press in order to relax the limbs. Make ½ turn each time, then recheck how the cam’s roll-over. Perform this step over and over until you’ve twisted the cable enough so both cams strike the stops in unison. Once this is completed, restart paper-tuning from the very beginning.

Correct Cam Lean: If the bad tear persists, despite synchronizing the bow’s cams, you’ll have to continue on to the next step of correcting cam lean. Have a friend stand behind you while you’re at full draw. Does the top or bottom cam look to be leaning one way or the other? If so, cam lean is most likely your arrow-tuning problem.

To remedy this, put the bow back in the press and begin adjusting the string-yoke harness(es) by twisting one side or the other in attempt to “equalize” the limb tips at full draw. If the cam appears to be leaning to the left (bottom portion of the cam is pitched left), make one full twist to the left side of the split-yoke harness. If it pitches to the right, do the opposite. Make one twist at a time until the cam position is more or less straight up and down with the bow’s riser. If your bow has two yoke harnesses, and it’s hard for you to determine where the cam lean is at, start by twisting the top-limb harness only.

Keep in mind, when performing this step, a single twist can oftentimes make a big difference. I was reminded of this just a couple days ago while helping my daughter tune her brand-new bow. Despite correcting the bow’s roll-over issues, a large, persistent left tear remained, even after trying to move the arrow rest in different locations. By adding only two twists to the right-side harness, the tear was completely eliminated. From there, the bow shot lights out using broadhead-tipped arrows, stacking arrows nicely out to 60 yards. Now, that’s the power of a good tune.

Note: To learn more about cam and yoke-tuning, read the author’s article here.

Verify Fletching Clearance

This is the final step to paper tuning. Once you’ve got that perfect “bullet-hole” tear using a non-fletched tuning arrow, try a complete arrow with fletching on it. If the paper tear is anything larger than a clean hole with three or four slits in it (the exact footprint of the arrow), then this means the vanes are colliding with the arrow rest arm, the bow’s cables, or with the sight’s housing, ruining proper arrow flight.

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Paper tuning is the most precise tuning method available. Why? Because it shows you definitively what the arrow is doing immediately out of the bow. As any physics teacher would tell you, a high-speed projectile that flies absolutely straight will always be more accurate and strike with greater force than one that porpoises or fishtails in flight.

To fix this issue, spray the rear of the shaft with foot-powder to locate the source of the contact. You can usually correct vane-contact issues by rotating the arrow nock to a different position or by using lower-profile vanes. Continue to trouble-shoot this problem until the fletching contact is gone and a perfect arrow tear is achieved.

No other tuning method works as precise as paper tuning. The reason is simple, too. It shows you definitively what the arrow is doing immediately out of the bow. The sooner you correct deviations in the arrow’s flight, the better your accuracy, shooting forgiveness, and arrow penetration will be, resulting in improved confidence and faster kills.

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