Tuning Your Bow and Arrows
Hunting accuracy starts with your gear: a well-tuned bow and perfect arrows. So, that is what I am going to focus on this month.
There is no way to justify not tuning your bow and your arrows. It is an essential skill of bowhunting.
While most bows are easy to tune, there are some that will test your patience. Rather than diving into the technical aspects of bow tuning, I will let you address that with your local pro shop. There are lots of folks there willing and able to help. In this column, I am going to delve into why some bows can't be tuned and how to avoid them. Then I will come back with a discussion on arrows.
Fixing an Untunable Bow
Back in the late 90s and early 2000s, I owned several bows that were so poorly made they could not be tuned no matter what I did. Most of today's bows are much better, but there are still a few that are lemons.
It is very wise to test fire any bow before buying it. The real lemons are those with cam lean. You can often see this before you ever draw just by sighting down the bowstring. If the cams aren't in line with the string, you are likely to have issues. This is because as you draw the bow, the cam will lean even more, and that moves the string to the side. When you release the string, it moves back to the position it was in before you drew it, and that causes a whiplash effect that will throw the tail of your arrow to the side.
Most of the bows with this condition produce arrows that tail to the left or right (usually to the right for right-handed shooters) when shot through paper. This action creates fletching contact with the rest or the harnesses on the bow (and if it gets bad enough, with the riser). Then the arrow rebounds in who knows what direction. I have had several bows like this. Now I look for this right away before I ever buy or attempt to set up a bow.
Don't knock yourself out trying to fix a lemon bow. Most well-built bows tune quickly and that is why I recommend taking a few shots before buying a specific bow.
Some bows are also untunable because the cams are slightly out of time. The result will be tail-high or tail-low paper tears that are impossible to eliminate by moving the nocking point slightly. Mistimed cams are one thing a good archery technician at your local pro shop can fix quickly. If you shoot the bow before you buy it -- and attempt to tune it first -- these issues will come up early enough to save you tons of time and frustration later.
Because your arrow is the projectile that has to absorb massive amounts of energy in just a split second, any imperfection will translate into poor accuracy downrange. And, taking matters one step further, it has to not only soak up the force with precise consistency, the arrow also has to continue to fly straight after it leaves the bow or it will drift offline.
An arrow is like a paper airplane. If it is not built straight with all its parts perfectly lined up and then thrown (or pushed by the string)
exactly in line, the arrow will dart to the side as it zips forward.
Hunting arrows carrying fixed-blade broadheads are the most sensitive to poor tuning, and like a paper airplane with a bent nose that is thrown too hard, the faster they move, the more they drift. Putting a mechanical head on a poorly tuned arrow will improve accuracy because it won't wind plane as much, but will still drift slightly and penetration will suffer.
As mentioned, all the components must line up perfectly with a straight shaft to ensure consistency. That means the nock, shaft, insert and broadhead must all fit correctly and be of a high-quality design.
After building the arrow (or buying it), install your broadheads and spin the arrow. Spin testing is my only test before snapping an arrow into the quiver. Each arrow gets a pass or fail grade depending on how it spins. There is no such thing as almost good enough. It either spins perfectly, or it is a reject.
I've used all sorts of arrow turning fixtures and devices, but the easiest and quickest method for testing alignment is to simply spin the arrow in your hand. I also think it offers the very best feedback on arrow straightness.
Place the arrow, point down, on either side of your palm and give the arrow a spin. Some guys cradle the arrow on their fingernails and blow on the fletching to make it spin. You'll immediately feel even the slightest vibration in your hand if the broadhead is not precisely aligned with the shaft. When you feel nothing -- almost as if the arrow isn't even turning -- that's when you know it is perfect. That should be your goal on every hunting arrow.
Sometimes, you can straighten out a broadhead by unscrewing it and screwing it back in a few times or trying a different broadhead on that shaft or a different spacer or washer.
There are also steps you can take to improve alignment if you build your own arrows. First, be sure the insert you select has a slight press-fit with the inside of the arrow as you put it in. This assures that at least one source of slop or misalignment is removed.
Second, use the G5 Arrow Squaring Device on the end of every arrow in order to square it up. The insert can be in straight, but if the end of the arrow is slightly off, when you screw it down the broadhead will be pointing a touch offline. If the broadhead is offline, the arrow will steer in that direction.
So, it comes down to one rule; if, after all attempts to fix it, an arrow doesn't spin well, don't use it for hunting. Just keep it for practice and shoot it only with fieldpoints. They are much less critical of a perfect tune than broadheads.
One last tip as it relates to arrows -- swap out your nocks before hunting season. Nocks get beat up more than any other part of an arrow. Clanking arrows into the target side by side will eventually result in some rough looking (and even potentially dangerous) nocks. Replacing your nocks with new ones will eliminate any concern that an abused nock may ruin your accuracy.
Pinpoint accuracy this fall requires a well-tuned bow and perfect arrows. Tuning a modern bow is not hard as long as the bow itself is well made, and perfect arrows are as simple as making sure everything is aligned and spinning true. After that, it just comes down to how relaxed you can stay at full draw while squeezing the trigger.