March 24, 2023
I remember the first time I shot a bow: The PSE package bow wasn’t sized right and took all my might to pull back, but somehow, I found a way to put my arrow on target.
As archery technology has advanced it has become easier for the user to take a bow off the rack and stretch their range to distances previously unheard of. While it is great to practice your skills at further distances, this has created a false sense of security for hunters, as bows are leaving pro shops untuned and users do not understand the limitations of their setups. Real-world hunting scenarios differ from those on the practice range in a controlled environment. Not to mention, an untuned bow, equipped with broadheads, will have a drastically different impact point from field tips. This can cause hunters to miss, or worse, wound animals.
Here is some basic knowledge on how to tune your bow to better familiarize yourself with your equipment, along with a few key tips to improve your practice before heading afield.
Tune Your Bow
A whole book can be written on tuning, but I’ll keep it brief. To start, make sure you are shooting properly. Tuning your bow means nothing if you are shooting improperly. Variances in your grip, anchor point, release, or string pressure will change the arrow’s flight. I am not going to go into the weeds about the perfect form and try to tell you how to operate your equipment. Some of the best bowhunters I know have “terrible form” according to Olympic-level shooters. The right way to shoot is what is repeatable for you, whether that means you shoot overdrawn or a wrist release with your middle finger—whatever it is, just make it repeatable.
There are many ways to tune a bow and arrows: paper tuning, bare-shaft tuning, walk-back tuning, broadhead tuning, and arrow indexing to name a few. All have their purposes, but due to space, let’s focus on paper tuning, as it will allow you to learn your bow and make sure your arrows are flying true. I know what you’re thinking: “I just have the pro shop do that.” I’m fine with having a shop employee make the adjustments—the process does take a stout amount of equipment—but you need to be present, and, most importantly, you need to be the one shooting.
Make sure your rest is set to center shot (the point where the arrow is perfectly aligned with the nocking point) before you get started. Get a sheet of butcher paper and spread it out in front of your target on a stand that will allow your arrow to pass through before making impact. Standing eight paces away from the target, take a couple of shots through paper, if you’re lucky, you’ll get a “bullet hole.” This means your arrow flew straight through the paper.
Usually, a bow doesn’t shoot a bullet hole the first time. The result will most likely be a larger tear where the spine went through at an angle because your arrow isn’t flying straight. There are great references online to help, including a paper tuning chart on Gold Tip’s website. Vertical tears are typically easy to fix—simply adjust your nock point up or down. If you’re getting a vertical tear, most of the time the arrow wasn’t level before starting the process. For a nock-high tear, move your nock point down, or your rest slightly up and vice versa for the nock-low tear.
Once you have the vertical tear fixed, move on to the horizontal. A horizontal tear can be caused by many factors: arrow spine stiffness, cable guard tensions, center shot is off, cam lean, or cam placement along the axel.
It is my recommendation to do any major adjustments via yoke tuning, or cam adjustments, as you do not want to make big movements once your rest is set to center shot. Follow the guide and make small adjustments. It is easy to over correct.
This is important, if you are making corrections and nothing is happening, stop. There is most likely fletching contact somewhere. You can usually eyeball contact with the bow. Most of the time it is on the cables from the inside fletching. Once the issue is found, correct it, and start the process over again to find a bullet hole.
Practice How You Play
Before you go hunting you need to be sure that you are ready for whatever shot is presented. For me, I have set a max distance that I am willing to shoot at a game animal. With that in mind, I extend my practice yardage well beyond that mark to ensure that I am competent enough to make an ethical shot. A target at 90, or even 100 yards—even though it's well outside my hunting distance—makes a 40-yard shot feel like a cake walk.
Once you have established your max distance and practice shooting beyond, it is time to practice shooting at angles, through timber, and in the wind. I’ve shot a lot of critters with my bow, and I can’t remember one that was on flat ground, without wind, and without obstructions.
Start with shooting angles. Find a hill that allows you to shoot steep uphill and downhill angles at various distances. Keep your form the same and do not torque your bow. Hinging at your hips, rather than raising and lowering your shoulder, allows you to maintain alignment during your shot. Newer rangefinders are equipped with technology to automatically adjust your yardage for the angle.
Shooting through timber is another challenge you’ll face in the field. I hear stories all the time about how an arrow, deflected by a branch, wounded a bull or buck, or completely veered off target. To avoid this, you need to know the arc of your arrow—there are rangefinders that show you arc, but here’s a good trick if you’re using a multi-pin sight: Range your target and any branches that are along the arrow’s path. If your target is at 50 yards, place your pin on target and check your other pins to see if a branch is in your arrows arc. With your pin on target, check that branch at 20 yards, if your pin is covering it—or hovering close to—you’ll likely hit it and deflect. It sounds like a lot, but after some practice it becomes second nature, and as a bull is coming in, you should be ranging multiple distance markers in your shooting lane anyway.
Shooting in the wind, just like when using a rifle, will have a major effect on your arrow’s impact point. What’s more, you will experience an extreme amount of movement in your bow before the shot. If you only practice in a controlled environment, you’ll end up punching the trigger and pulling your shot once afield. If there’s a breeze blowing one day, go outside and take some shots. Start close and work your way out, you’ll be a better hunter for it. Study how the wind pushes your arrow and practice staying patient and calm while your pin bounces around your target. I would be remiss not to mention that if the wind is too strong, you’ll need to lower your bow and not shoot. It is better to wait for the wind to die down than risk wounding an animal.
Archery hunting should not be taken lightly, there is no wiggle room for error when placing an arrow on target. This season, follow these tips and build your skills. Familiarize yourself with your equipment and know the limitations of both yourself and your gear. Make sure you have the skills and knowledge to take good, clean ethical shots once you're afield.