It's time to dust off your bow case and start working out the kinks before you climb into your stand. Here are several things to consider!
It's important to shoot your broadheads before the season to ensure they fly true when that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity presents itself.
Photo by Neil B. McGahee.
Despite the red and golden hints of autumn yet-to-come, the ghost of summer past has saved one last attack of Indian Summer -- sweltering heat, ravenous insects and tortuous humidity -- for opening day of bowhunting season. Fortunately, you packed spare towels, insect repellent and water, lots of water, to make it through the day.
Sitting in your stand high above the deer woods, you watch as a huge buck comes into view, nose to the ground, winding his way through the shimmering morning heat waves to the creek for one last drink before bedding down. Instinctively, you hunch forward on your seat, waiting for the big whitetail to enter the shooting lane.
At 50 yards, you bring your bow to full draw and wait. At 35 yards, your hands are trembling in anticipation, but you resist releasing your arrow, holding until the perfect moment before letting it fly. Twisting, wobbling slightly, the arrow flies -- right over the buck's backstraps -- loudly impaling a tree trunk. The buck skids to a stop, then bolts for the safety of the woods as you sit there, mouth agape, wondering what just happened. Perhaps you should have prepared your equipment as well as you prepared for your personal comfort.
Preparation for the bowhunting season involves much more than drawing your bow back several times the day before the opener and deciding if everything feels right. Before you hit the woods, you should be confident your equipment is going to perform at its best before you ever release that first arrow.
Actually, preparation should begin at the close of the previous season. Before putting your bow away for the off-season, reduce the draw weight to avoid bending the cam axles, a very costly repair.
In the waning days of summer, compound bows should be unpacked and thoroughly examined for loose attachments, loose strands in the string and cables, warped or cracked limbs and bent cam axles. Using a bow press -- if you don't have access to one, visit your local archery shop -- inspect the cams and shafts for dings and excess wear and replace the offending pieces. Also, inspect the cams for excess lateral movement on the shaft.
A cut or worn cam may damage your string and even cause personal injury if the string breaks. Using a small file or extra-fine sandpaper -- your significant other's emery board is a great choice -- remove the excess wax that has built up in the string grooves, then dab a small amount of graphite-based lubricant on the axle before you reassemble your bow. Whatever you do, don't use oil as a lubricant. Oil attracts and holds all the crud that builds up with use.
TUNING YOUR BOW
Single-cam and hybrid-cam bows are much less likely to get out of tune than two-cam bows, but it is always wise to check all cams for signs of wear on the string and cables. A two-cam bow shoots accurately only if both cams roll over at the same time. If the cams rotate out of sequence even slightly, your bow won't shoot tight groups.
Lay the bow across your lap and mark an identical spot on each cam, then draw the string and compare the rotation of each cam. If the marks on the cams aren't lined up in the same position, your bow is out of tune. You can also check cam timing at full draw, but you'll need a helper to determine if the cams are reaching their positions at the same time. Slowly draw the bow as the observer watches to make sure the cams roll over simultaneously. Often the lower cam is the first to cause problems because it takes more abuse due to improper handling -- most hunters lower their bows from the deer stand to the ground with a string -- damaging the lower cam much more often than the top one.
This type of handling also causes more gunk and grime to accumulate on the lower cam, which can also detune your bow, so you should visually inspect cams for excess nicks and dirt after every hunt from a stand. If the cam timing requires resetting, that is a job best left to an archery shop pro.
Proper position of the arrow rest can streamline the tuning process. If you use a release aid, a nocked arrow should align with the forward movement of the string. The easiest way to check this is to stand the bow on the bottom wheel and inspect it to make sure the arrow exits straight in front of the bow, not pointing to either side.
Hunters who prefer to use a release aid should install a nock point so the lower edge is approximately 1/8 of an inch above the center of the rest attachment. If you prefer shooting with your fingers, install the nock point 3/8 to 1/2 inch above the center and move the rest away from the bow until the arrow points slightly to the left for right-handed shooters; right for lefties. If you use a prong-type arrow rest that has a protective coating to silence the arrow, lightly sand the steel prongs. If you shoot carbon shafts, you should also sand your arrows to remove any nicks in the shafts. Clean all moving parts with alcohol and lubricate with a graphite-type lubricant. Again, avoid using oil.
The deer forest is usually a pretty quiet place where loud clicks and clacks are seldom heard. Many bow companies feature suppression systems to reduce string and cable vibration, the primary culprit of noise. If your bow doesn't have such a system, you may want to consider adding aftermarket string dampers or other noise-suppression products, including string leeches or chubs or rubber "cat whiskers." All will lessen bowstring noise to a point.
Check all attachments, especially your sight to make sure there are no loose parts that will create noise. While you're at it, carefully inspect the sight for cracks or broken pins. The fiber optic tips often found on the pins frequently crack or loosen and should be replaced.
Inspect the cable guard rods and plastic slides to make sure they move smoothly and are free of dust and dirt. If you find the slides are worn, consider upgrading to Teflon slides, which travel slower and smoother, creating much less wear on the rods. If you discover any nicks or scratches, sand the rod.
Next, take a look at the string. Inspect the serving -- the wrap that goes around the string where the arrow is nocked -- for loose or fraying ends. If you find a problem with the serving, you can replace it without replacing the string. Also, inspect the main string for cuts or loose strands, and if you find some, replace the string. Although the newer strings last longer than the old ones, they won't last forever. It makes a lot more sense to
spend the money for a new string than have your old one break in the field.
PAPER TUNE FIRST
Paper tuning a bow makes tuning broadheads much easier because it ensures that your arrow leaves the bow as straight as possible. Here's how to do it:
Shoot a field-tipped arrow through paper 5 or 6 feet away, placing the paper so the arrow goes straight through and not at an angle. As the arrow passes through the paper, the point and fletching leave different marks -- the point leaves a small round hole and the fletching leaves a y-shaped hole. Examination of those marks should indicate the entry point and the fletching exit.
Depending on the alignment of the fletching exit to the entry hole, adjust the arrow rest until the entry hole lines up with the center of the fletching exit. Test each arrow several times from varying distances, making small adjustments to the arrow rest and sometimes the nocking point, until you are satisfied they are in tune. Small differences are fairly common even with bows and arrows that are paper tuned, but they can be corrected easily by moving the rest slightly in the direction required to bring your hunting arrow groups closer to your practice groups. In other words, if the hunting arrows group to the left, move the sight to the left.
TUNING YOUR ARROWS
It is important to shoot your broadheads before the season to ensure that they fly well when that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity presents itself.
While tuning your bow will synchronize your broadhead groups with your practice arrows, it doesn't mean your broadheads will hit the same spot as your practice arrows. In order to do that, each arrow must be individually tuned so that all the components of the hunting arrow line up perfectly or it will fly erratically.
A bent broadhead or crooked insert causes erratic arrow flight, so check your broadheads by using a spin test to make sure your arrows have straight inserts. Using a cardboard box with two V-shaped grooves cut in each side at the same height, place a piece of paper in front of an arrow and mark a spot that is aligned with the tip -- this is called the guide spot -- then spin the arrow. The tip should point to the guide spot as you spin the arrow. If the tip moves away from the guide spot, the insert is probably crooked.
Another way to check your insert alignment is to spin a broadhead-tipped arrow on its tip on a flat surface like a floor or table. If the shaft wobbles while the arrow is spinning, the insert is not straight. Repeat the test after installing several different broadheads to determine if the broadhead is bent instead of the insert. Check all your arrows and put the arrows with misaligned inserts to the side for use with practice tips.
If you don't have enough aligned arrows, you can sometimes straighten the inserts on aluminum arrows if the inserts were installed with hot glue. Carefully heat the point -- not the shaft -- while gently turning the point and inserts until it floats in the center. If you are using carbon arrows with inserts that were installed using epoxy, forget the heat; it will destroy the arrow.
Erratic arrow flight is often caused by interference with the fletching as it passes through the arrow rest, a problem that is easily solved by spraying the fletching with an aerosol foot powder. As the powder rubs off, it will lightly lubricate the areas where contact occurs. You can also try turning the nocks until the fletching passes through the rest without touching. Not all arrow rests provide enough clearance; so if these methods don't eliminate fletching contact, consider changing to a drop-away arrow rest.
Bowhunting is one of the most satisfying ways to take a whitetail or any other game. Following these simple guidelines will ensure you are prepared for great hunting from opening day until season's end.