Tuning Your Bow & Arrows

A correctly tuned bow with a perfectly spined arrow will increase your success in the field. These expert tips will help you achieve all three.

Author Angelo Nogara practices shooting his Mathews Conquest II hunting bow.
Photo by Cathy Nogara

As bowhunters, we constantly check, adjust and re-adjust our equipment over and over again trying to achieve perfect arrow flight from our bows. Few of us are ever completely satisfied, or should I say, few of us are ever successful at achieving this, especially when it comes to shooting fixed broadheads. As with most archers during the off-season, we become comfortable with the performance of our bows while shooting field points. Then hunting season rolls around and it's time to adjust our sight pins to compensate for the strange flight of a broadhead-tipped arrow. Some archers become so frustrated they just give up on fixed broadheads and shoot mechanical broadheads to solve their problems. Hence the phrase, "They fly just like my field points." If this sounds like you, you're not alone.

I've heard many archers say that before every hunting season, they have to adjust their sight pins to enable them to shoot their fixed broadheads accurately. If this is happening to you, don't touch your pins -- tune your bow!

A properly tuned bow shooting a perfectly spined arrow will place a field point in the same spot as a fixed three-blade broadhead. I spend hours tuning my bow to achieve the performance I expect from it during hunting season. As bowhunters, it is our responsibility to be able to place an accurately shot arrow while pursuing wild game.

"Most bows brought into my shop are not even close to being properly tuned," said Joe Snell, owner of Pacifica Archery. "Even if you're an accomplished archer, it's pretty hard to accurately shoot a bow that's in this condition. Most archers are too hard on themselves, becoming frustrated when the problem could actually be the bow and not the shooter."

The following five steps will not only aid you in correctly tuning your bow and arrows but will also increase your chances at harvesting that trophy buck during the upcoming deer season.


Adjusting Bows For Optimum Performance

Most compound bows perform best when they are at maximum draw weight. Listed below are a number of tests for your basic bow set-up, which if done correctly can enhance the optimum performance of your bow.

The simple act of replacing or twisting a cable can affect your idler wheel and cam alignment. Your bowstring may be rolling off the idler wheel at an angle, affecting not only the cam, but producing limb stress and poor arrow flight.

You will need a bow press and a laser alignment tool for this procedure. The laser alignment tool I use is produced by Spot-Hogg and is placed on the cam, aligning the laser to the idler wheel. Once you have safely compressed your bow limbs, either twist or untwist the cable attached to one side of the idler wheel to align it with your cam. Then remove your bow from the bow press and check with your laser alignment tool. You will probably have to do this more than once to achieve proper alignment.

Adding or eliminating a few twists in the cable can adjust the cam's height. Check with your bow's manufacturer for proper cam height specifications. For my Mathews Conquest II, I slightly over-tune my cam to allow for any stretch in the string. This process may affect the angle of the idler wheel, so be sure to check it, too.

If you use a peep sight, it is important to have it at the correct height because it could have a direct affect on your anchor point. Install a peep sight to your string, but don't tie it. Close your eyes and draw your bow back to your anchor point, then open your sighting eye. Move your peep sight to the correct position in front of your sighting eye. Repeat this process a few times until you are satisfied, and then tie the peep sight to the string. You can use the same procedure to set a kisser button.

Whatever stabilizer you choose, it should balance your bow so that the top limb slowly rocks forward when you open your hand. Make sure that you do this test with a full quiver of arrows if you intend to quiver while hunting. The extra weight of the bow quiver and arrows will affect the balance of a bow. There are many stabilizers on the market that will not only balance a bow properly but will tremendously reduce the amount of shock absorbed by your bow arm.


Tests To Find The Perfect Spine In Your Arrows

Spine is everything when it comes to accuracy! When I speak of spine, I am referring to the stiffness of the arrow shaft.

It is very difficult to properly tune a bow unless you have the correctly spined arrows for this process. For finger shooters, spine is extremely crucial because of the amount of paradox, the bending and buckling of the arrow around the riser.

When choosing arrows use a good spine chart such as Easton's arrow chart. Another excellent aid is a software program called Archer's Advantage, sold in most archery shops, which can help you get close to the correctly spined arrow for your bow. Then it's up to you to perform the following tests:

Powder Test

You need to eliminate fletching contact before tuning your bow. Arrow flight can be affected tremendously if the vanes contact any part of the bow's arrow rest.

One way to solve this problem is to spray foot powder on an arrow's vanes before shooting on the practice range. This will illuminate any places in which contact is occurring, enabling you to make the proper adjustments.

Use a nock alignment gauge to ensure that the rest of your arrows will have the same clearance. This gauge works best when all arrows have been fletched using the same fletching jig.

Bare Shaft Plane Test

For this test, you will need three fletched arrows and three bare shafts. Make sure to use field points for this test, as shooting bare shafts with broadheads can produce unpredictable, dangerous flight. Add some masking tape to the end of the bare shafts to compensate for weight lost by removing the fletching, 20 to 30 grains depending on the size and weight of your vanes. You want the bare shafts to weigh exactly the same as the fletched arrows.

Start at a 20-yard target. You can move to longer distances later. The goal is to have all six arrows grouped in the same spot.

If your bare shafts are impacting to the left of your fletched shafts, your spine is too stiff. To correct this problem you can increase the poundage on your bow, inc

rease your point weight, increase your arrow length, move your rest to the right (for release shooters), decrease the cushion plunger tension (for finger shooters) or choose an arrow with less spine.

If your bare shafts are impacting to the right of your fletched shafts, your spine is too weak. To correct this problem you can decrease the poundage on your bow, decrease your arrow length, decrease your point weight, move your rest to the left (for release shooters), increase the cushion plunger tension (for finger shooters) or choose an arrow with more spine.


Tuning Arrows For Broadheads

Some bowhunters screw broadheads onto their arrows and never give a thought to blade alignment. My experience and testing indicates demonstrable differences in accuracy when blade alignment is used for shooting fixed three-blade broadheads.

As an arrow flies, a constant battle takes place between the blades of a broadhead and an arrow's vanes. Both influence the control of an arrow's flight. The longer the vane and the more helical, the better control you will have over your broadhead. I recommend using 4- to 5-inch vanes for hunting purposes. I use a 4.18-inch vane with an extreme right helical to control the 125-grain broadhead I use, but I also align my blades to my fletching. I've found that I have more control in accuracy, especially on longer shots.

The last step entails the use of an arrow spin tester to see if your broadheads and nocks spin symmetrically.


Bow Tuning For Broadheads

This next step will keep you from having to adjust your sight pins for hunting season. After you have successfully performed the tuning tests listed above and have found the perfectly spined arrow, you are ready for the following fine-tuning procedures.

A fixed three-blade broadhead will detect any slight flaw in your bow tuning process that may cause your arrows to plane, resulting in decreased accuracy. The true test is to shoot six fletched arrows at a 20-yard target; three arrows with field points and three arrows with fixed three-blade broadheads that weigh the same as your field points.

Step back to 40 yards and perform the same test. The varying results might shock you.

Properly setting your center shot will eliminate erratic arrow flight. This is achieved by adjusting your rest or cushion plunger button. There are a number of good devices on the market for this procedure.

For release shooters it should be set directly down the center of the arrow. For finger shooters the arrow should be set slightly left of center.

Using a bow square, release shooters should begin by setting their nock point slightly above 90 degrees to the bowstring. Fingers shooters should begin by setting their nock point at about 3/8-inch above square. All adjustments are to be made in 1/32-inch increments.

Perform this test with six fletched arrows -- three with field points and three with fixed three-blade broadheads. Place a strip of tape (1-inch wide by 12 inches long) horizontally on a piece of cardboard to be used as a target. From 20 yards, shoot all six arrows at the tape, shooting the field points first. Don't worry about grouping them. Just try to space them out from left to right on the tape.

If the broadheads impact the target higher than the field points, raise your nock point. If the broadheads are impacting the target lower than the field points, lower your nock point. After adjusting, shoot all six arrows again. Your goal is to get all arrows impacting on the horizontal tape.

Perform the same test with the cardboard target turned so that the tape hangs vertically. If your broadheads are impacting the target to the left of your field points, move your rest to the right for release shooters. Finger shooters should decrease cushion plunger tension. If your broadheads are impacting the target to the right of your field points, move your rest to the left for release shooters. Finger shooters should increase cushion plunger tension. After adjustments, shoot the arrows again. Your goal is to get all arrows impacting on the vertical tape.


Correct Draw Weight

Pulling more than necessary decreases accuracy. While aiming your sight pin at your target, if you have to draw your bow across your chest, high draw, strain your muscles, or point your bow away from your target, you are pulling too much weight. Your muscles will not be able to relax for the shot, causing poor grouping and possibly a wounded animal.

Turn your poundage down to where the weight is comfortable enough to hold your bow steady (no shaking) for increasingly longer periods of time. Your accuracy will improve and you will become much more successful in the field.


Record All Bow Measurements

Once you are completely satisfied with your bow's accuracy, it is time to record all of your measurements for future use and place them in a safe spot.

Record your draw weight, axle to axle measurement, tiller measurements, center-shot (measure from the sight window to the center of the arrow), nock point (mark it on your bow square), peep sight (measure from your nock point), kisser button (measure from your nock point), mark your string and cable at both the idler wheel and cam to see if stretching occurs, and mark your limb bolts to make sure they don't back out.

Shoot A Quiet Bow

I'm sure that you have heard of animals "jumping the string" when it comes to bowhunting. I have to admit this has happened to me, and if you bowhunt long enough, it will happen to you too.

Vibrations, either from the bow itself or from after-factory add-ons, produce most noises associated with shooting bows. I've heard some bows upon release sound like somebody dropped a toolbox on the ground. This just doesn't work!

Here are some tips for quieting your bow:

  • Bow quivers are notorious for making noise. Line the inside of your quiver with a self-adhesive felt, then install your foam insert. This makes for a tighter, quieter fit.

  • Add silencers to your string and cable. String Leaches by Sims Vibration Laboratory work well for this.

  • Add self-adhesive felt beneath and to the side of your arrow rest. This will eliminate any noise caused by an arrow accidentally slipping off.

  • Make sure there is nothing loose or vibrating on your sight or arrow rest.

  • Add self-adhesive felt to the prongs on your rest or cushion plunger button.

  • Heavier arrows are quieter and will absorb more shock upon release than lighter ones.

    The tuning methods I have described are not difficult to perform; they just take a little time. I guarantee you will be happy with the results and with the incre

    ased confidence in your shooting abilities for the upcoming deer season.


    Angelo Nogara, an avid bowhunter and archer for more than 20 years, is the 2005 California State Broadhead Champion (Bowhunter Freestyle Limited A-Class). In 2004, he competed in the Bowhunter Freestyle Limited A-Class and placed in the following competitions: 2nd Place -- National Marked 3D Championship (NFAA); 2nd Place -- California State Field Championship (NFAA); 1st Place -- Northern California Overall Regional Championship (NCFAA); 1st Place -- Northern California Regional 3D Championship (NCFAA); 1st Place -- Northern California Regional Field Championship (NCFAA); and 3rd Place -- California State Unmarked Broadhead Championship (CBH).

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