BOWHUNTING: How to Silence Your Shooting Setup
by Chuck Adams
Archery equipment is never dead-quiet right out of the box. To ensure elk hunting success you’ve got to mute the noise.
Like all wild animals, elk have ears that are superbly tuned for danger. And they are lightning fast on their feet.. The sound of a bow is enough to spook an elk. Most of the string-jumpers still take an arrow through the vitals, but in some cases it is only because an elk’s heart/lung cavity is 18 inches in diameter. Sometimes a bull will take an arrow, but not where it is needed for a quick kill.
There is a lesson here for every elk archer: You need a quiet shooting setup.
The quickest hunting arrows fly about 300 feet per second, and many setups produce less than 250 fps. That’s only one-quarter the speed of sound. Which means the racket from a bow-and-arrow arrives well ahead of the projectile. Even at fairly close range, an elk can move enough to take a bad hit or actually evade the arrow.
There are a few things you can do to prevent string jumping that aren’t related to the bow.
Alert or frightened elk are poor candidates for any archery shot. They almost always jump the bowstring. Likewise, elk shot at from tree stands jump more frequently than elk shot from the ground—perhaps because they respond more reflexively to danger from above, but more likely because shots from tree stands are louder. Elk shot from enclosed ground blinds or pit blinds almost never jump, because the blind itself muffles the sound. Your bow might sound like a boxful of rocks inside the blind, but this dangerous noise is absorbed by surrounding fabric, wood, soil and other materials. For this reason, when I stand-hunt for elk, I prefer doing it from some sort of ground-level enclosure.
Most bowhunters place a premium on short, very fast compound bows with relatively large wheels or cams. These are inherently noisy, because they store more energy at full draw and waste more energy as the arrow leaves the bowstring. This energy vibrates wildly through the handle, limbs, cables, string and accessories such as bowsight and bow quiver. Manufacturers know this and have made huge strides in reducing vibration that causes noise. Today they routinely sell bows with rubber dampening devices affixed to limbs and handle. Rubber absorbs vibration and reduces game-spooking noise.
But factory-attached sound dampeners are only a starting point for serious elk hunters. Archery equipment is never dead-quiet right out of the box. To avoid string jumping, you’ve got to take some steps on your own to mute the noise of your setup.
Unless you have experienced it, you cannot imagine how loud a small, loose bow part can be. Two years ago, a guy I know got a 30-yard shot at a dandy bull. When he released the arrow, his bow buzzed like a rattlesnake, and the elk swapped ends like a cutting horse. The broadhead hit too far back, and the recovery was not pretty. He found that elk six hours later . . . down but not out. In the meantime, my friend had isolated the bow noise and fixed it. The problem had been a single sight pin. The locking screw had come loose, causing the pin assembly to vibrate. A second, much quieter shot, finished the bull.
Step number one in silencing your elk bow should be tightening all attachments. Mounting and adjustment screws on the arrow rest, bowsight and bow quiver must be cinched down. Some cheap bow quivers rattle no matter what, and these should be avoided. The best quivers, in terms of quiet, affix to the bow at two widely separated points.
To ensure tight bow accessories, you should dab the head of every screw and bolt with FletchTite or another vinyl archery cement. This will prevent components from rattling loose. The cement is easily scrubbed away with acetone or fingernail polish remover.
It is easy to check for loose bow parts without shooting your bow. Simply thud the bow handle with the palm of your hand. If anything is loose, it will buzz—even one tiny screw. I routinely check my bow in this way before and after every day of hunting. It’s good insurance against an unpleasant surprise.
An unsilenced bowstring will vibrate like a guitar string during the shot. To prevent this, affix a rubber silencer like the String Leach or Catwhisker near each end of the string. Six or 8 inches from each limb tip is about right. Rubber string silencers are also advisable on the cables of noisy compound bows.
The single most important piece of bow-silencing gear is a stabilizer. This short, stubby device screws to the front of a bow just below the grip. A stabilizer accomplishes two things. First, it places 6 to 10 ounces of weight in front of the grip to minimize handle twist during the shot. Handle twist, sometimes called torque, can disrupt arrow flight and increase shooting noise. Second, a stabilizer is strategically located to soak up bow vibration like a sponge. The best stabilizers incorporate flexible rubber components to enhance noise reduction. According to scientific studies with decibel meters, a rubber-loaded stabilizer can reduce game-spooking noise up to 50 percent. On wary animals like elk, this is a huge advantage.
Although they're not popular among speed-conscious archers, heavier, slower arrows reduce bow noise. A lighter, faster arrow squanders more bow energy than a heavier arrow, and this squandered energy instantly turns to vibration. All else being equal, an elk bow with 400-grain arrows will make a lot more noise than the same bow with 550-grain arrows. The tradeoff is more arch in the heavy arrow's trajectory, which necessitates more precision in ranging your shots.
Since a heavy arrow also penetrates better than a light arrow, I personally prefer medium to heavy arrows for elk. With a laser rangefinder and lots of distance practice by eye, I do not feel handicapped with slower, more arching projectiles.
Small improvements in your setup can yield large silencing rewards. Years ago, in a fit of excitement at getting close to a bugling elk, I dropped my arrow off the arrow rest. The shaft clattered against the bare metal bow handle like a castanet, and the bull was gone in a flash. That was not the last time I have smacked an arrow into my bow handle, but it was the last time my handle was not covered by noise-dampening synthetic felt. To prevent clanks between arrow and bow, you must cover every conceivable collision point with adhesive-backed felt. This can be purchased at any archery store.
Some excellent bow components like arrow rests and quivers have hard plastic or metal parts that are prone to noisiness. Before you hunt, these should be identified and silenced with heat-shrink Teflon tubing, pieces of soft rubber like bicycle inner-tube, or a dab of quick-setting silicone bathroom caulk. If it can possibly make noise in the field, you need to figure out how to prevent it from doing so, and eliminate the risk of scaring the heck out of an elk with your bow and arrow.
A majority of modern bowhunters draw and release with a hard-jaw mechanical device. This makes accuracy easy, but a hard-jaw bowstring release aid can strum the string. To dampen this effect and improve accuracy at the same time, you should try a tied-in release loop on the string. Release loops are sold at archery stores and let you affix your release aid to soft and yielding cord instead of a taut bowstring. The loop does not buzz, and it absorbs tiny shooting mistakes you might make. Accuracy improves, and your bow is quieter.
Here is one last tip on silencing your setup for elk: Be sure to shoot before season in the same clothes you plan to hunt in. All too often, an archer practices in a thin shirt or jacket, and then bundles up for the hunt. Bulky upper-body wear often snags the bowstring along the chest or bow arm, producing a fearsome “slap” that will run any self-respecting elk into the next county and might send your arrow there, too.
To minimize the risk, you should cover your forearm with a full-length armguard, and strap on an archer’s chest protector. Both devices are meant to flatten clothes in crucial areas of bowstring travel.
Don’t let anybody—not even your own eyes—try to tell you that elk never jump the bowstring. It just boosts my respect for the amazing athleticism of an awesome animal.
Life member Chuck Adams has written 10 books about bowhunting—including Super Slam, detailing his adventures with all 28 species of North American big game.