Tuning your bow means more than slinging a few arrows before the opener. Accuracy starts now.
As a bowhunter, you must tackle the time-consuming task of eliminating difficulties such as mismatched equipment and incorrect fit that can cause weak arrow flight. Elk are too precious, and hunting too hard, for you to carry a mismatched setup that is erratic to shoot. You owe yourself and the animals a clean, fast-killing shot.
Every archery setup must be tuned for perfect arrow flight. This happy situation never occurs by accident. Bows must be adjusted and tinkered with by hand for best accuracy. Here are six steps to tuning your elk equipment.
Step 1: Set Up Your Bow
Bows are not like baseball caps. One size does not fit all. A compound hunting bow should have the correct draw length to match your arm length and width of chest. The best way to determine draw length is placing one end of a yardstick at the base of your throat with an arm extended straight ahead along each side of the ruler. Hold the yardstick level with the ground, and extend the fingers of both hands straight forward along the stick. The distance from your throat to your longest fingertips will be very close to your correct draw length.
Men who are 5-feet 10-inches tall usually have a draw length around 28 inches. Men over 6-feet tall commonly draw 30 or 31 inches. Women 5-feet 6-inches tall will have a draw length around 25 or 26 inches.
You must select a compound bow that can be adjusted to fit your personal draw exactly. When in doubt, ask your archery dealer for help.
Bow draw weight is the other factor that must be right for hunting bow accuracy. If you cannot point a bow toward the target and easily draw the arrow straight back to your face without dipping the bow toward the ground or hiking it toward the sky, the draw-weight is too much for your arm and shoulder muscles. An average adult man can smoothly draw a compound bow of 55 to 65 pounds. Most adult women can shoot somewhere between 40 and 50 pounds with ease. With modern bows, this is more than enough power to drive an arrow completely through a broadside elk.
Traditional recurve bows and longbows are a whole other kettle of fish. The longer the draw of a given bow, the heavier the draw weight. It usually takes some experimentation at an archery store to select a traditional “stick bow” that yields comfortable shooting at your personal draw length.
When in doubt about comfort, shoot a lower weight. It was painful for me to watch some of the archers on Top Shot struggle with the bows they were given. They were shuddering like aspen leaves as they muscled to full draw with weird contortions. Steady shots were impossible. Don’t let that happen to you.
Step 2: Select A Proper Arrow
There are more than 150 arrow shaft diameters and weights currently sold to bowhunters. These vary from custom, cross-laminated wooden shafts for traditional archers to aluminum shafts, shafts made of woven or straight-line carbon fiber, and shafts with overlapping aluminum and carbon laminations.
An arrow of the wrong size cannot be shot well from your bow, no more than a .25-06 cartridge can be shot from a .30-06 rifle. You must deliberately select a wood, aluminum, carbon or carbon/aluminum composite size based on an arrow-shaft selection chart.
Arrow manufacturers’ charts always require your bow’s draw length and draw weight. They also commonly ask for other input like arrowhead weight, finger or mechanical bowstring release, and overall length of your bow. When you plug all these factors into the chart, you will be presented with one or more arrow shaft sizes that are likely to fly well from your particular bow.
Bow and arrow matchup is crucial to accurate tuning. You cannot simply grab Uncle Harry’s hand-me-down arrows and expect them to shoot worth beans. Pick arrow size with care according to strict manufacturer guidelines. If you don’t, projectiles will wobble inconsistently toward the target no matter how much tuning you attempt.
Step 3: Install Accuracy Accessories
Everything you attach to your bow will affect the way it shoots. Select accessories with care.
The arrow rest is most important of all. Most modern archers draw and release with a mechanical bowstring device. This necessitates a launcher-style arrow rest like a drop-away, TM Hunter, or Whisker Biscuit. Slow-motion photography has proven that mechanically released arrows tend to bend and vibrate vertically as they leave the bow. This requires cradling guidance from below. In my experience, various drop-away arrow rest designs are most accurate because they allow complete clearance between the rest and arrow fletching during the shot.
Finger-released arrows always bend from side-to-side as they leave the bowstring. This requires a side-control arrow rest like the flipper/plunger or springy.
Cradling rests like drop-aways do not work with fingers. For accurate tuning, you must match arrow rest to shooting style.
Other bow accessories can make tuning easier. A bow stabilizer with flexible rubber components helps to reduce vibration and handle twist (torque) during the shot. A nylon release loop tied to the bowstring flexes as you aim to prevent inconsistent arrow launch from a hard-jaw release aid. A wrist strap above the bow grip lets you slip your hand underneath and shoot with fingers wide open for more complete muscle relaxation as the arrow leaves the bow. Serious archers experiment with such accuracy aids to see what works for them.
Here’s another serious note about bow accessories. For a perfect and lasting tune, you must install everything, including bowsights, string peep, string and cable silencers, and bow quiver before you tune. If you change anything, however slight, your tune might disappear. Even small items like string silencers can cause bowstring dynamics and bow recoil to change. Such factors will affect arrow launch.
Step 4: Establish Sound Shooting Habits
You cannot have consistent arrow flight without consistent bow-shooting form. As I’ve discussed before in Bugle, top archery shots master the seven steps of good shooting.
Stand facing the target at 45 degrees, with feet parallel. Toes should be pointing well toward the target, not at 90 degrees. Grip the bow in a loose, relaxed hand. Draw straight back to your face. Anchor solidly to the side of your face, choosing the same spot every time. Aim quickly and consistently with your dominant eye in line with the bowstring. Release the string smoothly, and let your hand slide backward in contact with your face. Follow through your shot by continuing to aim until the arrow actually hits.
Step 5: Make Initial Bow Adjustments
If you’ve done everything right up to this point, you should be able to tune your elk bow in less than one hour.
To do this, you must shoot through thin, stretched paper. The best setup is a large wooden frame (like a picture frame) with butcher paper stretched across and secured in place with thumb tacks. One cheap and easy option is cutting twin windows in opposite sides of a large cardboard box and stretching butcher paper or common newspaper across the shoot-through opening.
Regardless of how you stretch the paper, your job after that will be simple. Place an archery target like the Block at least three feet behind the paper, select a field-point hunting arrow, and smear the point with lipstick or grease pencil. Next, shoot through the paper from about four feet away.
The spot where arrow impacts paper will be clearly marked by the lipstick or grease. Unless you are uncommonly lucky, the tail of the arrow will tear vertically and/or horizontally away from the point. This indicates wobbly arrow flight—“fishtailing” (side-to-side wobble) and/or “porpoising” (up-and-down wobble).
To correct wobble, you should adjust your arrow rest and/or nocking point on the bowstring. For tail-right or tail-left paper tears, move the arrow rest in the same direction as the tear. For tail-high or tail-low paper tears, move the nocking point on the bowstring in the opposite direction of the tear.
Keep shooting and adjusting until your arrow passes through paper with the point in the center of a tight little tear created by the fletching. Such a “bullet hole” indicates an arrow flying perfectly straight with no wobble at all.
To double-check tune, repeat the paper process from 6 feet and 20 feet away. If you are getting bullet holes at all three distances, your bow is tuned with field points. Accuracy on targets will be noticeably better, even when your make small shooting mistakes.
Step 6: Follow Final Tuning Procedures
Serious bowhunters pay attention to small tuning details. As a final tune before archery season, they shoot broadhead-tipped arrows through paper to ensure perfect flight with the exact “ammo” they intend to hunt with. They load up a bow quiver with one or two fewer arrows than they will carry in the field, and tune with this setup to duplicate the mass weight of the bow after they’ve nocked their first or second arrow.
Tree and ground blind hunters commonly remove a bow quiver once they reach their stand. These archers always tune their bows without the quiver, because they know arrows go nuts from a quiverless bow that has been tuned with the quiver in place.
Careful archers also paper-check their bow tune every week or two during archery season, just to make sure everything is okay.
Find the right bow and arrow combination that fits you; get the accessories you need for accuracy; practice with your field set-up; and practice some more, fine-tuning adjustments as you go. Once that’s done, all you need to do is find some elk.