How to Tune Your Bow (and What Does Tuning a Bow Do?)

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Last Updated on August 3, 2021.

Writer for Minuteman Review, handgun aficionado and artisan firearms reviewer. 

How to Tune Your Bow (and What Does Tuning a Bow Do)

The process of tuning your compound bow is essential to proper performance, whether on the archery range or in the field. Tuning is all about finding signs of wear, misalignment, or improper installation and correcting these flaws to ensure your bow operates at peak efficiency.


Why is Tuning Important?

Bows, especially compound bows, use cables and bowstrings that are under constant tension. These components can deteriorate over time. As the bowstring and cables stretch, other components can experience wear or become misaligned, adversely affecting the accuracy and power of your arrows. To ensure that your bow performs at peak efficiency, you should periodically inspect your bow, tuning it if necessary.


How to Tune Your Bow

Your first order of business should be setting up your bow. What this means is that every part is properly installed. These include the arrow rest, sighting system, stabilizers, nocking point/serving, peep sight, and so on. 

While many archers seek the services of a professional to tune their bows, you can tune your bow yourself. Tuning requires inspection and adjustment of several components to ensure reliable, consistent operation

Bowstring

Bowstrings deteriorate due to abrasion from nocking the arrow and being under constant tension. Depending on the frequency with which you shoot your bow, the string may last a few years. Likewise, the cables of a compound bow, often being made of the same material as your bowstring, can experience stretch from regular use. 

As the string and cables stretch, they can rotate the cam or cams of your compound bow. The timing of your compound bow’s cams is critical to optimal functioning. 

The process of how to tune a bow should begin with a general inspection. When you draw the bowstring, the limbs flex, storing potential energy. When you release the bowstring, that potential energy is converted into kinetic energy. This release is the propulsive force that the bow transmits to the arrow, launching it toward the target. 

You should periodically inspect the limbs for cracks, chips, or other signs of damage that can compromise the performance of your bow. 

Nocking Point Position

If the position of your nocking point — the part of the bowstring that rests in the nock of the arrow shaft — shifts, this may be an indicator that the bowstring or cable has stretched. Your nocking point may also shift if the serving slides along the bowstring. The serving is a separate thread that encircles the bowstring to protect it against abrasion. 

Peep Sight Position

The peep sight is a rear aperture sight on the bowstring that you align with the primary bow sight. An improper peep-sight position can cause neck strain. To find the ideal position, assume the proper form, close your eyes, draw and anchor the bowstring, and open your eyes. If your peep sight is not aligned with the bow sight, adjust it accordingly. 

Draw Length

The draw length is the distance from the nocking point of the bowstring at full draw to the throat — the deepest part of the grip. Add 1¾”, and you’ve found the draw length. If you want to determine the draw length that’s suitable for you, have a friend measure the distance between your left and right middle fingers as you stretch your arms outward to your sides. Divide this number of 2½”, and you’ll have a rough idea of the draw length you need. 

Shooting an unsuitable draw length can cause you to assume inadequate form, which will adversely affect your shooting performance

Draw Weight

Regardless of whether component wear causes the draw weight to become reduced, you should ensure that you are shooting a bow whose draw weight is compliant with the minimum requirements of your state, assuming your state has one. The draw weight should also be consistent with your physical capabilities. Don’t shoot a bow that’s too heavy — your performance will suffer. 

Center Shot

The center shot of your bow refers to the alignment between the arrow rest and the nocking point of your bowstring. Misalignment between these two points can cause inconsistencies in the arrow’s flight characteristics. To find the center shot, you can use several different methods. Some archers prefer to use a laser center-shot tool or bow square. 

Arrow Spine

The “spine” of an arrow refers to the stiffness of the shaft. This is typically expressed as a number. The lower the number, the stiffer the shaft. For example, an arrow with a spine of 400 is more flexible than an arrow with a spine of 300. As a rule, the lower the bow velocity, the lower the necessary spine. High-velocity bows require stiffer arrows to avoid excessive flexing in flight. 

Arrow Consistency

Part of how to tune your bow is determining the consistency of your arrows. Consistency in weight and straightness will affect consistency regarding flight behavior and, thus, accuracy. 

Weigh your arrows and spin-test them to ensure consistent construction. The simplest way to test an arrow for straightness is to roll it on a perfectly flat surface where both ends are unsupported. Alternatively, you can use a special tool that allows you to detect the straightness of the arrow.

Paper Tuning

Paper tuning consists of shooting an arrow at a paper target and tuning the bow according to the tear pattern that the arrow produces. If the arrow is striking the target squarely, the fletchings should leave three symmetrical tears

If the tears show a low or high strike, you may need to raise or lower the nocking point, arrow stiffness, or arrow length. If the tears are more toward the left or right, you may have to move the center shot away from or toward the riser. Alternatively, you may have to move the cable guard toward or away from the arrow.

Walk-Back Tuning

The concept of walk-back tuning is simple. Setting up a paper target with a vertical line in the center — a strip of black electrical tape on a sheet of white wrapping paper will suffice — shoot an arrow at the top of the line from a distance of 20 yards. If you need to, you can draw a circle or dot at the top as an aiming point. 

Then “walk back” to 25 yards and shoot another arrow at the same point. Repeat this exercise at 30, 35, and 40 yards. You should notice your point of impact becoming lower; however, your arrow should be striking alongside the line. If you notice your arrows deviating from side to side — and you know this isn’t due to your form — your arrow rest may need adjustment.

If you want to know more on improving your aim on your bow, read this article.


Consistency is Everything

The consistency of the bow — including proper timing, alignment — and arrows are prerequisites for accurate shooting. However, they’re only part of the equation. When you’re testing your bow and your arrows for consistency, you must always apply the fundamentals of archery — proper stance, grip, posture, bow arm, anchor point, release, and follow-through. 

As in rifle marksmanship, consistent application of these principles ensure that you can gain the most from your bow. A high-quality, well-tuned bow with perfectly matched and consistent arrows is no substitute for skill.


Final Thoughts

A properly tuned bow can help you shoot your bow accurately under both range and field conditions, allowing you to place your arrows on target every time. Tuning your bow is a necessary part of bow maintenance.