7 Ways You Can Tune Your Archery Equipment Before Opening Day

By Jessica Graham

As October 1st approaches, approximately 45,000 Iowans will prepare for opening day of Iowa’s deer archery season. Horn hunters and meat hunters alike should be sure equipment is in top-shape before hitting the timber is pursuit of Iowa’s whitetail deer.

There is nothing worse than putting a less than perfect shot on a whitetail, and by taking a little time to visually and physically evaluate your equipment, you can decrease the chances of that happening to you this year. Here are a few tips to tune your bow and to ensure equipment will perform to the best of its ability. A well-tuned bow and broadhead tipped arrow will deliver a lethal blow to the exact intended location.

String Inspection
Inspection of your string should be one of the first things you take a look at before the archery hunting season begins. If you use your bow quite a bit throughout the offseason and in some of the 3D shoots found around Iowa, you will have put some wear and tear on your string. Visually, you should look for fraying points of the strings and cables. This indicates wear, which happens with use of your bow. Your strings and cables need to be replaced every once-in-a-while to ensure top performance. As you use your bow, the string begins to stretch and fray. One thing a lot of bowhunters forget is that the limbs of your bow are loaded at specific positions and resting at specific positions. As your string stretches, it changes the load position of the limbs. If you do not change your string and cables, the change of the load on your limbs can cause hairline cracks. By letting your string weaken too much, you are compromising the integrity of your bow and increasing your chances for injury. One other thing you should inspect on your bow is the nocking location. The nocking point should generally be located half-way between the cams. Uneven string fraying and stretching will alter the nocking position of your arrow, which in turn could lead to you shooting consistently high or low.

Cam Inspection
One other reason you should inspect your strings and cables on your bow is as the string stretches, it changes the timing of your cams. This is not as big of a deal on single cam or cam-and-a-half bows as it is on dual cam bows. Shooting a bow that has cams that are out of timing causes inaccuracies in performance. To visually evaluate cam timing, you can have someone watch as you slowly pull the bow back. Both the top and bottom cams should pass the string at the exact same points along the string. A lot of newer cams have tiny holes to help you see the exact point of the cams as they rotate. This helps determine if the cams are in sync.

While you are looking at the cams, inspect them for cam lean. When the top cam is leaning to the left or the right, it effects the load balance and how your arrow is propelled to your target. To fix a cam leaning to the left, add some twists to the right side of the yoke or take some twists out of the left side, (the yoke is the two stings forming a “y” around the cam). To fix a cam leaning to the right, add some twists to the left side of the yoke or take some twists out of the right side. To fix a bottom cam that is leaning, you can remove some spacers from your lower cam, (if your bow has spacers). If your cams lean a little, it may not be a terrible thing. Everyone shoots differently, has different form and anchor points. Sometimes a cam with a slight lean can still tune and perform well to a specific shooter. However, cams should still be evaluated prior to hunting season and dramatic leans should be corrected for optimal performance. If you are noticing some inaccuracies, definitely check your cams for leaning.

Check Your Shooting Form
The biggest obstacle to consistent archery shooting is the error and irregularities in our own shooting form. Fatigue, injuries, and physical changes attribute to changes in our shooting form. Small inconsistencies in anchor points, grip on the bow, and even the pressure of your face/nose on the string of the bow will all add to an archer’s varying shot placement. This will be exaggerated at longer distances, and groupings of your arrows will be large and scattered; not a favorable scenario for an accurate shot while hunting.

Injuries to one’s shoulders in particular can cause us to change the weight we are able to draw through the bow and our stamina for long shooting sessions and frigid Iowa temperatures in a treestand. Should you decide to adjust your draw weight, draw length, or shooting technique, you will have to make some minor adjustments, possibly just to your sights to get your bow accurate. Growing kids and teens should also re-evaluate draw weight and draw length on their hunting bows. You want the bow to fit well and be able to pull enough weight for a lethal shot on a deer. One thing to remember is that too much strain on a young person’s muscles can promote future muscle pains and injuries, and pulling too much weight can be tough when weather turns cold. If you change your draw weight or length, be sure to shoot your bow often for muscle memory. Regardless of your age, trying to draw too much weight will strain your muscles and could lead to bad shooting habits and poorly placed shots.

Arrow Tuning
Not all arrows are created equal. Variances in spine, weight, and straightness all effect how your arrow will fly and where it will hit its mark. For instance, an arrow that is lighter will consistently hit somewhat higher than the rest of the arrows. After you have your arrows cut and fletched with your hunting broadheads fixed securely on them, weigh your arrows. A few grains variance will not have a drastic effect on groupings under 30 yards, but you will begin to notice wider groups at longer distances. Weight and spine have some of the biggest influences on how your arrows will group. Arrow spine is a measurement of how the arrow flexes. When you shoot your arrow, it flexes through the bow and through flight. Lower numbers (300) will have a stiffer spine than higher numbers (500). Spine should be consistent through the whole diameter of the arrow, and through the whole length of the arrow itself. This is difficult for archers to measure, but one of the most impactful aspects of getting your groups tight and consistent. Archers should buy arrows from a reliable company, custom builder, or supplier that are the same spine. Additionally, buying an arrow shaft with a small variance, such as +/- .001, will slightly help you to shoot more reliably. Just remember that number is an average of the straightness and your particular box of arrows may have more or less variance. Bowhunters should buy arrows that have similar weight, spine, straightness and weigh them to have a consistent arrow grouping.

Arrow Front-Of-Center (F.O.C.)
If you have been around a bow shop or a group of knowledgeable archers, there is little doubt you have heard F.O.C. mentioned. But what is F.O.C., and why is it important? F.O.C. refers to the balance of the arrow and the percent of total weight of the nock, fletchings, shaft, and broadhead that is on the front half of the arrow. You want to have your arrows a little front heavy to aid in forward momentum and arrow flight. The F.O.C. greatly affects the flight pattern of the arrow and the arc it travels to reach the target. F.O.C. becomes most critical for hunters when it comes to those shooting lower poundage, slow bows, and long distances. If the F.O.C. is a high percentage, (very front heavy), it will drop faster due to a nose-dive effect of a heavy front-end. If the arrow has a light F.O.C., it will shoot somewhat flatter and have a less pronounced trajectory. A F.O.C. too light will have inaccuracies due to its inability to hold a strong forward momentum while a F.O.C. too heavy will have inaccuracies due to the arrow’s tendency to quickly drop. Most arrow manufactures have a F.O.C. between 7-15% for target shooting, and 10-18% for optimal hunting performance. A little more weight on the front end of your hunting arrow will help carry momentum and deliver a lethal shot. There are many online resources that help calculate your arrow & broadhead weight and determine the percent of weight on the front half.

Paper Tuning
When most people think of tuning your bow and arrow, they think of paper tuning. Paper tuning is a reliable way to help determine some possible adjustments. To paper tune your broadheads prior to hunting season, use hunting broadheads on the arrows with the nocks that you will be using for hunting as well. You will also need some paper and a frame to hold the paper. At a close distance, you then will shoot through the paper into a target and evaluate the paper and the cuts the broadhead and arrow make. Ideally, there should just be a hole from the shaft and clean slits where the blades are. If there is a tear in the paper, it tells us the arrow is not flying true and there is a problem that needs fixed. A tear to the left or the right could mean the rest or cams need to be moved left or right. A high or low tear, (which could be caused by your string and cables stretching), could mean you need to move your nock or your rest up or down. A combination of these issues or incorrect arrow spine could also attribute to tears.

Bare Shaft Tuning
Bare shaft tuning is somewhat more difficult than paper tuning, as it requires exact repeatable archery form for repeatable results. Bare shaft tuning is when an arrow without fletching is fired, generally at a target 20 yards away. If your bow is well tuned, the bare shaft and the fletched shaft should hit right next to each other in the target. Bare shaft tuning is often used because it requires minimal equipment and is a quick way to see if your bow needs tuning. If your bare shaft is going to the left or the right of the fletched arrow, you may need to move your rest. You should “chase your bare shaft arrow” if you are shooting left, move your rest to the left. If you move your rest to the left and the arrow is still shooting to the left, this could indicate that the spine of your arrow is too stiff, and you might need a less stiff arrow, (generally a higher number). The opposite is true for arrows hitting to the right. If moving the rest does not fix this, then you may need a stiffer spine (lower number). Once your bare shaft and fletched shaft are hitting close to each other at 20 yards, back up and try it at 30, 40, etc. Errors in your bow will be more pronounced at longer distances, and fine-tuning can be done as you go back to longer distances. Once your field points are tuned, put on your hunting broadheads and repeat the process to ensure tuning of your broadheads and hunting equipment. Keep in mind, inaccuracies in your shooting form will throw off your arrow. Using this method can be very tough if you do not have consistent form, but it is a quick way to check your bow and arrows for inaccuracies.

As you prepare for the upcoming Iowa deer archery season, make sure your hunting equipment is tuned properly to deliver the most effective shot with the maximum amount of energy. An inspection of your string, cams, and shooting form can help identify changes in you and your equipment that need corrected. Remember, your string and cables stretch with use and may need replaced. If you determine they do not need replaced, they may have stretched over time, and this is why you need to perform some bow tuning. Just because your bow was shooting “good enough” last year, does not mean it is in the same condition as it previously was. Your rest, nocking position, and cams may need some slight adjustment. Once a visual inspection is complete, you should paper tune or bare shaft tune your arrows. Once October 1st rolls around, and you draw back on that doe or your target buck, you want to do everything in your power to deliver a lethal shot. Tune your bow to ensure the most ethical shots every time.