Step-By-Step Bow Tuning

arrow nocking point
Adjust the arrow nocking point on the string so that the arrow is at a 90-degree angle with the string when the bow is undrawn and the rest is in its full upright position.

The average bowhunter doesn’t tune as many bows each year as a busy bow shop attendant, but those that have been around enough of them to know that getting started with the right initial settings makes the bow tuning process a whole lot easier.

Cam Timing

Unless grossly misadjusted, cam timing is not an issue with single-cam or hybrid cam bows, but it affects two cam bows. Your two-cam bow can only be tuned if its eccentrics roll over in perfect unison. It is better to check timing at full draw. Look at the end of each harness track. Watch the harnesses as they wrap onto the cam. They should both bottom at the end of their respective tracks at the same time.

Resetting your timing is not overly difficult, but it does require a little training and a bow press. Basically, you put twists in the harness attached to the cam that gets to full draw first. Unless you're an experienced bow technician, you should probably leave this work to your local archery pro the first time.

arrow rest
Adjust your arrow rest so that the arrow lies perfectly in line with the forward travel of the string. This is called center-shot. Hunter shown wearing Mathews Lost Camo.

Arrow Rest and Nock Set Position

Proper left-to-right position of your arrow rest can also speed-up the bow tuning process. When setting up for a release aid, your nocked arrow should line up perfectly with the forward thrust of the string. If you release with fingers, your arrow should be pointed slightly to the left of square (for right-handed shooters). You will find below in detail the methods for setting arrow rest position so the arrow lines up with your bow’s center-shot.

Release aid shooters should install a nock point so its lower edge is approximately 1/8 to ¼ inch above the center of the bow's cushion plunger hole (where the arrow rest attaches). Finger shooters should start 3/8 to 1/2 inch above center.

Now the arrow rest should be adjusted vertically until the center of the arrow shaft crosses the very center of the cushion plunger hole.

Check Clearance

Fletching clearance is critical to a well-tuned bow. You can promote good clearance when setting up your bow in two ways. First, spread the arrow rest arms as wide as you can while still supporting the arrow shaft properly. This produces plenty of room for the fletching to pass through without contacting the arrow rest arms. After doing this you may have to readjust the arrow rest upwards. Second, eyeball the arrow nocks and turn them so that one of the fletchings is lined up with the gap in the rest. Finger shooters using a shoot-around rest should align their arrow nocks so that the cock feather sticks straight away from the bow.

You may need to tweak the arrow nock rotation to achieve perfect fletching clearance, but those adjustments will become more apparent as you begin to paper tune.

Paper Tuning

Ideally, your arrows will leave the bow flying straight, with the arrow nock perfectly following the point, making a perfect hole through paper. But unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen without some effort, but achieving good accuracy with broadheads depends on this kind of bullet-hole arrow flight. To get a snapshot of how your arrows are flying, shoot them (tipped with field points) through a framed piece of freezer paper from a range of about five feet. The tears they make will tell you what to do next.

arrow rest and arrow nock position
Initial adjustments of the arrow rest and arrow nock position should be done carefully because it is often possible eliminate many later tuning adjustments by simply getting these adjustments done correctly the first time.

Eliminate Contact

Contact between your arrow’s fletchings and the arrow rest is the most common cause of poor arrow flight. Good fletching clearance starts with a well-chosen arrow rest. Release shooters should use shoot-through arrow rests that have a wide gap for one of the fletchings to pass through.

Finger shooters should stick with shoot-around arrow rests, such as flippers and springies. With a finger release, the arrow flexes as it leaves the bow and often brushes the rest as it passes. Some contact is common with finger-released arrows, but if you keep it slight and use rests that flex out of the way easily, the contact will not greatly disturb the arrow's flight.

If your arrows aren't punching nice, neat holes through paper - and you suspect fletching contact - there are two things you can do to find the source of the problem. First, you can spray aerosol foot powder on the fletchings so that you can tell after one shot if contact is occurring. If the powder has been rubbed off a vane or feather you will know immediately where the problem lies. Make the proper arrow nock adjustment to rotate that fletching into a free flying position.

There is another way to tell if fletching contact is the culprit when a bow won't seem to tune. Though not as telling as the foot powder test, try shooting a bare, unfletched shaft through paper while standing only a short distance from the backstop. Read more about this procedure below.

Arrow Stiffness

Finger shooters will find that good arrow flight is also related to small changes in the stiffness of their arrows. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to better match bow and shaft without having to buy a dozen new arrows. Specifically, if your arrows are flying tail-left, typifying a weak spine reaction for a right handed shooter, try one of the following solutions: use a lighter weight point, try composite inserts (both will make the arrow shaft act stiffer) or reduce your draw weight a few pounds. If your paper tears suggest you need more flexible arrow shafts (tail-right for a right-handed shooter) first try a heavier point or increase your draw weight slightly.

arrow rest
Adjust the arrow rest up or down until the arrow goes perfectly across the center of the cushion plunger hole. This is the threaded hole where the rest attaches to the bow. Hunter shown wearing Mathews Lost Camo.

Micro-Tuning With Broadheads

Even with considerable attention to detail there is no guarantee that same-weight broadhead-tipped hunting arrows will hit the same exact holes as your practice arrows carrying field points.

Technically speaking, if your hunting arrows group in a different part of the target from your practice arrows, your bow is not perfectly tuned. Small differences are fairly common even when the setup paper tunes beautifully. You can pull the groups together easily by simply moving your rest very slightly in the direction required to bring your hunting arrows closer to your practice arrows. When the broadhead arrows are impacting to the left of the field point arrows, simply move the rest very slightly to the right. When you’re all done you will probably have to sight-in your bow again.

Though it may be an inconvenience if your hunting arrows and practice arrows group differently, it is a much more serious problem when your hunting arrows fail to group at all. This is likely caused by differences between individual arrows, and more specifically, by poorly aligned inserts. If you find yourself looking at arrows scattered all over the target, focus on your arrows first and then go back to worrying about the location of the group.

With patience and attention to detail you can turn any bow into a well-tuned hunter. Bow tuning is more than just a good idea, it is mandatory if you hope to reach your potential as a bowhunter. Don’t be intimidated. It will all make sense once you dive right in and start to experiment.

setting your center shot
You can get very close to setting your center shot position simply by lining the string, arrow and cams up while sighting down the bow from the back. Hunter shown wearing Mathews Lost Camo.

Setting Your Arrow Rest for True Center-Shot

There are several ways to go about setting the left-to-right position of your arrow rest. First, you can eyeball it by looking at the sting and the cams, but this method is very inaccurate because wheel tilt produces an optical illusion. Second, you can use commercially available center-shot adjustment tools that are offered by some manufacturers. These are accurate but are time consuming and not necessary to get the job done well.

Some bowhunters use a simple method that relies on the stabilizer as a reference. Set the bow down on the floor resting on its bottom cam. Now, look down on it from above while comparing the arrow to the stabilizer. The arrow rest has been properly positioned for center-shot when the arrow is parallel with the stabilizer (though it may not go right down the center of the stabilizer). This relies on the hope that the manufacturer drilled the stabilizer hole perfectly square with the riser. Sometimes this isn’t the case, but you should be able to tell by eyeing the bow from above if the stabilizer is significantly off line. If you don’t have a stabilizer, you can still use this method of alignment by picking up a couple of feet of inexpensive 5/16 – 24 threaded rod at any hardware store.

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