How to paper tune a compound bow

Bow Bootcamp is a 10-part series designed to get you, your gear, and your skills in top shape for the first few seasons of fall. That means gear checks, accessory adjustments, precision bow tuning, and shooting practice to get you completely dialed in. In Part 1 , Part 2 , Part 3 , and Part 4 , we’ve fully prepared your bow and arrows for the next critical step: paper tuning.

Now that you have your bow ready to shoot, it’s time to start tuning it perfectly. Well, almost time. I actually don’t like going straight to paper setup right after bow setup, for a few reasons. First, if I’m shooting a new bow or a bow with a new string, I want to shoot at least 100 arrows to remove the stretch. Second, I want to familiarize myself with my new bow or re-acquaint myself with one I haven’t shot in a while.

compound archery bow
Setting a good, repeatable grip that doesn’t add torque to the lifter is key to proper paper tuning. Jace Bauserman

The slightest change in shape or grip can change the tear of the paper. For example, you can make a perfect tear one day, walk back to the paper tuner a few days later with the same bow, and go from an ideal bullet hole to a high tear. When this happens, most archers immediately assume that something has happened to the bow, but modern day compounds don’t just come off unless something serious happens. Change is usually with Sagittarius. So at least shoot the bow until you feel like your form is solid and repeatable with it, then move on to paper tuning. Once you are ready, here are the steps to follow.

Step 1: Take the first shot.

photo of paper tuning
The author shoots an arrow through a paper tuning tool with a foam target behind it. Jace Bauserman

Stand 2 or 3 yards off the paper (with a target far enough behind the paper that your arrow will go through completely) and take your usual repetitive check, then draw, set on your anchor, and execute a perfect shot. Do not run to the newspaper and evaluate the tear immediately. First you need to reflect on the picture you took. Was it a good shot? Was your release smooth or did you pull the trigger and rush the shot? Did you feel the control the same as the last few days you shot, or did you turn it around? Be honest with yourself.

Now, you feel like you made a good shot, inspect the rip, but before you make any adjustments yet. First, repeat the process at least two more times. If you keep getting more or less the same tear, then the problem is the bow (not you), and you can go ahead and start tuning.

Step 2. Diagnose paper tears.

Diagnosing paper tears is where people get confused. But it’s actually very simple. First look for the round hole; this is where the paper pivot point came in. Then look at the lines or cracks; this is where the paper dart sheets came in. In a perfect tear, or “bullet hole” the round hole sits in the middle and the sheet lines come out evenly from around that hole. In a bad tear, the hole is in one place and the sheet lines are in another, either slightly up, down, to the right, or to the left. Below is a list of paper tears and how to correct them properly.

photo of paper tears with arrow
  • Good: No adjustment needed
  • Low Tail: Lower the rest of the D-loop up
  • Tail High: Raise the rest or move the D-loop down
  • Multiple: This will take a combination of moving the rest or rotating up or down and the rest left or right
  • Right tail: Move the rest to the left
  • Left Tail: Move the rest to the right

On bows with a yoke system, you can rotate the cable(s) to clear the paper tear. However, because today’s arrowheads are so adjustable (many thousandths of an inch), you can usually tune a bow using only changes to the rest and/or height of the D-loop.

Step 3. Knock tune any flyer.

photo of an arrow marking
A slight twist of a shot can bring a “flying” arrow back on line. Mark where the dot should be for the arrow to fly true. Jace Bauserman

Once you have a perfect rip on the first dart, don’t stop. I recommend that you shoot all your arrows through paper. Even though today’s arrows are accurate, it’s not unusual to get a test – an arrow that doesn’t fly as well as the rest. Before you label the arrow as banished, reshoot it. Often by the second or third time I shot an arrow that didn’t break like the others, I discovered the problem was with my grip. Other times, if the tear remains at low levels, I can rotate the joint on the shaft. This is called knock-tuning. A twist of the navel can sometimes create better alignment of the spine. You will be shocked how a simple spin of the shot can clear what many archers would label “flying”.

Step 4. Know when to quit.

Once you’ve adjusted your arrows and are happy with the tears you’re getting, stop shooting those arrows through the paper. Sagittarians tend to be perfectionists, and I’m no different. I used to shoot my bow through paper every few weeks, which proved problematic. I’d be at the range, shooting great, and then I’d go to the paper tuner, shoot an arrow, and discover a less and less imperfect tear. Instead of realizing that the tear was from a small imperfection in my form and not a tuning problem, I would start messing around. Messing with a bow you already know is tuned only causes unnecessary worry and anticipatory anxiety. If your bow is tuned, it’s tuned, and if you don’t drop your bow hard into the ground, or detect shock travel while shooting, or start noticing accuracy problems, leave it alone.

And remember, a bad shooting session does not equal “accuracy issues”. Everyone has bad days. Don’t fight through them. Put down the bow and go away for a few hours, or maybe, a few days. Just double check your tune if problems persist.

Finally, use a pencil or Sharpie to mark where your cameras cross the limbs, your sight line is on the range, and the alignment of your arrow. Then tighten all the screws and make sure your support cord is connected or the limb connection string is tight and connected correctly. That’s done, you’re ready to hit the range to look perfect and practice for the season.

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