How to Tune a Compound Bow: 7 Easy Steps

Through the school of hard shots and much time spent with bow tuning wizards, I have learned how to tune a compound bow so thoroughly and accurately that it will shoot arrows straight and true as long as you care to hunt them. This is called micro-tuning and is often advertised by top shooters. It’s a useful skill to have, but the hype around micro-tuning has created a huge misconception. It has left everyday hunters and casual shooters with the idea that bow tuning requires serious technical expertise, plus a dash of magic.

It’s not like that.

If your goal is simply to tattoo a whitetail within 40 yards, which is more than half of all bowhunters worldwide, you can learn how to fix a compound bow yourself. It’s actually quite easy. Here’s your step-by-step guide to getting a good, basic tune that will have you stacking bullseye arrows on normal hunting ranges.

How to Tune a Compound Bow Step 1: Attach the Arrow Base

How to tune a compound bow step 1: connect the bow sight to the bow
Secure the bend in a dash, tie the rest and tie in a D-loop for the turning point. Jace Bauserman

It is fitting, in a way, that the first step is to put a rest on the bow lifter. You can’t get very far tuning a bow without it, of course, but even when it comes to a simple, basic hunting tune, it’s the small adjustments to the rest, more than anything, that will fix the problems which you encounter.

So first, use a vice to secure your bow in a level vertical position. (There are plenty of good bow vises out there, and they’re not too expensive.) Now just follow the manufacturer’s instructions to attach the rest to the Berger hole (or holes) of the bow lifter, or the face of the lifter, depending on the type of vacation you have. If you have a mustache cookie or pawn-type break, you’re done for now. If you have a down break, connect the support cord to the bus cable below or to a limb, again, following the manufacturer’s instructions. Don’t worry about positioning the rest perfectly at this point, just assemble properly. Now shoot an arrow and use an arrow level—these are widely available and only cost a few dollars—to determine the point of impact. Then tie into a D loop.

Tuning a Compound Bow, Step 2: Timing a Falling Rest

How to tune a compound bow using a QAD Ultrarest arrow rest.
The two tuning marks—the white lines at the bottom right of the page—must line up as the arc is fired. QAD Ultrarest

If you have a loose rest, use the tuning marks (see owner’s manual) to set the speed of the rest. Have a partner watch the marks as you get to full draw. Typically, the tuning marks should line up as the bow breaks and transitions into the release. If your rest does not have tuning marks, have your helper mark the position of the release arm as you draw the bow. The arm should strike the vertical position as the bow breaks. If not, simply tighten or loosen the cord as needed.

Tuning a Compound Bow Step 3: Adjust the center sight

How to Tune a Compound Bow Step 3: Find the center shot on a bow
Measure a shock dart from the front and back of the riser to find the center shock. Or just that. Dave Hurtau

Now you want to place the center stroke. In simple terms, centering is the perfect alignment of the base of the arrow at the point of impact of the bowstring. Read your bow’s manual for an initial center setting. The most common location is between the center of the dart rack (measured from the riser) and 3/16 inch to the left of center for a right-handed shooter. Another option is to measure a sharp arrow from the front and back of the riser, moving the rest to the left or right until both of these two measurements are the same. All that said, you can easily do it; tap one arrow and move the rest left or right until, from the top view, the arrow appears to lie in the center of the riser (as a long stabilizer would). That’s how I do it, and then work out the kinks later when tuning the paper. If you have a laser or crossbow they also work well to find the center shot.

How to Tune a Compound Bow Step 4: Use foot powder to tune the bow.
If unwanted contact of the rest arrow persists, use spray powder to better diagnose the problem. Dave Hurtau

If you are using a drop rest, the next step is to stand next to a foam target and shoot an arrow. Listen carefully for any noise, noise, or sound. This indicates heavy arrow contact with rest. Also, pay attention to the position of the arrow on the target. While bag targets will stretch, a good foam target will show how the arrow entered. If adjustments are needed, speed up the rest or slow down by adjusting the cable. You can also manipulate the rest up, down, left or right if needed.

If difficulties persist, use powder foot varnish. Spray the inside of the launcher, the dart rack and the last 7 inches of the dart. Shoot the painted arrow at the target, carefully remove it and look for marks. Make adjustments as needed until it comes out clean.

Bow tuning Step 5: Stretch the string

Now that you can send arrows from below without any topknot or sound, take a few shots to get comfortable with the grip and tighten up your archery form. This does two things. First, you want to have good form when paper tuning a bow, and this shooting session acts as a warm-up. Second, it stretches the strings and cables a bit, which will help your bow stay in tune after you’re done.

Bow tuning Step 6: Tuning the paper

How to Tune a Compound Bow Step 6: Tuning a Paper Bow
The author uses a window frame for tuning the paper. The left side shows a perfect tear. Jace Bauserman

You can build a paper tuner out of anything. I cover an old window frame with writing paper, taped outside. Place your paper tuner with a target behind it. Be sure to leave enough space between the paper and the target for the arrow to pass through completely. Stand 3 meters from the paper, make sure your grip is good, relax and send an arrow. Now observe the tear. Chances are good that the lot won’t be perfect. Don’t be scared. The rest is easy.

Use an arrow tear reference chart to identify the type of tear you have. With the tear diagnosed, pluck the rest. About 90 percent of all snapping problems can be corrected by slightly moving the bottom of the arrow up, down, left, or right. For example, a tear to the left can usually be corrected by moving the rest to the right and vice versa. With each rest movement left or right, you are effectively changing the central view, which is why squinting works well during the initial stages. Have a high tear? No problem. Move the rest up or move your hit point down. For a low snap, drop the rest or raise the point of impact. If you take your time and micro-adjust your break, common tuning problems will be eliminated.

If you have a slightly detached tear that you can’t get rid of, don’t worry. Some bows shoot better this way. Go ahead and look at your bow. If it’s stacking arrows in the kill zone out to 60 yards, don’t think twice. Also, there is no need to check the tune of your bow as often. As long as they bow is shooting well, you are good. Don’t overdo it.

How to Tune a Compound Bow, The Last Step: Melody to Walk Behind

How to Tune a Compound Bow Step 7: Tuning a Reciprocating Bow
For backward tuning, you want your arrows to run along the vertical line of the bar. Jace Bauserman

After everything looks good, the final step on how to tune a compound bow is to tune the return. Take a large foam target and using a simple plum as a reference, place blue or orange painter’s tape in a vertical line from the top of the target to the bottom. Then, toward the top of the target, run another line of tape horizontally. On a calm day, stand at 20 yards and shoot a single arrow at the exact point where the two pieces of tape intersect. If your paper tune is good and your arrow hits left or right of your aiming point, rig the sight. Repeat this process up to 40 yards, using the same 20 yard peg. The goal is for each arrow to be in a line that goes down the vertical part of the bar.

If, however, your arrows hang progressively to one side or the other as they move down the bar, you will need to make a very slight left or right adjustment to the bottom of the arrow. Then shoot again and tweak as needed until they go straight down the bar in a straight line.

Camera timestamp.
Once your bow is tuned, mark the cams where it meets the limb for future reference. Jace Bauserman

Once the tuning process is complete, use a silver Sharpie to mark the position of your upper and lower cams where each meets the upper and lower limb. These marks make excellent reference points if you need to re-tune the line.

There. You finished it. You’ve learned how to tune a complex bow, and hitting the mark on your next dollar won’t be a problem—as long as you stick together.

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