How to tune a compound bow


Bow Bootcamp is a 10-part series designed to get you, your gear, and your skills in peak shape for fall. That means gear checks, accessory adjustments, precision bow tuning, and shooting practice to get you completely dialed in. This installment is all about tuning back to get your left-right arrow flight perfect. (If you missed any previous installments, watch here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4Part 5and Part 6.)

In the last part of this series, we looked at your bow and then worked on an iterative turnaround process. Now that you’re stacking arrows consistently and safely, it’s time to fine-tune your arrow flight by fine-tuning your backswing. It’s a simple process that doesn’t take much time and is a must because back-tuning ensures that the rest is in perfect alignment with your string and that your arrows leave the bow in a perfectly straight line to the target without rows left or right at different distances.

Paper tuning is great, but it only tells you how an arrow is flying at a very short distance. This is why it is not unusual for a perfectly tuned bow on paper to hit too far left or right of center. This is also why you can sometimes shoot arrows at 20 or 30 yards, but a few inches to the left or right at 60. To really adjust your rest and string alignment so that your arrows come out perfectly straight and hit in the same vertical plane to the end, you have to shoot at multiple distances. And that’s what tuning-back-back is all about. Here’s the drill.

Step 1: Set a target for backward tuning.

photo of archer shooting at target
The shooter makes a shot at a taped target for tuning after recoil. Jace Bauserman

Start with the biggest goal you have. A large bag target will work, but I recommend using a block range target or a block infinity. If you don’t have a large enough objective, visit your local pro shop, as you can usually use their objectives for a small fee. Next, use a level to place a piece of masking tape along a perfectly horizontal line across the entire target face. (I like bright orange tape on a black target or black tape on a yellow or white target.) Next, use a tape measure to find the middle of that line and then a level or a plumb line to run a perfectly vertical line of tape across the face of the target from top to bottom.

Step 2: Shoot 20 yards with your 20 yard pin.

Stand 20 meters away from the target and go through the entire shooting routine you have now mastered. Don’t rush or skip any steps in your shooting sequence. The goal is to hit the center of the center where the two lines intersect. If you followed the instructions from the last installment, you should be dead. As long as you know you got the shot right and the arrow is where it’s supposed to be, go back to 30 yards. If the shaft is slightly out, don’t worry. Maybe it was you. Pull the arrow and shoot again. However, if your arrow is constantly off, especially if you skipped the last installment, you may need to adjust your viewing a bit. Once you are dead on at 20 with your 20 yard needle, leave that arrow on target and go back to 30.

Step 3: Shoot at 30 yards with the same pin.

Repeat the process—still using your 20-yard peg. Your shot will be low, of course, but that’s okay. The goal at this distance is for your arrow to be dead in line on the vertical bar just below the 20-yard arrow, which should be sitting in the center of the intersection of the two lines. If it’s perfect or very close to perfect, move to 40. If it’s clearly off to the left or right (feel free to pull this arrow and shoot another to confirm), move your rest, not your sight.

There are two things to remember when moving the break left or right. First, a little movement goes a long way, so take it slow. Second, if your arrow is consistently right, shift the rest to the left and vice versa. (Rest movement and sight movement are opposites. When we move the bow sight, we follow the arrow; that is, if we shoot straight, we move the sight to the right. When we use the rest to make horizontal adjustments, we move away from the direction of the arrow.)

Step 3: Continue moving backwards, using the same pin.

photo of arrows in archery target
This is how you want your arrows to look, pointing down the vertical bar line. Jace Bauserman

Repeat this process going back in 10-yard increments, always using the 20-yard pin, as far as you feel you can trust your left-right accuracy. As you go, keep making very light rest strokes, as needed, until all your strokes at different distances line up perfectly (or nearly so) along the vertical bar. Over time I have found that if my bow and arrow combination is tuned to 60 yards, I am usually good out to 100 yards.

Step 4: Confirm your tune and close it.

The final step is to simply spend a day shooting 3-inch or smaller dots at targets at various distances, from 20 yards to as far as you like to practice. If you know you’re hitting your shots well and hitting spots in all ranges without constantly hanging to one side or the other, then you’ve done your job well.

With the tuning process 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. It’s also a great idea to write down or take a picture of your resting position (horizontal and vertical) and add any notes you think will help. I also like to measure my sight sight distance at this point. To do this, I place a tape measure from the center of the point of impact of my arrow on the string (between my nock groups) to the center of my sight sight. I also mark my sight position with a silver Sharpie.

An alternative way to tune in on foot

photo of arrows in an archery target
One shot at 5 yards and one shot at 50 from a well-tuned bow. Jace Bauserman

It is worth noting here that there is another way to tune the recoil that some archers prefer because it avoids the process of attaching lines along the target face. Here, you use the face of the target with a dot and start at a distance between 3 and 5 yards from the target. This close to the target, your 50-yard pin will likely be the one that puts your arrow in the center of the target. For simplicity, we will assume here that it is. (This may seem counterintuitive, but try it.)

Once you’ve put a shot on the center of the point at 3 to 5 yards, leave that arrow on target. Then return to 50 yards and shoot to the same spot as your 50 yard pin. If your bow is properly tuned and the rest is lined up, both arrows should line up. If they are not, make the necessary rest adjustments until they are. Some archers like to shoot a set of arrows using this recoil tuning method, which is fine, but can cost you some carbon.

With either method, take your time to make sure your bow is inserted perfectly. It will pay off once you get on the field.





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