Have you ever felt a weird vibration when you drive your vehicle, or had it stall when you turned the ignition key or went to push the gas pedal? Those are signs that something’s out of tune, and you need to bring your ride in for maintenance. In the same way, bows can slip out of tune over time, causing poor performance, even if you’re doing everything right. Instead of blaming yourself for repeated stray shots, it might just be time to take your bow to a pro shop for a tuneup.
David Bennett, store manager for Ross Outdoors in Phoenix, Arizona, said, “Bow tuning is the art of setting a bow up so that the bow and arrow work in harmony to deliver a straight and accurate shot to the archer’s desired distance.”
Bow manufacturers have set specifications for their bows. These specs are guidelines to get the best life and performance out of the bow, and they include measurements like brace height and axle-to-axle length. For some bows, specs like cam timing are set at the factory as well, though these can need adjustment over time. Retailers can adjust a bow’s draw weight and length to fit the archer. Tuning a bow involves adjustments made to the arrow rest, arrows, cam position and cam timing. A bow can be set up properly and in spec, but also out of tune.
Bennett has 16 years of experience at Ross Outdoors. He said there are multiple reasons why a bow might get out of tune and perform poorly or throw wild arrows after previously working fine. For example, as strings and cables age, they can stretch, twist and become damaged. New strings can also stretch slightly and “settle” into the cam grooves or under the servings (the protective wrap over the string, covering the arrow nocking point). Getting new arrows or an arrow rest, or changing your draw weight and length, can also affect a bow’s performance.
“An archer can tell their bow might be out of tune when arrows start flying differently or erratically, or the bow suddenly has more vibration and noise,” Bennett said.
Whether for competition or hunting, it’s essential for a bow to be as efficient and accurate as possible. A well-tuned bow also helps the archer feel confident their arrow will hit where they’re aiming.
Bennett said a bow should be tuned (i.e., inspected and maintained) regularly, which he defines as every three to six months. He said people who shoot a high volume of arrows should replace their strings every six months, while everyone else should replace theirs at least every two years — even if the bow has been sitting. If you get new arrows, a new string or a new arrow rest, or if you notice string stretch or change your draw weight or length, it’s smart to get your bow tuned.
A typical bow tuning service costs $40 to $70 and takes about an hour. However, more advanced tuning services can cost more and take longer. Ross Outdoors has a Scout Tuning package that costs $100 per hour and involves multiple tuning services. Bennett said most beginners and intermediate archers shoot great with a standard tuneup, but some advanced archers want bow technicians to tune their bow to fit their individual needs.
“In my many years of tuning bows and working with customers, it really comes down to the customer, their preferences and figuring out exactly what they are trying to achieve so that we can tailor the tuning service specifically to them,” he said.
Most bow technicians start the tuning process by returning the bow to the manufacturer specifications. Then, they use one or more different tuning styles, depending on the bow’s issues or customer’s requests. Each style tests the bow’s individual components to ensure everything works cohesively to make a perfect shot. Bennett outlined several tuning methods including:
- Paper tuning: “The most common method is shooting (an arrow) through paper and adjusting the cam timing, cam lean or placement, and the rest to achieve a perfectly straight hole through paper,” he said. “This can be done through manipulation of the strings and cables or manipulating the cams with shims.”
- French tuning: “(This) is like a walk-back tune,” he said. “Once we paper tune, we usually do a walk-back tune to ensure accuracy. My method is to shoot three arrows at 20 yards, then walk back to 40 yards and shoot another three arrows using the same pin. You want all six arrows to be perfectly in line with each other (vertically). If your second group of arrows are to the right, you adjust the rest to the left (and vice versa) to bring the arrows back in line with the top group.”
- Bare-shaft tuning: “It’s shooting an arrow without vanes on it and comparing it to an arrow with vanes on it,” Bennett said. “You start shooting at 5 yards and work back to 20 yards in increments. You’re looking for a level shot. You shoot the bare-shaft arrow and fletched arrow side by side and you want both arrow shafts to be hitting the target the same, meaning perfectly level without an angle.”
- Torque tuning: “This method moves the sight in and out and the rest in and out to get the most forgiveness,” he said. “You purposely apply torque to the bow (using your grip) until you find the most forgiving balance (between the sight and rest) where you don’t get very drastic misses left to right.”
- Tuning with machines: “The Hooter Shooter is a machine that pulls back a bow and releases an arrow,” he said. “It removes human errors so you can see exactly how the bow performs.” The Hooter Shooter and other machines doesn’t tune bows, but it helps bow technicians identify issues since they can carefully watch the bow function. It’s a great tool to help with other tuning techniques mentioned above.
Tuning your bow properly will help you achieve better, more accurate shots — and every bow needs tuning over time. Regular checkups are key, and preventive maintenance can ward off potential issues.