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:
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.