Super Tuning Your Hunting Bow
By Brian Barney
The highlight of my season was an early season, solo adventure for high country bucks. I was further back in the wilderness than I had ever traveled before and was down to my last couple days. I had been after some great bucks but had yet to loose an arrow. With time winding down, I found myself tight to a group of bucks with all of them looking right at me. I was frozen for over ten minutes with no move to make. Eventually, they went back to feeding and I was able to get drawn. All the elevation, miles, hard work and my entire hunt came down to this one shot in eight days of hunting. These opportunities are what I live for and knowing my equipment will perform flawlessly is essential. I made the 40-yard chip shot to complete my trip and harvest a beautiful velvet muley.
The outcome of every successful hunt will come down to making a shot. Making sure you have the most forgiving and dialed set up is a huge part of the equation. A well-tuned bow seems to find the middle of the target even when you make small mistakes. A well-tuned bow will put together tight, nock breaking groups. When a bow is set up correctly it makes for better practice sessions which help build confidence. When you’re hunting with supreme confidence in your abilities and your equipment, look out – you’re a dangerous hunter. You know when a trophy gives you a sliver of opportunity, you are going to bury one right in the 10 ring. Whether you set up your bow yourself or take it to a quality shop, I am going to give you the knowledge to set up the perfect hunting bow.
Terminal Gear Set Up
So you have that new bow out and you have admired it long enough, time to run some arrows through it. I start with bolting the rest to the bow. I nock an arrow and make it square with the string and then adjust the height of the rest so the arrow passes through the middle of the berger button on your riser. I then adjust the left and right of my rest to about ¾” from the riser or center of the grip. This is just a starting point, so not too critical here. If it’s a fixed rest like a Whisker biscuit you are done here. If you are shooting a fall away rest, you need to hook up the fall cord. The fall cord will either hook to your limb with a provided bracket or it will hook to your down cable.
On my initial set up, I run my fall cord through my down cable about an inch lower than my rest. I will split my string and then make sure my rest cord is facing my rest. This is very important that your rest cord is facing your rest otherwise every time you draw your bow, it will pull and twist your cable, bringing you out of time. This is something you will have to monitor and adjust as you set up your bow and the strings break in.
To adjust you can simply put in or take out twists on that cable or you can slide the fall cable up or down and the twists in the string will allow it to twist to be pointing at your rest. After I get things pretty close, I will tie a knot of serving above my fall cord so the cord does not slip higher. I wait to trim and burn my fall cord, for now just leave it long. As you draw, your rest will pull that fall cord to the perfect desired length where your rest is operating correctly but not too tight to pull you out of time. After a couple hundred shots and everything is shooting like I want, I will then trim and burn my fall cable to that length.
Next I move on to my sight. I bolt my sight to my bow and then this is where I get more technical, but believe me it will pay off when you are tuning your bow. I get my bow in a press or in a door jam, level it with a 4’ level and hold it there. I then use a torpedo level to level the edge of the sight bracket or sight housing.
Now my sight has an adjustment where I can move this axis, but I realize a lot of sights don’t. In that case you will have to loosen mounting bolts and shim until your sight is level. Next with the bow, and sight level, I adjust the level inside my sight to be level. What this does is ensure your bow is level and your pins are level every time you shoot. I realize this seems like overkill but any canting can cause left and right hits at different distances and also makes fine tuning your bow impossible.
Wow! These technical articles are tough to keep exciting, I feel like I am lulling you guys to sleep. Hang in there though; the guys that work hard to take their shooting to the next level are going to be the guys consistently harvesting trophies. Being able to hold your bow steady is just a piece of the good shooting puzzle. Another piece is having your bow dialed to the gnat’s “rear.”
Alright so we have the rest and sight mounted, next is tying in the string loop. Nock your arrow square with the string, then tie in a string loop knot at the top. Next, tie in a piece of serving below the nock, then finish your lower knot. This extra distance created by the serving eliminates knock pinch which can really throw arrows. Also, the serving makes a consistent, exact nocking point, which improves accuracy.
Your peep sight is next. Size is a personal preference. The best accuracy comes when you can center your peep hole with your sight housing. Problem is it’s different in every light and different for every archer. Usually most guys end up at 3/16 to ¼ but play around to find your perfect size. Your peep will be smallest in bright sunny conditions. I match mine up perfectly outside with this lighting. Then shooting inside or in low light I will have a small halo of daylight around my sight housing. I don’t tie in my peep just yet; I want to find a tight anchor point.
I start with 5 ½ inches from nocking point to peep. I draw back and feel how close my knuckles are to my jaw, touch my nose to the string and look through the peep. I will move it and then twist the string until I can draw back and everything feels tight, nothing floating. A tight comfortable anchor point is key to good groups.
We have all had peep rotation where we draw back and see a skewed view of our sight or have to twist our peep every handful of shots. It’s important to get your peep square and right for those break in shots. Adjust it by pressing your bow and putting a ½ twist in your string on the bottom cam in whichever direction you have to go. As your strings break in, your peep will rotate a little bit, just keep on it and get it perfect. I now tie in the peep with serving, one high and one low. Then I tie down one string, around the peep, then down the other string. This knot has never let me down; I have never had a peep budge on me.
Without a Hooter Shooter, this next step is impossible by yourself, believe me I have tried. My wife has been forced to become an absolute expert in timing a bow. You have a top stop and bottom stop on your top and bottom cam if you are shooting a double cam, or any of the slave cams (single cams do not apply). Ideally you want both of these stops to hit the string and leave the string at the same time. Have your assistant stand to your side and watch as you draw. Let off your draw a touch and then draw back into it again. There are a bunch of ways to get the same results when it comes to twisting your strings. I like to leave my bottom cam, and adjust my string to my top cam. I will twist or untwist until I can draw back and have both cams in perfect time.
Before you paper tune your bow, you need to figure out what arrows you are going to shoot. It is impossible to tune a bow with the wrong spined arrow so it is essential you pick right. There are cut charts from Goldtip, Easton, and probably most other manufacturers that will give you the right spine for your set up. Better yet, to find the absolute perfect arrow for your set up, check out a program called Archers Advantage. You enter all your specifics of bow, arrows, draw length, draw weight – all of it. The system provides you the optimum spine and cut to get the best arrow. The program does that and much more. It’s worth every penny when you consider how much arrows cost.
Finally, it’s time to send a few arrows down range. I usually send a couple handfuls while getting a feeling for the bow. I will get a rough 20 yard sight-in and move to the paper tuner. Now you can use the shop’s or make one yourself by cutting a hole out of cardboard and stretching a piece of paper over it. Stick a target out farther than an arrows length behind it and you are golden. I stand six to eight feet back and start to rip a few through paper. Use the tune chart to move your rest in tiny increments to correct rips.
Spend some time in front of paper to really learn how your arrows are coming out of the bow. If you can’t get it to tune with a well-spined arrow, it’s most likely your grip. The grip is such an overlooked part of shooting well. Use a relaxed grip in between your palm and thumb pad. Your knuckles pointing back at you should be angled away from the grip. It’s tough to change your grip and get used to grabbing the bow consistently to where you don’t have to think about it. Only change your grip if it’s wrong or you cannot get the bow to tune. I spent hours getting my grip right and have not made any changes to my grip in the last seven years. Everything in my form is correct and I make the bows tune to me.
Another trick I use when tuning is to adjust the cam lean. Adjusting the lean of the cam or cams moves the tune of the bow. That way if your bow tunes way outside or inside, you can move where your bow tunes. You can take your “Y” yokes on your cable or cables and put more twists in the short cable and less twists in your long cable to bring the tune in. I also use this to make sure my bow tunes right in the middle of my grip or the exact power path of the string. It just makes for a more forgiving, tighter group shooting setup. So pay attention to where your bow tunes and don’t be afraid to make some cam lean adjustment to get it exact.
By now your bow should be shooting consistent bullet holes through paper, with no tears in any direction. Now, I will use either a modified French tune and or a step back tune, they both do the same thing. It makes your tune even finer than the paper tune. It ensures that the arrow is coming out of the bow correctly at different distances.
For both methods, stretch a small diameter string vertically level over your target. Start from three yards and move your sight until your arrow is hitting the string. Then move back to nine yards and try to hit the string. If it shoots left, move your rest ever so slightly (1/32”) to the right. Resight in at three yards, scoot back and repeat. Once you have your arrows hitting the string at both distances you are dialed.
For the step back tune, do the same thing but start at 20 and end at 50 to 60. This is a micro adjust so if you have to move it more than an 1/8”, head back to the paper tuner.
Steady As She Goes
With a perfectly tuned bow I am ready to make it hold rock steady. A lot of guys want a light bow, I want a bow that holds on that monster muley as I am contorted on a shale hillside. I use a 12” front stabilizer and then a sidebar as well. I use Bee Stinger which allows me to add and subtract weight by one ounce at a time. Different weight in different places will help hold and will also affect the way the bow reacts after the shot. It can make a huge difference in eliminating high or low hits. I will play around with different set ups and pay attention to groups and feel. On my current set up I am running 6 ozs. up front and 3 ozs. on my side bar.
Alright, I have mentioned setting your 3rd axis on your bow before and I am going to harp on it again. You must set and proof your 3rd axis or you will miss horribly on angled shots. If your sight does not have 3rd axis adjustment it may be time for an upgrade. For me and most other right handed archers you will miss by as much 18” to the right from 40 yards with a 40 degree slope. Now, I could write a whole article trying to explain what the 3rd axis is. Just know that even with your bow dialed on the flat, at angles it can be way off. Watch a YouTube video on the 3rd axis to better understand it and then find a place to proof and shoot your bow at angles. Even if you don’t hunt in super steep country, do you really want to chance it if you get an angled shot? Or if you hunt from a treestand it can still play a role in your overall accuracy.
Once I have gone through this rigorous process, I now know I have a killer set up. Now some guys may think it is overkill for a hunting set up. In fact, a lot of good archers will tell you it is not necessary and that you only have to hit the vitals with one arrow, not a quarter sized target 30 times in a row. Bowhunting to me is everything and when I get one shot at a monster, I want to know my bow will make the shot and that I have the most forgiving set up I can imagine. Archery is a game of inches; super tuning your bow ensures you will be on the right side of that equation.