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How Important is Bow Tuning?

I want to start off by saying thank goodness for this blog, I haven’t been shooting great and I assumed that it was due to more split jerks and working on muscle ups rather than doing what I should have and checked my bow. The other night, I just started off going through the motions with my bow, so I could get pictures of the steps of bow tuning and it turns out that my bow was way out of tune. With all the travel I’ve been doing as well as my bow going from hot to cold and wet to dry, that makes sense, but I just assumed it was me rather than checking it when I first started having issues.

I wanted to write about tuning for a few reasons: I really am amazed by the number of people who never think about/know what the bubble level on their sight is for, I feel that knowing how stuff works helps you be better at what you are endeavoring to accomplish, and a poorly tuned bow will severely hinder hunting/shooting well.

I spend a good deal of my time thinking about the bubble on my sight; it is part of my shot sequence and I really like to go to 3D shoots. You might wonder what shooting 3D targets has to do with your sight bubble. Part of shooting 3D is shooting with new people, I cannot tell you how many times I have shot with people who complain about either continually shoot left or right on the shots with a change in elevation. This deviance can be due to axis leveling and/or either not using or not having a bubble. One of my regular shooting buddies tells me that I am Hamskea’s best sales person (and that I should stop giving unsolicited advice…but that’s a story for another day). The second thing is, as I was thinking about shooting out of a tree stand for the first time this year, all I could think about was my bubble. When I brought up the use of a bubble to people who primarily tree-stand hunt, I got the shrug off. I didn’t understand why, so I started a conversation about it at the archery shop; apparently when you are shooting short distances, say under 20 yards, not using your bubble won’t put you out of the kill zone on a whitetail. I suppose that makes sense, but for me, I want to know that I am removing as much of the margin for error from my setup that I can and I know that the only thing wrong with my shooting is me.

Tuning your bow is the process of setting it up so that your arrow is flying straight out of your bow and going where you are aiming it…this is assuming the shooter is not torquing the bow.

Center Shot

After putting components on a new bow or when making big changes such as a rest or arrows or strings, center shot is set first. This is adjusting the arrow/rest to start your arrow off flying straight out of the center of the bow. This is accomplished by leveling your arrow as it is prepared to leave the bow and ensuring that it is going through the center of the riser. When I switched my arrows for Sika hunting, I couldn’t get a good paper tune.

Jaimie Robinson bow tuning

When I went to take pictures of the arrow leveling step, I immediately discovered why: my rest was set too low. In retrospect, this makes sense because I went from standard diameter arrows to microdiameter arrows, the fletchings would be lower and were likely hitting the riser causing the poor flight path and bad paper tune. Just being honest here, I let someone else work on my bow and maybe they didn’t check that the arrow was level and I had moved the rest while tuning my elk arrows with broadheads. Having a good pro shop where the workers are thorough is so important, this was my fault, I was in a rush because I had changed my arrows last minute before a hunt and I wasn’t as particular as I usually am.

I have the Hamskea Hybrid Hunter Pro Microtune Rest so it was a simple adjustment. I just loosened the bolt and turned this knob here slightly until my arrow was level.

What happens if you don’t have a good center shot set? My rest was too low, so I was likely getting contact with the riser, resulting in my arrow not flying straight out of the bow. If your nock point (where your arrow attaches to the string) is too high or low or if you are getting contact like I was, your arrow will not be leaving your string in a straight trajectory. Now that my rest was centered for optimal arrow flight it was time for paper tuning.

Paper Tuning

After making that one adjustment, my bow was back shooting a bullet-hole through paper. What does that mean? Paper tuning is used to give a snapshot of how the arrow is flying at that point. A bullet hole tear means that the arrow is flying straight, left or right tears are fishtailing, and up or down tears are porpoising. Straight arrow flight means better penetration and accuracy.

I could write days and days about making the adjustments to shoot a bullet hole there is an art to it and it is specific to your equipment. When you start paper tuning, you must first check:

  1. Center shot

  2. Bow grip

  3. Arrow Spine

  4. Good form

If you don’t start off with an appropriate center shot or under/over spined arrows, it is unlikely that you will be able to appropriately tune your bow. Good form is paramount with paper tuning so often when you go to a bow shop, one of the technicians will handle at least the initial bow tuning because most people have some form inconstancies which can lead to a horrible time with bow tuning. When I started working at No Limits Archery, I was a little mad because they always made me tune my own bow but they did all of the customers bows. When I asked, I was told that they knew I shot my bow all the time and I had the form and ability to do it myself. If you can do this yourself, it is best because everyone holds their bow differently and the tune on the same bow can be different based on the shooter.

Axis Leveling

When shooting a compound bow, especially for western hunters who might take a long (40 yard) shot at a steep angle, leveling your axes is very important. When bow axis leveling is discussed, it is talking about sight alignment. The 3 axes of a sight are as follows:

  1. Parallel to the ground: if this access rotated it would spin bottom over top

  2. Through the center of your sight: rotation like a clock face

  3. Parallel to your body through the center of your sight: rotation like a top

Just for demonstration purposes, or so I thought, I used two Hamskea Easy Third Axis levels and a bow vice to first level my bow and check the first axis. I put the first level on a flat spot on my riser so it would be perpendicular to my sight housing, and because I had two levels, I put the second one on the driver of my sight.

how to level your bow

If you don’t have two you can just move the first one to the riser after checking that your bow is level in the press. As soon as I put the second level on, it was clear that my 2nd axis was off.

I use the Montana Black Gold Verdict driver sight, to adjust the 2nd axis, I loosened the 2 screws on the face and twisted gently until my sight bubble was also level.

bow sight adjustment

This axis being out of level would result in groups either going to the left or right. I’d been noticing that I was shooting to the right quite a bit lately. Over the past few days, after fixing it, that has gone away. I assumed that it was due to me pushing and opening up as I executed my shots as I got tired, that clearly was not the case.

The next step is leveling the third axis. This is done by using the Hamskea Easy Third Axis Level again by aligning the threaded rod, mounted on the level so that the rod is parallel to the riser, with something that is plum, such as a door jam and aim down and up to see if your bubble goes out of level. This was a little hard for me for the first time doing this, mainly because I don’t use a wrist strap release and it feels strange. Luckily, my lovely assistant (he refused to be pictured here), showed me the way and helped me with this adjustment.

bow tuning and leveling

Broadhead Tuning

Now that I had everything leveled, I needed to do the final, most important, step…broadhead tuning. Ideally, your arrows with broadheads will impact in the same spot as your field points. If they don’t, you slowly move your rest away from the broadheads. This process is fine tuning your center shot. I was shooting the G5 Deadmeat mechanical broadheads for Sika and I plan to keep the same setup for whitetail deer. This hunt is fast approaching, so after moving nearly everything on my setup to get my bow back in center shot and my axes leveled. I needed to test my broadheads. One nice thing about these G5 Deadmeat broadheads is that each package of 3 comes with a ballistic match tip that flies the same as your broadheads, so you don’t have to shoot your mechanicals into a thick foam target.

This is what I saw when I started, at 20 yards, my arrows appeared to be the same, my broadhead slightly lower and to the left, but at 30 the broadhead was way lower. So I had to adjust my rest, ever so slightly up and right to make them impact at the same spot.

While it is unfortunate, for me, that I learned my lesson about checking your gear again if something is off it is better to see first-hand how having a bow that is improperly tuned can affect your arrow flight and most importantly impact on your target.

Jaimie Robinson is a Huntress View Team Member from Colorado. Follow her on Instagram at @mymomhunts.

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