There are hundreds of accurate bow models and dozens of arrow sizes from which to choose, but in order to make a wise decision, you must first know how to select basic equipment that matches your body and personal shooting style. A lot is made of bow tuning by outdoor writers and TV personalities, and archery manufacturers also offer brochures on the subject. However, bow and arrow selection and initial equipment setup are often ignored. This is unfortunate, because savvy archers always put first things first.
Bow Selection Basics
Some bows just naturally feel better than others when you first try them. For this reason, I recommend purchasing your bow and the needed accessories at an archery pro shop. You’ll spend a little more for the products, but you’ll know how they fit your hand, how they balance as you aim and how they recoil during a shot. Only after you discover these things should you part with your hard-earned cash.
When you’re shopping for a bow, pay close attention to the following four factors: length; grip size and shape; draw length; and draw weight. If any of these is wrong for your body size and shooting style, you won’t shoot up to snuff.
As a rule, compound bows more than 40 inches axle-to-axle are built for finger-shooters because the bowstring doesn’t pinch your fingers as you release; bows less than 40 inches long are release-aid models. Of course, compared to a long-axled bow, a short model is more maneuverable in the field. Expert finger shooters tend to use compound bows measuring 44-46 inches in length, and expert release-aid hunters generally shoot bows less than 38 inches long.
Bow grip is a key to accuracy that’s often overlooked by novice archers. A narrow grip almost always shoots better than a fat grip because you can’t grab and twist it during a shot. But the grip must also be comfortable for carrying the bow in the field during spot-and-stalk situations. Experiment to find which grip works for you.
Draw length should be selected so you can comfortably reach your anchor point at full draw. If the string stops before you reach your anchor point, the draw length is too short; if you can draw beyond your anchor point, the draw length is too long. Many archers choose bows with draw lengths that are too long. Remember this: Too much draw length kills
Make sure you take the proper stance as you test a bow for draw length. The best accuracy is always achieved with a slightly open stance to the target. This brings the bowstring away from your chest and forearm during the shot to prevent accuracy-ruining collision with clothing.
Choose a draw weight that’s comfortable. If you can’t fully extend the bow toward the target and draw the string straight back to your face without dropping or raising your bow arm, the draw weight is too heavy. Compound bows that adjust between 40-50 pounds are ideal for most women; most men should shoot a draw weight range of 50-60 or 60-70 pounds.
Bows are commonly set at the maximum draw weight within a 10-pound range when delivered from the factory. For example, a 50- to 60-pound model will be set at 60 pounds. But when in doubt about your ability to comfortably draw, you should reduce the draw weight by 5-7 pounds. Make this decision based on how your bow feels after you’ve shot 30-40 arrows, not just two or three. In a treestand, with cold muscles or the excitement of being near a deer, the lower poundage will help you aim solidly and make a good shot.
Accessories For Accuracy
Even with the right basic bow, you aren’t guaranteed accuracy. You still need to choose the proper accessories for your bow. First, attach conventional add-ons like a sight, quiver, stabilizer and bowstring silencers. All such items affect the weight, balance, string speed and vibration patterns of your bow, and they must be in place before you tune. Make sure all connections are tight for quiet performance.
If you plan to remove your quiver in a treestand, be sure to paper-tune the bow without the quiver in place because a bow should be tuned the way you actually intend to shoot it. Similarly, a permanently bow-attached quiver should be loaded with arrows before you tune. Hunting shafts weigh approximately 1 ounce apiece, and even two or three arrows missing from the quiver can alter bow weight enough to cause arrows to wobble when you shoot with a nearly full quiver.
Experiment with draw weight, and find a weight that feels exactly right. If you don’t own a bow scale, check your bow’s draw weight at your archery store and write it down. This will affect which arrows you decide to shoot.
There’s a huge variety of arrow types and sizes on the market, but don’t be overwhelmed by all the choices. As long as your arrow matches your bow, it should perform reasonably well. For best accuracy, purchase the most precise, most expensive shafts you can afford.
There isn’t room here to discuss the ins and outs of carbon, aluminum and carbon/aluminum composite shafts, but know this: Arrows are like rifle cartridges. A particular rifle requires particular ammo, and a particular bow requires a particular arrow stiffness. You wouldn’t shoot a .270 Win. cartridge in a .30-06 rifle, and you shouldn’t shoot a size 2016 shaft from a 70-pound bow.
Thankfully, arrow-shaft charts make intelligent selection a breeze. You simply plug in well-known variables like draw weight and draw length, but other factors also play into arrow selection. For example, Easton’s 2006 Hunting Shaft Selection Chart requires the arrowhead weight you intend to shoot, the brace height of your bow measured from bowstring to the bottom of the grip and whether you shoot a release aid.
Once you plug in all the necessary factors, the chart indicates several shaft sizes that are likely to shoot well from your bow with correct tuning. The chart will also recommend a variety of arrow weights for flattest trajectory, deepest penetration and compromises in between.
A few key procedures can be used to customize your hunting arrows. Poorly tuned arrows usually kick tail-left or tail-right from the bow, and this causes wobble. You can sometimes eliminate second-rate arrow launch by adjusting the bow’s arrow rest, but clean, non-wobbling flight can also be achieved by tailoring your arrows.
For example, if you increase arrowhead weight, arrows will definitely kick farther tail-left from the bow. This can help eliminate tail-right wobble. But adding weight to the rear of an arrow does exactly the opposite: it stiffens the shaft and makes it fly tail-right. So if you have a tail-left tuning problem, you can go to heavier, larger plastic fletching to straighten your arrows. Fletching varies tremendously in weight, from feathers at just a couple of grains each to full-sized 5-inch vanes weighing 16 or 17 grains each. A change of only 5 grains can make wobbling arrows fly like darts.
Likewise, shortening shafts or reducing bow poundage stiffens arrows and forces them tail-right for a right-handed shooter. Leaving your shafts longer—even a half-inch or inch—or increasing draw weight can weaken arrows for a tail-left effect. Careful bowhunters use such tricks for ultra-accurate arrow flight, and the result is more game in the bag.
Tuning For Perfection
Non-wobbling arrow flight means superior accuracy, and there are a number of bow-tuning methods designed to reach this goal. My favorite is paper-tuning—shooting through stretched newspaper or butcher paper from 1-yard, 6-yard and 10-yard distances. Mark your arrow point with lipstick to see where it hits the paper. If an arrow’s rear end tears left, right, high or low, your bow isn’t in tune. If it shoots a “bullet hole” at all three distances no larger than the fletching, the bow is in tune.
By moving the arrow rest and/or nock point on the bowstring, you might achieve a perfect tune. Or you might also need to alter arrowhead weight, fletching weight, arrow length or draw weight to completely eliminate arrow wobble and undesirable paper tears.
With broadheads of every design style and weight—even low-profile mechanical heads—a perfect bow tune will always produce better accuracy. And when a big game animal is at stake, why would you settle for anything less?