This is such an issue; I think I am going to start a support group. Just imagine you're sitting in a group and a guy stands up. Hi, my name is Bob and I have poor arrow flight. Just think of how many members I would have. I can just see it. A bunch of camo clad guys sitting in a circle. Another guy speaks up, hi my name is Jeff and I have a proposing problem. People would be crying and discussing all the targets and animals they missed because of their poor arrow flight.
Would you be a member? Sadly, a lot of bowhunters would be. Picture a close up of a guy in a tree stand, a small shiny tear running down his cheek over his black camouflage paint as a big buck walks away in the background.
I am serious. This is a real problem. It wasn’t always so funny. In fact, I have had only one opportunity in my life at an animal I would say was truly “world class”. It was a fluke. A chance crossing of paths. It was in California a little over thirteen years ago. Fortunately, it was before I had a camera following me all the time. I had switched arrows just before this hunt and the big fletched up aluminum arrows were hitting fine. I didn’t have time to bare shaft or paper tune, but it seemed like they were shooting good.
It was pouring rain when I spotted the buck and my guide said he thought he knew where the buck was going. We sprinted through the pouring rain to a small ravine. My guide crouched a few yards behind me and whispered that he thought the buck would come our way. When I saw him coming through the down pour following a doe, I couldn’t believe how big he looked up close. He was a true giant. I remember he stopped for a moment and shook water just flew everywhere. He looked regal as he slowly continued on his path behind the doe. He was barely twenty yards when I drew. I didn’t hop I was going to shoot him; I knew it. He was mine, no doubt.
I shot and watched in shock as my arrow barrel rolled and stuck in the dirt beneath the giant deer. The only thing worse than my horror in missing that buck was the disgusted look on my guides face when he said that was one of the biggest deer he had ever seen.
My feathers were soaked and sticking to the shaft, and I shot another arrow to see what went wrong. I had the same result. We headed back to camp, and I shot another arrow with dry fletching. It kicked a little but still sent where it was supposed to. The good news is that the next day with dry feathers, I double lunged a 2 x 2. More importantly, I learned a valuable lesson. My arrows were not tuned properly. The large feathers were what kept that arrow on track. Once they were wet the poorly spined arrow did its own thing. I now consider tuning my arrow properly to be one of the most important factors in having a successful hunt. After all, it is the part that actually delivers the broadhead. To see why poor arrow flight is a serious malady, let’s look at the symptoms of poor arrow flight and what the results are or can be.
Reduced Speed- Reduced speed caused by more wind drag on a poorly flying arrow causes less penetration and more arch in the trajectory making yardage estimation more critical. I also increase the odds of an animal jumping the string.
Arrows Kicking (not flying straight)- Makes it impossible to thread an arrow through a small shooting hole in the brush without it deflecting. Also makes it impossible to accurately shoot through netting on a ground blind.
Noise- Arrows that aren’t flying true are louder going through the air due to increased wind drag which increases the odds of an animal jumping the string.
Penetration- When an arrow is not flying true penetration is reduced because the kinetic energy is depleted when the arrow is not on the same plane on impact. This can turn a fatal hit into non-fatal one due to decreased penetration.
Accuracy- Poor arrow flight reduces accuracy causing more missed shots on targets and game.
Now that we see all the reasons my support group would have lots of members, let’s talk about how not to become a card carrying member.
The first thing to do is try and get the right arrow. For that a pro shop is a great place to start. If like me, you live a long way from the closest shop you can look the information up yourself. For carbon and aluminum arrows, just go to the arrow manufacturer of your choice and check out their website. They all have great charts that will give you a list of arrows that should work for your set up. For wood arrows, I would either go to a local pro shop or to one of the large traditional retailers like Three Rivers Archery. Woods are sold in 5 lb increments. In other words, the spine range matches the weight on your bow. So, if you’re shooting 50 lb. longbow for example, you would try some wood arrows spined at 50-55 lbs. or 45-50 lbs. Depending on your arrow length and point weight you may have to go up or down in spine to find the perfect shaft. Bear in mind all arrows are not created equal. It doesn’t matter if you’re shooting woods, carbon or aluminum arrows. It is best to buy quality arrows. If they are extremely cheap, there is probably a reason. Make sure you're working with arrows that are matched in spine, weight and length if you’re going to properly tune an arrow.
Actual Tuning- I will assume you have already read my bow tuning blog and have your brace height and nock set adjusted. So now let’s grab a fletched arrow that is cut to your arrow length. I like a good inch of clearance past my riser on my arrows. Screw on a field point that matches the broadhead weight you want to shoot. If you're not sure I would go middle of the road and try 125 grains for a point weight. Now shoot through a piece of paper. I use butcher paper over a small wooden frame. You can buy paper tuners but it’s very easy to make your own. The simplest way is to tape a piece of newspaper or butcher paper firmly over a picture frame type wood frame. Give yourself a good 30” square to shoot through. Stand six feet away and shoot on a level plane through the paper (make sure you have a safe back stop) then look at how the arrow went through the paper. You are looking for a perfect hole showing only 3 small cuts where the fletching went through. If that’s not what happened, we need to start adjusting. If your arrow kicked up leaving a small hole on the bottom of the paper with a larger tear high, it means your nock set is set too high. If your tear went down, it means your nock set is too low. Now things start to get a little trickier. If your arrow is kicking left or the arrow tears left after it goes through the paper it means your arrow spine is too weak.
To try and fix a left tear, we have some options. We can go up to the next heaviest spined arrow or we can lighten point weight, because a reduction in your point weight will cause your arrow not to flex as much when you shoot which will cause the same spined arrow to act as if it’s a stiffer spine. Another option is to shorten your arrow. This too will cause the arrow to not flex as much and may straighten out the problem. If your tear is to the right, it means your arrow is too stiff. To remedy this, you can go to a weaker spined arrow. You can also add point weight which will cause the arrow to flex more when shot or you can lengthen your arrow. The above spine assessment is based on a right-handed shooter which means you hold the bow in your left hand and draw the string with your right hand. If you are a left-handed shooter, which means you hold the bow with your right hand and draw the string with your left you must reverse the above procedure. For up and down tears, the nock adjustment remedy remains the same. When lengthening or shortening your arrow to adjust spine, I usually go in increments of three quarters of an inch. If you have an arrow kicking anything other than horizontally or vertically it is usually a combination of spine and nock set. Try and fix one problem at a time. It is important to realize that all arrows flex as they leave the bow. What we want to achieve is the right amount of flex so that after the arrow flexes it straightens out and continues in a straight path. This is called archers paradox and the technical definition is the “horizontal flexing of an arrow as it goes around the riser”.
After getting a perfect hole at 6 feet, move back to 12 feet and check it again. A few things to keep in mind is that if you have an inconsistent release, you will not be able to get a perfect hole every shot. A way to tell if you’re the problem is if the same arrow gives you different tears every time.
To check your form, try this. Draw your recurve or longbow and aim at yourself in a mirror. If you really torque the string, you will see it. Try and keep the string as straight as you comfortably can.
After paper tuning I like to shoot a bare shaft with no feathers at a target. Once my arrow is tuned properly, I can shoot a bare shaft with a field point as accurately as a feathered arrow.
Having a properly tuned arrow will allow you to shoot more accurately and will keep you out of an embarrassing support group. Good luck and as always…Have fun!
- Fred Eichler