I had just finished rattling and was hanging my antlers on the branch when I noticed a bit of movement in the old overgrown field. After closer inspection though my binoculars, it didn’t take me long to see it was a good buck, one worth hanging my tag on. As he slowly angled his way in my direction, my heart rate increased as my adrenal gland started to release that precious addictive hormone all bowhunters crave. For me, that also marks the beginning of my mini-panic attack. It starts with my thought process being hijacked by a barrage of questions. “Is he looking for the fight? Which way is the wind blowing? Is he going to wind me? Did he see me stand up?” I could go on and on. The one question I never racing through my mind is: “Is my bow ready?” The reason I never worry about my bow is that I take the time to make sure it’s ready so I can remove that variable from the equation. Here are the 3 easy bow prep steps I follow to make sure my bow is ready for the fall deer woods.
Check the Limbs
The first bow prep step I take is to check the limbs for any structural damage and to make sure everything is tight. Cracked limbs can obviously be a problem. A quick look at all surfaces of the limbs, both front and back, is usually all it takes. If the limbs are sporting a nice camo paint job then seeing any cracks in the limbs can be a touch more difficult. I usually lightly run my hand or fingers down the limbs. If there are any crack or splinters I can usually feel them pretty quickly. After I have determined that the limbs are in good shape I begin making sure all the screws and bolts are good and tight. Not only will it prevent the bow from making unnecessary noise but depending on what is loose it can change the arrows point of impact or even alter its flight. Basically, if a screw on the cam comes loose the bow will make a rattling noise when it’s shot. If a screw on the sight loosens it can cause your pins to move and I think we all can agree that would not be conducive to consistent accuracy. The same holds true for the arrow rest. If it moves, that can have the same effect as raising or lowering your nock point. Any and all of those are what I would classify as problematic.
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So just how many threaded surfaces or contact points are we talking about? Well that will all depend on your set up. If your current hunting bow is a one piece wooden recurve that you shoot instinctively, then you may skip to the next paragraph. If you hunt with a compound that has a few accessories bolted on then this may interest you. For the last couple of years I have hunted with a PSE Carbon Air. On it I have a simple set up of a 5 pin sight, 6 arrow quiver, simple drop-away rest, and a 9” stabilizer, no separate quick disconnect. If my counting skills and powers of observation are hitting on all cylinders, I come up with no less than 55 screws and bolts on my hunting bow. Over half of them are on my sights. With that many screws and bolts, it really isn’t a question of if, but when one of them will come loose? If you have never seen a bow shot in super slow motion you would be shocked at how much vibration a bow deals with. It’s amazing to me they don’t fall apart after 7 shots. So do I get my wrenches out and check all 55 bolts and screws? Well, to save time I usually hold the bow and tap the top limb pocket with the palm of my hand. This will cause any loose screws to give off a clear vibration sound and point you right to the noisy culprit. Depending on the bow and combination of rest you choose, it can move and never make a sound. Especially if the rest uses one bolt and no second set screw or other tab that will lock it in place. A popular rest is the now widely-used Whisker Biscuit. I have owned many over the years and all of them bolted to the bow with just one bolt. With only one bolt to hold it in place it was susceptible to pivoting downward after a lot of shooting. If it goes unnoticed it can cause your set up to be a little nock-high. That can make a big difference in your down range point of impact. A simple trick I learned was after setting up the bow I would outline the arm of the arrow rest with a pencil right on the riser. If I noticed that I was shooting low for some reason I could glance at that outline and quickly see if that rest had moved. If you have a stubborn screw that just won’t stay tight, then remove it and put a little string wax on the threads, reinstall the screw and that should help hold in place.
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Inspect String & Cables
What’s next on the bow prep checklist? After I have all the bolts and screws tightened down, I then inspect the string and cables. I am frequently asked how often I replace the string and/or cables on my bow. In my opinion there is no cookie cutter answer to that question. People who manufacture and sell them will tell you it should be done every year. It certainly doesn’t hurt to do that, except for maybe your wallet. It’s similar to changing the oil in your truck. Do you change it every 3 months or every 3,000 miles? What if you only drove 1,000 miles in 3 months? Does it hurt to change it then? No, but do you need to? Probably not. So I don’t really go by time, but by use and wear. I know archers that seem to replace their strings every few months. You would have to do a lot of shooting to justify changing them that frequently. On the other hand, I recently bumped into an old coworker of mine at the local archery shop. I hadn’t seen him in nearly 20 years and he still had the bow I sold him way back then. What made my jaw hit the floor was when he told me he had never replaced the strings or cables on that old bow, and that they were still intact. Now that is definitely an exception to the rule but it shows that you can get two or even three seasons out of a good set of strings and cables if you take care of them. What I look for to determine if they need replaced is fraying and serving separation. If you notice a broken strand on the string or one of the cables then it obviously needs to be replaced. It will probably hold for a limited number of shots but it should be replaced as soon as possible. If there are 2 or more strands broken, do not shoot it and get it replaced yesterday. Another question I get is about string wax. How often and how much? Well there are about as many opinions on that topic as there are bows on the market. Here is my take on string wax. First of all, I only use wax on the exposed string, not on any part of the string covered by serving. I also don’t wax any part of the string or cables that will track in the cams or the cable slide. I have found that wax will gather dirt, dust and any other gunk you can think of. That extra material stuck in a cam track, cable slide or roller will cause extra wear and tear on the string and serving. It will speed up serving separation as well. I instead use a string lubricant on those areas. There are a few different brands out there but I prefer the Scorpion Venom line of lube. On bows with aggressive cams this is especially important. When that cable rides over that sharp knuckle on the module of a cam it really stresses the serving and will cause it to separate. Wax build up will speed the separation process. I have found the Scorpion Venom will help keep that from happening. As far as how often I wax, that will all depend on the use and abuse the string takes. If I shoot it a lot and I notice it starting to get what I call fuzzy, then it’s time to wax. What do I mean by fuzzy, you ask? Well if the string seems to have microfibers of string material beginning to separate from the string it will have a fuzzy appearance. If my bow and I get a good soaking in a cold November rain, I’ll give the string and cables a fresh coat of wax as soon as I get a chance. As I said earlier, there are many different opinions on this topic, this is just my own personal preference.
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Shoot Your Bow!
The third step has 3 parts to it. They are to shoot your bow, shoot your bow and shoot your bow some more. I recommend you shoot your bow to get sighted in, shoot to work on form, shoot to familiarize yourself with your setup, and finally shoot your broadheads. Ok maybe that’s four, but you get my point. I cringe whenever I hear someone say “I haven’t shot my bow since last hunting season, I guess I’ll put a couple arrows through it before opening day to make sure it’s still sighted in.” In my opinion, that is a reckless and irresponsible attitude. Familiarizing yourself with your bow and your setup can only be accomplished in one way and that is spending time behind the riser. It’s similar to when you get a new vehicle and you have to learn all the controls for the wipers, heater, radio, mirrors, and so on. After you spend a few hours behind the wheel, you become familiar with those features. I talk all about the importance of shooting in the off season in one of my previous articles, 5 Reasons Every Bowhunter Should Shoot 3D. Check it out, it’s a good read, but I digress. Getting plenty of practice time will not only help you get to know your bow, it will obviously quickly let you know if your bow is sighted in. If you are grouping off target then the bow is not sighted in. I think we all would agree it’s better to find that out on a foam target then a live animal. What’s the best way to get sighted back in? I think that could be the subject of my next article. The last thing that needs to be shot are your broadheads. Now, I hear a lot of broadhead manufacturers make the coveted field point accuracy claim. In my experience it’s not wise to take them at their word, even if you are shooting a mechanical head. That’s one more variable I can control and take out of the equation. It only takes a couple shots to find out. I have hunted with a lot of different broadheads over the years and some of them were as accurate advertised, some not so much. The first heads I hunted with back in the early 90’s needed a little tweaking to get them hitting with my field points. I would talk to other bowhunters that shot the same brand of heads and some of them had an issue and some didn’t. That’s when I realized it’s all about your set up. For whatever reason my combination of bow, arrow spine, and draw weight, would not group broadheads with my field points. Here is a recent example to explain what I mean. My current broadhead of choice is the 100 grain Ramcat and with my current set up I do have field point accuracy with them. I recommend them to a friend of mine. He bought some and like any responsible bowhunter, he shot them before hitting the deer woods. He was not able to achieve field point accuracy with those heads. I’m happy to report that we did rectify the situation with a small change to his setup. My point is everybody’s bow and particular set up are different. What the broadhead manufacturers should say when claiming field point accuracy is “Results may vary”. If you bowhunt long enough you are going to make a marginal shot on an animal. It’s terrible when it happens but eventually it will, and when it does, it’s definitely not the time to wonder if your broadheads are grouping with your field points. I would rather spend the extra money on a couple broadheads to practice with than to wound and loose an animal.
Hopefully these three steps will get you and your bow tuned up, dialed in, and ready for this upcoming season. Be safe, shoot straight, and good luck. I’ll see you in the deer woods.