The way I see it, bow proficiency boils down to two important components: proper shooting form and outstanding bow setup.
By exploring certain steps for making your rig more forgiving and accurate, you have the opportunity to become a better archer and hunter.
1. Optimize Your Cam System
We hear a lot about today’s “no-maintenance” cam systems. This may be true for good-enough accuracy, but for hair-splitting accuracy, which is what we’re looking for here, every cam system should be optimized. This means “timing” the cams on two-cam or hybrid-cam systems so each cam spins in complete unison — each cam’s draw-stop peg or module should come to a firm, distinct stop at the same time. This not only eliminates that awful “bump…bump” feel in the draw cycle, but it ensures a more distinct “wall” at full draw, so you can pull with your back muscles and aim with confidence.
On a single cam, this is simplified, since there’s only one working cam. However, be sure the cam is orientated for level nock travel and top efficiency. Consult your bow’s owner’s manual or contact the manufacturer’s customer service department to identify proper cam position.
2. Create the Perfect Bow Grip
When you shoot, the pressure point of the grip should be at the base of your thumb (not in the palm area), the exact spot where your forearm bone (the radius) meets the very base of the thumb. If not, then it’s easy for the hand to collapse or to impart twist into the bow grip, causing shooting variation from one shot to the next.
The wider the grip, the more difficult it is to position your hand in the same spot on each shot. This is why all archery tournament pros use narrow grips — less surface area, less chance for error, making them more accurate. For this reason, I usually remove the outer grip or plate on the bow and shoot straight off the riser. However, some bows don’t offer a comfortable “riser grip.” In this case, an aftermarket grip is a better solution.
As far as tacky rubber grips go — I despise them wholeheartedly. A good grip is somewhat smooth, so your hand slides into a regular spot. A rubber grip prevents this — it stops your hand once good friction is found — wrong place or not. With this option, I usually remove the grip and wrap two layers of hockey tape over the bow’s handle and shoot it this way. Hockey tape does grip a little, but it still allows for some “slide.”
Beyond this, experiment with various leather and wool gloves until you find the most accurate, comfortable method of shooting your bow in cold weather. I favor a wool-liner or ultra-thin leather shotgun glove to grip the bow handle when temps dip below 35 degrees or so. I avoid “tacky” gloves with rubber dots. These can cause grip inconsistencies as well.
3. Bow Balance
When all is equal, a bow that balances perfectly in your extended hand will outshoot one that offers an awkward, lopsided feel. Why? Well, it comes back to the handle torque thing. Any time you have to involve muscles to hold a bow upright as you aim and shoot, torque can vary from one shot to the next. This is why tournament shooters use all sorts of stabilizers, v-bars and counterweights to offset a poorly balanced bow.
Although a bow that tips harshly forward or back can negatively affect shooting consistency, “side pull” seems to be the biggest accuracy destroyer (mainly with fixed-blade broadheads). Of course, the main culprit here is the bow quiver.
Whitetail-goers usually use a quick-detach quiver, one that can be easily taken off the bow and hung on a tree peg as you wait for game. This makes the most sense since practice shooting is done with the quiver off the bow.
However, for western bowhunting, a sturdier attached bow quiver makes for a better setup, as you hike and stalk in search of game, and shots can happen at a moment’s notice. In this case, a quiver that attaches solidly to the bow while hugging the riser as closely as possible is the best system. This will lessen the affect of side pull. Beyond that, be sure to experiment with various stabilizers and counterweights that seem to equalize the side weight on a bow caused by a quiver full of arrows.
4. Choose a Good Drop Rest
Drop-away rests are all the rage right now, but some of these rests will actually make you shoot worse, not better. Some models place so much pressure on the bow’s cable at full draw that they create severe limb twist and cam lean. The result is a bow that just won’t tune, or one that sprays broadheads all over the map.
Others have launcher arms that drop down in time for arrow fletching to clear, but then bounce back up just in time to collide with the arrow nock, ruining arrow flight. Nowadays, I prefer models that alleviate a lot of this cable pressure caused by the pull-down launcher cord.
My favorite model after relentless testing is Quality Archery Designs Ultra-Rest LD and had exceptional results. It uses an inertia-based drop arm. You adjust the pull-down cord so that it just pulls to the end of the launcher cycle, and at the shot, the arm falls down in time for fletching to clear.
5. Downward Arrow Pressure
Arrows can launch out of the bow pretty violently. For this reason, it’s wise to maintain good downward arrow pressure on the rest so the shaft becomes glued to the rest instead of potentially bouncing during the arrow cycle, as this is a sure way to ruin accuracy.
A simple and effective way to create downward arrow pressure is to serve in a little nockset below the arrow nock, inside the string loop. I like to make this nockset about 1/8-inch long, and I usually use BCY #2D or Brownell .018-inch Crown serving. Both are durable and won’t break down over time from the friction of snapping the nock off and on. I’ve seen up to a 15 percent gain in accuracy by doing this with some setups.
6. Paper Tune
Straight unwavering arrow flight and deep penetration on game go hand in hand. For this reason, always paper tune your bow. I start by stripping the fletching on the arrow, and replacing it with a strip of electrician’s tape — that weighs the same as the fletching. This will maintain the arrow’s front of center weight, while eliminating the sometimes-hard-to-follow tears caused by fletching.
Then I shoot the arrow through tight paper (I use painter’s paper) from 6 feet away. If I get a tail-high rip, I lower the string loop or nockset — if tail-low, I raise it. If I get a tail-right, I move the arrow rest to the left — if it’s a tail-left, I move it to the right. I continue to make adjustments until I achieve a perfect “bullet hole” rip. Make small adjustments at a time, about 1/32-inch.
When completed, shoot a fletched arrow and examine the results. You should only see slits in the paper caused by the vanes, and the shaft’s footprint, nothing else — a perfect “star” rip. If you don’t then contact is occurring with the vanes and arrow rest. In this case, take foot powder aerosol and spray the rear of the arrow. Any smear in the powdery substance tells where contact is occurring. I like to finalize the tune by shooting through paper at longer distances — 10 and 20 feet.
7. Arrow Selection, Nock Fit and Weight Control
Don’t shoot low-cost, poor-quality arrows — they’ll give you headaches in the end. Buy expensive aluminum or pre-sorted carbon shafts that are straighter, more consistent in weight and, most importantly, identical in spine (flex) from one shaft to the next.
Also, in terms of arrow nocks, be sure they don’t grip the bowstring serving too tight or too loose — either will affect accuracy. I like a fairly snug nock fit. I don’t want any visible wobble or gap within the throat area, but I also want the nock to be able to pop off the string when given a firm tap from the tail end.
Also, be sure to buy a digital archery scale, which is very affordable now (less than $50), so you can weigh your broadheads, vanes and complete arrow weight. The goal is to obtain a complete arrow weight of plus or minus 5 grains from one shaft to the next. Be sure to number your arrows, too, during practice so you can cull out those that consistently shoot off.
8. Add a String Stop
Although I find this accessory mandatory on lower brace-height bows, placed on any bow a quality string stop will prevent the bowstring from whipping around after the shot, increasing arrow speed and shot quietness, while making the bow less “jumpy” at the shot.
9. Broadhead Choice and Group Tuning
Always accuracy test your broadheads. Take three broadheads, screw them into arrows, and make sure they are perfectly aligned and checked for top concentricity. Then shoot some groups (from 30 or 40 yards) with these arrows, noting group size after each session. Do the same with your field points and then compare any group size differences.
Accuracy should be nearly the same, despite point-of-impact difference. If not, I would recommend using larger/more aggressive fletching or trying a different broadhead brand altogether. If you’re shooting fixed-blade heads, I strongly recommend aggressive fletching helical. More offset or helical equates to greater arrow spin and guidance, effectively stabilizing the arrow better.
Once I’m happy with a broadhead’s level of accuracy, I follow this up with some long-range group tuning. I shoot from about 50 yards, but this time I shoot five-arrow groups and I begin making micro adjustments to my arrow rest in hopes of improving accuracy. After each group series, I move the arrow rest slightly outward (to the left for a right-handed shooter), about 1/32-inch out. Then I shoot again and record the results. I do this two more times, and note which setting produces the very best groups. Sometimes, a slight tail-left — or slight tail-high-left — arrow departure yields a more accurate outcome. With long-range group tuning, I’ve sometimes tightened arrows groups by 10 to 20 percent.
10. Choose a Better Release Aid
Shot anticipation is a form flaw and, if not kept in check, it can easily spiral into serious trouble. Something I’ve found very helpful for alleviating this mental nervousness is to use a release aid with an ultra-crisp trigger, free from any travel or creep.
Many archers like a light trigger, in order to avoid any delay in trigger response. However, too light can create anxiety as well — knowing a slight touch will set the arrow off. This is where a heavier trigger pull is helpful. But with most releases, a heavier trigger means more trigger travel.
What you need is a trigger that fires from pressure and not from trigger movement.
Editor's note: This article was originally published in 2009.