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Bow Bootcamp is a 10-part series designed to get you, your equipment, and your skills in peak shape for fall. That means gear checks, accessory tweaks, precision bow tuning, and shooting drills to get you totally dialed in. In Part 1Part 2Part 3, and Part 4, we got your bow and arrows fully ready for the next critical step: paper tuning.

Now that you’ve got your bow ready to shoot, it’s time to start getting it perfectly tuned. Well, almost time. I actually don’t like moving straight to the paper-tuning jig directly after bow setup, for a few reasons. First, if I’m shooting a new bow or a bow with a new string, I want to shoot at least 100 arrows through it to get the stretch out. Second, I want to get familiar with my new bow or re-familiarize myself with one I haven’t shot in a while.  

archer shooting compound bow
Establishing a good, repeatable grip that doesn’t add torque to the riser is key to proper paper tuning. Jace Bauserman

The slightest change in form or grip can alter a paper tear. For example, you may shoot a perfect tear one day, walk back to the paper tuner a few days later with the same bow, and go from an ideal bullet hole to a nock-high tear. When this happens, most archers instantly assume something happened with the bow, but modern-day compounds don’t just go out of tune unless something severe happens. The change is usually with the archer. So, at the very least, shoot the bow enough that you feel like your form is solid and repeatable with it, then move to paper tuning. Once you’re ready, here are the steps to follow.

Step 1: Take the first shot.

photo of paper tuning
The author fires an arrow through a paper-tuning jig with a foam target behind it. Jace Bauserman

Using one of the field-tipped arrows you built in Part 3, stand 2 or 3 yards from the paper (with a target far enough behind that your arrow will pass completely through the paper) and acquire your usual repeatable grip, then draw, settle into your anchor, and execute a perfect shot. Don’t run up to the paper and evaluate the tear right away. You first need to reflect on the shot you took. Was it a good shot? Was your release smooth or did you jab the trigger and rush the shot? Did your grip feel the same as it has for the past few days you’ve been shooting, or did you torque it? Be honest with yourself.

Now, if you feel like you made a good shot, inspect the tear, but don’t you make any adjustments yet. First, repeat the process at least twice more. If you keep getting more or less the same tear, you can assume the result is stemming from the bow and not your shooting, and you can go ahead and start evaluating and making tweaks.

Step 2: Diagnose the paper tears.

This is where people get confused. But it’s actually pretty simple. First look for the round hole; this is where the point of the arrow entered the paper. Then look for lines or slits; this is where the arrow’s vanes entered the paper. In a perfect tear, or “bullet hole,” the round hole sits in the middle and the lines of the vanes emanate evenly from around that hole. In a bad tear, the hole is in one place and the lines of the vanes are in another, either slightly above, below, right, or left. Below is a list of paper tears and how to properly correct them.

photo of arrow paper tears
  • Good: No adjustment necessary
  • Tail Low: Lower the rest or move your D-loop up
  • Tail High: Raise the rest or move your D-loop down
  • Multiple: This will take a combination of moving the rest or loop up or down and the rest left or right
  • Tail Right: Move the rest to the left
  • Tail Left: Move the rest to the right

On bows with yoke systems, you can twist the cable(s) to clean up a paper tear. However, because today’s arrow rests are so adjustable (many to the thousandths of an inch), you can usually tune a bow using only tweaks to the rest and/or D-loop height.

Step 3: Nock tune any flyers.

photo of marking an arrow
A slight twist of a nock can get a “flyer” arrow back in line. Mark where the nock needs to be for the arrow to fly true. Jace Bauserman

Once you get a perfect tear on the first arrow, don’t stop. I recommend shooting all of your field-tipped arrows through paper. Even as precise as today’s arrows are, it’s not uncommon to get a flyer—an arrow that doesn’t fly as well as the rest. Before labeling the arrow an outcast, reshoot it. Often the second or third time I shoot an arrow that didn’t tear like the rest, I discovered the problem was with my grip. Other times, if the tear remains sub-par, I can rotate the nock in the shaft. This is called nock-tuning. A rotation of the nock can sometimes create better spine alignment. You’ll be shocked how a simple nock rotation can clean up what many archers would label a “flyer.” 

Step 4: Know when to quit.

Once you’re satisfied with the tears you’re getting from all your arrows, stop shooting them through paper. Archers tend to be perfectionists, and I’m no different. I used to shoot my bow through paper every few weeks, which proved problematic. I would be on the range, shooting great, and then go to the paper tuner, shoot an arrow, and discover an ever-so-slightly imperfect tear. Instead of realizing the tear was from a minor imperfection in my form and not a tuning issue, I would start to tinker. Tinkering with a bow you already know is tuned up only causes unneeded worry and pre-shot anxiety. If your bow is tuned, it’s tuned, and unless you drop your bow hard on the ground, or detect nock travel while shooting, or start noticing accuracy issues, leave it alone. 

And remember, one session of bad shooting does not equal “accuracy issues.” Everyone has bad days. When they pop up, put the bow down and walk away for a few hours, or maybe a few days. Only double-check your tune if the issues persist.

Finally, use a pencil or Sharpie to mark where your cams intersect the limbs, your peep sight is on the string , and your arrow rest alignment. Then tighten down all your screws, and be sure your rest cord is tied in or your limb attachment string is tight and tied off correctly. That done, you are ready to hit the range to sight in perfectly and get practicing for the field.