An Introduction to Tuning

The Object of Tuning

We must first have clear in our minds just what we are trying to achieve by TUNING A BOW. Naturally the overall aim is to increase our scores. This is however an insufficient definition, it does not give any particular direction to the task before us. The definition I have used to compile these words is:-

"Matching of the Bow the Arrow and the Archer to achieve the best combined consistency"

The bow is merely a means of storing energy; that energy to be released quickly and transferred to the arrow. It will, in the main, do the same thing every time it is drawn and released. This will happen no matter what contraptions you have, we have not fitted to it. No reason for low scores here.

The arrow will fly in the direction it is propelled by the bow. Each arrow will follow, provided it is identical to the previous arrow in all respects. Still no reason for low scores here.

The archer -that's you-, now we have a problem. Here is the inconsistency.

Here is the cause of low scores. Bow tuning consists of adjusting the many possible devises on the bow to make it tolerant to your inconsistencies, I do mean your inconsistencies not mine nor anyone else's. In a sense we are going to possibly reduce the performance of the bow, dare I say "DE TUNE "it.

In consequence, when a bow is tuned, it is tuned by you and for you alone. You will have adjusted it to minimise the many different things you do in the time between standing on the line and hearing the arrow hit the gold. It follows then that because it is tuned for you, there is no reason to suppose it is tuned for anyone else. In fact the reverse is true since no one, but no one, will have the same combination of inconsistencies that you have.

Enough about the aims of tuning. Let us move on.

Grades of Tuning

I have divided the total tuning package into three main categories -namely-

  • Coarse Tuning
  • Fine Tuning
  • Super Fine Tuning

These are intended to cover the entire activity of tuning from the time you decide to buy a bow to the time you decide to buy another, as that is the only way to increase your scores, or so you think. The three grades are natural progression and as such can only be considered in that order- they must be in sequence.

Coarse Tuning

This is essentially a non-active exercise; the aim is to buy the bow most suited to you. I am not going to get involved in the new or second hand argument or the "over bowed / under bowed' discussion; these are separate subjects in their own right. There are however several items worthy of consideration.

CATALOGUES: Study what is available; get familiar with the names; the alternatives that exist; don't restrict yourself to any style, type or manufacturer at this time. Make a list and comment on the list, the pros and cons of each as applied to yourself.

DISCUSSION: Talk to as many people as you can to gain other opinions. This is the best way to gain a multitude of opinion , albeit biased to and by each individual's experience. Where possible try other bows but beware of the heavy bow turning you off that particular model and the expensive bow turning you on. Add this to your list.

BANK BALANCE: This must be a prime consideration, spending too much will not only put you in financial difficulties, it will not do your shooting any good either. No way will you ever loose a good arrow, standing on the line worrying about your shoeless children at home. Extreme though that may sound, archery is predominantly concentration and if your mental approach is not right no amount of tuning is going to help. Add this to your list.

These topics are basic yet apply to both the novice and the experienced archer alike, to your first bow your second bow and your last bow.

SELECTION OF A SHORTLIST. From the list of various styles and types of bows available it will be obvious that the vast majority are not suitable for you. Don't ask me why only you know that. Try each one, try them all. Take your time and make the right choice. The right one is worth waiting for. Don't buy heavier because that's all they had in the shop, pay attention to how it feels in your hands and how you feel about it, rather than the score you may or may not be getting at a short trial session. Make sure you can reach the distance you want to shoot reasonably comfortably. From this one bow will stand out as being for you - buy it.

Fine Tuning

We must first make a couple of assumptions:-

Firstly that your style has established to an extent that you can recognise groups albeit only at 30yds. This obviously applies in the main to archers buying their first bow, but to a lesser extent to experienced archers as their new bow may require a different technique of shooting, in any case spend some time getting comfortable with a new bow and if nothing else record some scores to know what you have to improve on later.

Secondly that the arrows are compatible with you and the bow in terms of both length and spine, needless to say all arrows have to be identical to each other and be identified individually. In other words don't jump into Fine Tuning too soon, wait until you are ready, you will know when.

We are now going to set up a piece of machinery, a weapon, a bow and as such we must treat the exercise in a controlled manner.

Before attempting any adjustment it's first necessary to be aware of what we have already. We know the capability in terms of the scores achieved to date, we must now determine what we achieved this with. To do this:-


Sight position

Bracing height

Nocking point location

Clicker position

Arrow plate position

Position of stabiliser weights

Twists in string

and Bow tiller.

Why do this you may ask, if we are going to change these during our tuning exercise? We hope the changes will be for the better, that is result in higher scores, if however higher scores are not obtained, then at least we will be able to return to our previous state, after all the bow may be tuned to the best level you can achieve already albeit by accident. Don't trust to memory, make a note of the items listed and do not lose it. In addition inspect the quality of your arrows, no amount of tuning will compensate for irregular or ill-matched arrows. They must be straight, fletched identical nocked and piled consistently.


Your tab should be "worn in but not worn out". Don't go and buy a new tab to start bow tuning it will be stiff for some time and possibly make you make wrong decisions later and waste your time. For that matter don't buy anything new prior to tuning ,you want to be at ease and familiar with all your gear. The one exception to this is your bow string in fact you need THREE. It is by far the best if you can make them yourself or persuade some friendly 'mug' I mean fellow archer to make them for you.

The reason for three? It is to find out how your bow behaves when you shoot it with different bracing heights. The three strings should be of such a length that:-

String number one will give a bracing height just below the highest recommended by the bow manufacturer (a short string).

String number two will give a bracing height that is just below the lowest recommended by the manufacturer (a long string)

and String number three will give a bracing height that is midway between strings one and two.

Have the strings made so as you can identify each one individually, with different colour serving, possibly. Remember also where you have measured the bracing height to, the point where the arrow rests on the arrow plate is most suitable. Remember also that strings stretch from new, hence these strings must be "shot in", a couple of dozen will be sufficient for each string. Each string should also have a temporary nocking point fitted, temporary because we are going to move it later on .Although temporary they must be secure and in the same place on each string, that is relative to the arrow rest.

Now comes the time you have been waiting for. The day is fine, and looks like it will remain that way for some time, never attempt tuning on a bad weather day or when your time is limited, this exercise must not be rushed. It's also useful to enlist the help of a friend, in fact it possibly helps to tune your bows together, but do not expect to reach the same conclusions or achieve the same improvement as each other.

The two factors most critical to a tuned bow are possibly the nocking point location and the bracing height, hence these are our first objectives.

There are two alternative methods to determine the location of the nocking point;

Method 1 - Requires the use of bare shafts, that are nocked and piled but without fletchings. This is obviously inconvenient however I will continue.

With one of the strings you have made, say the one giving the mid bracing height, stand some 10 to 12 feet from the boss and using your normal shooting style loose several arrows, try to make sure the arrows are shot horizontally, that is you are shooting at point blank range. Examine the arrows in the boss, if the nock of the arrow is above the point of entry into the boss, the nocking point is too high; if the nocking point is below the point of entry the nocking point is too low. Move the temporary nocking point so the arrows enter the boss level. Should you get one or two arrows behaving inconsistently don't worry about these so much as it could well be due to a funny loose or even an extra hard area in the boss. The same can be done for with the arrow plate adjustment, if you have one fitted, only this time look for the arrows entering the boss with a right to left consistency. If the nocks are to the right, move the arrow plate in (for a right handed archer OUT for a left handed archer)and as you may expect visa versa. The setting up of a pressure button is a totally different matter and other methods have to be undertaken. I do not intend to cover those at this time.

This method of nocking point adjustment has its problems, that is bare shafts are required and you may be somewhat reluctant to strip off your fletchings, on the other hand the method is quite accurate and you can achieve results when shooting or tuning alone.

Method 2 -requires knowledgeable assistance, and as you will gather it is more difficult to describe. It involves shooting arrows, fletched this time, over a normal range, say 40 to 60 yards and being watched from some 10 to 12 yards away. The observer does the clever bit, he ,or she, watches the arrow as it leaves the bow, and looks for a straight arrow flight,, this can be done by standing in a position so that the arrow will have a contrasting background and keeping your eyes fixed on a point in space some 3 feet in front of the bow. DO NOT try to follow the arrow with your eyes but let the arrow cut your field of vision. Your eyes will register the arrow flight rather like taking a picture with a camera, you record the image in your mind and describe it later. What you may well ask is what do I mean by a straight arrow? Well, the observer is looking for the nock of the arrow following directly behind the pile, the arrow will have a certain trajectory, dependent on the distance being shot, the pile and the nock should follow the same trajectory. Think carefully about what you saw and describe it to the person who shot the arrow.

If you saw the arrow travel through the air with the nock higher than the pile then the nocking point is too high , if the arrow travelled with the nock lower than the pile then the nocking point is too low. Move the nocking point until you have a straight arrow. Well I did say it was difficult to explain, if however you read these notes then go and have a look at some arrows being shot on the shooting line you will see what I mean and soon be able to judge for yourself. I know of no way you can adjust the arrow plate position by this method.

So now you have adjusted the nocking point position on the string, measure its position and record it, also fix similar nocking points to the other strings you made previously. While doing this to all three strings make sure the arrows fit the string comfortably, not too tight and not too loose, also that they all fit alike; another good reason for making your own strings.

BRACING HEIGHT ADJUSTMENT can only be achieved by trial and error. It is however, worth reminding ourselves that we are striving to make the bow tolerant to our inconsistencies. This cannot be calculated, it can only be achieved empirically, by experimentation since YOU are part of the shooting system and your actions are far from repeatable. To find the most suitable bracing height first select a distance to shoot at, that you can achieve recognisable groups shooting six arrows, this in general will be between 40 to 60 yards depending on your standard. Don't' over stretch your ability, its only further to walk and groups will not be recognisable. Equally don't get so close that your group size is minute, you cannot improve on that. Fit one of your new, yet shot in, strings to the bow say the longest, the one that will give you the lowest bracing height. Measure and record this bracing height. Now shoot, say four ends in your usual style and at your normal pace, do not shoot an end without a break between the two sets of three arrows, you will only serve to make your self tired and will totally mislead the tuning exercise.

After you have shot each end, measure and record the size of the groups you have achieved. This is done by using a length of string around the arrows forming the group there will be a minimum of three arrows actually touching the string The length of string used to go round the outside of the group once is the group size. Measure and record it against that particular bracing height. Shoot four ends to achieve some confidence in achieving repeatability and measure and record each time. If by chance you should have a bad arrow ,one that got away, fell off the rest or just didn't feel right for some reason and as a result that arrow is well outside the main group ,then exclude it from your measured group, these are beyond the capability of this tuning.

You have now got four group sizes recorded against one bracing height. Now change the bracing height and that alone by fitting another string, measure and record the new bracing height and repeat the process of shooting four ends, measuring and recording the group size each time for that bracing height. It's a good idea to check the bracing height after each end to be confident that it has not changed especially if your strings are brand new. Having shot your second set, with the second string you should see some change in the size of the groups shot, either they will have increased in size or they will have got smaller. Whatever, change the bracing height again by using your third string and repeat the process of four ends shot measured and recorded. I did say earlier, this could be a long process but will in the end reward you with more consistent results provided you take your time and do the job properly. By now you have used all three strings, shot some three dozen arrows and have some results. If you are in any way getting tired or are short of time, pack it in for the day. When you are tired different faults creep in that tuning cannot cater for, live to fight another day.

To continue, further group sizes can be obtained by further varying the bracing height in smaller increments. Select the string that gave you the tightest groups fit it on the bow and measure the bracing height, it should be very close to the previous time you used it. Now relax the bow by unhooking one end of the string and twist the string, so making it somewhat shorter, put about twenty full turns into it then restring the bow, the resulting bracing height will have increased. Measure this and again record it. Yes you guessed it, repeat the four ends ,measure and record the group sizes for the new bow setting. By changing bracing heights measuring and recording the resulting group sizes you will see a pattern emerge indicating the most suitable bracing height for you shooting that bow and those arrows; change anything minor and that setting may not be the most suitable, change the bow or arrows for an alternative specification and it most certainly will not be. Nor will it be the most suitable for any other archer they must find their own.

Three points to note while going through this exercise;-

i) Do not allow yourself to get too tired.

ii) Do not allow your assistant to coach you, you are trying to reduce the effects of the inconsistencies in your normal shooting style.

iii) 0nly change one thing at a time i.e. the bracing height, do not fiddle with stabilisers, clickers, kissers or the like. If you change more than one thing at a time, you have no way of knowing just what caused any improvement or deterioration.

When you have established the most suitable bracing height for you with that bow, make a string to give you that height and then another, fix a nocking point to them both as per your earlier records and shoot both strings 'in'. You now have the fundamentals of a tuned system.

This is as far most archers wish to go with tuning and to be honest, unless you

are that keen it's as far as you need go However unless you do have a go at tuning you will never be sure you couldn't do better. The improvement you can expect to achieve as a result of adjusting nocking point and bracing height correctly is difficult to predict, since it depends how good your set up was before you started. However I would guess that anything between 1% and 10% increase in scores could result.

Super Fine Tuning

This activity continues over the months and even years of shooting since there is always something new to try and experiment with but remember always try things out in a controlled manner, only ever change one thing at a time ,then measure and record the results. These results in terms of the group size is the important thing not the scores, the higher score will result from tighter and closer groups. All of us are trying to increase our scores by fitting various gadgets to our bows, arrows and even ourselves, all will have some effect, but the secret is to achieve the best possible combined results. Like finding the most suitable bracing height no calculation exists to determine what is best for you or any other archer, it can only be by trial and error.

The number of variables that exist for you to experiment with include;-

Types of arrow pile

Types of fletching

Stabiliser weights and positions

Number of strands in your string

Types of serving

Clicker position

Type of arrow rest

Type of tab

In fact the list is as long as any archery retailers catalogue.

Over the years you will experiment with several of these I have no doubt, but to do the job properly two rules must always be obeyed;-

i). Only change one thing at a time, so as not to get confused and allow you to appreciate the effect of the change, be it for the better or worse, always though give an initial detrimental effect the chance to shoot it's self out.

ii). Measure and record the changes you make to your equipment and the consequential effect, the size of the group, not the score, this can be misleading. Take scores as well, by all means but it's the group size that counts.

Each one of the above adjustments represents a subject in itself which may be the subject of further writings. There is already plenty written on those subjects and each offers the opinion of the individual author; here you have mine to agree with or not. One thing is for sure, performing these tasks will not do you your equipment or your bank balance any harm and I do believe some benefit always results, you will certainly know more about shooting, your equipment and possibly yourself by the time you've finished.

If you have got this far reading my words, well done I hope they are of some use. To the typist very well done and many thanks.

Brian Williams.