How to Paper Tune Your Bow

In my broadhead tuning feature, I wrote about the steps required for tuning your bow and your arrows. In this column, I want to go into more detail about the important process of paper tuning. This is the quick technique to make the adjustments needed for laser-straight arrow flight.

The Paper-Tuning Fixture

You don’t need a fancy fixture to properly paper tune your bow. Although many pro shops have elaborate frames dedicated to paper tuning, you can get by with a simple cardboard box. Cut a hole lesser than a piece of copier paper in the floor of a cardboard box. You can tape the paper over the hole and shoot through the box. Set it on something to meet the correct height in front of the target and you are in business.

The other choice is even simpler; just buy a Paper Tune-It kit from.30-06 Outdoors ($11.95). The equipment comes with a pre-made cardboard frame to hold your paper and 10 sheets of tuning paper with pre-printed instructions for how to correct imperfect tears.

Shooting Distance

You need a fresh shot through the paper with no external interference. Place the tuning paper at least 3 feet from the target so there is no chance the arrow will hit the target before it goes all the way through the paper. Stand or sit about six feet from the paper when shooting your bow. Be sure the paper is almost at shoulder height so you can use regular shooting form. This is important.

Shot Execution

Since paper tuning is the experiment both your bow’s setup and your shooting form, you need to focus on making perfect shots or you will be chasing your tail, adjusting your bow when your shooting type is actually the problem. If you take the grip when you trigger the release or punch the trigger, you are likely to see tears even if your bow set up perfectly. Keep your grip very relaxed all the way through the shot and hold a steady follow-through until the arrow hits the target.

Understanding Your Tears

After the look at the paper, post- shot, you will see a rounded hole where the field point went through and few types of the tear caused by the vanes and the last part of the arrow. The value of paper tuning comes down to your ability to read these tears and make the correct adjustments to your bow and shooting form to cut them. Your target is around “bullet” hole with 3 narrow cuts radiating outward caused by the vanes. Such a hole results from an arrow that is flying true, with the neck following directly behind the point. Any difference in this perfect flight will rob you of accuracy and penetration when hunting.

Tail-High Tears

There are 4 causes your bow may be throwing a tail high arrow. 1st, the nock point may be too high on the string. 2nd, the rest may be too low. 3rd, the arrow’s vanes may be hitting the rest, causing the arrow to deflect up. And 4th, the cam timing of the bow may be off, causing the nock to move up as the string moves forward.

When a modern compound bow is a setup correctly, the arrow will form a 90-degree angle with the string and will cross the rest right at the center of the rest-mounting hole. You can create small adjustments to the nock point to bring the tail down (1⁄8 inch at a time), but do not make huge adjustments. If you have to make large adjustments to see a change in the paper tears, the problem lies elsewhere: cam timing or vain contact with the rest.

If the vanes are hitting the rest, you must see stuffs or markings on one of the vanes. If not, you probably don’t have contact. But, to be sure, try rotating the nock on the arrow to change the orientation of the vanes compared to the rest. That can make a difference. If you can not remove contact this way, think a similar test or increasing the tension on your activation cord (on a drop-away rest) to see if that helps by getting the launcher out of the way earlier.

If the tail-high tear persists after adjusting the nicking point and eliminating contact, the issue likely involves the bow’s cam timing. Unfortunately, I don’t have room here to dive into this subject, but I will cover it in a companion video on the website. Adjusting cam timing can be complex, and unless you know what you are doing, you should just take the bow to a good archery shop for help.

Tail-Low Tears

Tail-low arrow flight is rare and usually the result of a bow with incorrect cam timing. It is also possible your nocking point is too low or your rest too high, but you can rule that out very quickly by just moving your nocking point up 1⁄8 inch to 1/4 inch. Again, if the prognosis is cam timing, your best solution is to seek professional help.

Tail-Left and Trail-Right Tears

Sideways paper tears can be tough to eliminate because they have four possible causes, only two of which are easy to fix. I will start with the easy ones. First, move your rest in toward.

The bow if the arrow is tearing right or out from the bow if it is tearing left. Sometimes you get some strange interaction with sideways string movement and your results don’t make sense. For that reason, you should also try moving the rest slightly the opposite direction just to rule out some oddball harmonics in the string.

If that doesn’t fix it, consider an arrow that has a different spine – or just a different brand. I have bows that produce good arrow flight with one make of arrow and not with others, even though they are supposedly the same stiffness. A little experimenting in the archery shop can eliminate a lot of frustration.

Now for the hard fixes. Sideways string travel can cause left or right rips that are impossible to fix, short of making mechanical changes to the bow to assure that the cams start out vertical and stay vertical when you draw the string. This is a hard fix for most bow hunting, it is time to visit the pro shop for help. But before you do, make sure your shooting form isn’t the cause of these side- ways tears.

If you flinch during the shot, grab the grip when you release, use a grip position that creates torque on the riser or apply side pressure to the string with your release, will end up with erratic arrow flight – normally sideways paper tears.

Unfortunately, you have to work through your shooting form with great attention to detail before you can ultimately say the problem lies with the bow. This can take weeks, even months, as you work to improve your form. I have chased tuning problems for weeks only to finally realize it was something I was doing. Sure, I learned a lot about archery in the process, but I also pulled out a lot of hair!

Tuning a bow is not a dark science, but it does take some effort, and quite possibly, some expert help. But the payoff is worth the investment. Seeing your arrows fly like lasers is the true magic of archery.