The Little Things

July 15, 2013 - P.J. Reilly

Paying attention to the little things involved in archery can go a long way toward improving your shooting accuracy.

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Pinpoint accuracy. For whitetail bowhunters, it’s the ultimate goal. There are so many things working against the bowhunter trying to get within 40 yards of the wariest creature in the woods — the environment, other hunters, other animals, a deer’s sheer will to survive. One of the few factors we have total control over is how accurately we shoot our bows. True enough, time spent on the practice range is critical in honing our shooting skills to razor sharpness. But releasing hundreds of arrows isn’t always enough. There are many little things that can affect accuracy that can’t be fixed simply by shooting more often. Take care of the following details, and see if you don’t notice your arrow groups shrinking tighter around the bull’s-eye.

Arrows flex when they come off a bow. How much they flex is dictated by the arrow’s spine, in conjunction with your bow’s draw weight and draw length. If the spine is too stiff, the arrow won’t flex enough. If it’s not stiff enough, it will flex too much. Both will adversely impact accuracy. Be sure you’re shooting the right arrow to match your draw weight and draw length. Every arrow manufacturer provides a chart specifying the correct arrow spine for different draw weights and lengths. Stick to the chart. Bowhunters sometimes try to go with superlight arrows in the name of gaining arrow speed. Don’t do it. Stick to the chart.

The human eye is imperfect. Whether you or an archery shop technician installed your arrow rest, it’s possible that it’s not perfectly centered. It might look centered, but if it’s off even slightly, accuracy can be affected and your arrows won’t fly true. Paper tuning is a simple way to make sure your arrow rest is centered. It involves shooting an arrow through a sheet of paper placed a few feet in front of your bow. When the rest is properly centered, your shot with a properly spined arrow should produce a bullet hole perfectly framed with tears caused by your fletchings. If the hole is left or right of the fletching tears, then it’s possible your arrow rest is not centered. Adjust it as necessary until you get a centered hole. If the hole is high or low of the tears, then it’s likely your nocking point is not centered.

If you paper tune your bow to perfection, your fixed-blade, broadhead-tipped arrows should hit the target where your arrows with field tips hit. If they don’t, check to make sure the insert ends of your arrows are straight. Sometimes they can be cut at an angle, meaning anything you screw into the end will sit cockeyed. You probably won’t notice a problem with field tips, but with fixed-blade broadheads inserted, your arrows could start sailing to the right or left. If the arrow ends aren’t straight, remove the inserts and file them flat. Broadhead tuning is a way to tune your bow without shooting through paper. Take a shot with a field tip arrow and then another with a fixedblade broadhead. If the broadhead hits to the right or left — or above or below — the field tip arrow, then adjust your rest and/or nocking point accordingly until the two arrows essentially hit the same spot. Fixedblade broadheads will magnify imperfections in the rest positioning. Bowhunters who shoot expandable broadheads shouldn’t experience any dissimilarities between their field tip arrows and broadhead arrows. That’s the greatest advantage of those types of heads.

Feathers or vanes at the nock end of an arrow are there to stabilize the arrow in flight, so it sails straight and true. Fletching ranges from 1 1/2-inch plastic vanes to 5-inch feathers. The long feathers are going to do the most to stabilize an arrow, so they are the best for accuracy. However, they’re also going to slow the arrow the most, so they rob speed. Also, they can be trouble in rain, as compared to plastic vanes. If your arrows came with certain vanes or feathers already glued on, don’t feel like you have to stick with them. If you find you’re having difficulty producing tight groups, get a fletching jig and play around with different vanes and/or feathers to figure out what produces the best overall performance from your bow. You want a fletching combination that allows your arrow to fly fast enough so that pin gap isn’t excessive, yet stabilizes it enough so you can drive tacks at will.

“Aim small, miss small” was the advice Mel Gibson’s character in “The Patriot” gave to his two sons before the trio bushwhacked a group of British soldiers. Same thing goes for bowhunters. The more exact you can be in aiming, the more precisely your arrows will hit the targets — or the deer. Small sight pins allow for more precise aiming over large ones. The same goes for extending the pin farther away from the bow’s riser. For example, a fat sight pin placed close to the bow’s riser might cover the 10-ring in the center of a bull’s-eye target. Shrink the sight pin and push it away from the riser, and you’ll be able to take aim at specific areas within that 10 ring. Sure, a sight with a short bar that sits close to the riser is compact. And big fiber-optic sight pins are the easiest to see. But try a sight with a longer bar than you’re using and choose smaller pins, and see if your arrow groups don’t tighten. Many manufacturers offer sights with fiber-optic pins in sizes .01, .019, .029 and/or .039. If you’re shooting .039, slim down to .019 and you should be able to aim more precisely. How far out from the riser you want your sight is a matter of preference. Consider maneuverability, especially if you hunt from inside a ground blind, when choosing the length of your sight bar. And if you don’t already use one, have a peep sight tied into your bow string. The peep ensures that you look through your sight exactly the same every time you come to full draw. If your head position varies by even a fraction of an inch from shot to shot, accuracy will suffer.

Stabilizers serve two functions. They soften recoil and they aid in accuracy. Short, stubby stabilizers are going to help with recoil, but they’ll help little with accuracy. For that, you need a longer stabilizer — at least long enough that it extends a couple of inches beyond the bow’s limb pockets. The longer the stabilizer, the more the bow will resist hand torque. Also, the more weight you can concentrate at the end of the stabilizer, the better the bow will perform. You don’t need a 36-incher, like those the pro target archers use, but one 10-12 inches long should be long enough to improve your accuracy without getting in the way in the woods. Add a single disc or a stack of small weights weighing 8-14 ounces to the end for balance.

You’ll never take a good shot with a bow if the string release isn’t smooth and consistent. Mechanical releases have come a long way over the past two decades. Perhaps the one you’re using doesn’t open fast enough, or the trigger is so stiff that you have a tendency to pluck the string upon release. That’s no good. Go to your local pro shop and play around with a few models. Maybe you like a release that straps to your wrist. Maybe you prefer one with a T-handle. There are plenty on the market that offer a variety of adjustments so you basically have a hair trigger for your bow. A fast, crisp, consistent release will help you start breaking nocks in the bull’s-eye. In archery, it’s often the little things that can mean the difference between victory and defeat. For bowhunters, victory is a short, heavy blood trail leading to a dead deer. Defeat is a weak trail and an hours-long search that turns up nothing. Which would you prefer?

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