Posted on July 17, 2012
If You Want To Boost Your Bow’s Performance, Try These Simple, Proven Tips
Let me first come clean and admit that I love buying new bows. During the course of my relatively short life, I’ve probably owned over 15 different bows…enough that I can truly say I’ve lost count. I often find myself drooling over new bow catalogs for months, and then going out and buying the latest and greatest bow available.
After shooting that new bow for a while, I figure it just can’t get any better. But then the next year, the top bow manufacturers come out with something besting my current bow, and I find myself fighting the urge to run out to my favorite bow shop and pick up the just-released model to gain that “edge” that might help me bag the buck of my dreams next fall. I have a feeling I’m not the only techie bowhunter that feels this way.
While shooting the latest and greatest bow on the market might be exhilarating, (and let’s be honest, we kind of like being envy of all our hunting buddies), the truth is that there are many “little” accuracy-enhancers we archers can do to improve the bow we already own. Also, dare I say, but in truth the real “accuracy inhibitor” is usually the shooter and not the bow anyways.
Additionally, during tougher economic times we all have less money to spend, and we need to find new ways to make our dollar go farther. With that said, here are nine accuracy enhancers you can do to maximize the efficiency of your current bow, all at a relatively low cost to you.
Â Fire With Your Back
Pure and simple, back-tension shooting is the biggest advancement average archers could do to increase their accuracy. I’m not talking just slight improvement here, but a substantial gain in proficiency, to the tune of 30-, 50- or even 100-percent gain. Back-tension shooting should not just be another “tool” the archer uses, instead it should be the shooter’s foundation by which all equipment decisions are made.
Simply put, back tension is where the archer “fires” the bow with his/her back muscles and truly has no idea when the shot is going to break. This is not a small undertaking that you change in an afternoon, and it is far too in-depth to go into in this brief article. However, if you are truly committed to making this fundamental change to your shooting, you need to invest in a good resource to “coach” you through it, and allow enough time to ingrain the system into your subconscious.
A good plan is to wait until the off-season, and then get a resource to guide you through the process. A good mentor or coach is invaluable if available and if you can afford it. If you know of one in your area, the investment will return itself many times over. Often times, some of the top 3D and target shooters in your region will be more than happy to help lend their expertise. So don’t be too bashful or intimidated — ask boldly but politely too. Asking for help will only reveal your seriousness for the sport. Other serious shooters will respect that and will usually offer their help.
If you do not have a coach or mentor, then get a good technical archery book. My favorite is Joe Bell’s new book, “Technical Bowhunting.” Not only is Bell a very talented and accomplished archer, he is first and foremost a bowhunter and he writes from that perspective. Besides, the book is packed full of additional info that will help in many other areas of your bowhunting. Read up on his section about back tension, and then start implementing his plan. I’d suggest spending at least four weeks of “blank bale” shooting at a very close distance where you are not at all concerned where your arrow hits the target, but far more enamored with how the shot sequence happens. Then once this process is developed, you can slowly start working into longer distances and being concerned where you arrow hits relative to your aiming point.
Don’t be fooled…converting from “punching” the trigger or “timing” your release to back tension is no easy task and takes a significant investment in time and energy. Don’t make the commitment if you can’t follow through, because it will only serve to complicate your shooting and make it even more frustrating for you. Cost? $25 for Joe’s book, and a significant amount of time and effort.
Change Your Bullets
The carbon-arrow revolution has been a great thing for the most part…increased durability, lighter weight, and flatter trajectory to name a few. However at the same time, this type of arrow shaft does have its share of liabilities, especially the economical-grade all-carbon arrows many bowhunters buy.
The arrow is often the most over-looked aspect of a bowhunting rig. I find it funny in a way, because bowhunters in this regard are so different than rifle hunters. Rifle hunters will often take their favorite .30-06 rifle, which is often times fairly old and well-used, and run 5 to 10 different handloads through the gun during the off season to find the one that is just perfect for the gun and the game they are pursing. Then they’ll tweak and fine tune until their groups are just short of amazing at 300-plus yards.
The average bowhunter, on the other hand, buys the best bow money can buy and then goes out and spends $40 on some “bargain-bin” all-carbon arrows that have the same spine-consistency as fiberglass carp arrows you’d use for bowfishing. This is a huge error and one that can be extremely costly in the accuracy department.
If budget is the biggest concern, then take a hard look at aluminum arrows. Yes, I just said aluminum, and for good reason. Aluminum is the most consistent arrow material bar none in both spine and straightness. Now it may have some other not-so-favorable qualities when it comes to bowhunting, but spine consistency is off the charts, and for me, spine consistency is my number-one factor in a finding a good hunting arrow.
Easton Gamegetter arrows now incorporate the UNI bushing allowing the nocks to be turned without having to break the nock and re-glue. While not camouflaged, or as strong as XX78 arrows, they are an unbelievable value when looking at them from a dollar-to-precision ratio.
Before scoffing at this recommendation, I’d take a good look at what is in the quiver of some of the best shooting pros in the country. More and more professional archers are shooting aluminum not only indoors but also at the country’s top 3D shoots. The reason? The industry’s tightest weight and spine tolerances.
But it isn’t just target archers either. Chuck Adams has used aluminum arrows exclusively throughout his famed bowhunting career, and recently pro shooter and fellow Super Slammer, Darren Collins, has made the switch to aluminum arrows for most of his hunting. While Collins is a big fan of A/C arrows, he’s found a fondness with aluminum that is based in consistent accuracy.
“Besides the extremely tight spine and weight specs, I really like the additional stability in flight I get using XX78 aluminum arrows,” said Collins. “Also, the multitude of spine and weight options seems to give me the best overall consistency in arrow performance out of a variety of bow setups. Accuracy is paramount and no trade off is worth having if your accuracy suffers. With my current setup, my shot-to-shot accuracy is as good if not better than it has ever been.”
If money is not as big of a factor, my top choice is any Easton A/C (aluminum/composite) hunting arrow. I’ve shot both the venerable ACC and the newer Axis Full Metal Jacket with superb results. My favorite of the two is probably the Axis FMJ. Not only is it $30 less expensive per dozen than the ACC shaft, but I like the heavier mass weight and smaller diameter features this shaft offers. To me, these elements make a better hunting arrow, delivering deeper penetration, more in-flight arrow stability, and a greater resistance to wind drift. Cost: $40 to $65 for aluminum, and $115 to $140 for A/C arrows.
If arrows are the number one overlooked aspect to a shooting rig, strings come in a very close second. Randy Ulmer is probably the most lethal and effective hunting archer I know. Year after year, he consistently tags once-in-a-lifetime animals, most often unguided and on public land. Here’s what Randy has to say about strings.
“The bow’s string travels faster, moves further, is more complex and receives more abuse than any other component of the bow,” said Ulmer. “I do not understand why bowhunters give it so little thought. A bowstring must be made with extreme precision to function consistently and reliably for thousands upon thousands of shots. I, for one, am extremely particular about my bow’s string.”
Randy hunts and shoots exclusively with Winner’s Choice bowstrings. It’s hard to argue with his results. So why spend money on a high-end bowstring? In a word—consistency. Zero string creep and no peep rotation all equal more consistency, which breeds better accuracy. I’ve tried Mathews Z-Twist and Barracuda strings, FUSE custom strings, and Winner’s Choice. I have to agree with Randy, that the consistency of a Winner’s Choice string is tough to beat. A new Winner’s Choice string and cable will run you about $85, which is really only $25 to $40 more than what an average string would cost. This small additional investment has huge payback potential. Try a set the next time you replace your string and cables, and you’ll be able to tell a big difference. Cost? $85 to 90 or about $25 to $40 additional over average strings.
Perfect the Release
Jerry Carter of Carter Enterprises has become a good friend of mine. Not only is Jerry an accomplished target archer and bowhunter, but he makes what many would say is the best releases on the market. The price tag of a good Carter release is north of $150, but after you use one for a couple weeks (in conjunction with back-tension shooting), your shooting will undoubtedly improve, and you’ll realize that similar to good optics this release is worth every penny.
The true crispness of a Carter is one of those small gems in archery that truly has to be experienced to believe. Carter index-finger releases are the best releases I’ve used while incorporating back-tension style shooting under hunting situations. Zero travel and heavy trigger pulls make Jerry’s releases ideal for firing the bow with your back muscles. My long-time favorite is the Carter Two-Shot, although Jerry’s latest invention, the Like Mike, is nothing short of spectacular. Its nine-pound trigger pull has certainly helped my shooting accuracy, and back tension execution. The extra trigger pull resistance without sacrificing travel has helped me shoot significantly better with gloves on, which I always wear when hunting.
If spending nearly $200 on a release is just plain out of your budget, take a good look at TRU Ball and Scott releases. They are both fantastic choices, and I’ve used them successfully to take lots of game and for target shooting. At about $75 or so depending on the model, these brands also have a strong accuracy-to-dollar ratio. Cost? $75 to $195
Tweak Your Wings
Oddly enough, fletching has been getting its fair-share of notoriety these days, mostly in the form of super-short, high-profile Blazer-style hunting vanes. While I too have experimented with AAE Max vanes, this section is less about what vane and is more focused on how the vanes get onto your arrows.
I know we are all busy these days, but building your own arrows has some huge upside potential. The first step is to get a quality fletching jig. My favorite over the last decade has been the Bitzenburger jig. At $75 the payback time period is quite short, as any good retail location charges $10 to $15 more per dozen for fletched arrows.
The Bitzenburger jig is infinitely adjustable and built to last, which allows me to try many different types of vanes and feathers for many years. The two biggest benefits to building my own arrows is I can experiment with different types of vanes, and I can put a radical helical on my arrows. This allows me to shoot a smaller vane, yet still control my favorite fixed-blade broadheads with ease. Additionally, I can handle and experiment with any vane, and I can repair and try new arrows as well without having to take them to my pro shop—a process that is not only slow, but also costly.
My favorite vane is the Flex-Fletch 360. I like the somewhat longer vane than is popular right now, because it also has a lower profile while having the same exposed surface area. This allows me two distinct benefits over today’s super-short hunting vanes. First, its longer design allows for more helical or “wrap” around the arrow, which gives my arrow better control with fixed-blade broadheads. Second, its lower profile is great for additional clearance through a drop-away arrow rest, without sacrificing the necessary surface area to steer the arrow towards its intended target.
The other plus side is it’s softer and more forgiving (both on the arrow rest and in flight if it hits an obstruction), which is a trade off I’ll take all day long in the hunting world. I always prefer to err on the side of forgiveness over speed or trends. My favorite fletching glue is Easton’s new Quick Bond Adhesive. The viscous glue is easy to handle, dries quickly, requires very small amounts, and literally welds the vane to the arrow for the best adhesion of any glue I’ve ever tried. One bottle should last you a year or two if stored properly. Cost: $75 for jig and $20 to $30 for fletching and glue.
I’m a big fan of increasing front-of-center (FOC) on my hunting arrows. This is one of those “finishing touches” that will help shrink groups another inch or more at 50 yards and beyond. Since I like to shoot smaller, more compact 100-grain fixed-blade broadheads over the slightly larger 125-grain counterparts, my favorite way of accomplishing extra FOC is with Easton’s new brass HIT break-off inserts. By breaking off the end point and reducing the insert from 75 grains to 50 grains, I’m able to shoot 100-grain broadheads with the 50-grain inserts and bump my FOC to nearly 15 percent. This has done wonders for shrinking my groups on fixed-blade broadheads in particular, yet it doesn’t rob me of too much arrow speed either. Cost: About $10 per dozen.
Get a Grip
Not many things can wreck a bow’s accuracy quicker than a bad grip and hand torque after the shot. Even the most super-tuned bow with a perfect, back-tension surprise release will be inherently innaccurate if the shooter applies torque at the moment of the bow propelling the string and arrow forward. The good news is most bow manufacturers have made great strides in the last few years when it comes to bow grips, and often the factory grip has a multitude of different options. Hoyt’s Pro-Fit grip is a perfect example, which gives the shooter a handful of choices. I prefer the full wood grip for hunting cold weather, while in warm weather I remove the grip entirely and wrap the riser handle with camo athletic tape to reduce the slippery feel of the bare metal and give some insulating features.
While Mathews makes a great, smooth-shooting bow, I’ve never shot their factory wood grips very well. To me “feel” is one of the most important aspects of a hunting bow, and if it doesn’t feel right it doesn’t shoot right for me. The first thing I do on all of my Mathews bows is to pop off the wood handle and then wrap the riser in camo athletic tape. This bare riser feel works great for me, but is too slim for a lot of people, plus it certainly lacks insulating qualities for hunting late season.
However, Mathews’ new Focus grip is the answer so many loyal Mathews shooters have been waiting for. The new grip not only has a warmer feel than the bare metal riser, but it also has a single “rib” running down the center of the grip. Not only does this centerline give you a reference for center-shot tuning, but it helps reduce torque even further. As additional torque is applied from the shooter, the smaller centerline reduces its affect because there is less surface area to push against, thus the shooter applies less torque.
Another great option for Mathews shooters is the Shrewd grip. This long-standing grip maker has been a top choice of hunters and target archers for years, and I know it is also the personal favorite of Bow & Arrow Editor Joe Bell. If you have an old Mathews bow that you just love to shoot, go out and give either one of these grips a try, you might be surprised how much this small investment improves your hunting accuracy. Cost? About $50
Balancing your bow at full draw is another critical factor in hunting accuracy. After experimenting with many different types of arrow quivers, I keep coming back to a two-piece bow-mounted quiver. While not perfect, it works best for my style of hunting. One of the downsides with this choice is the significant amount of weight that a well-built quiver and half-dozen arrows add to the side of your bow. If you try to counter by adding pressure to your bow grip at full draw, you will apply torque. Offsetting this weight is a key to long-distance accuracy.
There are a couple ways to do this: One, get a hip quiver. Many top hunters go this route, including editor Joe Bell. I’ve tried this option with no luck, which means I need to offset the quiver and arrow weight with corresponding aft weight. I used to take note from target shooters and actually used a V-bar on my hunting bow. This was ideal for bow balance, because it allowed me to get a significant amount of weight out away and back from the bow. Weight further away from the bow’s core axis will give it better balance.
However, this type of stabilizer isn’t exactly compact, and that is the main reason I’ve migrated away from this setup. Now I use a simple Doinker offset bracket, and I mount my stabilizer right into the bracket. This bracket also gives me more options to add additional weight to the backside of the bracket if necessary. While my current setup does not completely offset the entire weight of a quiver full of arrows, it does a good job of giving me solid balance in a simple, hunter-ready design that still allows for great downrange accuracy. Cost: $20-$40
Fill ’Em Up
If you hunt with a bow-mounted quiver, you darn well better shoot most of the summer with a full quiver. I like to go a step further and shoot with one arrow out of my quiver, as this is the way most of your first-chance, critical shots will occur in the field. Call me crazy, but I can tell the difference between four arrows and five, so it’s best my shooting most closely resembles real-world hunting situations. If you overlook this simple but crucial technique, you will shake your head in wonder as to why your groups are getting bigger as you outfit your bow for opening day. And we all know how damaging it is to a bowhunter’s psyche to question your shooting confidence a few days before heading afield. Play like you practice, and your hunting outcomes will be more favorable. Cost: $0
So while it’s certainly common to want to upgrade to a new bow, you might want to first take a hard look at how to boost the accuracy of your current rig. You might be surprised how much your accuracy increases, and find yourself shooting better than ever before with your old bow that you thought needed to be replaced. Plus, there aren’t many things in the world as priceless as beating a good friend in a local 3D tournament with your old bow, after he just went out and spent a small fortune for an entirely new setup.
Technical Bowhunting by Joe Bell
Easton Arrows, Glue and Inserts
Winner’s Choice Bowstrings
BY JOSH SANDEN