10 Rules for Shooting at an Outdoor Archery Range

If you are new to using an outdoor archery range, please read this. Here is a link to ALL of the outdoor ranges available to you here in Northern California:

Northern California Ranges and Shops

I took the pictures at my “home” outdoor range, the Redwood Bowmen Club in Oakland, CA. If you would like an expert personal coaching session at this range, contact Stephen Williams:
(510) 686-3392

1. Donate the requested range use fee

All outdoor ranges whether public or private have very limited income streams. They survive on member dues, income from “novelty” tournaments, and day use donations. All have some form of “honor system” donation receptacle like the one pictured below.

Please think ahead and make sure you bring at least $5.00 cash with you when you come to use the range.

2. Read and follow the rules

Rules keep people safe and establish etiquette that promotes an enjoyable experience for all. Regardless of how fun and easy social media and Hollywood make archery appear, bows and arrows are weapons that can hurt people. Read the rules. Follow them. If you don’t know what they mean, ASK SOMEONE. Please keep archery safe and enjoyable for all of us for a long time to come.

ALWAYS follow the directional markers on the course; NEVER walk backward. Depending on the range, you will probably need to walk about 1 to 2 miles up and down hills before a safe exit presents itself. Plan accordingly – plan on it taking about an hour to safely get through the course (as much as twice that if it is crowded). My advice: make your first pass at the course exploratory – maybe only shoot one arrow at each target. This way you’ll know better how to plan your trip the next time you return, and how courses are laid out in general. And to repeat: ALWAYS follow these markers and NEVER walk backward:

3. Prepare for what you are about to do

Most outdoor ranges provide the opportunity to hike in the woods and shoot a bow at targets in a variety of conditions. How cool is that?! But think about it before you go: Hiking. Outdoors. Temperature. Bugs (mosquitoes & tics!). Poison Oak. A short prep list before you go is: hiking boots or shoes; appropriate cold or hot weather clothing; sunscreen; water; snacks; bug repellent; how to identify and avoid poison oak.

4. Exercise a back packers garbage code – pack it in, pack it out

On the day that I roved the course and took these photos I was hoping I would not find anything to show you, but here they are:

Yep, two people apparently thought it was OK to leave plastic drink bottles laying about, even though there are trash receptacles within 10 feet of each of these bottles. C’MON MAN – seriously!? OK maybe it’s asking too much to ask you to pack your own garbage out, I get that, but please at least put it in the trash buckets that the volunteer members empty as part of their volunteer donated hours to maintain the range. Please show some respect. Oh, and by the way:

Please pack out your own damaged arrows. Clubs, ranges, and archery shops do not have a super secret recycling program for damaged arrows; they are just as much of a pain for us to dispose of as they are for you – so be responsible for your own arrows.

5. Found arrows are not subject to the “finders keepers” rule

There is an unspoken rule among the members of the archery community: when you find an arrow, take it to the club house or shack or whatever. All outdoor ranges have a “lost arrow” bucket that you can look through when you come to the range. We all know when you look for your own lost arrow, you’ll never find it, but you WILL find someone else’s. If the club house or shack is not open, if there are no club members about, lay the arrow on the alter, er, doorstep, and they’ll know what to do with it. Find out when members will be around if you want to retrieve your own lost arrow.

6. Appreciate and be grateful for the opportunity to use the range

As already mentioned, outdoor archery ranges are run and maintained by people just like you with full time jobs and families and obligations. They donate time to making the range available for public use. Maybe you donate your time elsewhere – cool. Maybe you don’t have time to donate to causes – that’s cool too. There are people at these ranges who take time-consuming positions of leadership, and people who simply do stuff that needs to be done. Every aspect of the range is attended to by a giving human being – every single detail. So please, think twice before you complain about the targets being shot up, the foliage not being trimmed to your liking, or the target butts being in bad condition. If it matters to you, join the club and make a difference. Otherwise, simply appreciate and be grateful for the opportunity to hike in the woods and shoot your bow at a place that other people donate their time to maintain.

7. Shoot only a distance that you can handle; avoid the temptation to do stupid stuff

With one local exception, outdoor ranges have a “static” practice range where everyone stands on the same shooting line but shoots targets at varying distances to that line. This makes it easy for you to learn how to hit targets at increasingly longer distances as you build your skills, which is something you should do. The outdoor range walking courses are set up like golf courses – you hike on trail and shoot at targets uphill, downhill, across ravines, between trees, etc. VERY FUN AND COOL. These courses are set up according to a structured international scoring system, click HERE if you want to know about that. To learn about it first hand, ask to be a “guest” at your local range’s “Club Shoot” on the 2nd Sunday of every month. If you are in the Oakland, CA area, contact Stephen Williams for a personal introduction (see intro paragraph above).

The courses are set up with “shooting stakes” (positions) at distances from 10 yards to 80 yards. Here is a picture of what you will typically see when you walk the course:

This is target no. 1 on the “Upper Course” of the Redwood Bowmen range. You’ll notice different colored markers (red, yellow, blue, white) they all mean something different – but you don’t care about these. Keep walking toward the target and you will always find a marker like these:

These are obviously 15 and 20 yard stakes. These are called “Cub Stakes”, meaning they are the stakes that young folks shoot from when they formally compete. It’s an unfortunate name – I like to call them beginner or recreational stakes. They will never be more than 30 yards from the target. Shoot these and only these if you want to avoid losing and breaking arrows, and if you want to build your confidence. Remember, an arrow sailing over the top of the target butt on an outdoor range will end up in the bushes or under the loose top layer of ground foliage, and, very likely in a poison oak bush that you might not recognize. Shoot only the distance at which you can get your arrow to hit a 4′ x 4′ square. Enjoy the hike and the joy of shooting your bow while doing so, but be smart about it – you don’t HAVE to shoot the longer stakes. It’s super duper tempting to “see if I can hit the 50 yard target” – so be it, just be prepared for the consequences.

Which leads us to “don’t do stupid stuff.” I’m grateful that Hollywood keeps stoking the archery fire by depicting archers in just about every single super hero film and many action films. I REALLY do. But, the stuff that those archers do in those movies is HOLLYWOOD, it’s NOT real life and it’s not anything you could ever do or would be allowed to do for example in MY range. And you shouldn’t try any of those stunts at an outdoor range simply because you’re alone out there and no one is watching. Here’s why. Trying to do stunt archery ALWAYS results in stray arrows. Stray arrows leave the safe haven area that has been established for you to shoot in. Most if not all ranges are on park land, and some are within an arrow’s flight of the general public. DO NOT JEOPARDIZE OUR ABILITY TO ENJOY THIS WONDERFUL PAST TIME BY DOING STUPID STUFF. Arrows stuck high in trees, in telephone poles, on hiking trails in close proximity is NOT FUNNY. IT’S NOT. If you want to do that stuff do so on private property – find someone with a ranch in a rural area and make friends with them and go do it there, but DON’T MESS AROUND ON PUBLIC ARCHERY RANGES.

8. Put something in front of the target butt if looking for stray arrows

It’s really hard not to try and hit those far away targets. It’s just too tempting. So knowing that you can’t stop yourself, come prepared to keep yourself safe when you end up searching for arrows behind or around the 4′ X 4′ target butt. Bring a brightly colored jacket with you. Drape it over the front of the target butt while you rummage in the poison oak, and most importantly, NEVER DO THIS IF YOU ARE OUT THERE ALONE. LET THAT ARROW GO. In addition to having a brightly colored jacket draped over the target, there should always be ANOTHER PERSON standing there watching and ready in a heart beat to yell “NOT CLEAR!” to anyone who might walk up TO the shooting stake for the target that you missed. If you go out on the course alone, let that arrow go. Hopefully the person who finds it 2 months later read this blog post and gets the “no finders keepers” rule.

9. Respect other archers desire for focus and meditation

Archery is meditative for many people. For others, outdoor ranges provide the opportunity to more seriously practice and prepare for upcoming tournaments. And of course it can be very social too. Many folks new to archery are excited and can’t wait to talk with others about it, ask questions and learn. However, be mindful about approaching people at outdoor ranges; those people may be there to do their zen thing or want to really focus on something. A good rule of thumb: if you see someone and they don’t make eye contact or immediately jump at the chance to start a conversation, leave them be.

10. Properly Supervise Children

Archery programs for kids are few and far between – it takes a special kind of person to teach kids, and the student/teacher ratio needs to be very high (like 1:1) to keep kids (and others!) safe while learning or participating in archery. If you go buy a bow from Big 5 and haul your kids to an outdoor range without you or them having first had a lesson, you are creating some bad circumstances. Archery is not something you should just turn kids loose to do. If you bring young ones to an outdoor range, follow the 1:1 student/teacher ratio rule – that means you should not expect to shoot while a young one is getting up to speed, ESPECIALLY if you bring more than one little person. As kids get older and develop the proper focus and maturity less supervision is required.

An Alternative Indoor Barebow Setup

We are deep into “Indoor Season” and all the compound archers have re-tuned their bows for fat shafts, or are shooting their 2nd “indoor bow.” Some Barebow archers do the same with a slightly different twist: they tune for fat, heavy shafts that will not only “cut lines” but also lowers their point of aim if gapping or reduces the crawl length if string walking.

So let’s review the Barebow strategy. Slow the arrow speed down for a better aiming reference, and improve the chances of catching a line with a fat shaft. Restated: overcome the force curve of a 30-50 pound bow by shooting a big heavy shaft and increase chances for cutting a line on shots with less than perfect execution. Great strategy!

Here’s an alternative though; one that I stumbled upon in my journey to control target panic.

For me, getting control over target panic meant starting with mastering indoor 20 yard archery. I narrowed my target panic down to three controllable issues. One, I flinch when I have to get too precise with aiming. Two, I freeze/lock when I have to make elevation adjustments. Three, too much (for me) draw weight leads to control issues that trigger target panic. I won’t get into all the target panic “cures” I have tried, but I can tell you that the breadth of it’s manifestations was far greater than these three issues, so I’m in a good place!

With three “variables” to control for in solving my problem I did these three things:

  1. I lowered the draw weight to something that would allow me to shoot COMFORTABLY and WITH CONTROL, but that had enough tension to promote a good release. If the draw weight/tension is too low for an archer’s particular strength, a good release is thwarted.
  2. I shot thousands of arrows at a blank bale and a target at 20 yards to establish what was a natural, comfortable posture; I established THE posture that my body naturally settles into, THE posture that would be compromised if I had to make an elevation adjustment.
  3. I meticulously and tediously shot dozens of different shaft types, spines, and lengths at 20 yards with both feathers and vanes and different lengths and point weights to figure out WHICH COMBINATION would hit the gold while in that natural comfortable posture. I of course had to fiddle with draw weight/tiller adjustments, center shot, and plunger tension on my ILF bow to get the windage right once the elevation variable was established. In the end, it LITERALLY came down to increasing the arrow speed on my chosen shaft by using low profile vanes instead of feathers – it got THAT precise.

Important side note: for me, establishing a 20 yard “point on” is NOT a good thing considering one of my target panic variables. Everything described in no. 3 above was done in service to “lolipopping” the arrow point below the spot: I aim “peripherally” on the line between the black and the blue ring – my brain can do this without triggering the flinch response.

So, let’s bracket the target panic aspect of this discussion for a moment and look at this as an alternative indoor Barebow strategy.

Existing/Common Strategy

  • Slow down the arrow speed of a 30-50 bow for a better gap/string crawl at 20 yards.
  • Shoot fat shafts for optimal line cutting benefits.

Alternative Strategy

  • Slow down the BOW speed (draw weight) for a better gap/string crawl at 20 yards.
  • Shoot standard diameter (v. skinny) carbon or aluminum shafts (e.g. shafts that fit a 9/32, 5/16, or 19/64 point) for sufficient line cutting benefits.

Many seasoned archers will tell you that a “fast, flat trajectory” enables top scores. I believe that is true for field archery where one needs to hit targets from 10 – 80 yards. It’s also true for unmarked 3D field shoots. I’m not so sure that it’s true for the fixed indoor distance of 20 yards.

An archer who can shoot comfortably and with control is an archer who is going to be happy with their results. This alternative strategy admittedly won’t work for outdoor field archery where one must physically adjust to countless variables. In fact I don’t suggest going down this path if your ultimate goal is outdoor Field Archery. But it could work for fixed distance long range shooting.

Overcoming Target Think

By Aaron Buchanan

For the past couple of years I’ve had the privilege of helping Nico teach some beginning archery classes, and I’ve watched many of those students pursue it ardently as a hobby.  In some of those archers, including myself, I’ve noticed some things.

All beginners start at 7 yards on the blue 40cm targets.  Those that come back, and I’m happy to say that many do, shoot the same blue targets at 10 yards.  Many become pretty good at 10 yards, with tight groups and good scores.  I’ve seen several of these archers post record scores and earn 1st place ribbons.  However, a small percentage of those skilled archers do terribly at 15 or 20 yards, and never seem to do as well at longer distance.  More than one person has given up archery completely because 20 yards was too far out of their comfort zone they had built for themselves at 10 yards.

I had issues myself when I first started shooting on the 40cm colored FITA target.  It felt like the colors were messing with my head, making it difficult to group, and I’ve had conversations with other archers who had similar problems during their transition to the color target.  My first practices for the Flint round were difficult because of the changes from black-on-white field target to the almost completely black hunter target.

I have seen archers who are very good at paper targets, but can’t seem to do well at all on a 3D target.  Many persevere and get better, while some stop shooting 3D.

I’ve seen indoor archers who don’t do well outdoors, either at the practice range or on field courses.  The longer distances, uneven terrain, uneven lighting, uneven footing, and the general exertion of field archery can be invigorating to some folks, and just too much for others to deal with. If I’m practicing intently for a specific match like the State Indoor, I notice that my ability to shoot any other kind of target diminishes significantly.

This unwillingness or inability to adapt to other types of targets is a kind of rigid mental mindset that I’ve been calling Target Think.

Overcoming Target Think is an individual journey for each archer, but I’ve suggested a few exercises to some students depending on their needs:

An indoor shooter that hasn’t moved beyond 10 yards can be encouraged to try 15 yards.  Nico’s Group Therapy is a great way to transition to 15 and 20 yards.  A 9 inch cardboard disk is pinned to a bale at the upper position 15 yards away.  The goal is group consistently in a smaller, and smaller group, without the added pressure of scoring.  Once an archer is able to group all five arrows on the disk several times, the disk is moved to the lower position.  After that is mastered, the exercise is repeated with a 6 inch disk.  After confidence is built at 15 yards, the same Group Therapy can be done at 20 yards.  Transitioning from Group Therapy to a scoring target at 20 yards is much easier than going directly from 10 yards to 20 yards.

Group Therapy is also useful for an indoor shooter who has fixated on scoring targets and is uncomfortable shooting anything else.  An archer who hasn’t tried the Ohlone 3D League, or is frustrated by their 3D scores, can benefit from some Group Therapy work.

An intensification of Group Therapy is using the gold replacement stickers (for FITA targets) on the cardboard disks.  This adds a “aim small, miss small” element to help tighten shooting form and group even tighter.

After the different distances are confidently achieved, varying the distance between arrows is something I like to do when the shop isn’t crowded.  I place the small cardboard disks at 10, 15, and 20 yards and ‘string walk’ between stations, placing an arrow on each disk.  The changing distances help keep my mental targeting computer from becoming rigidly set on a specific setting.

For outdoor shooting I use the Redwood Bowmen range as an excellent example.

The practice area has target bales at 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, and 35 yards in the regular area.  This is an outstanding place to overcome any uneasiness about shooting longer than 10 yards, learn the proper aim points for those distances, and gain confidence.  Longer distances of 40, 50, 60, 70, and 80 yards can be shot at the other practice range right next to it.

After gaining experience at longer ranges, archers should try the 14 target Open Course, and the 14 target Lower Course.  Distances can vary from 10 yards to 101 yards, with different distance stakes for different tastes and abilities.  Nico has a terrific write up about them in his post 10 Rules For Shooting At An Outdoor Archery Range.  Shooting these courses will give an archer experience in varying distances, terrain, and footing.  Shooting the Hill Course adds more challenges: shooting uphill, downhill, and between trees.

For added challenge, and to avoid Target Think, some of the targets on these courses have a “fan” or a “walkup” set of stakes.  A “fan” has three or four red stakes at the same distance from the target.  The goal is to shoot one arrow from each stake, yet still group your arrows on the target.  A “walkup” has several red stakes, each at a different distance from the target.  The goal is the same, shoot one arrow from each stake.

The Western Roundup, a 3D match put on by Redwood Bowmen every June, uses the same courses but with 3D foam animals in front of the target bales.  This is a great introduction to outdoor 3D shooting.

The Winter Hunt, a 3D match put on by Diablo Bowmen, is much more challenging.  The 3D targets can be obscured by trees, rocks, or bushes, and the shooting stakes are often placed in a way that causes the archer to kneel or stretch a bit to shoot around an obstacle.  This year the weather added even more challenge.

I’ve listed all of these matches and exercises as ways to overcome Target Think, but they can also be used increase an archers skill set, and even more importantly to add variety.  Shooting the same paper target at the same distance all the time can get a little boring.​

Understanding Dynamic Arrow Spine Characteristics

By Paul Fender

Having nothing better to do, one day, I wanted to look at the vibrations that are created in an arrow upon release. I knew that I couldn’t really test or view what happens to an arrow during its entire flight. I realized though that I could test a bench top “simulation.” Using a digital storage oscilloscope (DSO), and an RPM sensor out of an old automotive electronic ignition, I was able to precisely time how long different arrows vibrated when I plucked on them and set them to vibrating. I knew the sensor would be sensitive to the steel of the arrow’s point.

A side note here. I realize that my little test is not real life. But I believe that it is reasonable to figure that the arrow’s behavior on the test bench would at least mimic real life and give us a good clue as to what is going on.

The pic “The Test Rig” shows my whole set up.

“Sensor” is the sensor I salvaged out of an old Honda distributor.

“Oscilloscope” is my Snap-On DSO. (I tell you this thing is way cool.)

And “Fixed Point” just shows that I simply clamped down one end of the test arrows.

After an evening of sorting through my wood arrows I was able to find two arrows that had the same static spine and same weight (within 10 grains) one parallel, one tapered. Both had the same point weight. I made sure to clamp each arrow so that they both had equal free lengths and same distance from the sensor. Making sure to pull each arrow down the same distance each time, all I had to do was release it and I was able to “see” the vibrations on the DSO and time them. I did this 10 times for each arrow and took an average.

“Parallel” is a snapshot taken from the test run with the parallel shaft and is an example of what the DSO was showing me.

Well folks, sure enough, there is a difference! The parallel shafts vibrated an average of .75 second LONGER than the tapered shafts! That was encouraging, so just for the heck of it I tested a few more different arrows but without bothering to match weight and spine. Naturally there started to be some overlap on some of the arrow’s results. However even without controlling for spine or total weight, as long as the arrows were correctly positioned and had the same point weight, it got even better with the tapered shafts vibrating for 1.25 second less time on average.

Not wanting to go too far afield though, here are the average vibration times from the “controlled” shafts.

Tapered – 6.1 seconds

Parallel – 6.8 seconds

“Taped Harmonics” is a sample of what I was seeing when testing the tapered shafts. This is where it gets interesting, so I highlighted the waveform in red. Notice how the amplitude, the signal strength, gets weaker and then stronger in ever diminishing waves until the vibrations are damped out. I believe that this is an important clue as to WHY tapered shafts recover from paradox faster.

One time … band camp….I learned that things can vibrate at resonant frequencies. A so called “standing wave” is created. The pic “Standing Wave” is an illustration of a cylinder resonating at different standing wave resonant frequencies.

Standing waves tend to be self-reinforcing and can persist for very long periods of time even without putting more energy into whatever is vibrating. I have a hypothesis, (which I doubt I could ever prove) that the unique vibration of a tapered shaft is caused by what is called “destructive interference.” The pic “Destructive Interference” illustrates the idea.

The arrow attempts to fall into a resonant frequency, but as the vibrations travel up and down the shaft, when they hit the beginning of the taper some of the vibration energy is reflected back against the incoming wave. Not only does the effect get greater and greater due to the taper, but the taper also helps make the reflection more and more out of phase with the incoming vibrations. The reflections are chaotic and create destructive interference. The transition from regular cylinder to tapered cone helps to actively damp outstanding wave vibrations.

So although tapered shafts DO recover from paradox faster than parallel shafts, there is what I would call the “Speed Problem.” Although the addition of fletching must have an effect on paradox recovery, if an arrow is leaving a bow at say 180 fps, can an arrow recover inside of 10 yards? 20 yards? With my test method I was seeing vibrations persist from 4 to 6 seconds! That could translate into a rather large distance with the velocities we’re working with. I’ll have to see if I can figure out a way to look into that.

Now we do have lots of people reporting observations of better penetration with tapered shafts. I’m perfectly willing to accept those observations as being accurate. But I’m just not sure it’s because of superior paradox recovery. Rather, at this point I would ascribe that to the tapered shafts allowing a finer state of tune. The taper shape imposed on wood, which is inherently variable, helps each shaft more nearly behave like its mates. The initial flex created upon release occurs at more nearly identical spots on the different shafts. Its rather poor resolution but you if you look closely at the pic “Tapered Flex” you can see the flex in the arrow taking place near the beginning of the taper on that shaft.

So, if we have a bunch of wood arrows that all behave more nearly the same we’re also getting more consistent results during tuning. Better tune leads to a better, cleaner, launch, so paradox or not, the arrow is still travelling more nearly straight and impacts the target (animal) squarely.

It was later suggested that I look at carbon arrows. After all everybody knows that carbon recovers faster. Fine, but where’s the proof?

OK, these results will surely upset the apple cart. I went ahead and used what I could find. I also included an aluminum arrow. Using the same methods that I used with the wood arrows, I got the following average vibration duration times.

Carbon GT 600 Ultralight – 8.1 seconds
Easton Carbon One 780 – 9.8 seconds
Aluminum Easton 1816 Platinum Plus – 11.25 seconds

These are the only explanations I can come up with for these results.

1) Since the carbons do damp faster than aluminum, and aluminum was THE shaft of choice when carbon shafts first appeared, it became accepted that carbon was better across the board, although that is not strictly true.

2) I need to test high dollar A/C/E’s and A/C/C’s. They may have led to the belief that carbons damp faster. Being 2 dissimilar materials bonded together I would bet that they do damp out vibrations faster.

It does make sense to me in that the super regular microscopic arrangement of the carbon fibers would tend to support the creation of harmonics and standing waves rather than damp them out. This effect would be even greater in aluminum shafts with the regularity of metallic crystals down to atomic scales. Wood, with its inherent irregularities and variability would tend to damp out vibrations rather quickly, regardless of parallel or tapered.

Perhaps a cross woven carbon shaft would damp well?

Now, as a “quantifiable” measure I know that I can shoot higher scores with carbon arrows. I’m becoming more and more convinced that it is consistency that makes tapered more accurate. We know how critical tuning is. So consider this, tuning is like running a specific set of experiments, If the shafts we’re tuning all behave more nearly the same the margin of error is smaller. We are able to achieve a finer state of tune. The error bars in our data acquired during tuning are smaller. Plus, once tuned, there is benefit in that the tapered all more nearly launch the same as each other as well.


Barebow Arrow Tuning

By Stephen Williams, L2 Instructor

Recently, I noticed that I could see arrows coming out of my bow appearing to fly crooked. This is not ideal, because fishtailing arrows don’t fly straight, group poorly, and don’t fly as far as arrows that fly straight. So I decided to take some time to check and adjust the tune of my bow. With all that fresh in my head, I decided to write down my thoughts and process for how I tune for Barebow.

What are the levers of control?

This varies somewhat depending on your equipment choices. Some bows are not tunable at all, so the only levers are the arrows and brace height. In my case, I know that my arrows are what I want, and my bow (and most any bow designed for Barebow shooting) is highly tunable; maybe a bit more tunable then typical, but not unusually so. For our purposes here, we’ll assume the arrows are within reason and all our tuning will be done to the bow.

If you have a simple plastic (or springy offset) arrow rest, there is nothing you can do there, but the trend these days, even among “trad” archers, is to use a plunger and wire rest. These will need to be set up properly.

Most intermediate to advanced risers have adjustable limb bolts, and these are going to be one of the main things we fiddle with when tuning a bow to arrows. These limb bolts can by used to adjust the tiller and draw weight of the bow. You’ll typically have a few pounds of range to the draw weight, and this is usually plenty of control for matching bow to arrows. If you think you need more travel in the limb bolts, you actually need new arrows (or new limbs.)

The string is also involved in your bow’s tune. There are a couple of things you can tweak on a string: the brace height, the nock locator position, and the strand count. Normally, only the nock locator position is tuned, but yes, the strand count of a string can impact arrow tune. Bear that in mind when replacing a string.

The arrows themselves are also something you have control over. You can select arrow spine (stiffness), point weight, fletching, and nock weight. In the Barebow world, we generally choose arrow specifications to get us close to proper tune, then tune the bow to match the arrow. For the purposes of this post, I’m going to start with the assumption that the arrows are “close enough” and match the bow to the arrow. If that assumption proves false, we’ll know at that point how our arrows will need to be different.

So lets get started.

Set up the arrow rest and plunger

Illustration 1 – arrow rest and plunger

Nothing else matters if the arrow rest and plunger are not set up to a good starting point. Here are two examples of arrow rests/plungers. For both of these bows, the plunger and rest can both be adjusted, and we will be checking them both.

The plunger can be adjusted in and out from the riser, thus holding the arrow the correct distance from the riser. If the arrow is too close to the riser, it (or the fletching) may hit the riser on the way out, and if too far, the string will be pushing the arrow sideways.

Once a plungers is set, the arrow rest can be adjusted to hold the arrow just enough, but not too much. The arrow rest needs to be the right height, or the arrow may slip past the plunger, and must be the right depth so that there is enough rest to hold the arrow, but not  so much that it interferes with the arrow as it leaves the bow.

I’m going to concentrate on top bow, because that is the Barebow that I’m tuning. The bottom bow is an Olympic style bow I’m using as an example.

Illustration 2 – plunger depth

This picture shows the bow set up and mounted so that it is easy to see how the plunger depth is set. The idea is to move the plunger in or out until the point of the arrow appears to be just left of the string when looking through the string the direction that the arrow will be shot. In this picture, I’ve mounted the bow in a jig so that I can look carefully. The blue blur is the bow string. Note how I visually centered it on the riser, then I look down the arrow shaft. In the picture, you can see that the shaft, at the point, is just left of the string. (If you are setting up a left-handed bow, put the arrow on the right side of the string.) How you move the plunger button in or out depends on the brand of plunger you are using, but it is generally pretty obvious. This setup is pretty fiddly because it is sometimes hard to see the string and arrow shaft. What I find works best is to mount the bow in a vise or a jig, then nock the arrow and look at the string with one eye.

After setting the plunger depth, the arrow rest is next up. This next step presumes that you are using an adjustable wire rest. If you are at the level where you care about tuning your Barebow (and are therefore reading this) then you should be using an adjustable wire rest. It doesn’t need to be super fancy, but it should be minimally tunable.

Illustration 3 – arrow rest setup

Adjusting the arrow rest may take some patience, and bending of wires, depending on the brand and model of  rest that you use. In my case, I have a Spigarelli rest, which is pretty darn adjustable, but the goal is the same with any adjustable rest. Set the elevation so that the arrow touches the plunger button on the bottom half of the button face, and set the wire span so that it is just barely enough to hold the arrow. The outside edge of the arrow shaft should be roughly even with the end of the wire.

We want the shaft to be below the center of the button face, because on release it will bounce up a bit; if it is too high, it will slip off the plunger. It won’t bounce down much because, well, the wire is there to stop it. We want the wire of the rest to be minimally exposed, because any wire sticking out is wasted mass in the way of your fletching. Of course if the arrow keeps falling off, then maybe it’s in too far, but we are grown up archers now and we shouldn’t be pinching arrows any more, so you need very little arrow rest wire.

And that should do it for adjusting the plunger button and arrow rest. This should be done with some care, then locked down. You will not need to touch these adjustments unless you get new (longer/shorter/wider/thinner) arrows, a new rest, whatever. We will not be fiddling with these as part of the tuning unless something is going really wrong. It’s worth checking these settings periodically to make sure they do not drift, but beyond that, this part is done.

Setting the tiller

This is still a subject I’m learning about myself, so I don’t have a whole lot to say here. But you do want to set it to a reasonable value and make sure it stays. I set my Barebow to have 1/8” positive tiller, and just make sure it stays there while doing other things with the limbs.

Tuning the nock locator

This alone can have a profound effect on the flight of your arrow, so much so that you must get it right. My favorite method of tuning the nock locator is paper tuning. You can get it right on and check it with all the crawls you use quickly and easily. Yes, string-walkers, your crawls can have an impact on your nock locator tune, although I’ve found that the impact is pretty minor. Still, it’s prudent to check your tune with long and short crawls to make sure. Let’s get started.

Illustration 4 – nock locator

The first thing to do is to install the nock locator with an initial guess. I know from experience with my bow that 3/8” above square is going to be a pretty good start. This may not be the final placement for you, so you may start with a brass locator instead of the tied on locator that I show here. (An aside: You string walkers will probably prefer tied on nocks because they are easier on your face, and you’ll definitely want two locators so that the arrow doesn’t slide around during draw. You may start with just one while tuning.)

Next, I use the paper tuning jig to pin down the best place for the nock locator. The idea is to have the arrow leave the bow level: not nock high, or nock low. An easy and accurate way to see that is to shoot through a piece of paper held up by a frame. Stand back about 3-5 yards from the paper, then shoot an arrow through. If the nock locator is too high, the arrow will leave the bow, and hit the paper, a bit tail-high. This will leave a tear in the paper. You will be able to tell from the rip where the point entered, and where the fletching passed through. (The Easton Arrow Tuning and Maintenance Guide is a great help here.) You are at this point after either a single bullet hole, or more likely at this point a perfectly horizontal rip. (We will address the horizontal rip later.) If the tail of the rip is higher then the point, then lower the nock locator, if the tail is lower, then raise the nock locator. Shoot at least two arrows per test to show that you are getting consistent results, and double check with your most extreme crawls to be sure that the tune is good for all distances.

Once you get your nock locator position tuned, add a second locator below the arrow so that the arrow doesn’t slide around while string walking. This is a good time to tie on the locator in place of the brass locator, since you are not going to be changing this any more. Lock it in so you are sure it stays, measure the position with your bow square, and write it down for future reference.

Tuning the arrow for stiffness

This next part is black magic. Everyone finds it mysterious: the dynamics we are trying to account for are complicated, squirrelly, and can depend on many things. An important point to note here is that your release has a huge impact on the flight of the arrow, so you are not going to be able to tune the arrow any better then you can shoot it. Whenever you release the string, your fingers will impart some side-to-side motion to the string, which will in turn wiggle the arrow while it pushes it. Good quality limbs may help here, but ultimately, a clean release is a must. So when you are tuning your arrow spine, always shoot multiple arrows to get average results, and don’t try to tune any more then the margin of error in your tests.

Back at the paper tuning setup, we again start shooting arrows through the paper. This time, though, we are looking for horizontal rips in the paper. They should he horizontal at this point, assuming you’ve done a good job with nock locator tuning. We looking for indication whether the arrow is flying out of the bow tail-left or tail-right. You will be able to tell by looking for the rip that the fletching makes in the paper, and we will adjust the limb bolts to match the bow to your arrows.

If you are right handed, and the arrow is stiff, then the arrow will leave the bow tail-right. (If you are left-handed, the arrow will be tail-left.) You can fix this situation by tightening your limb bolts. Try a ½ or a full turn in, then try again. Always make sure your tiller remains the same while you are doing this. You should see the rip get smaller. Repeat until the rip is no longer horizontal. If you run out of travel for the limb bolts, then the arrow is too stiff for your limbs. When this happens, something will have to change with your arrows. You can: a) get new shafts or longer shafts, b) install heavier points, or c) get heavier limbs.

If you are right handed and the arrow is weak, then the arrow will leave the bow tail-left. (If you are left handed, the arrow will be tail-right.) You can fix this situation by loosening you limb bolts. Agail, try ½ to a full turn at a time. Always make sure your tiller remains the same, and also make sure you don’t run out of travel in your limb bolts. Unscrewing your limbs would be bad! If you do run out of travel, then you arrows are just too weak. You can try installing lighter points, or a heavier nock/insert, or you can try shortening your arrows.

The end result of this step will ideally be “bullet holes” in the paper. This is hard to achieve in practice, so be ready to accept a little bit of horizontal rip. If you get to a point where the limb bolt adjustment is not helping anymore, then you might as well be done. Release quality and other shooting form issues are now dominant, so work on that instead.

What’s next?

At this point, assuming you’ve done all of the above, then the bow and arrow (and archer) combination should be reasonably well in tune. Make sure set screws are snug, and go shoot for a while. In a day or so, revisit the paper tuning rig to see if anything has changed. If not, then great. If it has, then you have to ask yourself if your equipment drifted or if you are changing something. Inconsistent draw, plucking release, etc., can all look like changing arrow tune. Before chasing your tune, try to make sure you are consistent. Check it again on another day. Still off the same way, then OK do a little tuning. If not, then get your shooting form locked down better. Well, that last bit of advice is always good.