Run This Checklist on Your Bow Before Opening Day

Bow Bootcamp is a 10-part series designed to get you, your equipment, and your skills in peak shape ahead of the first fall seasons. That means gear checks, accessory tweaks, precision bow tuning, and shooting drills to get you totally dialed in just in time. Part 1, below, is all about your bow—because first and foremost, it has up to the job.

Whether you’ve bought a new compound for the upcoming season or you’re sticking with your tried-and-true, you need to run a checklist on your bow from top to bottom to make sure it’s in solid working order and is set up correctly for you. Don’t fret about the accessories, for now; we’ll get to those. The first concern is the bow. So take it out of the case or off the hook and do the following.

1. Inspect the riser, limbs, and cams.

photo of bow
Run a cotton ball along your bow’s limbs to check for any separated fibers. Dave Hurteau

Start with the top limb(s). Look carefully for any dings, nicks, or cracks, especially if you’ve used your bow a lot over the years. Make sure there’s no limb separation or fibers sticking out. Do the old trick with the cotton ball; run it over the limbs to make sure it doesn’t snag on any irregularities. If it does, take it to the shop for a look. Next check the top cam, giving the areas where the strings and cables attach a good once over. Be sure the serving is sound and there are no loose areas or fraying. Odds are your riser is solid, but give it at least a quick once over. Finally, check the lower limb(s) and cams. 

2. Inspect the strings and cables.

Don’t overlook this step, because now is the time to order and replace strings and cables if needed. Light fraying on a used bow string is expected, but heavy fraying or broken strands are potentially unsafe. Also, check your servings. These are areas on the strings and cables where serving string is wrapped around the string fibers. They don’t have to be unltratight and uniform, but an unraveled or separated serving should be replaced.

3. Double-check your draw length.

Measure your draw length. You may think you know it, but measure anyway. It’s easy to do, but you will need a partner. Put your back against a flat wall, spread your arms horizontally—like a bird spreading its wings. Then have a buddy put light pencil marks on the wall at the tip of both middle fingers. Run a tape measure between the dots, and then take that number and divide by 2.5. This is your draw length. Now, chances are good you’ll get a number with some decimals. For example, I get 29.3, and I set my bows draw length to 29 inches. Always round down. It is better to be a little short than a little long. 

4. Tweak your bow’s draw-length setting if necessary.

photo of bow cam
With an adjustable draw-length module, making changes is as simple as loosening and tightening a few screws. Jace Bauserman

With your draw length figured, go back to your cams and look at your module system. Your bow will either have a fixed cam module or an adjustable cam module (with the latter becoming more common). Let’s assume your correct draw length is also 29 inches. If your bow has a 29-inch fixed module, you’re all set. If it’s something other than 29 inches, however, you’ll have to visit your pro shop and order a new module. If, on the other hand, your bow has an adjustable module (most are adjustable in 1/2-inch increments) and it needs tweaking, just follow the manufacturer’s instructions, loosen a few screws, and rotate your mod on the top and bottom cams to your desired draw length. 

5. Double-check your draw weight.

photo of drawing bow
If you can’t pull your bow straight back from a seated position, you should lower the draw weight. Jace Bauserman

The next thing to look at is draw weight. As with draw length, you may think you know what your draw weight should be, but it’s a good idea to revisit this before every season. One of the biggest mistakes I see bowhunters make each year is pulling too much weight, which can suck the fun out of your shooting sessions, sabotage you in the field, and even lead to shoulder and back injuries. 

To check what your draw weight should be, sit down flat on your rear, hold your bow out in front of you, and pull it straight back. If you can’t do this, or you have to tilt the bow toward the heavens and tug with all your strength, you’re pulling too much weight. You don’t need to pull 70 pounds to kill even a big bull elk. I’ve shot lots of elk with bows set at 60 pounds, and a few years back, my wife blew through a hammer whitetail at 44 yards with a 47-pound bow. 

6. Adjust your bow’s draw weight if necessary.

photo of bow draw weight
The author uses an inexpensive digital scale to measure draw weight exactly. Jace Bauserman

You adjust a compound bow’s draw weight by turning the limb bolts, which are located in the top and bottom limb pockets. (You can typically see where the bolt goes down inside the bow’s riser.) On most bow models, turning the bolt counterclockwise will back the limb out, lowering the draw weight, while a clockwise turn will tighten it, adding draw weight.

But, and this is important, before you go messing with the draw-weight adjustment on your bow, check the owner’s manual carefully (or look your bow model up online) to find out how far you can safely turn the limb bolts out. Most bows have a maximum number of turns, and if you exceed it, your limbs can crack, your pockets can break, and I’ve even seen limb bolts pop out entirely. Budget bows and beginner models will usually have a wider range of draw-weight adjustment.

Finally, if you need to make a draw-weight adjustment, follow the manufacturer’s instructions strictly to make the same number of turns both top and bottom. This is important, too, and enough to repeat: What you do to one limb bolt, you must do to the other. I also recommend purchasing a digital bow scale. I use the 4KJT Handheld Digital Bow Scale, which it’s accurate and costs less than $30. A bow scale will help you be specific, and know the bow’s exact draw weight setting.

When you’re done with this checklist, you can be confident that your bow is in good shape and fits you correctly, which can go a long way to improving your shooting. Next, we’ll look at arrows and accessories.  

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