How To Properly Tune A Recurve Bow

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In archery, accuracy stems from proper tuning every bit as much, if not more than quality marksmanship. Even the best archer in the world cannot shoot to his or her full potential if their bow is not properly tuned. Knowing this, if you are a fan of traditional archery, you have probably often wondered how to properly tune a recurve bow.

The answer to this question is multi-faceted. To properly tune a recurve bow, you must be able to thoroughly understand and oversee several standard-tuning procedures.

These procedures include perfecting nocking point location, micro-tuning brace height, centering your arrows, paper testing, bare shaft accuracy testing, and diagnosing conditions such as porpoising and fishtailing.

Through the completion of several detail-oriented procedures, you can tune your recurve bow for maximum accuracy and efficiency. The following is a comprehensive guide to making the most out of your traditional archery experience through step by step recurve bow tuning.

Perfect Nocking Point Location

The correct placement of your nocking point is essential to maximizing accuracy and preventing tuning related issues. A nocking point is an indicator that is set at a predetermined location, allowing an archer to nock their arrows consistently at every shot.

A nocking point can be crimped on with brass units made specifically for this application, or be tied in with typical string material.

To find your perfect nocking point, you will need a T-square. A T-square will be laid across your bow’s arrow rest in as flat of fashion as possible. You will be looking to see at what point the T-square meets your bowstring.

You will want to secure your nocking point (copper buckle) in place at a height of exactly ½ inch above your previously observed point of intersection between the T-square and your bow’s string.

It is important that the placement of your nocking point be as precise as possible, as this saves possible tuning hardship later in the process. It is also of value to mention that when using crimp-on style nocking points, only crimp the nocking point as tightly as it takes to ensure that it is held in place.

Do not be overly forceful when crimping this nocking point, as minor adjustments might have to be made later in the tuning process if arrow flight irregularities become evident.

Micro-Tune the Brace Height Of Your Bow

Brace height is the term that is used collectively across the archery industry to describe the distance between a bow’s grip or riser segment, and the bow’s bowstring when at a resting position.

In the world of traditional archery, especially recurve bows; the brace height is measured from the deepest portion of the grip to the bowstring. This is a vital measurement to proper bow tuning because this figure affects accuracy as well as noise that is imparted as the bow is shot.

a man holding his bow, another is man watching

Brace height tuning is done by adjusting the twists in a bowstring to effectively lengthen or shorten its dimensions. This, in turn, adds or removes tension from a bow’s resting limbs, pulling them closer together or distancing them further apart.

As a rule of thumb, the more twists that a bowstring has in it, the greater the brace height. Likewise, as twists are taken out of a bowstring, the brace height becomes shorter.

Setting your brace height becomes a sequence of trial and error. If too short of brace height exists, fletchings can make contact with the bow shelf before an arrow clears the string.

On the other end of the spectrum, an overly extended brace height leads to short stopping of a bow’s limbs and a resulting loss in power. Through a series of adjustments and successive shooting, a sweet spot will emerge.

You are looking for a brace height that maximizes accuracy, while also reducing noise at the shot.

Centering Your Arrows

To fully understand the process of centering your arrows, you must first begin to grasp the Archer’s Paradox.

What Is The Archer´s Paradox

If you were to hold your bow directly in front of you, staring at the string, you will notice that the bowstring and riser of the bow are directly in line with one another (read.. top-notch bowstring silencers)

a man shooting a bow, you see an arrow flying through the air
Me – Shooting my Recurve

Keeping this in mind, ask yourself how an arrow can follow the path of the string and navigate around the riser, only to straighten its flight path and remain on target? It seems pretty complex, right?

The key to this is that an arrow is not rigid. In fact, an arrow has a substantial amount of flex, the measurement of which is referred to as spine. As force builds behind the arrow as it is shot, it flexes around the riser, only to flex again in the opposite direction as it clears the bow.

This flex continues as the arrow flies downrange toward its target. This is what is known as the Archer’s Paradox.

To compensate for this paradox, adjustments must be made in the arrow’s position on the rest in relation to the riser. This is accomplished by adjusting your arrow rest plunger to position your arrow tip at a slightly outward angle to the bowstring.

The ideal amount of offset that should be noted is 1/16” to ⅛”. Adjustments should be made with an arrow nocked, as to ensure that all adjustments are within specification.

Paper Tuning a Bow

The paper test is an excellent way to verify all of the adjustments that you have made to your recurve bow during the tuning process thus far. You will need to position a frame that is capable of holding a large sheet of paper, at shoulder height.

The backstop for this arrangement should be placed a minimum of four feet beyond the frame, as to allow an arrow to completely pass through the sheet of paper before making any additional contact.

You will now stand at a distance of approximately 6 feet from the paper and fire three arrows. 

The pattern that is left behind as the arrows pass through the paper will give you clues regarding any additional tuning that is required. If you are fortunate enough to have a perfect “bullet hole” type of puncture in the paper, then no further adjustments are necessary.

If any other tear pattern is noted, further adjustments are required. Some of the most prevalently identified of these patterns are as follows.

  • Nock High– Nocking point needs to be adjusted downward
  • Nock Low– Nocking point needs to be moved upward
  • Nock Left– Move rest to the right, Spine possibly too weak
  • Nock Right– Move rest to the left, Spine possibly too stiff

It should be noted, that these adjustments are based on a right-hand shooter. The opposite would be true pertaining to spine quality and directional rest movement if the same were to be observed by a left-handed shooter.

Bare Shaft Tuning And Accuracy Testing

Bare Shaft Accuracy testing can now be used to discern any further adjustments in the tuning process that are needed. The point of this test is to uncover any deficiencies in arrow flight that have previously been compensated for and concealed by the flight stabilizing characteristics of an arrow’s fletchings.

This is where Bare Shaft Accuracy Testing shines in the tuning process of a recurve bow.

This process is conducted by shooting several normally fletched arrows into a target from a set distance while maintaining the same point of aim. If the grouping of the aforementioned arrows is consistent, you will then proceed to shoot a “bare” or unfletched arrow into the same target, while once again maintaining the same point of aim.

The differences observed between the impact point of your fletched arrow group and unfletched arrow will be your guide to what adjustments, if any, are to be made.

How to Fix Arrow Porpoising

One condition that is often observed when Bare Shaft Testing a bow, is that of porpoising. Porpoising is a condition characterized by the rising and diving of an arrow that is in flight (just like a dolphin, jumping in and out of water).

This is a condition that commonly causes accuracy issues, and is typically caused by an incorrect nocking point. Once the presence of this condition has been noted, adjustments to your nocking point can be made to remedy the problem at hand.

If a bare arrow shaft shoots higher then its fletched counterparts, this indicates that your nocking point is set too high.

  • By lowering your nocking point, you will be ready to repeat the test and note any changes in outcome.
  • Likewise, if a bare shaft shoots lower than a group of fletched arrows, you will need to raise your nocking point.

In doing so, the condition should be corrected and can be verified through repeat testing.

Arrow Fishtailing

Fishtailing is yet another condition that can become apparent when conducting Bare Shaft Testing.

A left to right deviation in arrow flight from what would typically be anticipated is how fishtailing is observed.

  • This fishtailing often shows up in Bare Shaft Testing in the form of a shaft that has impacted to the left or right of the previously fired group of fletched arrows
  • This is most commonly indicative of improper arrow spine values and must be treated accordingly.

If Bare Shaft Testing reveals consistent impacts to the left of the previously grouped fletched arrows, this is a sign of a stiff spine condition.

The following options should be given consideration when attempting to remedy the condition.

Bare Shaft Testing Impacts To The Left

  • Brace height can be increased in an attempt to circumvent excessive arrow spine stiffness. Like many brace height adjustments, this will be a matter of trial and error, in an attempt to produce more favorable results.
  • Recenter your arrow by moving your arrow rest closer to the riser, or lessening the tension on the unit’s plunger spring.
  • Increase the weight of your arrow tips by switching to a heavier grain count variety.
  • Purchase arrows that have a stiffer spine rating than the ones you are currently shooting.

If Bare Shaft Testing reveals consistent impacts to the right of the previously grouped fletched arrows, this is a sign of a weak arrow spine.

The following options should be given consideration when attempting to remedy the condition.

Bare Shaft Testing Impacts To The Right

  • Decrease brace height in an attempt to remedy the noted weak spine condition. Again, this is a matter of trial and error and can yield satisfactory results under the correct set of circumstances.
  • Recenter your arrow by moving your rest away from the riser, or adjust plunger tension to a greater value.
  • Reduce the weight of your arrow tips by switching to a lighter grain count variety.
  • Purchase arrows that have a stiffer spine rating than the ones you are currently shooting.

Again, for those who are left-handed, the aforementioned instructions would apply in the opposite manner as outlined, as these directions are based on the shooting characteristics of a right-handed bow.

Proper Clearance

Proper clearance is essential to optimizing accuracy and tightening your arrow grouping. This is of increased importance when shooting at long distances, as small irregularities in arrow flight are essentially magnified at greater distances to the point of becoming problematic. 

How to Check Arrow Clearance Issues – Click for full Video

By clearance, I am referring an arrow’s ability to clear the arrow rest and riser region without making undesired contact along the way.

This contact can be to the arrow’s fletchings or the shaft itself and will produce similar detrimental effects to your bow’s accuracy. 

The following is a list of steps that will assist in checking for proper arrow clearance and making needed adjustments in the process along the way.

1.   Select A Suitable Agent For Detection– You must select a suitable powder to identify any areas of contact upon an arrow’s release. Some common favorites are talc, dry deodorant, or flour.

2.   Apply Powder As Needed– Place your chosen detection agent along key points. These areas include the arrow rest, and all segments of the arrow starting at 3 inches in front of the fletchings and moving rearward, including the fletchings themselves.

3.   Shoot An Arrow And Check Results– You will now shoot an arrow and check all powdered areas for signs of “tracking” in your previously applied powdered substance.

4.   Make Adjustments As Needed– If no tracking is noted, you are free of clearance issues. However, if the opposite is true, fine-tune adjustments are needed. Study the location of the points of contact between your arrow and rest, and then adjust components accordingly.

Common remedies for clearance issues include:

  • Slightly rotating your arrow’s nock to offset fletching location
  • Switching to lower profile fletchings, or in extreme cases
  • Recentering your arrow to allow for extra clearance

After each adjustment is made, repeat your testing to determine the results of your efforts.

Tuning To Perfection

Although tuning a recurve bow might seem like a daunting task to those who have never attempted it, with an eye for detail and a couple of afternoons worth of effort, you too can be well on your way to quality traditional archery marksmanship.

By following the process and steps provided in this guide, you will be armed with all the required knowledge to tune your recurve bow like a pro. And here is our article about the latest takedown recurve bows. Check it out.

Feel free to leave any comments that you might have. We always appreciate any feedback from our readers.

I am the founder and chief editor here at BowAddicted. I love my kids, archery, and the outdoors! It's been an amazing journey so far with some ups and downs, but it's worth it to spend time outside with friends and family.

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