Much like any object with moving parts, over time, bows suffer from wear and tear — it’s just one of those annoying facts of life.
The trick is to learn how to read the signs of decay, to understand when it’s time to intervene with a spot of TLC and get that weapon of yours back in top-top condition.
I believe it helps to think of your bow as if it were an instrument, a stringed instrument to be precise, as much like a guitar, it’s the stringy bits of a bow that are going to require the most frequent tune-up.
And by stringy bits, I mean the strings and cables!
Musicians will be looking out for things like rust, but this doesn’t really apply to us, so what we need to do is figure out the signs of disrepair unique to our “instruments”, which is exactly what we’re going to be discussing here today!
Variables Involved With Changing Bow Strings And Cables
As I’m sure you’re aware, there is no ultimate time-based answer to how often you should switch out your cables or strings, as the condition and longevity of your current setup are dependent on a number of factors, including:
- Shot frequency — The more you use your bow, the quicker you’re going to wear out the components that withstand the most pressure.
- Environmental factors — Certain conditions are far more strenuous for bowstrings and cables, so if you’re shooting in these conditions a lot, you’ll inevitably see more wear and tear.
- Storage — This ties in with my last point. Bowstrings and cables prefer certain conditions, and if you can establish optimal conditions in storage, they’ll last longer. If you cannot, they’ll give up the ghost sooner rather than later.
- Bow maintenance — A spot of maintenance goes a long way when it comes to string and cable longevity. If you shirk your duties as a bow guardian, you can expect those strings and cables to suffer.
Archery Discipline Can Be A Guide
Okay, so I know I’ve just been waffling on about how there is no set time frame for switching out your string or cables, but I can give you some very generalized advice based on the type of archer you are.
For example, if you’re a target shooter, I’d recommend switching out your string/cables perhaps once a year, but if you’re more of a bowhunter than a target specialist, you may get away with switching them out once every other year.
The reason for this difference comes down, in part, to the shot frequency of each archery pursuit. Target shooting, for instance, involves perpetual shots, placing near constant pressure on your string and cables.
Bowhunting, by contrast, involves far fewer shots, as it’s more about patience, tracking, and being deadly with a single release.
What’s more, bowhunters typically use heavier arrows, and the heavier the arrow, the less force exerted on the string/cables. The lighter arrows of a target bow therefore fast track the demise of the vulnerable components.
Of course, the conditions a bowhunter will find themself in are way more extreme, which does reduce the lifespan of strings and cables a little, but the big player in regards to longevity is repeated use.
What If I Rarely Shoot My Bow?
It’s not uncommon for people who rarely fire their bow to open up their case and discover that a mostly unused string or cable has broken, but why is this the case?
Well, these components exist in a state of constant tension, whether the bow is being used or not. Thus, over time, they exhibit deterioration, even in storage.
Think about it this way; you may only fire your bow three times in 5 years, but that’s still half a decade of tension endured by the string and cables. Eventually, something’s got to give.
You will indeed need to change your bowstring and cables semi-regularly even if you only shoot once in a blue moon.
For a good analogy, consider motor oil. You’ll need to replenish it every however-many-miles, as it runs out, but it also expires when left to stagnate, so whether you’re using your car or not, you’ll need to change the oil. The same is true of your bowstrings and cables.
Tell-Tale Signs Of Worn Strings And Cables
Your first clue it’s time for a string/cable change may be entirely based on your bow’s performance. If something doesn’t feel quite right, i.e. your shots aren’t as snappy or as accurate as they have been in the past, it’s time to consider a new set.
You may also notice a slight reduction in draw weight. This is down to the gradual stretching of the string.
If you’re not that in tune with your bow’s performance, you should rely on visual clues instead. Inspect your bowstring. Does it look a little fuzzy or perhaps even frayed? How are the cables holding up?
If you can’t tell by looking, run your finger along the string. If it feels brittle or fluffy, all is not well. If your cables seem stressed or worn out, it’s time for a change.
Another important check is the timing marks. For the uninitiated, the timing marks on the cams of modern compound bows illustrate a shift from where your string should be positioned as opposed to where it is positioned.
Should the timing marks indicate a significant shift, it’s time to either replace your string, or hit your bow with some solid general maintenance.
How To Increase String/Cable Longevity
Should your string be only a little bit worn, it’s not the end of the world. You can apply some bowstring wax to get any loose fibers under control and prolong the life of your string.
This isn’t a cure-all, however. If you’re noticing significant fraying, it’d be like putting a band-aid on a bullet wound.
A better approach would be to use waxing as a preventative measure, rather than waiting for something to go wrong and then applying it.
Wax won’t just keep fibers on lock; it will prevent the string from drying out. Pro archers will typically wax their bowstring once a fortnight.
I’d also recommend storing your bow in a cool, dry environment, as both moisture and heat can be hell on the integrity of, not just your string and cable, but your entire bow.
If you live in a humid climate, it might be worth investing in a dehumidifier, and whatever you do, keep your storage unit out of direct sunlight.
For longbows and recurves, if you’re going to put them into storage for any extended period of time, I’d suggest removing the string to release the tension.
You can then store bow and loose string in ideal locations, ready and waiting to be reunited and perform to a high standard.
Although archery can be a somewhat meditative process for us, the strings and cables of our bows don’t feel quite as relaxed.
They withstand immense strain and pressure with every use. Of course, it’s this tension that allows our bows to function, but it sure does take its toll after a while.
This is why it’s important to treat string/cable maintenance as a preventative measure, rather than a last ditch effort to salvage doomed components, and of course to learn the warning signs that a string change is inevitable.