Supertuning with the pros: when good isn't good enough, follow the experts to bow-tuning perfection.
Do you ever wonder why your fixed-blade broadheads fly like grasshoppers on a dirt road compared to fieldpoints? Over the years, you've likely read that it's a mere tuning issue, but you've had your bow tuned and it still prefers fieldpoints. So, most bowhunters resign themselved to the fact that broadheads have greater surface area, catch more air and fly differently. Typically, that's right. But typically, your bow isn't supertuned.
Supertune? you ask skeptically. Sure, it's a cool-sounding term, but in essence it means tuning your bow and arrows until they shoot in perfect harmony. It's like taking your family sedan to Dale Jr.'s. NASCAR team and asking for a custom soup-up rather than a 15-minute oil and filter service at Jiffy Lube. Instead of tuning the strings of a guitar, supertuning means replacing them all, straightening the neck and sanding the fret board. I could go on with the analogies, but I think you get the point.
If you are like most bowhunters, I'm betting your hunting bow was tuned exactly once--at the bow shop the day you bought it. Now, I'm not knocking bow shops, because plenty of the guys behind the counters there are regular Eli Whitneys when it comes to cams and cables. Given enough time (and money), many top bow techs can turn your rig into a mini guided missile system. But bow shops have a lot of customers to serve, and most of the time they can't afford to press and adjust your bow nine times between sessions on the range to supertune it. Besides, most customers can't tell the difference anyhow. So, you're given an adequate blue-plate special that consists of adjusting the draw length, serving the peep sight, eyeballing the rest for center shot, tying a nocking loop 1/8 inch above square, installing a pile of expensive accessories and saying "Congratulations, it's a bow!" as they present you your $1,000 baby. And like all new papas, you are proud.
A year later, you and your bow are doing just fine. Indeed, better than fine. You hit targets as far as you care to shoot at them, and you've taken several bucks with your mechanical broadheads that fly like a house of pain. "Don't fix it if it ain't broken" is a mantra that serves you well. But that mantra doesn't change the fact that you bought a Maserati bow that performs like a Mazda.
Scattered throughout the archery world is an exclusive club of shooters who incessantly tool on bows like motorheads do hotrods to eke out every last drop of performance. They obsess over spine weight, cam lean, nock travel and other such nerdy variables until they get it perfect. Many of them are compelled to do so because their level on tournament podiums--their paycheck--depends on it.
Supertuning is the term coined for the result of their work, the achieving method behind that beautiful state of toxophilic nirvana when a bow shoots an arrow without the slightest yaw or wobble to the exact same place in space as the one prior. And while supertuning isn't a miracle cure for less than stellar shooting form, it can sure make a bow more forgiving, quieter, more accurate with broadheads and, ultimately, make you a deadlier hunter. At the very least, it can eliminate the bow as a source of your problems.
I've interviewed a few archery wizards who make a living supertuning bows. Here's a peek behind their curtains:
Tuned ... or Supertuned?
Although "chief bow mechanic" isn't Blake Shelby's official job title, it could be based on the number of bows he tunes for great shooters each year in PSE Archery's Arizona facility.
"I bare-shaft tune out to 15 yards," said Shelby, PSE's Director of Marketing. This means he shoots a nonfletched arrow into a target from a relatively long distance. He does this to makes absolutely certain the arrow leaves the rest directly in line with the bowstring's force and flies absolutely true. That's because arrow vanes work to correct errors in flight. So, by shooting an arrow without them, all errors are magnified. Once the bare shaft is flying perfectly straight, Shelby shoots a fletched arrow of the same make at the same target. "The bare shaft and the fletched arrow should hit within 1-2 inches of each other at 15 yards, or something's off," he said.
This fairly extreme test is probably the best indicator of whether your bow is averagely tuned, or supertuned. It's not for initial bow tuning, or your arrow will likely hit lengthwise on the target if at all; rather, it's for bows that have been paper tuned and close to perfect already.
Tim "The Hammer" Gillingham has been shooting bows professionally for 30 years and has cases full tournament hardware, including world championship titles, to his credit. When it comes to his bows, Gillingham is like a bigshot surgeon who demands a German-made scalpel and without a doubt one of the world's foremost experts on the topic of supertuning.
Gillingham says any disparity in point of impact between a hunter's broadheads and fieldpoints is an indicator the bow may not be perfectly tuned.
So, if your bow doesn't pass either of these tests but you wish it did, read on. But if you are pleased as a tick on a hound with your bow's current performance, cease reading immediately, because the following info could possibly turn you into a bona-fide bow geek, if not send you to counseling.
Who Needs Supertuning?
"Generally, it's the target shooters who want their bows supertuned, more so than hunters, and [target] guys shoot fieldpoints. But bowhunters shoot broadheads, so they actually need it more," said Josh Morris, who owns a company called BowXperts. com that specializes in supertuning.
"Most guys don't recognize how important it is to have a bow tuned perfectly," said veteran archer and bowhunter Jim Velazquez, who has made a living in the archery business since the 1970s. He's worked for Bowtech and other bow companies, and there's not much in the way of tuning he hasn't mastered. "It's a big reason why mechanical broadheads are so popular: they shoot better from bows that aren't perfectly tuned."
For professional shooters such as Gillingham, supertuning your bow is a matter of protecting your livelihood. The rest of us may not technically need our bows supertuned, but that doesn't mean we don't want to. After all, you can't drive a Porsche 911 Turbo 160 mph on the street, but it's cool knowing you could.
Shelby believes too many bow tuners simply move the arrow rest around as a Band-Aid for larger tuning problems. Of course, with an adjustable rest and sight, a shooter can compensate for horrendous tuning errors, but this is like leaning on the steering wheel to drive straight down the two-track when the alignment should be adjusted.
"The rest shouldn't be moved more than Vs inch from center shot," said Shelby. "The bow should be yoke-tuned."
Yoke tuning means shortening or lengthening one or both cables by twisting or untwisting the yokes so the cam's vertical position is perfectly aligned with the bowstring. This helps straighten nock travel for a smoother power stroke.
"For every 1 twist you add to the cable, add 1.5 twists to the string," Shelby said.
If that doesn't correct flight issues as indicated by paper tuning, occasionally Shelby will add a spacer to the axle to move a cam over slightly. When Shelby's done, and the bow groups bare shafts and fletched arrows together, he knows the bow will shoot better than the capability of most shooters. And that's one goal of supertuning. The other is to ensure hunters that their broadheads will fly like fieldpoints. But more on that later.
While Morris agrees, he also noted that depending on the type of cam system used not all compound bows have yokes. "Cable guards can affect [cam] tension," he said, "so if center shot is set properly and the bow doesn't have a yoke, I'll tweak the cable-guard tension if it's adjustable.
"I've even seen peep sight tubing that has added just enough tension on the cable to prevent supertuning."
But the first thing Morris does to any bow he receives--something Mathews' Corrine Bundy insists is key to bow tuning, because it's the way their bows were engineered for maximum efficiency--is to make sure the bow is in exact factory specification. This means precisely checking all measurements, including brace height, draw length, cam timing, etc. and adjusting things back to factory spec for a baseline from which to begin the supertuning process.
Bryan Seaton has been tuning bows for 20 years out of Davenport's Archery in Prague, Okla. Seaton ties his string loops differently than most other professionals; he ties them so he can rotate them up and down the serving slightly so he can fine-tune the height of the arrow's nocking point depending on the paper-tuning results. He's also found that a bow can occasionally be fined-tuned by backing off the draw weight of one limb just half a turn of the limb bolt.
Velazquez said yet another problem to watch for involves drop-away rests that are not perfectly installed, as excess tension created by the rest's activation cord at full draw can be just enough to bring the cams out of synch. To prevent this, he said drop-away rest installation is ideally a two-man job. "One guy installs the rest while another constantly checks to see if there is too much tension," he said.
Gillingham believes in perhaps the most mysterious form of timing, something he calls "torque tuning," an adjustment process that makes a bow much more forgiving of hand torque. It's based on the pesky truism that when the hand torques the bow, the sight moves one way, while the arrow below it moves in the opposite direction--a problem that wreaks havoc on groups.
"If we can put the arrow rest in the right position, we can find the 'sweet spot' where the two actions (moving the sight one way and the arrow the opposite direction) cancel each other out," Gillingham wrote in his article, Understanding Torque Tuning.
To accomplish this, zero your bow at 20 yards and then purposely torque your bow to the left while shooting arrows and noting the point of impact; then do that same while torqueing the bow to the right. If you see the typical horizontal stringing between the two groups, it means you bow isn't torque tuned. Find the sweet spot by moving the rest backwards (he actually shoots a 2-inch overdraw) and/or your sight forward slightly and perform the same test. Repeat this until the left and right torque groupings drastically narrow or overlap. I could spend all day trying to explain the math behind Gillingham's theory, but perhaps he sums it best, "Once you get this done, you will be amazed at how much better your bow will shoot."
A Supertuner's Kryptonite
Many archers make good progress throughout the supertuning process, only to feel like Superman exposed to Kryptonite when it comes time to screw fixed-blade broadheads on the end of the arrows.
"While vanes correct imperfections in flight, the broadhead steers the arrow," said Morris. "So for hunters, especially those who shoot new 6-blade broadheads, supertuning is critical. But with a perfectly tuned bow, you can expect them to fly just as accurately and to the same point of impact as your fieldpoints."
Shelby cautions about bow speeds and broadheads. "When bow speeds get up around the 280 fps mark and above, arrow flight can become erratic due to violent air disruptions caused by the broadhead in front of the fletching," Shelby said. So, supertuning becomes critical at those speeds--and the effort could even be wasted.
Gillingham swears by using a four-vane fletching configuration to counter the broadhead's evil influence. And he's also perfected a four-step system to broadhead supertuning. Hunters, take notes.
First, he advises to powder tune your bow to make sure there's total vane clearance. While many hunters use full-capture rests such as the Whisker Biscuit and many pros use blade-style rests, Gillingham insists the total vane clearance offered by a properly installed drop-away rest is critical for dead nuts perfect tuning.
Second, paper tune your bow.
Third, shoot and test all the arrows you plan to shoot; discard the duds.
Finally, shoot all your broadheads through paper at 5 yards to discover slight variances in them. If one is consistently odd, rotate the nock position on the arrow until it tears paper exactly the same as the others, or discontinue using it.
Supertuning isn't wizardry, but it does require skill, patience and effort to accomplish. Once the proper adjustments are made by tweaking the bow itself and not its accessories, you'll have a bull's-eye-piercing machine that won't have to be altered when broadheads get screwed on.
Now, let's just hope you can drive the darn thing!
Get 'Xpert' Help
You can supertune your bow by studying the advice in this article and tinkering until you've learned the science and perfected the art. Or you can just ship your bow to Josh Morris at BoxXperts.com. He'll Supertune your rig for $89, plus shipping, or give you The Works package for $189. Morris guarantees your bow will be perfectly tuned and turned around in about a week.
The Supertuning Consensus
When it comes to supertuning, there are at least three points on which all experts agree:
1. Shooters should test all arrows and their nock alignments to make sure there's not a black sheep among them. All those I interviewed say they consistently discover an arrow out of a bunch that flies to a slightly different point of impact. Try turning the nock to a different location to see if that helps. If it doesn't, try launching that arrow into a tall trash heap.
Seaton believes many archers forget how vital proper spine is to bow tuning. And it's easy to see how, now that carbon arrows are commonly only offered in three different spine sizes and points in three weights. So, he advocates finding the perfect spine and point weight for your bow by paper tuning.
Shelby says you shouldn't waste time or money on supertuning if you aren't going to buy top-end, consistently spined arrows. After all, you wouldn't put Sam's Choice tires on a Lambo, would you? He says most carbon arrows are rolled in a thin sheet of carbon so there is a slight overlap of material--essentially a double wall on one narrow seam that runs the length of the shaft. You need to find this "high-spot" of each arrow and orient your nocks and cock vane to it so you'll shoot each arrow oriented the same way as the others. Shelby said top-end arrow manufacturers have a higher spine consistency rate, and they also mark the spine seam on their arrows for quick nock orientation.
Gillingham calls his method of finding problem arrows "dynamic spine testing," and he can't emphasize its importance enough. Whatever it's called, it's all about consistency, folks. Be picky with your arrows.
2. Bare-shaft tuning is an essential part of the supertuning process. Few tuning methods reveal more imperfections in a setup.
3. The shooter's form must be perfect to supertune, and most shooters' form is not.
"I test everything with a Hooter Shooter" shooting machine, says Morris, "because many arrow flight problems are shooter induced."
"The first thing I do to fine-tune a bow is take it away from the customer," Seaton said. Bows that are perfectly tuned often look out of tune if the shooter has bad form, particularly a tight grip.
While Velazquez says he might make slight alterations to the bow after he tunes it, most times he makes alterations to the shooter's form.