How to care for your bow

By Sam Harper

A few weeks ago, I made a bow for my sister. Then one day while taking advantage of her hospitality and fine-cooking, I saw, to my horror, that the bow was standing up in a corner. That's when I realized that I need to write this little piece about how to take care of your bow.

Besides that, a lot of people who use this web page to make their first bow are brand new to archery, and one time somebody just came right out and asked me to write this article. That was over a year ago, so I reckon I ought to go ahead and do it.

So, here are the rules…

1. Never ever ever ever dry fire your bow. In other words, don't pull it back and release the string without an arrow on it. Without the weight of that arrow on the string, the shock when the string becomes taut could cause your bow to break into a million pieces. I had a bow break on me one time because while stringing it, my stringer broke. The shock alone was enough to break the bow in half. So don't do it!

Whenever you look at a new bow, it's natural that you're going to want to pull it back without an arrow just to see what it feels like. But if you ever hear that little devil on your shoulder telling you to let the string go, just remember Taylor Swift, and notice that when she says, "never ever ever," she is saying the exact opposite of Justin Bieber. Now, c'mon! Who are you going to listen to? Taylor Swift or Justin Bieber? Taylor Swift is the angel on your shoulder telling you to never ever ever dry fire your bow. Justin Bieber is the devil on your other shoulder saying, "Never say never."

Now, why did I bring Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber into this? Because I'm a goofball, and I felt like it. I suppose if this were a "for profit" web page, I wouldn't have done it, but this web page is my play ground.

2. Do not string your bow backward. It may shock those of you in the know, but I have actually seen people string their recurves backward, not just to store it, but because they think that's the way it's supposed to be strung. Well, there's a big problem with stringing your recurve backward in order to shoot it. That string will pop off, and that's even worse than dry firing your bow. It'll cause your bow to break.

Besides that, if your bow is not made of fiberglass, and you try to string it backward, there's a good chance you'll break it since it is not designed to be bent in the opposite direction. So just don't do it. If you're confused about which way to string your bow, find out before stringing it. You ought to be able to look at the nocks and use your noodle to figure out which way to string it.

3. Use a stringer to string your bow. This rule is not written in stone. I frequently string and unstring my bows without the use of a stringer. But using a stringer is the safest way to string your bow. Your bow is less likely to get injured, and you are less likely to get injured if you use a stringer.

Here's a video showing how to string a bow:

4. Unstring your bow when you're not using it. That is, unless your bow is fiberglass. If you have a fiberglass bow, it doesn't hurt it to leave it strung all the time. But if your bow uses natural materials on the back and belly, you need to unstring it when it's not in use. The reason is because natural materials deteriorate over time. When your bow is strung, the belly is under compression, and over time that compression will make the bow weaker and weaker, and it will take on set. If you leave it strung, you're reducing the life of your bow.

Now, you might wonder when exactly you need to unstring it. For example, say you're at a 3D shoot, and you take a break for an hour before you shoot another round. Do you need to unstring it if you're going to shoot it again in an hour?

That's a judgment call. You can leave the bow strung all day if you want. Keep in mind that every time you string or unstring your bow, you're taking a little risk. It's like accidents. You know how they say most car accidents happen near home? Well, most bow failures happen while stringing or unstringing. So if you're going to shoot your bow off and on during the day, just leave it strung. But, you know, if you're going to go a whole five hours without shooting it, then unstring it.

These are just guidelines, of course. Like I said, it's a judgment call.

5. Replace your string if it looks ratty. If your string looks old and worn, replace it. Strings are cheap, especially if you make your own. It's better to replace the string than to replace your bow because it broke because the string broke. If you have any doubts at all about the condition of your string, just replace it. Keep some wax on it, too, because that'll make it last longer. Wax not only holds the string together, but it also protects it from moisture.

6. Don't store your bow by resting it on its tip and leaning it in a corner. For that matter, don't stick the tip on the ground and lean on the bow as if it were a walking stick. Those tips are absolutely necessary for the bow to function because without the tips, it won't hold a string. So you don't want to rest the bow on its tip because that'll wear the tips out faster. Also, if you're like a lot of people, when you lean one thing in a corner, next thing you know, you're also leaning your gun, your broom, and all kinds of other things in the corner. If they lean against your bow wrong, you might break your tip off.

Or, that uneven weight on the bottom limb might cause a little deformation. I've heard of that happening, but quite honestly, I've never seen it.

It's better to store your bow in one of two ways. Either lay it somewhere horizontally (either on the floor, on a shelf, or between two pegs), or hang it by its string. Take a look at these bow racks to get an idea of the proper way to store a bow. It doesn't have to be fancy. You just need one peg or nail to hang your bow by its string, or two pegs to lay it horizontally.

7. Don't let somebody bigger than you shoot your bow. Bows are designed for specific draw lengths, but different people have different draw lengths. If your bow fits your draw length, and somebody bigger than you who has a longer draw length pulls it all the way back, they risk breaking it. Now, if you happen to know that your bow is okay to be drawn to your friend's full draw length, then go ahead and let him shoot it.

8. Don't leave your bow in the driveway. C'mon, now, don't be stupid!

9. Don't leave your bow out in the rain. Now, some people hunt in the rain, so they need a bow that'll be okay if it gets a little wet. Be sure, before you take your bow out in wet weather, that it's got a good durable finish on it. I've recommended Deft lacquer in some of my build alongs, but I don't think that's a good finish to use in wet weather. Thunderbird is alright. But even with a good durable finish, you don't want to just leave your bow out in wet weather. Use some common sense!

10. If you run out of arrows, and the enemy is still coming, only then is it okay to use your bow to beat your enemy. Using your bow as a club or stick will cause it a great deal of damage, so only do so if you're completely out of arrows and you must stop your enemy. Some bows can be broken in half at that point, and the shards and splinters on each end can be used for stabbing. But that's a risky thing to do since you don't know exactly how it's going to break and whether you'll get a good pointy end out of it.

11. Don't grease your bow unless that's how it was finished to begin with. My dad used to always insist that you needed to periodically put bear grease on your bow. So enamored was he with the plains Indians that he assumed that's the only way traditional bows are finished. But hardly anybody uses bear grease anymore. You need to know what kind of finish is on your bow before doing any refinishing. Most modern finishes are made to last, and you shouldn't have to do any routine maintenance, like greasing the bow.

12. If you store your bow for long periods of time, put it in a bow sock. A bow sock will protect the bow from dust, cat hair, and dings from being moved around, piled on top of stuff, or buried in closet debris. When I say "long periods of time," I'm talking about more than a year. But who would leave a bow sitting around for more than a year without shooting it? Yeah, that's extreme. That's why this rule is at the bottom of the list.

Upgrade your browser for a better viewing experience »