Buckmasters Magazine

Paper Tuning Made Easy

Paper Tuning Made Easy

By P.J. Reilly

Perfect arrow flight requires a properly aligned setup.

Straight as an arrow.

You hear the expression, and immediately an image appears. You see a perfect line – no bends, no waves, no variation of any kind. Straight as an arrow is the gold standard.

So what bowhunter wouldn’t want their arrows to literally fly straight as an arrow? If your arrows fly perfectly straight, pinpoint accuracy is attainable. If they don’t, count on inconsistency. Maybe two or three shots hit right where you want, but you’ll have the occasional flier that sails wide of the others.

There are many reasons why you might be getting fliers from your compound bow. But the first thing I do when consistent accuracy seems as evasive as a mature buck is paper tune my bow. Paper tuning ensures that my arrows are leaving the bow as straight as an arrow should. If they’re doing that, then I know any inconsistencies in accuracy are my fault – not the bow’s.

With paper tuning, what you’re trying to achieve is perfect alignment between your bowstring, arrow rest and nocking point. When all are aligned correctly, your arrow’s flight will be true, and you’ll get a perfect hole in the paper. Perfection is a round hole in the center of three vane tears (when shooting an arrow with three fletchings). We call that a bullet hole.


First, you’ll need some paper to shoot through. Almost any kind of paper will do, but steer clear of thick paper. Anything thicker than the paper used in brown shopping bags is going to be too thick. Average printer paper is a good choice for thickness.

Now you need to set the paper so you can shoot through it. The key is having the paper held in place by all four corners. That is, you don’t want it hanging just from the top edge while the bottom is unattached.

A lot of archery pro shops rig simple frames made of PVC pipes from which they can hang a big roll of paper. Pull a length of paper down through the frame, and that’s where you shoot. Working out of your house, you can certainly make a PVC frame, but you don’t have to go to those lengths.

An 8x10 picture frame, with a sheet of paper taped to the outside, will work just fine. Or take the cardboard box your bow came in and cut a hole in it to shoot though. Just be sure to rig your frame so it’s perfectly perpendicular to the ground and high enough shoot straight through it. That is, you want to hold your bow perfectly level when you shoot. You don’t want to shoot up or down at an angle through the paper. That can affect your results.

Now you need a backstop and at least a small shooting space. There are many theories about how far you should stand from the paper. I work as a bow technician and archery instructor at Lancaster Archery Supply in Lancaster, Pa., where we help thousands of bowhunters set up their rigs every year.

Lancaster Archery Supply techs have archers stand just a couple of feet in front of the paper, basically a little more than an arrow length from it. That way, we know the arrow is totally free of the bow when it flies through the paper, but its flight hasn’t yet started to stabilize from the spin caused by the fletchings. We believe this is key, because arrow flight can stabilize downrange, even if the arrow leaves the bow crookedly. Stabilized arrow flight doesn’t mean perfect arrow flight, and we should all strive for perfect.

Behind your paper frame, you’ll want a backstop that’s at least two arrow lengths away. Your arrow should pass all the way through the paper before sticking in the backstop.


Perfect shooting form is critical to paper tuning. A perfectly tuned bow can look like it’s out of tune if the shooter’s form isn’t perfect. Hand torque is the most common culprit. Torque the bow at the shot, and you won’t get a perfect hole through the paper. Also, if you slap your release or drop your bow arm at the shot, it can be tough to determine if your bow truly is tuned.

Focus on perfect shooting form when paper tuning. If you’re unsure whether your form is correct, have a buddy who knows what proper form looks like watch you shoot. He or she can tell you if you did something wrong.

Shoot more than once through the paper. Maybe you twitch on the first shot, which shows a tear left or right, but on the second shot, your form is right and a bullet hole follows.


OK, so you just took a shot and got a nasty tear that shows the hole from the shaft in one spot, and the fletching tears are off to the left or right, and/or they’re high or low. The tear shows you the angle at which the arrow is flying. Any angle is not good. There’s a progression of checks you need to make from here, assuming you’ve already ruled out improper form.

For tears to the left or right, check your arrow rest. If it’s not perfectly centered, you’re going to get left-right tears. Nock an arrow and place it on your rest. If you have a drop-away rest, you’ll want to push it to where it would be at full draw.

Looking from the back, maneuver the bow until the bowstring is aligned with the center of the riser, just below the top limb. There’s a flat, rectangular spot there on every bow. With the string centered there, look down the arrow shaft. The string should be perfectly centered down the shaft. If it veers to the left, move your rest to the right, and vice versa.

For tears up and down, you need to look at the rest and the nocking point. The rest is an easy check. If it’s not vertically level, you should see it right away. Make sure it’s level.

Assuming that’s not the issue, turn your attention to the nocking point. Nock an arrow and place it in the rest. Again, if you’re using a drop away, push the rest to where it would be at full draw. Hold the bow in front of you so you’re looking at it from the side. The arrow should be level from the nock to the rest. If it isn’t, move your nocking point accordingly.

That’s the neutral starting point for vertical settings. If you take a shot with your arrow set vertically level, you still might get a tear where the fletching tears are below the shaft hole. With some bows — some Hoyt and Mathews bows seem to prefer this – you will have to set the arrow with the nock end just a bit higher than the point. Try a nock-high setting and see if that solves the problem.


All of the issues we’ve discussed require fairly simple fixes. But you can have perfect form, along with perfect string, rest and nock alignment, and still shoot an offset tear when paper tuning.

Many bows employ split yoke cables, where one end is attached to the bottom cam, and the top splits into two loops that are attached to the outside edges of the top limb. Twisting one yoke, while untwisting the other, moves the bowstring left or right. If you have a nock-left tear – the fletching tears are to the left side of the shaft hole – try twisting the left yoke while untwisting the right. If you put one full twist in the left side, take one out of the right. Do the opposite for a nock-right tear.

Improper arrow spine also can cause problems. A nock-left tear can indicate a weak arrow spine, while a nock-right tear can indicate a spine that’s too stiff. Consult the arrow selection charts and be sure you are shooting the right arrow for your draw length and draw weight.

Let’s say you have a nock-low tear that won’t go away no matter how you adjust the nocking point. That’s an indication your cams aren’t timed properly. Obviously, this is a problem confined to dual-cam bows. If one cam is rotating faster than the other, the cams are out of time and the bow won’t paper tune properly.

You’ll have to press the bow and twist the cable attached to the cam that’s reaching full draw first. The twist will shorten the harness and correct the timing issue.

There are a lot of factors that can affect accuracy with compound bows. Don’t let an improper setup be one of them. You can always work on your shooting form, but if the arrows are waving at you as they leave the bow, you’re always going to be chasing fliers. Paper tune your bow and you’ll be able to diagnose and cure arrow flight problems.

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This article was published in the August 2015 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Subscribe today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.

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