Compound Bow Setup Tips

Setting up your new bow

Compound bow setup can be as satisfying as firing it – there’s nothing like the satisfaction you’ll get from taking down big game with a rig you built yourself. You can do most of the work at home or from a garage set up, sans bow press. But it’s ideal to have a local pro shop on hand for directions or recommendations for jobs you can’t do. Every bow is different, but this step-by-step guide will explain the usual steps you’ll go through.

Draw length 

Irrespective of whether you’re putting new cables and strings on an old rig or starting with a new bow, you should triple-check your specifications. Start by measuring your wingspan with your arms out, stretched, from the tips of your middle finger. Divide the resulting number by 2.5. For example, if your wingspan is 70 inches, dividing it by 2.5, you get a 28-inch draw length. 

Read our guide on How to Measure Draw Length 4 Different Ways here.

Bow specifications 

Ensure that the bow meets the factory-labeled measurement by setting draw weight to the maximum poundage.  You can mark the tiller bolts with chalk or pencil as a visual guide. Then, measure the length from axle to axle by measuring the top cam’s axle pin to the bottom cam pin with a measuring tape. For example, a 32-inch compound bow should measure within 1/8 inch of 32 inches. Most bows will be accurate, but if the rig is off, get a press or go to a pro to adjust the cables until it’s perfect. You can change the axle-to-axle with twists. Finally, you can check the height by measuring from the deepest part of the grip to the string. You can adjust this with string twists too. 

Cam timing 

Your bow will likely have marks on the cam(s), ensuring the correct timing. This varies by manufacturer, but you’ll usually find hash marks or dots that the cables pass between if you have timed cams. If the cable is off the marks, you might have a timing problem. You can confirm this with a draw board or by having a friend draw the bow so you can check the marks. The cams will roll off top and draw weight into the valley simultaneously. If there are draw stops, ensure they touch the limbs or cable in unison. Bow makers usually have high accuracy, so it’s rare to have a timing issue at the time of purchase, but if you do, don’t be afraid of taking it back to the manufacturer. 

Centering the rest 

 Begin by bolting the rest to the bow, then nock an arrow.  Ensure it is level, then measure by sight until the arrow runs parallel to the riser’s flat side. Centershot can vary by bow, but 13/16 or 7/8-inch away from the riser is a good starting point. Paper tuning (explained below) will ensure precision. 

Timing the rest 

 The key to timing the rest is ensuring it goes into the full capture position. If you’re shooting a drop away, you’ll probably have to clamp or tie the rest cord to the cable to achieve this. 

Finding the nocking point 

 Once the bow is leveled in a vise, nock an arrow and ensure the string and arrow are level with each other. String levelers can be a great tool if you’re unsure. Some bows need a level knocking point, but others prefer a 1/16-1/8 inch higher nocking point. Research your bow’s specifications and model online to ensure you have the best idea. Don’t put too much effort into this, though; paper tuning will smooth it over. 

The sight 

 Begin by bolting the riser and sight together , then secure your bow to a workbench with clamps (or to a vice). Next, use a string level and carpenter level to ensure the rig is totally straight. If the bow sight is level, then your second axis is good. If this doesn’t happen, check the manual that came with the sight. It should tell you where to find every axis adjustment. Generally speaking, the first axis controls the up/down tilt of the scope. The second axis dictates the tilt from left to right (indicated by the bubble). The third axis acts as a small door hinge, and it can swing towards or away from you. 

Peep height 

 You should tie a good knot and ensure the correct peep height. The quickest way to correct the height is to draw the bow with closed eyes and find your anchor point. Have a friend assist you by marking the string at eye level and begin there. Once the peep is in, don’t serve it immediately. Play around with your rig until it feels right. 

Arrows 

Arrow manufacturers list arrows by the stiffness of the shaft or the spine. Faster bows require a stiffer spine, and slower bows will need less rigidity to fly well. Typically, manufacturers will supply calculators to determine the arrow you need when you buy arrows. Pre-fletched arrows will work for most situations, but building your own arrows is satisfying. I like helical fletchings best. 100-grain and 125-grain broadheads are great for most hunting situations. Whatever you choose, you should test out your arrows. Throw out any that deviate substantially or spin erratically. Numbering each arrow will allow you to identify it effectively if you have an inconsistent flyer. Tuning your arrows is crucial; an inconsistent flyer can ruin your hunt. 

Paper tuning

Paper tuning sounds complex but is a simple way to ensure that you’re shooting straight. Put up a piece of paper (you’ll shoot through this). Place it well, fixed to a frame, or fastened to something. Shoot from roughly 8 feet from the paper and shoot through it, being careful to hold good archery form with your hunting bow. Instead of veering too far left or right, you’ll want to ensure that the rip is perfectly centered. Adjust as necessary until you’re able to shoot perfectly straight, without the rip veering left or right. 

Final tuning

 Begin by shooting from 10 yards away; adjust the sight, so it’s a little high. Move to 20, then shoot a group. Repeat this at 30 and 40 yards and continue until your max practice range. If you’re shooting multiple pins, adjust the height of each pin as you increase the distance. I recommend three-shot groups rather than five. Adjust your sight and arrow rest until your arrows land within the plumb line. When your arrows stack perfectly, lock in this setting, as this is your perfect center shot.  

Learn more about compound bows with our ‘Compound Bow Parts Explained‘ article.

Wrapping up

Whether you’re into target archery or bowhunting, setting up your own bow to your own personal preference is a rite of passage that many beginners look forward to. Once you’ve gone through the setup, ensured perfect shooting form, and completed a final tune-up, you’re ready for whitetail season or try out some target shooting. Either way, have fun!

Trey

About the Author

Trey is a lifelong hunter and avid camper. He lives outside Denver, CO with his wife Kaci and their lab mix Ziggy. They spend as much time as possible outdoors - hunting, fishing, and camping.

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