compound bow care

Does temperature affect compound bows? What you need to know

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Did you ever see the stop animation Christmas movie “The year without a Santa Claus”?  If you did, you might remember the two knucklehead brothers known as the Heat Miser and the Snow Miser.  They caused all kinds of problems during the movie, the question is what if the likes of these two get ahold of your compound bow?

Extreme temperatures will affect a compound bow.  The extent to which it is affected depends not only on how extreme the temperature is but whether or not it’s heat or cold.  Heat causes more negative effects than cold does.

In some cases Archery is a sport that can be done within a controlled climate, such as an indoor range. However in many cases you’re shooting your bow outdoors, taking it hunting, and transporting it from place to place.  So how does what mother nature dishes out affect your compound bow, and what about it’s accuracy in varying conditions? Let’s take a closer look.

What to know about temperatures and your bow

Whether the blistering heat of Death Valley or the frigid cold of the Arctic, there’s some extreme temperatures on our home 3rd stone from the sun.  Start adding in man made factors and things can get dicey.  Now maybe you’re not hunting Camels or Penguins, but no matter where you’re planning to shoot or hunt it’s good to be aware of how the temperature will affect your equipment.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, heat is the greater of the two issues here. That’s the bad news.  The good news is typically we’re talking about excessive heat not just a hot summer afternoon.

Modern compound bows are quite durable and the technology and engineering has come a long way from 50 years ago.  If you can stand to be in the ambient air temperature, so can your bow.  People take their bows hunting in South Africa where temps can get well over 100 degrees and it’s just fine.  Ambient air temps are one thing, but direct sunlight or baking in a car are completely different.

So how does heat affect a compound bow?

We talked about how hot ambient air temperatures are typically ok for your compound bow, if you can take it, your bow can take it.  But, if you left your bow laying in the hot direct sun for an extended period for example you’d experience a few issues.  Let’s talk about what to worry about in these scenarios.

Your bow’s strings and cables will be the first thing affected by excessive heat.  Modern compound bow strings are made of synthetic materials.  Older bows often used strings made of Dacron which is a type of polyester.  Some lower end modern bows still use this material.  Many modern string makers are using materials such as Polyethylene which is a low stretch material allowing for more usage with less retuning of your bow.

The strings and cables are not only made of synthetic material, but they are under extreme tension while strung on your bow.  These two factors combined with excessive heat will cause stretching of the strings and cables.  This in and of itself isn’t detrimental but it’s going to put your bow out of tune.  You may have to adjust timing, adjust your sights, and more.  It is also possible for the strings and/or cables to be damaged enough that they should be replaced.  If in doubt, have a pro shop check them for damage and possible replacement.

The next most vulnerable part of your bow that is affected by heat are the limbs.  Modern compound bow limbs are generally constructed of fiberglass or a mix of fiberglass and graphite.  There are two types of limbs made from this material, laminated and solid.

Of these two materials solid glass limbs are typically more durable, however you may have a hard time determining which type you have.  Most manufacturers keep this kind of trade secret to themselves.  What’s this mean for your bow and the heat?

Extreme heat like that of direct sunlight can delaminate your bow limbs and I’ve heard from people who have actually seen the glue seeping out.  Not only is this undesirable it could be potentially dangerous. 

Bow limbs hold a great deal of energy within them and if one lets lose you could be severely injured.

Black Carbon Fiber Raw Material

Solid limbs may hold up better to the extreme heat but unless you know for certain that’s what you have I’d err on the side of caution.  It’s best to just not have your bow sitting in direct sunlight or excessively high heat regardless.

I’ll touch on the riser real quick just for completeness sake.  Bow risers are most commonly made of either aluminum or magnesium alloy however carbon fiber is making its way into some higher end bows.  These materials are largely unaffected by the temperatures we’re talking about.  Obviously don’t throw it in a fire but the Riser is the least of your worries here.

Is it bad to leave a bow in a hot car?

Let’s get this one out of the way right off the bat, YES.  It’s definitely bad to leave your bow in a hot car.  Guess what, it’s bad to leave your kid in there, or your dog, or your VHS tapes (ok I just dated myself with that one).

For all the reasons mentioned in the section above about how heat affects your bow, that’s why you shouldn’t leave it in a hot car.  Those things are natural ovens, and if the sun is directly hitting your equipment, even worse!

However, there are some people that swear by a tactic to stretch your bow strings quickly.  I personally don’t advocate it but they will say to leave your bow in a case in a hot car so allow the strings to do what they will eventually do anyway, and stretch.  I just don’t want to take that chance with my equipment and even if you buy into this being a perfectly acceptable method, you need to plan to adjust your timing and bow tuning at minimum.

I’ll go on record here saying I highly recommend against this.

Does cold weather affect compound bows?

Alright, we’ve covered heat but what about going the other direction.  Let’s say it’s winter and you want to go shoot after work so you leave your bow in the car and it’s 0 degrees out.  Should you be concerned?

Compound bows actually hold up quite well in cold temperatures and there’s not a lot to worry about with storing or using your equipment in below freezing weather.  As you may be aware many materials actually shrink in the cold, but it’s pretty minor and nothing that will cause any damage or noticeable effects on your bow.

However, I do have a story about the cold.  When I was about 14 I was taking part in a winter 3D archery tournament.  The weather was below freezing and I was shooting a PSE Brute Force at the time.  Fast bow, but it was like an explosion in your hand, a lot of vibration.  So anyway I got through the first 10 targets and we were taking a break and I felt like I was shooting very well.  I figured it was just cause it was chilly out.

Somebody happened to be looking at my bow and noticed that the limbs had slipped out of the limb pockets!!  Holy cow!  Now if memory serves (and this was like 25 years ago) I was shooting the bow near it’s lowest draw weight so had it backed out pretty far.  I THINK what happened is the limb bolts shrunk ever so slightly and the limbs slipped by the pockets and forward.  Unfortunately I was done for the day and did not finish the shoot.

I think that was a freak event and most likely was because I had my draw weight turned out close to the low extreme.  So my best advice when shooting in the cold, just do a thorough pre-shoot inspection and make sure everything is snug and ready to rock n roll.

Does Temperature affect a compound bow’s accuracy?

Ambient air temperatures are not typically going to affect your bow’s accuracy.  The caveat here is if you’re shooting and then leave your bow sitting in the hot sun for a bit, and then continue shooting. Depending on the heat and length of time, you could experience some issues and changes in timing or other tuning.

The temperate may however affect YOUR accuracy. Also don’t forget about other weather changes such as rain – here’s how rain can affect your bow.

Shooting a bow in hot weather

As I eluded to a moment ago, the biggest issue with shooting in the heat is where you store your bow, even temporarily.  Keep it out of the direct sun when you’re not shooting it and you should be fine.

More than likely what you’ll notice is the heat is affecting you more than the bow as you’re shooting.  Sweaty palms, being uncomfortable, it can mess with your grip, and your concentration.  

Stay cool out there whether you’re hunting, at a tournament, or just practicing.  Dress appropriately and pound lots of water.

Shooting a bow in cold weather

Shooting in cold weather will take its toll on you long before your bow.  However it does come with a special set of potential issues.

Your compound bow will be just fine hunting elk in Alaska or shooting a winter tournament, but there’s a few things to consider here.

First, I have heard people complain about accuracy due to cold when using a whisker biscuit style arrow rest.  This is typically because the little whiskers stiffen and can cause some minor arrow deflection that’s not usually there.  Something to be aware of, it sounds like most people don’t feel it’s a big enough issue to use a different rest.

The larger issue here is how you will need to dress in order to stay warm.  Warm clothing tends to be bulky and most likely includes gloves.  These things can hinder your normal shooting form as well as cause some issues.  For example, the string of your bow catching on your jacket.

Be aware of these potential problems before you’re out in the field…give it a practice run all dressed up if need be.  Also even if you don’t normally use or need an arm guard, consider using one to hold your bulky jacket sleeve down on your bow arm.

There it is folks, your all inclusive guide to how temperature affects your compound bow and it’s accuracy.  I hope you found this useful and can take away some information to keep your and your gear performing at top level!

Jason Brooks

I've been involved with archery for over 25 years off and on and am always interested in learning as much as I can. I've taken part in local tournaments and even 3D course setup.