bow maintenance Bow Tuning

Is Paper Tuning a Bow Necessary? And How To Do It!

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There are various ways to tune your bow and get it shooting as straight as…. well, an arrow. One very common way to tune your compound bow is to use a method called paper tuning. Most pro shops will do this when setting up your bow but anyone can do it with the right knowledge and setup.

Paper tuning a compound bow is not necessary for the function of the bow but it gives a helpful starting point for shooting accurately. A properly setup bow will ensure that the arrow is flying straight which improves your chances of hitting your target. Paper tuning is a great way to get your bow shooting properly.

What is Paper Tuning anyway?

When somebody paper tunes a compound bow they are simply shooting an arrow through a piece of paper to see which way the arrow is “kicking”.

The paper will show you a knock tear, or rip a certain way if the bow is not tuned properly. This is a visual representation of the arrow not flying true.

Depending on which direction the knock tear is, the rest or knocking point is moved accordingly. The process is then repeated until the arrow makes a perfect hole.

The Pros

While paper tuning your bow is not a necessity, it has it’s merits. It’s especially good at helping you dial in your vertical adjustments (knock position and/or rest height). It’s also a great starting point for your bow setup.

If you have the means to perform a paper tune, it’s definitely worth the effort but not detrimental.

The Cons

It’s really only a ballpark way of tuning your bow. Yes it gets you closer to an ideal setup, but you’ll still benefit from performing other forms of tuning afterwards such as walk back tuning or modified french tuning.

In addition, if you are having any form issues or are torquing your bow due to your grip, this will affect your results and may lead to some frustration in trying to paper tune.

It should also be noted that paper tuning is intended for release shooters. If you are a finger shooter you’re better off doing bare shaft tuning.

Results May Vary

I personally have had great results both ways. Years ago I had a PSE bow that was only paper tuned and I won numerous 3D events with that bow.

I also owned a very nice Hoyt bow back in mid 2000’s that was not paper tuned and it shot amazingly well, in fact it was my favorite bow that I’ve owned.

If you ask 10 experienced archers about whether you should paper tune and how often to do it, you’re likely to get 10 different answers. The fact is that it’s a good way to setup your bow, but it has it’s draw backs.

Also, anytime you make a change to your bow or arrows, you should start over with tuning.

How to Paper Tune your Bow

In order to paper tune your bow you’ll need a little bit of setup and a safe place to shoot. Some local archery ranges have a setup you can use but if not I’ll help you get started at home.

A few things to note about paper tuning:

  • It’s not recommended for finger shooters, try bare shaft tuning instead
  • If your arrow spine is incorrect you’ll have a difficult time tuning
  • If you have form or grip issues you should try and correct those first

Items you need to get setup

You’re going to need a few things in order to get setup to paper tune your bow. There are some nice pieces of equipment you can buy for this purpose but they aren’t completely necessary. Let’s have a look at the essentials:

  • A backstop for your arrows, preferably at shoulder height
  • A frame that you can shoot through that will hold a piece of paper at all 4 corners.
  • Paper! Almost any type will work, I use regular printer paper

If you don’t have an actual paper tuning frame, you can fabricate something pretty easily. I’ve used a cardboard box with the center cut out or a piece of plywood, also with the center cut out.

Although I’ve heard about people using things like a ladder to hold the paper, I think you run a decent risk of arrow ricochet, so be careful and use common sense.

What Distances to use for Paper Tuning

When paper tuning your bow you’ll want to be at the proper distance from the paper and have your backstop a reasonable distance behind that. You’re not going to do this at a normal practice distance.

Instead, you should stand roughly 6 feet from your paper and that should be placed 4-6 feet in front of your backstop. This ensures that your paper captures a proper “snapshot” of what your arrow is doing during flight.

Fire at Will!

But which one is Will? Bad joke I know. But this is the time to start shooting arrows through your paper. My suggestion is to make sure you have a repeatable tear before making any adjustments.

So you may have to fire 2,3, or even 4 arrows to be sure you’re getting a consistent tear.

When the arrow kicks up and down that’s called “Porpoising” and left to right movement is called “fishtailing”.

Make your adjustments

You should be sure to correct for any vertical tear before making horizontal adjustments. You can do this by moving your knocking point or your rest height. Gold Tip has a more in depth visual guide on high/low problems.

Once you have your vertical adjustments made now you can concentrate on your horizontal adjustments. You want to “chase the point” by moving your rest left or right based on where the hole is located in your tear. Once again Gold Tip can elaborate on this.

Some Final words on Paper Tuning your Compound Bow

As mentioned above, Paper tuning your bow isn’t necessary but it can be an effective way to get your bow setup properly. It’s a good starting point and if you combine it with walk back tuning or modified french tuning, you’ll have your compound bow firing nice and straight.

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.