Bowhunters tune gear, shoot practice arrows

Ross Bielema

A little book called “Zen Bow, Zen Arrow” by John Stevens tells the story of Japanese master archer Awa Kenzo, arguably the greatest bow shot in his country during the early 1900s. Kenzo used the bow to not only supply his family food and provide protection, but also to teach a martial arts form and even as a device leading to spirituality and enlightenment.

“With each shot, see your nature,” Kenzo taught his many disciples. “Shoot with your character. To see your true nature in each shot is the Great Way of Peace. That is all you need.”

Kenzo often used unorthodox techniques and advice to help his students think beyond accurate shots, but for most of us, the goal is striking the center of the target or taking down a deer this fall.

Although I’m bucking the trend of technology this season by moving away from ultra-compact, high-speed compound bows and arrow-throwing machines called crossbows, the need for practice before the Sept. 17 archery-deer opener is a universal one.

I checked in last week with one of our local experts, Justin Steinke, general manager at Butch’s Archery in rural Embarrass. He was just wrapping up a collection of about 40 customer bows and crossbows that needed new strings, cables, sights or other professional fixes.

His sparkling-clean indoor archery range was quiet, except for employee Brock Smejkal, who needed to fire a customer’s Ravin crossbow in order to release the trigger box mechanism from the cocking belt so that it could be worked on.

To say that today’s compound bows and crossbows are complex is like saying Kim Kardashian has too much body Bondo. Some of these devices cost $1,000 (compounds) to $4,000 (high-end crossbows) and can fling arrows at 400 to 500 feet per second. Compare that to a traditional longbow or recurve that shoots at 160 to 200 fps. Strings on the latter can be replaced in the field in seconds, without a mechanical bow press.

Steinke is surprised that more bowhunters don’t use his air-conditioned, bug-free range in the summer. Many outdoor 3-D archery shoots are continuing this month at clubs in Shawano, Birnamwood and Clintonville (check their Facebook pages for details) to give bowhunters practice on foam game animals in a wooded setting to simulate actual bowhunting conditions (including the bugs and heat).

As always, hunters often procrastinate when it comes to getting their weapons either fixed or equipped with new sights, arrow rests and other improvements.

“The crossbow shooters tend to wait till the last minute,” Steinke said. “Everyone needs to remember that Wisconsin isn’t the only state with an archery season, and western states start earlier.” The nationwide demand for bow and crossbow parts will be filled first in western states, meaning it’s typically a two-week minimum wait for parts here in Wisconsin.

Butch’s is a stocking dealer and repair center for most popular brands, including Bear, Mission, Diamond, Elite, Mathews, PSE, Bow Tech, Hoyt and Prime for bows and Excalibur, Wicked Ridge, Ten Point, Mission, Ravin and Centerpoint for crossbows. If you buy the new sights, arrow rests and other goodies there, installation is normally free, but if you order online, expect to pay for installation.

Depending on how much you shoot your bow or crossbow, you should expect to replace your strings and cables every three to four years on a bow and about every three years on a crossbow (Ravin specs call for string/cable replacement every two years, but Steinke recommends every 18 months).

Bowhunters can help their gear last longer and perform better with a few inexpensive maintenance items and some common sense.

Keep those bow and crossbow strings waxed with rub-on tubes of bowstring wax. (Butch’s even has their own branded version at the front counter.) When your string starts looking fuzzy, it’s time to wax.

Crossbows need to use rail lube such as Rail Snot or Scorpion Venom every 10 to 12 shots. Butch’s has their own version of that at the front counter, too.

If you hunt in the rain or otherwise get your gear wet, be sure to dry off your bows, crossbows and broadheads to avoid rust, which can damage bearings and bolts. Steinke likes to use an air compressor to blow the moisture away, even in those tiny nooks and crannies.

Be sure to check your sights and scopes to see they are dialed in for the various ranges you plan to shoot and also shoot a few broadheads, not just target points, especially if you shoot fixed-blade heads. Although expandable heads generally will fly similar to a target point, they don’t necessarily fly the same. I’ve not had good luck getting fixed-blade heads to fly straight with my recurve bows but am planning to try an expandable/fixed blade hybrid head I picked up at Butch’s.

Good luck can help us all this fall, but tuning your gear early and properly and practicing a few arrows a day till the opener will take most of the need for luck out of the successful hunting equation.

Ross Bielema is a freelance writer from New London and owner of Wolf River Concealed Carry LLC. Readers can contact him at