In just a few short weeks, many of us will be shouldering a pack, and hiking into remote locations with high spirits and big bucks/bulls in the forefront of our minds. If you’re anything like me, you’ve been pouring over maps, training incessantly, and flinging arrows like they’re going out of style. In addition to making ourselves mentally and physically prepared, we also need to make sure our bows are also ready for the demands of a backpack hunt. Failing to prepare your bow for the backcountry increases the odds that you'll fail to fill your tag. Let's fix that!
Mark What Matters
It was right before dark and I had a nice bear spotted across a canyon from me. The bear was feeding along a bluff, offering the perfect opportunity for me to make a loop around and make an approach from above with my bow. During my approach, my bow hit some rocks as I descended into the canyon. I took a quick look at my weapon and everything seemed to be intact. Tunnel vision then took over and my mind was solely focused on the bear. My shot opportunity came, I settled at full-draw, made a clean release, and watched as my arrow sailed right over the bear’s back. Follow-up shots that evening at camp confirmed that all of my arrows were impacting high. Apparently, my bow's impact on those rocks did more than just scratch the finish. The impact moved my site and I didn’t know it. If I would have paid more care before and after the slip, this likely could have been avoided. And all I would have needed was a marker.
Modern compound bows are far more complex than primitive bows. With more moving parts and pieces on a compound bow, there are more things to get bumped, come loose, and change the flight or impact of arrows. While we can’t always keep components of the bow from moving, we can — at the very least — know when that happens and adjust accordingly. To do so, we should mark anything and everything that could potentially get moved. These reference marks will immediately let you know if something has been shifted. Mark your rest, sight, limb bolts, and cams. A silver sharpie works great for this.
Simply draw a line from one moving part to another. If at any point during your hunt, that line isn’t lining up, you’ll know what happened. Reference marks on the sight, rest, and limb bolts will show if anything was shifted. A lot of cams nowadays have some sort of reference mark, but if they don’t, draw a line on your cam up against the cable on both sides. It’ll be very apparent if your cams come out of time. I’ll refer to these consistently in the field just to make sure everything is as it should be. Since taking the time to do things like this, I haven’t had another mishap like described in my bear story. That was a hard lesson.
In addition to marking your bow with reference points when you first set up your bow, a quick and effective way of avoiding bow-related misfortune is by giving your bow a thorough inspection just before your hunt. Make sure all of the bolts are tight. Inspect your string for any inconsistencies, damage, or loose strands. Double-check your draw weight, as that can decrease with time. And also investigate your limbs. I remember a few years back, I brought my bow into the shop for a once-over before a hunt. Unbeknownst to me, one of my limbs was splintered. It would have been a total heartbreaker if the bow decided to blow up with a buck in front of me.
It is also a good idea to gently knock the limbs near the cam on both ends of the bow. If you notice any sort of rattle, look for loose screws in the cam components such as draw-stops, draw-length modules, etc. In my first years of bowhunting, I failed to check this. But I kept hearing something when I shot. I eventually discovered that one of my mods was loose and just needed to be tightened. A simple fix that, if ignored, could have ruined a hunting opportunity for me.
Become Mr. Fix-It
Let’s say that you’re out on a long-awaited hunt and something does go wrong. Maybe your D-loop breaks or you do notice a loose screw. What do you do? Packing out back to the truck, driving into town, and heading to the nearest archery pro shop required you to spend a lot of time that takes away from your hunt. To avoid that situation, put together a basic archery repair kit. There are premade options on the market, but one could just as easily make their own. Of course, on top of having this stuff with you, be sure you know how to use these items to make the repairs.
Here are the items I keep in my kit...
- Allen wrenches
- D-loop material
- D-loop pliers
- Extra serving
- String wax
You don't need to have all of these items in your pack on a backcountry hunt, but at least have them at the trailhead. Hiking out for a quick repair takes time, but not nearly as much time as driving out to a pro shop.
More Than Your Bow
When we talk about your bow, we're talking about the whole system. Not just the bow itself, but also the sight, rest, release, and more. Be sure to give these accessories the attention they deserve.
No matter if it’s a hinge, thumb, or wrist-strap trigger release, you should inspect your release aid before heading out on a backpack hunt. First, make sure all of the screws that should be tight are truly tight. Also look for any wear and tear on the mechanics of the release. Springs wear out, triggers can get sticky, etc. A quick spritz with some lubrication will get that trigger back to operating smoothly and consistently. If a spring is starting to wear out, you’ll either be able to make a quick adjustment yourself by way of a screw, or you might need to send it in for repair. It’s best to stay on top of this early on in the year to avoid dealing with repairs right before your hunt.
Many hinge releases use rubber bands that can dry-rot over time. Inspect and replace those bands as needed. In addition to mechanical failure, releases can also get lost in the backcountry, so consider carrying a spare for truly remote hunts.
If you’re using a thumb button and like to hang the release on the d-loop, be sure to add some moleskin to the part of the quiver closest to you and your d-loop. Doing so will prevent the release from swinging and making a clanking noise on the quiver while you’re waiting for a buck to stand. And lastly, make sure everything is tight on your quiver. One time a buddy of mine stalked into the range of a buck, only to have his quiver fall off as he was coming to full draw. That buck lived another day.
Quivers are simple accessories that often get overlooked, but they are also important to inspect. For example, the tension on your arrow grippers is something to keep an eye on. With continued use, these get worn out and can even allow arrows to fall out of your quiver. TightSpots Quivers have gripper tension adjustment, but many quivers don’t have this feature. So, either tighten it up or add in some electrical tape on the inside of the grooves for a tighter fit.
Everything was perfect. The wind was right and the buck was unaware of my presence as I stood above him at 35 yards. As I drew my bow back, a noticeable “squeeeek” sound ruined the moment. That buck ran so fast, you would have thought someone spanked him on the rear. It turns out that the padding on my rest had worn out, which caused my arrow to glide across the plastic launcher instead of the felt that used to keep things quiet during the draw. The obvious lesson is, check the felt on the launcher of your rest to avoid mishaps like this.
If you’re using a drop-away rest, inspect the activation cord regularly. These cords can wear out and stretch, or the attachment point from the rest to the cable or limb can move — change your rest timing and activation. The rest may not rise or fall as it should, which is going to be a big problem during a bowhunt.
In addition to making sure that all screws and adjustments are good and tight on my bow sight, I will re-verify the sight's set up before the hunt. This includes making sure my 3rd axis is still set and that my bubble is still calibrated. Things just get moved around sometimes through general wear and tear. I once had to replace a bubble level, because it froze on a hunt and it wasn’t tracking properly after that. That’s not something you want to find out after a miss in the field.
There is nothing quite like heading out on that first backcountry hunt of the fall — no matter if you’re in search of testosterone-enraged bull elk or majestic velvet mule deer in the alpine. It's quite obvious why there are countless hours spent and sweat spilled preparing for these trips. But no matter how much you've been shooting, scouting, researching, and training up to your hunt, if your bow isn’t ready, you’re walking a frayed tight rope. Be aware and be prepared. You never know when that rope might snap.
Josh Kirchner is the author of the book, Becoming a Backpack Hunter, as well as the voice behind Dialed in Hunter, a blog that not only documents his own journey, but provides gear reviews, tips/tactics for western hunting, and encourages other hunters to chase and achieve their goals. Josh is a passionate bowhunter that has been hunting with his family since he was a small boy. When he is not chasing elk, deer, bear, and javelina through the diverse Arizona terrain, he is spending time with his wife, daughter, and two herding dogs.