Dry Firing a Bow: Why You Should Avoid it At All Costs

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Archery is a sport that takes a lot of skill and practice, including knowing what not to do. If you’re new to the sport, this might be new to you, but dry firing a bow is a serious faux pas– not just socially, but for your safety and the safety of others, as well. Safety is a big concern in archery, and especially with the advent of compound bows and more powerful equipment.

Even the simplest mistakes that seem like “no big deal”, like a dry fire, can actually be a lot more harmful than you know. By taking the time to learn about technique and how to avoid common issues like this, you’ll be a better shot and a better archer overall.

So, what is dry firing and why should you avoid it? In this guide, we’ll tell you everything that you need to know.

It’s a simple enough concept– pulling and releasing the bowstring without an arrow shouldn’t do much at all, should it? The fact of the matter is that there are several things that could happen, and almost all of them end badly. If nothing happens, consider yourself lucky. Let’s discuss a little more in-depth about what dry firing is and what kind of problems it can cause.

What is Dry Firing?

A “dry fire” refers to shooting your bow without an arrow. This may not inherently seem bad to most people, but the shot cycle causes a lot of energy to be created. If that energy is not properly released (through the arrow), it will carry back into the bow and could cause damage to the equipment. In some serious cases, bows have even been completely destroyed upon recoil when dry-fired. It’s just not a good idea. Dry firing can cause:

  • Broken cable guards
  • Splintered limbs
  • Bend or warped cams and cam tracks
  • Damaged risers and grips

Not only that, but the noise made by a dry fire is often scary and surprising to people who aren’t anticipating it. That alone can be reason enough to avoid this at all costs.

Why is Dry Firing Bad?

When you shoot an arrow, you are transferring all of the energy from the bow and the string into the arrow, which helps generate less reverb back into the bow and ensures that your arrow gets enough speed to hit its target. When you don’t have an arrow in your bow, things can go very, very differently.

When the string is released with no arrow, the energy vibrates right back through the bow, in every single inch of the limbs, riser, and cams. These vibrations can actually destroy a bow instantly and send parts hurling across the room. Even if the bow isn’t destroyed immediately, it could end up cracking or splintering. The string could break, or other parts could become fractured or damaged.

Not only that, but imagine the potential physical injury when there are all these parts flying around from an overpowered bow with nowhere to go. If a part hits you in the eye, you could lose your sight temporarily or even permanently. If you get hit by a piece on the forehead or otherwise, it could cut the skin and cause severe bleeding. The dangers are just too much.

Of course, there’s everything from serious bow damage and destruction to absolutely nothing at all happening when you ask people about their experience with dry firing. You can’t count on this unpredictable beast, and because of the risk, it’s best just to leave it alone.

So You Dry Fired, Now What?

Well, if your bow isn’t obviously destroyed, you’ll want to make your first stop a pro shop. Some people think that if they managed to survive a dry fire with no obvious damage, their bow is fine. However, that’s hardly the case. There is a lot of energy that has just passed through your bow, including the limbs and the riser, as well as the string. If all of these parts are still intact, you’ll want to make sure they stay that way.

Visit your local sporting store or pro shop and tell them what happened. Don’t just tell them you dry-fired your bow, though– make sure that you explain how it happened and what the circumstances and outcome were. That way, they know how best to assess the bow for damage and give you back the reliable sporting equipment that you know and love.

In the event that your bow is destroyed, consider it done. Don’t try to replace broken parts or put them back together. If it’s broken or structurally damaged because of a dry fire, it needs to be retired, and you’ll want to invest in a new bow. In some cases, the pro shop may also suggest that the bow is beyond repair and no longer safe to use. Again, you’d need to invest in a new bow.

Safety Tips

Although we’ve briefly discussed the different things that could happen, here are some key safety tips to recap and keep in mind when you are shooting a bow.

  • Proper shooting technique requires you to hold the bow extremely close to your face. This can result in more severe injuries than you expect and isn’t worth the risk.
  • Just because “nothing” happens doesn’t mean your bow is fine. Shooting with a bow that has been dry-fired before it has been properly inspected for safe use can be dangerous. Even if the dry fire didn’t cause damage, the next shot could damage the bow beyond repair or cause you injury.
  • Dry fires often happen quickly. If you aren’t aware of what’s going on, don’t panic and don’t react. Just let the situation settle, assess the damage, and go from there. If nothing really happened and you are just shaken, stop immediately and take your bow for an inspection.
  • Don’t let anyone handle your bow until or unless you know they understand the importance of not dry firing the piece. Make sure that you explain dry fires to anyone who isn’t familiar.
  • It’s much more dangerous to dry fire a compound bow than a recurve bow. The compound bow has moving parts and a lot more powerful force involved, so these are usually the ones that are most severely damaged by dry fires. They are also the ones that cause the most physical harm to archers, so be cautious, especially when using a compound bow.
  • Check your arrows to make sure the nocks are intact and not loose. This can happen from a bad shot or a hard impact and is more common when hunting. However, it can happen to anyone with any arrow, so always inspect them before shooting.
  • NEVER draw the bow if you don’t have an arrow nocked and ready to fire. That’s the absolute best way to avoid dry fires. Just don’t do it, and don’t let anyone handle your bow that will.

Dry Firing With an Arrow

That’s right– you absolutely can “dry fire” with an arrow in your bow. Some arrows are really light, which is great for aerodynamics. However, it can be bad for certain bows. The arrow is what transfers the energy out of the bow so that it doesn’t damage the equipment. When the arrow doesn’t have enough weight, it won’t carry a lot of energy.

That means more will go back into the bow, which could create a similar effect to a dry fire and even result in potential damage. It’s important to choose arrows carefully, follow the manufacturer’s measurement suggestions, and ask professionals for their opinion. That way, you’ll know that you have the right arrows to avoid dry fires in this capacity.

Can I Inspect My Own Bow?

Some people wonder about doing their own inspection after a dry fire to assess the damage. While you can do this to see if you notice any signs, it is a better idea to take it to a professional. The stress of recoil from a dry fire can lead to microscopic damage that you can’t see and won’t notice until the next time that you shoot, and the bow just shatters in your hands.

Don’t be afraid to tell the pros what you did. This is important because it will impact the repair and whether your bow is safe to use in the future. Anyone who shoots archery long enough will eventually deal with a dry fire. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, but you should try to avoid it when you can. If you have dry-fired, don’t use your bow until you get it looked at.

If you do have to inspect your own bow, here are some steps to follow:

  1. Find a location with really good lighting. Use a spotlight or flashlight if necessary.
  2. Use a magnifying glass to inspect every inch of the limbs, bowstring, riser, and other components.
  3. Inspect the cams, cable guard, stabilizer system, and sight for cracks, warping, looseness, or other damage.
  4. If the limbs show signs of damage, you will want to carefully remove the bowstring as quickly as possible so that the limbs can relax. This will prevent further damage.
  5. If you think it all looks okay and there is no damage, draw the bow to make sure that you don’t hear any strange noises.
  6. If you do notice damage, weird sensations or noises, or anything else unusual, get the bow checked out as soon as possible.
  7. Shoot some test arrows to double-check the bow if you feel that it’s safe to use. Beware that this could be dangerous if you haven’t inspected things properly.
  8. If the aim is off or the arrows aren’t shooting how they should, your bow might need to be retuned or adjusted.
    Remember, there is nothing that will replace the dedicated attention of a professional. However, if you are in a pinch and need to inspect your bow yourself, these steps will give you the best chances of success. Wear gloves and eye protection for your safety to make it even less risky. Finally, if you do need professional assistance, get it as soon as possible, and don’t use the bow until you do.

Check Your Warranty

Be sure that you check your bow’s warranty. Some brands out there claim to have the ability to withstand dry fires, but that doesn’t mean they will cover the damage. Almost all manufacturers will state clearly that they do not cover damage that was caused by a dry fire.

If you have done this, however, don’t despair. As long as you take your bow to a professional, you may be able to get more coverage than you expect. They can go through the warranty process and assess the situation to help the company determine whether it was indeed an accident worth assisting with.

In some cases, it may not work out, but there is always a chance that you could get part of the damage covered. Whatever you do, don’t try to lie or falsify the claim because the truth will come out.

Just Don’t Do It

There is so much that could be said about dry firing. It’s a bad idea for several reasons, so it’s really just best to avoid it at all costs. It doesn’t really matter why– it’s dangerous to your bow and your own safety. It could even affect those around you or cause property damage in severe situations. It does happen, sometimes, but you should avoid it when you can.

Dry fire accidents are responsible for thousands of injuries and emergency room visits every year. With proper training and preparedness, you will be able to avoid becoming another one of the statistics. If nothing else, you’ll at least avoid ruining a perfectly good bow with a simple mistake. Don’t use your bow for anything but practice and shooting, and you’ll be in good shape.

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