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Dry Fires Blow....Up Your Bow

Posted by Jason Meade on 2/13/2017
Understanding dry fires. We have all heard at some point just how much of a no-no dry firing a bow is, but there is never much explanation as to why! Why are dry fires such a sensitive subject? Why are there countless warning stickers that say "DO NOT DRAW WITHOUT AN ARROW NOCKED" on all the new bows at the shop? Well, to put it simply, it is because dry firing a bow is a very effective way of breaking a bow.

"Dry fire" is a term used to describe the act of shooting a bow without an arrow properly nocked on the string. Most of the time a dry-fire happens by accident. Sometimes people will just admit to the dry fire and move on, but others refuse to admit that they dry fired their bow - and it makes life harder on everyone involved. Keep in mind, there's no 100% guarantee that a bow will be damaged from a dry fire, BUT it is a 95%+ probability. So what is it exactly that happens during a dry fire? How do you go about getting your bow fixed if a dry fire happens? If you manage to draw the string back and release it without an arrow installed, then the most likely outcome will be a trip to the bow shop for repair work but lets dive into the process a little deeper.

I want to stress that in this article I am referring to damage caused by dry firing a bow. NOT damage caused by a legitimate malfunction of the bow. Sometimes there are legitimate issues with bows and those issues are covered under the manufacturer warranty. Other times user error leads to the bow being damaged. Legitimate issues are not what I am talking about in this article.
Why do dry fires cause damage? Modern compound bows are an incredible weapon. We have taken a tool as simple as the bow and arrow and made it capable of jaw dropping speeds and kinetic energy outputs. These bows are capable of such power thanks to a combination of pre-loaded limbs, hard cams, and several other factors. Add all of these features up and you are left with something capable of creating some serious energy.

When you fire a shot with an arrow properly nocked your bow creates all of this energy and sends it into that arrow. The arrow will then absorb all of this energy and take it away from the bow, and that is what causes the arrow to rocket down range. A little bit of this energy is leftover after the arrow is fired and that energy is felt by the shooter as hand shock/mild vibrations but nothing the bow cant easily handle.

However! If you draw back the bow and release the string with out and arrow nocked then all of that energy has no way of escaping the bow. The string will SMACK the string stop sending a brutal shock wave of energy rushing into the bow and it is way more than the bow can handle. That sudden release of energy into the bow is where that horrible dry fire noise comes from. It sounds like lighting striking a tree. That sound is caused by an avalanche of vibrations streaking through the bow, from top to bottom, trying to find a way to escape the bow. Exactly what damage your bow will receive from a dry fire (if any) depends on how and where exactly that energy decides to exit your bow!
SNAP, CRACK, BOOM! I will do my best to paint a vivid picture of what happens to a bow during a dry fire. A shot is fired without an arrow nocked and the string goes forward slamming into the string stop. INSERT CRAZY NOISE HERE! This is the moment when all of that energy should have been sent into the arrow, but the arrow is not here to save us this time, and all of that energy goes directly into the bow instead. There will be an eruption of vibrations that scatter into the bow in both directions. The first real stop all of this force makes is the bows cam system. All of this energy now slams into the cams with extreme force, and since this is a direct hit, it will usually cause the cams to bend and for the cam tracks (where the string sits) to warp. At this point the strings will usually vibrate out of the cam tracks or the string will simply snap all together.

Once the string snaps the cams will sometimes free spin around and crash into the limbs of the bow. This can cause deep cracks/indentions to form in the limbs at the point of impact This is most common in bows with low draw weights There are several other possibilities for damage but these are typically the most common things to pop up.

Keep in mind that a dry fire can range from some of these things, to all of these things, and if you are really lucky, none of these things. It just all depends on how all of that energy moves through your bow.
The aftermath and confusion! I have witnessed several dry fires and the immediate reaction by the shooter is always the exact same. It is a look of confusion with just a touch of fear and sometimes anger. For a moment your mind is racing trying to figure out what in the world just happened. If you are someone that is familiar with archery then you will most likely know that you have just joined the accidental dry fire club at this point. You may also be surprised to see how many members are in the accidental dry fire club once you get here. Our motto is simple... It happens! It is not any fun but it does happen. The next step now is to simply take the bow to a shop, get the bow checked out, get it fixed and move on with a new funny story to tell down the road. It sucks but it is not that big of a deal in the end.

If you are not someone that is familiar with archery then it is possible that you are completely confused by what just happened. It is very possible that you don't realize you have done anything that would cause such a thing to happen and that is ok too. Again, it sucks, but it happens. Sometimes people learn things in a harder way then others but the goal is the same. Get to the shop, get the bow fixed and move on with a new story to tell later on.
bad=abe honest
Honesty goes a very long way! I have worked with compound bows for the past 8 years and in that time I have seen several dry fires. I have seen it happen to new shooters and I have seen it happen to seasoned shooters. It is not just a rookie mistake! It can happen to anyone that lets their guard down too long with a bow.

I hope it never happens but if you ever find yourself with a dry fired bow and preparing to make the first steps towards getting it fixed, keep this in mind. BE HONEST ABOUT IT.

If it happened then your best bet is to just own up to it. I know it can be hard to admit at first because it feels like a stupid mistake to make but it happens to the best of us. If you walk in and explain the problem any pro shop will be more than willing to line you out fast and cheap but if you deny it things can tricky. Like I said earlier, the damage caused by dry fires can only happen if a bow is actually dry fired. To put it simply - A pro shop will be able to spot if it is or isn't a dry fire before you even start to talk about it.

Not the pro shops call! It is also important to remember that the pro shop is not the one that gets to make the calls about warranty coverage. All the shop can do is check out the bow and report the findings back to the manufacturer of the bow along with what the owner of the bow told us about the damage. The manufacturer will then determine if it will or will not be covered under warranty.

This is a touchy subject but Michael Blanton owner of Hunter's Friend said it best in an article he wrote on the subject. " Trust us. We know. Problems happen. Sometimes the bow is at fault, sometimes it's not. But fault hardly matters once a problem occurs. Problems have to be fixed - and fixed fast!  Nobody buys a new bow so they can hate it and be disappointed with the purchase. When something goes wrong, the fun and excitement of the whole experience can evaporate. Even worse, this can put the customer, the archery store and the bow manufacturer on an adversarial path (which is decidedly bad for business). Nobody wants that outcome".

Once we describe the damage to the manufacturer and it becomes clear to them that this is in fact a dry fire. The first question the manufacturer will ask is if the customer was honest about what happened. If the answer is yes then it usually means better deals for the repair parts. It can also allow for much faster turn around times on the repair. If it is a situation where someone came in to the shop and said "my bad guys, it slipped" then we are able to immediately get the ball rolling and most of the time we get better deals on the repair parts from the factory. If it goes the way of denial then it slows down the repair drastically and most of the time the manufacturer charges retail for the repair parts because they have to spend hours trying to find a malfunction in the bow to explain the damage, but a malfunction does not exist in the case of a dry fire. Honesty is rewarded because it saves manufacturer a lot of trouble in the end.
We can rebuild it! The fact is that a dry fire will most likely damage your bow but should never damage your pride. If it happens so be it. Ironically, the first person I ever actually saw dry fire a bow was my production manager here at the shop. Someone who has shot bows his entire life, professionally and just for fun, still managed to slip up and dry fire a bow. I have even done it myself. If you play with bows then odds are its going to happen at some point. Hopefully not but it could. If it does happen just admit it and go get it fixed if it needs to be fixed. You will certainly not be the only one at your shop that has dry fired a bow but they will all appreciate your honesty.