Dry Firing a Bow – WHY You Shouldn’t!

Jennifer | |

Dry firing a bow is or should be, every archer or hunter’s worst nightmare. The potential for injury and the incredible amount of damage that occurs to your bow during a dry fire should never be taken lightly.

Preventing a dry fire is not difficult, however, sometimes you can do everything right, and all it takes is one overlook of the smallest detail and an accidental dry fire occurs. Sometimes the arrow just simply slips off the bowstring during the draw and/or release. 

Dry fires can happen to a beginner archer or even a veteran at any time. If you are a veteran and you are teaching a new archer, whether it is one of your children or a friend, make sure the first you do before handing them a bow is to explain to them the importance of never dry firing a bow and how to prevent them from happening. 

Hey! You could even send them a link to this article to read before meeting you at the shooting range.

In this article, we will explain what a dry fire is, the physics of what happens during a normal shot and how it differs from a dry fire, as well as share some tips of prevention and general safety

You will also learn what to do if you accidentally dry fire your bow or if you suspect someone may have dry fired your bow without your knowledge. 

What is Dry Firing a Bow?

The term dry firing in archery refers to when a bow is drawn, and the bowstring is released without an arrow. This can happen on accident when an arrow is not knocked to the bowstring properly, or on purpose by someone who does not know the consequences of dry firing.

The accidental dry fires that occur when an arrow is not knocked properly can come from user error or unseen damage to your arrow’s knocking. Always make sure that you properly knock your arrow before every shot, and whether it is at the shooting range or in the field, you need to inspect all your arrows for any visible damage before each outing.

If you suspect an arrow has any damage, even if it is questionable, and especially if it is located on the knocking, then retire that arrow immediately

Another way an accidental dry fire occurs is by using arrows that weigh too little for your bow. 

When you use a bow with higher draw weight, you need a heavier arrow to absorb the greater energy levels the bow puts out. 

Always check your bow manufacturer’s guidelines or ask a professional at a pro shop what is the minimum weight of an arrow that can be safely shot from your particular bow. 

And last, sometimes someone will dry fire a bow on purpose if they are new to archery and do not understand the potential consequences of doing so. 

If you are showing your bow to a youth, teenager, or new archer, be sure to watch them closely to prevent them from dry firing your bow. 

Explain to them the potential consequences of serious injury and irreparable damage to the bow before letting them hold your bow. 

When someone holds a bow for the first time, it is a natural instinct to want to draw the bow and release the bowstring. Make sure they don’t!

NuSensei talks dry firing bows

What Happens When You Dry-Fire a Bow?

So, why is dry firing a bow such a terrible idea and what happens when it is done? 

When you shoot a bow normally with an arrow, you draw the bowstring and enormous potential energy is created in the riser and the limbs of the bow. The limbs flex and the only thing your bow wants to do is return to its original resting position.

This tension creates potential energy which then is released into kinetic energy causing the arrow to fly to your target. Most of the built-up energy is transferred to the arrow, however, a little goes back to the limbs and the riser. This is why you feel some vibration after your shot. The better the bow, the less vibration you will feel.

When you do this same exact action, but without an arrow knocked to your bowstring, the potential energy built up in the draw has nowhere to go except directly to your limbs and the bow riser. 

The release of energy onto the bow rather than to the flight of the arrow causes damage to the bow and could potentially cause serious harm to the user or bystanders.

Here’s an archer who was considerably lucky to be relatively unharmed during an accidental dry fire

Does Dry Firing Damage a Bow?

Yes, dry firing does damage a bow. The extent of that damage can vary greatly. Sometimes a bow may shatter into multiple pieces. Sometimes it may develop a crack in one or both of the limbs. 

If your bow shatters or develops a crack, do not fire the bow again. Immediately consider that bow trash and do not attempt to repair the bow or mend any of the cracks. You risk serious bodily harm.

If the bow has no visible signs of damage, it can be damaged internally. Again, do not fire the bow after a dry fire, and instead, take the bow to a pro shop and have it inspected by a professional who can assess whether the bow is safe to shoot again or not. 

Does This Apply to Crossbows As Well?

Yes, the same concept of dry firing that we are discussing for regular bows applies to crossbows as well. The same risk to bodily harm and the same types of damage to the bow exists for the crossbow.

Some would even say it is easier to dry fire a crossbow because you “cock” a crossbow before placing a bolt into position. Once your crossbow is “cocked” you may have a deer jump out unexpectedly or simply just forget to place a bolt before firing. 

Most people think dry firing a bow or crossbow will never happen to them, but if you are an avid hunter or archer, there is an excellent chance it will happen to you once in your lifetime.

What About Compound Bows?

Compounds bows and crossbows are the worst to dry fire. Because of the cam system and extra cables, there are so many more things that could go wrong. Also, there are more parts that can shatter, come loose, and that can cause you or a bystander serious injury. 

Be extra careful to never dry fire a compound style bow or crossbow. Again, if this should happen, do not fire the bow again until it has been thoroughly inspected by a professional.

How Can You Tell That Someone Has Dry Fired a Bow?

If you are borrowing a bow from someone or maybe you had loaned your bow to someone previously, it is a good idea to inspect the bow to see if it has been dry fired before use. 

First, you will want to fully inspect the limbs. Check for any cracks, splinters, or breaks in the limbs. If you see anything, do not fire the bow. If everything looks normal, slowly draw the bow and if you hear any noises of creeks or cracks, slowly let off the bow and get it checked out right away. 

Next, you will need to check the cams if you are using a compound bow. Cams have the potential to bend slightly or bend in half when dry fired. Check for any bends in the cams and do not shoot the bow even if there is only the most minute bend.

A compound bow that is drawn with a slightly bent cam can have a cable derail. A derailment is an extremely unsafe situation.

And last, fully inspect the bowstring, the cables, and the servings to make sure there is no damage. These are the easiest to damage during a dry fire.

If you have any doubts or even the smallest reservation, take your bow to a professional pro shop immediately. It is not worth the risk. 

How Can You Avoid Dry Firing a Bow?

The most important thing you can do to prevent dry firing a bow is to be mindful and in control at all times. 

Dry fires are most usually an accident and they can occur when your hand slips, you have an unexpected surprise or sneeze, or when you do no inspect your equipment properly. 

Here is a basic list of prevention practices.

  • Always inspect your arrows to make sure that the knocking is undamaged.
  • Make sure to never shoot arrows that are lightweight and not designed for your bow’s strength or test weight. 
  • If you are showing your bow to a youth archer or beginner, ensure they are fully aware of the dangers of dry firing.
  • Always be sober and alert when shooting your bow.
  • Avoid drawing your bow without the intention of firing an arrow.

These steps may not cover all prevention methods, but it is a basic start and should be obeyed religiously.

Remember, not all dry fires are preventable, and it may happen to you someday by complete accident. Make sure to have your bow fully inspected by a professional if that is the case. 

What Should You Do After Dry Firing a Bow?

The steps to take after you have dry fired your bow are the same as when you are checking to see if a bow has been dry fired without your knowledge.

The first step is to not fire the bow again. 

Then, inspect the limbs, cams, cables, and bowstring.

Even if there is no obvious visible damage, your bow may be harboring internal damage. Take your bow to a pro shop to have a proper full inspection conducted by a professional.

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