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The sound of a dry fired bow is unmistakable. It is loud, scary, and draws the attention of everyone around you. Although dry firing a bow can be embarrassing, that is the least of your concerns. Dry firing a bow is dangerous for you, the people around you, and your bow.
What should you do if you accidentally dry fire a bow?
The best thing to do if you dry fire a bow is to take it to a professional archery shop and have it inspected. If this is not an option for you, then you need to inspect the bow thoroughly for damages, fractures, and splintering.
In order to understand why it is so important to have your bow inspected after an accidental dry fire, you need to understand exactly what could happen to a bow during if you accidentally dry fire it and why you should take it seriously.
Continue reading to learn how a dry fire affects your bow and what you should do after a dry fire.
How Dry Firing Damages Your Bow
A dry fire is when a bow is fired without an arrow nocked. You release the bowstring and it snaps forward, but there isn’t an arrow there to absorb the force of that snap.
Dry firing is rarely done on purpose because most archers aren’t willing to risk their bows by dry firing them, but accidental dry firing can happen to archers of any skill level. Accidents can happen to anyone, right? It is only a matter of time to some extent.
An accidental dry fire can happen if you do not properly nock the arrow, if the arrow nock is loosened or damaged, or if your fingers slip on the string. While not actually considered a dry fire, if you are using an arrow that is too light for the bow the results will be the same as a dry fire.
Dry firing can also happen if you’re new to archery and just don’t know enough yet not to do it or if you allow your bow to be handled by someone who doesn’t know a lot about archery.
The Problem with Dry Firing
When you draw back the bowstring, energy is created and stored in the bow. When you release the bowstring, this energy is transferred to the arrow and sends it zipping towards the target.
When you dry fire a bow, the energy is not able to transfer to the arrow because there is no arrow, but the energy will still need to go somewhere. So instead, the energy goes back to the bow creating strong vibrations throughout the entire bow.
These vibrations can cause catastrophic damage to any part of the bow.
A poorly made bow will be more likely to get damaged by a dry fire, but this does not mean that a well-made bow will not get damaged.
Often more than quality, the strength of the bow will determine the extent of the damage a bow suffers from a dry fire.
The higher the draw weight of the bow, the stronger the vibrations will be, the greater the potential for damage will be.
Compound bows are especially susceptible to getting damaged by a dry fire because they are so powerful and store so much energy before the shot is fired.
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Additionally, because compound bows are more complex than most bows, and have so many moving pieces, they tend to suffer more damage than a typical bow or a recurve.
Other bow types like recurves and traditional bows can all still get damaged if you dry fire them, but it happens less often.
Any amount of damage to a bow will require that you fix the bow before using it. If you use a damaged bow, it is very likely that the bow will shatter.
No bow should ever be dry fired.
It doesn’t matter if the bow is capable of withstanding it. Dry firing puts unnecessary stress on the bow, which, in the long run, is just not good for your bow. If you care about your bow, you won’t do it on purpose.
What Exactly Could Happen?
Not every bow that is dry fired will experience damage. If you are very lucky dry firing a bow will not cause any damage at all, but it could also cause your bow to shatter. There is no way for you to know what will happen, and hopefully, you will never have to find out.
Dry firing can cause any or all of the following bad things:
- Bent cams
- Warped cam tracks
- Broken or derailed bowstring
- Splintered limbs
- Broken cable guard
Just about any piece of your bow can suffer damage if you dry fire it, and typically it will affect more than one part. At its most severe, the bow will seem to explode. The limbs will splinter and fly off, the string will snap, and you will be scared half to death.
The most common damages are a broken bowstring, splintered limbs, and bent cams, but a dry fire can affect any part of your bow.
A broken bow is not the worst that can happen when you dry fire a bow. Dry firing a bow is dangerous.
You have to remember that when you are firing a bow, it is extremely close to you and your face. The pieces flying off the bow can fly back at you and knock you out, cut your face, or get into your eyes.
These flying pieces sometimes leave the bow at such a force that anyone standing near you would also be in danger.
Some Videos of Dry Fires
Below is an example of a catastrophic dry fire that clearly illustrates why a dry firing your bow is a terrible idea. Luckily the pieces of the bow all flew away from the person shooting the bow, and no one was hurt. (Also, why is he shooting in his front yard?)
The next video shows how unpredictable the damage from a dry fire can be. Piece of the bow fly back at the archer at high speed, and the bowstring derails.
Finally, this video shows that accidental dry fires happen to the best of us. In this video, professional archer Tim Gillingham, who has been practicing archery for 30 years, accidentally dry fires a bow during a live video.
What to do After a Dry Fire
Hopefully, now you understand the repercussions of dry firing a bow enough that you won’t be testing it out yourself any time soon.
After dry firing a bow, the first thing you should do is make sure you and anyone around you did not get hurt and then thank your lucky stars if you didn’t.
Next, you need to inspect the bow to make sure it is not damaged. A quick visual inspection will tell you if there is any clear damage. In most cases, the damage will be painfully clear.
If the damage is clear, the next step is also clear. You will need to get the bow repaired. Even if the damage does not seem extensive, get it repaired before you attempt to draw the bow again.
Bows are under such a great amount of pressure that even a small amount of damage could lead to the bow breaking even more or shattering in your face.
If the bow doesn’t show any obvious signs of damage, you should still take it to a professional archery shop, and have it checked out.
Some damage is harder to see because of its location or is simply too tiny to notice. Remember your bow just underwent a lot of stress. Microscopic structural damage can occur that is not at first apparent, but microscopic damage can still undermine the bows structural integrity.
If the bow looks fine, but there is damage you cannot see, there is a chance that the next time you draw, or shortly thereafter, the bow it is going to fracture or shatter.
You can inspect the bow yourself, but a professional archery shop will be able to give the bow a far more thorough look over than you could at home, especially if you do not have a bow press.
Take the Bow to a Professional
If you dry fire your bow, the safest course of action to take is to bring it to a professional archery shop to have the bow checked out by an expert. Unless you have expert level knowledge of how to inspect a bow for damage, you may not catch things that a professional who has done it hundreds of times would.
Don’t be afraid to tell the person that helps you at the archery shop that you dry fired the bow. This is important information that will help them know what kind of damage to look for on your bow.
You won’t be the first person to walk into their shop with a bow damaged by a dry fire. Once they assess the damage that occurred, they will likely know that you dry fired it without you having told them. Telling them will just make their assessment easier and more accurate.
Dry firing happens. If you’re practicing archery long enough, it is bound to happen to you eventually.
A professional archery shop will do more than just look over the bow. They will thoroughly inspect every part of the bow that could have become damaged. They will use a bow press to take the bow apart so they can be sure that each and every piece is still in good condition.
On a positive note, if you’ve been meaning to have your bow restrung or any other adjustments done to it, now is a great time to do it.
Taking the bow to a professional archery shop for inspection will also give you peace of mind. You won’t have to worry about your bow exploding in your face because of hidden damage. It’s worth the trip.
Inspect the Bow Yourself
If you cannot bring the bow to a professional archery shop, then you will need to inspect the bow yourself. This is not ideal, but if you have no other option, then it will have to do.
To inspect the bow, you will need good lighting, a magnifying glass, and a cotton ball.
If you’re using a compound bow, you will have more to inspect and the damage is more difficult to see in some cases.
- Bring the bow to a location with good lighting so that you will be able to see what is going on with the bow.
- Using a magnifying glass, carefully inspect the limbs for any signs of damage. If you rub a cotton ball over the limbs, tiny pieces of the cotton ball will catch where there is any damage.
- If the limbs are damaged, you will need to very, very carefully relax the limbs enough to remove the bowstring. The string is putting pressure on the limbs and could cause further damage if you don’t do this. If you don’t feel comfortable doing this, you will need to bring it to an archery shop right away.
- Check the bowstring for tears or fraying. If the bowstring is damaged, you need to get the bow into a bow press ASAP. If the string snaps, the bow could get more damaged.
- Check every inch of the bow including the riser, cams, cables, cable guard, string vibration arrestor, stabilizers, and sight. Look for cracks, fractures, splinters, fraying, warping, wobbling, looseness, or misalignment.
- If everything seems okay, draw the bow to make sure there are no strange vibrations or sounds.
- If there are any signs of damage, even the slightest sign of damage or weird feeling when you draw the bow, you will need to get it checked out and fixed.
- If everything seems fine, shoot some test arrows to make sure the bow is tuned, and everything is still in alignment. The force of the dry fire could have knocked your sight out of place.
- If the bow shoots as normal and your aiming doesn’t seem off, then your bow is probably fine. If the arrows are not shooting as normal or are not shooting where you aim (and they normally do) you will need to retune your bow and/or adjust your sight.
Dry Fire and Your Bow’s Warranty
If you accidentally dry fire your bow and your bow is damaged by it, it is not the manufacturer’s fault because it was not caused by a fault in the bow. It was caused by misuse of the bow.
Damaged caused by a dry fire will not be covered by your warranty.
All manufacturer’s state in their warranty that they will not cover damage caused by a dry fire.
Even Hoyt, which claims that all of its bows are capable of withstanding 1,500 dry fires, states specifically on their website that they do not cover damage that was caused by a dry fire.
That being said, many people claim that their damage was generously covered under the warranty of their bow. If you bring your bow into a dealership or professional archery shop and they go through the warranty process, you might be pleasantly surprised.
How to Avoid Dry Firing Your Bow
Accidental dry fires are inevitable to some extent, but there are some measures you can take to avoid a dry fire. Follow these tips to help prevent an accidental dry fire.
If you are new to archery, learn the proper technique to nock the arrow and release it. Get advice from people who are experienced and learn from them.
Don’t let people handle your bow unless they know enough about archery to know that they shouldn’t dry fire the bow. If they don’t know anything about archery, and in some cases even if they do, explain to them briefly how important it is not to dry fire a bow.
Check your arrows frequently to make sure that the nocks are not damaged or loose. This can happen sometimes after your arrow hits something hard. This is more likely to happen if you are hunting but inspecting your arrows before using them is good practice.
Do not use arrows that are too light for your bow. Every bow will list the arrow weights that are compatible with it in the instruction manual. You can also check with your local archery shop for suggestions on which arrows to use.
Don’t draw your bow without an arrow nocked. If the arrow is nocked and you accidentally release the bowstring, you will simply fire the shot. If you are drawing a bow with an arrow nocked, make sure you’re doing it safely.
Don’t build up shoulder strength by drawing the bow. You can build up shoulder strength by frequent practice, but if you aren’t on the range, don’t use your bow.
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I live in Alberta, Canada where I enjoy indoor and 3D archery with traditional bows and compound bows. On this site, I share everything I’ve learned about archery along the way.