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Why Your Arrows Drift Left or Right & What to Do About It


Everything is going well as you raise your bow. You draw the bow, aim, and release. The arrow hits the target with an audible thud, but when you look, you see that the arrow has hit the target well to the left or the right of where you intended.

It can be frustrating!

Here is why your arrows are drifting:

  • The Wind,
  • Out of tune bow
  • Poor Grip

All these can all cause your arrows to drift left or right.  You can fix these problems easily by making sight adjustments to compensate for wind and tune your bow.

It can get really frustrating when your arrows start drifting seemingly out of nowhere, and you can’t figure out what the problem is. In this article, I will go over all the things that can cause your arrow to drift and give you all the information you’ll need to fix the problem.

Why Your Arrows are Drifting

If your arrows are drifting, there is a reason for it. This is good news because if you know the reason you can fix the problem. The wind, alignment issues in the bow, torquing the bow, and canting the bow can all cause the arrow to drift.

It is important to remember that a drifting arrow will not be as noticeable when you’re shooting close up. The further you back away from the target, the more the arrow will drift.

This means that the problem may suddenly appear as you move away from the target, but the cause could have still been going on when you were shooting from a shorter distance.

The Wind

The wind might seem a bit obvious, but many don’t realize that even a light 10 mph wind can cause your arrows to drift even when you’re only shooting from 30 yards.

If you are not in a competition or hunting, a light wind might not make a huge difference to you, but when you are trying to hit an exact location be it a target or a clean shot, every inch matters.

Winds will often be unpredictable and rarely hit the arrowhead on or at a 90-degree angle. This is what makes shooting with the wind so difficult. There is no substitute for experience when it comes to shooting on a windy day. The more you do it, the more you’ll know how to cope with it.

Shoot from Shorter Distances

If you have your choice in the matter, limit the distance between you and your target when there are winds. The farther you are from the target, the more time the wind will have to act upon the arrow and the further your arrow will drift.

This may not be possible in a competition setting, but if your hunting or just shooting for fun, limiting the distance between you and your target should result in better shots.

The only time you would not want to shorten your distance to the target is if you are practicing. Getting practice in the wind is essential to becoming a better archer. Check the windsock and observe how the wind impacts the flight of the arrow.

Test out some of the methods listed below to help you counter the influence of the wind.

Canting

To combat the wind many archers recommend canting the bow.

To cant a bow, you simply hold it so that it is no longer vertical. Many traditional-style archers do this so they can better see their target, while others only use this technique to combat the wind.

If the sight you use has a level, canting is called bubbling off because you’re moving the bubble in the level when you angle the bow. When you have a level, it is easier to recreate the angles that you need, but many archers do just fine without one.

The amount of angle you put on the bow will depend on the strength and direction of the wind.

The main benefit that canting or bubbling off has over aiming off is that it helps you deal with the wind while still allowing you to aim at the target as you normally would.

Like all methods for dealing with the wind, canting takes practice and experience with each of your bows and with each of the kinds of arrows you intend to use.  Not all bows will respond to canting the same way and not all arrows will respond to the wind the same way.

Aim Off

Aiming off is when you aim at a location other than the spot on the target you want to hit to account for the wind. For example, if you aim at the center of the target and hit high, then you would aim lower with the hopes of hitting the center.

There is some debate as to whether aiming off is a good idea or not. Some believe that aiming at the center of the target is so ingrained in our muscle memory that at the last moment, as you try to aim off, you naturally pull your bow to the center of the target, which results in some messy shots.

Other archers don’t feel this is a problem for them. These archers use the technique of aiming off for the wind frequently with no problem at all. This could simply be a matter of how you practice and personal style.

Choose the Right Arrow

Finding the best arrow to use in windy conditions will take time and patience as every archer and bow is different. To find the windy day set up that works for you isn’t as simple as doing what others have done before you.

In general, to find the right arrow for windy weather you will need to balance the size of the arrow against the weight. Ideally, you would use a short, low profile, and small diameter arrow with short fletching that is heavy, but how heavy can it be if it is short with a low diameter?

This is why you have to figure out what works best for you. You have to figure out which tradeoffs make the most sense for how you shoot.

Additionally, you want to choose an arrow that is fast. The faster the arrow is, the less time the wind will have to act on it. It will cut through the wind and hit the target with less drifting.

Don’t forget, you want the arrows you use in the wind to be:

  • Small diameter
  • Low profile
  • Short
  • Short fletching
  • Heavy
  • Fast

Finding the perfect arrow that is all of these things is impossible. You will have to make some sacrifices, but this list will give you a good place to start.

You Need to Tune Your Bow

If it is not the wind causing your arrows to drift, it could be that your bow needs tuning. If all the parts of the bow are not properly aligned, your arrow will not shoot straight. There seem to be as many ways to tune a bow as there are archers. Here a few commonly used methods.

Aligning the Limbs

If you use a recurve bow, your limbs can come out of alignment. The easiest way to check the alignment of your limbs is to use Beiter Limb Line Gauges.

These are just small pieces of plastic that clip on to each of your limbs to assess their alignment. You simply clip them on to the limbs in the same spot and check that your bowstring is between the lines marked on the gauges.

If your limbs are out of alignment, you will need to make adjustments to fix them. There are usually adjustment screws that can be used to achieve proper alignment, but every bow is a little different. Your manual should give you more information for your specific bow.

Paper Tuning

Paper tuning is a method of checking you if need to make any adjustments to your nocking point or rest. To do this method, you shoot an arrow through a stable piece of paper and the marking the arrow leaves will tell you what kind of adjustments need to be made.

Paper tuning your bow will only work if you are already doing everything else right with your archery. You need to have consistent form and a perfect grip for this method to work.

This is because paper tuning shows you what is wrong with the shot, not why the shot is wrong. If your arrow is drifting because of bow torque then you will see that as you go through the paper tuning process, but you will not know if it is because of the torque or if it is because your bow needs tuning.

Here is what you need to do to paper tune your bow:

  1. Put a piece of paper into a frame. No side of the paper should be loose for this to work. The paper needs to be taut and stable.
  2. Stand a few feet away from the paper. Using good form, level the bow and shoot through the paper
  3. Check the results of the shot. If your bow is properly aligned, you will see a central point with three arms snaking out where the arrow went through the paper. This is called a bullet hole.
  4. If the paper tears vertically, you will need to adjust the nock point or rest height.
  5. If the paper tears left or right, you may need to adjust the rest left or right.
  6. You move the rest in the direction you want the arrows to fly. This is the opposite of adjusting your sight.
  7. It may take several tries and adjustments before you get the arrow to fly through the paper without causing long tears.

You can watch a short video about how to do this process below!

Walk Back Tune

Walk back tuning is another way of checking if your rest needs adjustments made to it, and in particular, it will check for horizontal adjustments.

Like paper tuning, you need to make sure that you’re shooting with a consistent stance and good form for this tuning method to work. If you don’t have good form, you won’t know if the problem is something you’re doing or a problem with the rest.

To walk back tune your bow, you will need a large target with something you can aim at near the top of the target.  A target like this one would be fine, but you could also use something you already have by making a T on it with tape. You would aim at where the lines of the T meet.

Here is how you walk back tune your bow:

  1. Start about 20 yards from your target. Draw and shoot your bow, aiming at the top target or where the lines of the T meet
  2. Step back further from the target. You’ll get a feel for how far back you will like to go the more you do this, but to start with, you can go back about 25 to 30 yards and shoot again aiming at the same location.
  3. Now your arrow will land in a spot below where you were aiming because you are further back, but it should not go to the left or the right of that spot.
  4. Do this a few more times until you see a pattern in how the arrows are hitting.
  5. If your rest needs adjustments, your shots will create a line that curves out from the first shot.
  6. To adjust the rest, you will need to move the rest in the direction you want the shots to fly. This is the opposite of what you do when you’re adjusting your sight pins.

You’re Torquing the Bow

Torquing the bow means that you are applying an unintentional twisting force to the bow. This force will translate into a poorly shot arrow.

The most common way people unknowingly torque their bow is by gripping it too hard or twisting their hand at the last second before the arrow leaves the bow. This is especially common with new archers, but it is a problem that can sneak up on you when you aren’t looking out for it.

If all else is right with your bow, and your arrows are still drifting, it is probably because you’re torquing the bow.

To help with bow torque, you need to check your grip. Here are some basic grip guidelines:

  • Your grip should be relaxed from the elbow down.
  • The meaty part of your hand beneath your thumb should be against the bow grip.
  • Your grip should never cross over the lifeline of your hand.
  • Your fingers should not be gripping the bow hard.

If you’re struggling with gripping the bow too hard, you could try the True Shot Coach, which is a training aid you wear on your hand that prevents you from squeezing the bow too hard.

If part of your grip issues stem from being worried about dropping your bow, then you should try using a bow sling. It will allow you to keep a relaxed grip, with no chance of dropping the bow.

Your Sight is Moving

If you are setting up your sight and then it is moving while the bow is not in use due to vibrations or loose screws, you will absolutely have trouble with drifting.

This can happen if the screws used to hold your sight are not tight enough. Loose screws are more likely to be found in older bows as the screw holes wear out over time from the adjustments you make. It is less likely in a new bow but could happen if the bow was not made correctly.

If your sight is moving around on you, you will know it because you will find yourself frequently readjusting the sight. Some archers like to mark the position of the screws after they set the sight so that they know if any screws move.

The solution is really easy. Use some Blue Loctite to hold the screws firmly in place. The Blue Loctite is temporary. Be sure you do NOT use the red variety, or you’ll never be able to adjust your sight again.

You’re Canting the Bow

Some archers prefer to cant the bow, but this is considered more of an advanced technique. A straight bow is simply easier to replicate consistently, and so most people start out by using a straight bow and as they gain more skill, they might switch to canting the bow.

Canting the bow changes the path of the arrow. If you are unintentionally canting the bow even slightly, the arrow will not hit the target where you aim.

To combat this, you may simply just need to be aware that you are doing it. If you can, use a sight with a level. It will be clear if you’re canting the bow if you keep an eye on the level.

Alternatively, you can record yourself shooting and pay close attention to any movement in your bow that would suggest you’re tilting it.

Whether it is something you’re doing, a problem in the bow, or circumstances outside of your control like the wind, there is always something you can do to prevent drift from ruining your shot.

As frustrating as drifting arrows can be, learning how to troubleshoot the causes will save you a lot of trouble in the long run.

Peter Sontrop

I live in Alberta, Canada where I enjoy field archery and target shooting with traditional bows and compound bows. On this site, I share everything I’ve learned about archery along the way.

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