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Archery Old Bows: What To Do Before You Pull That String Back

Old Bows: What To Do Before You Pull That String Back

A loyal commenter here recently mentioned that he’d discovered an old bow in his grandmother’s attic years back and began practicing with the stick and string before taking it out to hunt small game. But a limb on the aged bow cracked as he attempted to string it in the field, and now the found treasure is nothing more than a distant memory.

It was a painful lesson to learn, I’m sure, but one this archer won’t soon forget.

Unfortunately, this kind of accident is all too common. And a bow simply breaking is probably the best-case scenario in this type of situation — an old, warped rig could potentially cause an errant arrow to injure an animal, or a damaged string could snap and injure the archer himself.

So whether you’ve lucked into a … heirloom or purchased a second-hand bow on the cheap, take a few steps to ensure the safety of your prey, your setup, and yourself. 

Take it to a Pro Shop

This is probably the best and easiest option, unless you’re an archery expert fully equipped with a bow press and all the necessary tools at home. Small imperfections and subtle damage can be challenging to find, but the trained eye of an expert can spot even the tiniest flaw or potential problem. Invest in a full inspection at a pro shop you trust and make any of the necessary fixes your tech recommends.

Perform Your Own Inspection

If for whatever reason you can’t or don’t want to take your new old bow to a pro shop, perform your own top-to-bottom inspection before shooting it. Depending on the type of bow, here’s what to look for.

  • Limbs: Examine limbs carefully for any hairline cracks, chips, dents, or warping. 
  • Cams: Look for cracks, bends, and evidence of uneven wear between the cams.
  • String: Find any broken threads, fraying, or uneven wear anywhere on the string.
  • Components: Check any screws, bolts, or other adjustable components to make sure they aren’t loose, rusty, or broken.
  • Accessories:Inspect the rest, sight, and all other accessories for missing parts, loose components, or overall damage. 

This is just a minimum checklist — you may encounter other issues or need to perform other tests, but this is a great starting point.

You might just need some oil or wax, maybe a new string, or you might need to head to a pro shop for an overall anyway. No matter the damage, make sure you put safety first.

author avatar
The Bow Bully
Your resident archery expert to provide the tips, tricks, and advice you need to become the best bowhunter you can be. They’ll answer your questions, help you hone your archery skills, and provide you with the latest crossbow trends and developments in the world of archery. The Bow Bully will be discussing a variety of topics in the field of archery, ranging from equipment selection and maintenance to hunting strategies and techniques. Whether you’re a beginner looking to get your feet wet, or a seasoned bow hunter looking to hone your skills, grab your gear and get ready to learn the ropes.

10 thoughts on “Old Bows: What To Do Before You Pull That String Back”

    • If there is even one broken strand on a compound, that is one too many. I wouldn’t shoot or even draw it back once. Put a new string on it.
      Any bow (traditional or compound) with laminated limbs found in an attic is a trip to the Dr.s office waiting to happen. Just too hot and dry for the bow. I’ve seen bows that were left in a hot car blow up even after they cooled down hours later.
      Longbow or recurve I would start by bending it slowly 8-12 times. Using a too long bowstring or 550cord. Start by bending only an inch or two. Until you can bend the limbs enough to get the correct string on. All the while listening for any noise from the bow. If you hear ANYTHING at all from either limb,(just a “tick” might be the only thing you hear) it’s a wall hanger. Same thing once it’s strung. Go SLOW and ease the bow to full draw. Short pulls , half draws, 3/4 draws and full draws. Again ANY noise at all and it’s toast.

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  2. “It was a painful lesson to learn, I’m sure, but one this archer won’t soon forget.”
    The Bow Bully,
    Well said! It’s too bad there were no blogs like this back in those days as it would have saved me from a painful lesson; but hopefully your writing about my bad experience may save someone else from doing the same; thank you. 🙂
    Keep up the good work,
    dave

  3. TBB,

    For traditional wood bows (not laminated fiberglass/wood ones) the correct moisture content is critical. Too dry and the bow could fail catastrophically; too wet and it looses performance, possibly taking permanent damage (an extreme “string follow”).

    Since the finish on a traditional bow is often just a light coat of oil or wax, bows stored in a dry attic or a damp basement will likely need to be reacclimatized to the 10 to 14 % humidity level that bows are usually tillered to before being strung. Then the bow should be “retrained” to its trllered draw weigh and length of draw by gentle drawing (while observing and listening) in gradual increasing increments to warm up the bow.

    I generally “warm up” the bow (and the shooter 🙂 ) before a shooting session or a hunt.

    Simple wooden “self bows” are durable and functional but they require a bit of TLC and consideration. Modern metal, plastic and fiberglass bows are more tolerant of abuse and neglect.

    I have a couple of compound bows that I enjoy but I have a strong preference for homemade wooden bows.

    Cheers,
    Hank

    • “Since the finish on a traditional bow is often just a light coat of oil or wax, bows stored in a dry attic or a damp basement will likely need to be reacclimatized to the 10 to 14 % humidity level that bows are usually tillered to before being strung. ”
      Hank,
      I hear you…now, that is. What can I say? At the time, I was a typical clueless teenager who thought he already knew everything. 😉
      Cheers,
      dave

  4. What is your thoughts on storage of recurves? I have found many people who say they keep them strung all of the time and others who say that will ruin them and they need to be destrung after shooting.

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