Dry Firing a Bow; 3 Things You Should Know


Dry firing a bow violates the biggest commandment in archery. Here are 3 things you should know about it.

It comes standard with every bow. Every time a bow changes hands there is a warning issued. If you’ve been in archery longer than five seconds you have heard it at least once. Whether it is a bow you are testing at you local archery shop or if it is a bow you are loaning to an archery newbie it doesn’t matter. This warning is the first thing out of the owner’s mouth after the bow is passed; don’t dry fire the bow.

We all know dry firing a bow is bad, but do you know what can happen to a bow that is dry fired, why it happens, or how to proceed if your bow has been dry fired? Here is a brief guide to understanding the biggest sin of archery.

What Can Happen

Many times when an archery newbie receives both their bow and their warning it is met with a sort of blank look of misunderstanding. In fact I’ll assume a few experienced archers out there don’t actually know what can happen if a bow is dry fired either. That’s because they and their shooting pards have all followed commandment number one by the letter. If you’ve ever been curious as to what can happen from dry firing a bow take a look at this brief video.

As you can see that caused some pretty serious failure. Here is another example of what can happen from dry firing a bow.

In both instances there is obviously extreme damage done to the bow. At this point it may go without saying that every new archer should see these videos.

Why it happens

After seeing the actual damage a dry fire can cause you may be curious as to why it can cause such tremendous damage to a bow. The answer lies in the scribbled notes from your high school science class. At some point in high school you likely learned a bit about energy. One concept of energy has to do with the transfer of energy from potential energy to kinetic energy. Bows give us an opportunity to see this principle carried out in real life.

When a bow is drawn there is potential energy stored in the limbs. Typically when the string is released it transfers the potential energy into kinetic energy, or in other words energy of motion. This energy is transferred into your arrow that flies downrange and strikes the target. The problem when dry firing a bow is with the absence of an arrow the kinetic energy of the bow has only one place to go; back to the bow itself. No bow is designed for that kind of abuse and that’s why you see the failure above. The equipment simply falls apart after being put under stress it was never intended for.

Check out this video to see the abuse of a dry fire in slow motion.

How to Proceed

So let’s pretend you see someone at the range getting set for a shot. The shooter is a bit inexperienced and learning the ropes. Right before they go to shoot the arrow falls off the rest but they release the string anyways. The loud bang reported from the shot is enough to know its been dry fired. What should the archer do next?

The first thing to do is inspect the bow for any major damage. As with the above videos, sometimes this damage will be so severe you can’t help but notice it. Sometimes however the damage may be less obvious and you may need to proceed with a closer inspection. Old wisdom tells archers to take a cotton ball and run it up and down your limbs after dry firing a bow. The idea is cotton balls will catch on any splinters in your limbs you may not be able to see.

If your limbs aren’t splintered you are not out of the woods yet. You’ll also need to check the riser of the bow and inspect it for cracks as well. Finally give your cams a good looking over as they can experience a good deal of abuse as well. Here is a great video about dry firing a crossbow, but even compound bow shooters can learn from the cam damage displayed.

Dry firing a bow.

Most crossbows come equipped with anti-dry fire technology.

The crossbow featured in the video was a Parker. Most crossbows today come standard with an anti-dry fire mechanism. If you have been looking to buy a crossbow, make sure this feature is included with your new bow. It may save you in the future.

If you’ve ran a cotton ball over the limbs, inspected the riser and cams, and don’t see any noticeable damage you may be in the clear. The first few shots after the dry fire will be the real test however.

Browse internet chat rooms and you’ll hear stories of shooters who have had bows blow up on them after a dry fire. This would happen if there was damage to the bow you failed to see or the bow had been weakened substantially by the dry fire. Many times a bow can be dry fired without any harm done to the bow but you should be cautious shooting a bow that has been dry fired. Even though they are not designed for it, you might get lucky and get away with one.

There you have it, the basics on dry firing a bow. Now that you’ve seen what can happen to a dry-fired bow and know the science behind it, you’ll hopefully have a better understanding of why you shouldn’t do it. Also if you happen to accidentally dry fire a bow make sure to give it a good looking over and follow a few old tips. You might get lucky and your bow may still shoot. If you stay in archery long enough you will likely know someone who has dry fired a bow, or may unfortunately do it yourself. If you happen to violate the most sacred of archery commandments at least you’ll be prepared going forward.

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