Don’t even think about ever dry-firing a bow.

Dry-firing a bow is a big no-no

I am writing as I sit at work, waiting for a customer who is bringing in his bow for an emergency repair. It’s 8 a.m., and he is leaving for an outfitted Missouri whitetail hunt at noon.

His bow was dry-fired by a “buddy” with whom he was practicing. Until he gets here, I’m not even sure if I have all of the parts I’ll need to repair the bow. This will be the fourth or fifth dry-fired/derailed bow I have repaired just before someone’s major hunting trip this week. It seems ignorance is winning the war over common sense. So this inspired me to write about some of these incidents in the hopes of saving someone else from being put in the horrible situation these guys are in.

Here are some of the more common causes of archery mishaps, and my advice for avoiding them. I give the same speech about dos and don’ts every time we sell a bow, and sadly, all of these are included under the DON’T column.

No dry fires, ever

The first one is obvious. But I feel the need to reiterate it here anyway. NEVER, EVER DRY-FIRE ANY BOW. When you dry-fire a bow — shoot it without an arrow of proper weight securely and fully snapped onto the string — the energy that would have been transferred to the arrow has to go somewhere. That somewhere is rarely a good place, especially with today’s high-speed bows. The excess energy is dissipated as vibration and noise. And it often does severe damage to the bow.

Damage from a dry fire may include broken string and cables, bent or broken cams or even broken limbs. In very rare cases, there is no obvious damage to the bow. But even then, it often causes the bow to become untuned.

Notice what I wrote about proper arrow weight and fully nocking the arrow. Most people consider a dry fire to be shooting the bow without an arrow at all. But if the arrow is too light or isn’t fully attached to the string, the result can be the same.

In many cases, probably even 50% of the time, the person who dry-fires the bow isn’t the bow’s owner. It amazes me that someone will pick up another person’s weapon without first asking. But I see this time and again. Often, while the archer is walking to the target to retrieve their arrows, a “buddy” who is watching him shoot picks up their bow and lets it rip without an arrow in it. The archer hears the sickening sound, and turns around to see the friend holding what is left of his or her bow with a dumbfounded expression on his or her face. Never leave your bow unattended if you can help it. Also, explain to anyone attending a practice session not to touch your bow or dry-fire any bow.

Booze? no dry-firing a bow

Alcohol also plays into many of these dry-firing scenarios. Other than the obvious fact that alcohol and weapons don’t mix, alcohol greatly increases the “stupid factor” for both the archer and any bystanders. While I feel bad for anyone whose bow has been dry-fired, I’m reminded of what Forrest Gump’s Mama always said: “Stupid is as stupid does.” I won’t belabor this point any further, suffice to say that Darwin takes effect here quite often.

Tune up, tune out

The bow suffered a splintered limb that was caused by a derail/dry-fire. (Picture by Sammy Romano)

A third common cause I see for dry fires is someone working on or tuning their own bow. The human brain — especially the male human brain — does not multi-task very well when performing unfamiliar tasks. I recently had a customer who had just dry-fired his bow once, dry-fire it again while tuning it for broadheads. His broadheads were hitting a half-inch to the right, and after adjusting his rest slightly to compensate, he forgot to put his arrow back in the bow. You can imagine his disgust when he released another empty string and his bow exploded for the second time in a week.

One customer derailed a bow twice and dry-fired his backup bow, all within three days. His wife purchased some lighted nocks for him online. After he derailed the first bow, he came in and purchased a new one. This was a Saturday, and he was leaving for Kansas on a big hunt in just a few days, so I restrung the original bow and rigged his new one on the spot.

I mentioned that his lighted nocks looked like they were inferior Chinese copies of a Nockturnal. On Monday morning, he was back with both bows blown up. The Chinese-made nocks were the culprit. The flimsy plastic from which they were made allowed them to disengage from the string at full draw. We got him fixed up, and he is in Kansas hunting as I’m typing this.

Most of the above issue could have been easily avoided by using a little common sense. Today’s high-powered bows are not forgiving of dry fires or derails. Pulling these bows without a release will result in a string derailing if the bow is torqued even slightly. In many cases, this is even more damaging than a dry fire.

Never pull a bow unless you are using a release with an arrow loaded and are aiming at a safe target. A little good judgement now will save a lot of agony and expense later. Good luck this season.

About Sammy Romano 53 Articles
Sammy Romano is a lifelong hunter who has worked in the archery industry for more than 24 years. His expertise includes compounds and crossbows. He can be reached at

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