First Aid for your Bow

Many factors can shut down your bowhunt. Weather, hunting pressure and even your physical stamina can stop a hunt cold. Don’t add bow equipment failure to the list. With some foresight and planning, you can turn an equipment disaster into just a bump in the road. Be prepared with the right tools and backup parts to get right back into the hunt.  

Black Hills Archery pro shop owner and avid bowhunter Al Kraus has bowhunted in settings across the globe over his 40-year bowhunting career. Not only has he experienced breakdowns in the field, but as a pro shop owner for the past 21 years, he has witnessed the pain of his customers and their equipment-related issues. Kraus strongly recommends you have the tools and knowledge ready, so when a surprise equipment malfunction arises, it is easily resolved.


Diagnosis of the bow’s reluctance to work is the first step toward recovery. Weekly throughout the fall Kraus sees the most common bow ailments as he runs the counter in his Rapid City, South Dakota, shop. Some problems simply occur from normal wear and tear. Others arise from human-aided poor judgement. Using your bow as a hiking staff to descend off cliffs is not in the best interest of the bow. One troubling breakdown Kraus regularly repairs is the result of a dry fire (drawing and releasing the bowstring without an arrow).

“Multiple times a year we have hunters come into the shop that have dry fired their bows,” Kraus shared. “Most are pulling bows back in their stand or ground blind checking for clearance. Then they accidentally hit their trigger. The stored energy of modern bows is unlike ever before. I highly recommend checking clearance, but nock an arrow on your bow’s string. Never pull your bow back without an arrow!”

The most common complication that Kraus fixes includes the derailment of the string or cable. The result is a tangled mess, but Kraus points out that the problem also can bend or even destroy the cams. Frayed strings require replacement and if not, they can break unexpectedly. Kraus even sees some strings mistakenly cut by sharp broadheads. Avoid that mishap by practicing caution when around broadheads.

“Many times I will open a hunter’s bow case and find arrows with broadheads loosely laying in the case,” Kraus shares. “This is a recipe for a cut string or cable. Make sure broadheads are in a quiver or protective case. It’s too easy for strings and cables to get rubbed or worn during travel. Secure everything in the bow case to protect those important strings and cables.”

Another common calamity Kraus comes across in his shop is bumped sights or malfunctioning rests. Oftentimes this is associated with travel, especially the abuse occurring during airline journeys. A practice shot or two after arriving at your destination can check both, but for additional insurance, Kraus recommends marking windage and elevation points on a sight with a silver Sharpie. You can visually check for incidental sight movement, and it gives you reference to return settings back to the original position.

      In addition to the virtually indestructible nature of the riser, you might surmise limb damage would also rank high in archery misfortunes. Surprisingly, Kraus sees few damaged limbs in newer bows due to better construction. Nevertheless, it is something they still repair in older bows each year.


Although modern bows aren’t as complicated as a 2019 pickup truck, they still require specific tools to fix. It’s likely you won’t be able to fix an issue with a new truck, but with foresight and planning you could pack enough tools to tackle most common bow problems encountered on a hunt. Begin by packing along a quality multi-tool. These handy implements have most of the necessary tools to make on-the-spot repairs easier. Gerber, Leatherman and even outlets like Cabela’s offer various models to fit any situation and budget. Common tools found on these devices include screwdrivers, knife, file, pliers, scissors, swappable bits, wire cutter and more depending on the model. Some even have a bottle opener if all else fails, and you want to drown your sorrows.

Kraus recommends specifics in addition to this go-to implement. His field repair kit includes an Allen wrench set, loop material, a spare peep sight, peep hose if necessary, string wax, fast-setting glue, 3D end serving and a lighter for melting tag ends. The lighter also doubles for emergency fire starting if it really gets rough.

A final, critical item to pack is a portable bow press like the Bowmaster. If you need to re-string bow cables or replace a string or cable, it relaxes the limbs on your bow in the field. Kraus offers money-saving instructions to make a homemade version.

He utilizes a 2-inch bolt covered with rubberized fuel line. Have a buddy draw the bow back slightly and then place the rubber-covered bolt between the limb and cam. Relax the draw, and the bow will be limp enough to change strings or make adjustments. Kraus invites anyone with questions about this procedure to reach out to him at his store. As bow cables and string configurations become more complex, it pays to stow a photo or cable schematic in your repair kit for reference.


Maybe you change the channel when “This Old House” comes on because of your lacking tool skills. No worries there, as more do-it-yourselfers would be better off not doing it themselves. You can still get back in the bowhunting game quickly without a vocational school, two-year mechanic degree. The answer is to keep a backup bow set up and ready. You’ll be in the hunt within minutes, but it may mean sacrificing up to $1,000 to keep the standby bow waiting patiently in the shadows.

Many bowhunters use their old bow for trade-in value on a new bow. If they don’t trade up during a new-bow acquisition, it typically ends up on eBay or Craigslist. Funds go to the new bow. At Black Hills Archery, Kraus’ average customer purchases a new bow about every five years unless a sporty, Trans Am model makes a showing that torments customers into a purchase. Reconsider your sale.

That old bow also has value in peace of mind. Stash it in your truck or at camp as backup insurance in case your go-to bow suddenly goes on strike. If you struggle with keeping a second bow around, you simply need to ask yourself how much you’d pay to get back into the hunt if a bow tragedy occurs, especially in a remote hunting scenario. The answer would likely be the cost of that old bow or even more.

“If you are driving to your hunt and have room for a spare bow, by all means bring it,” Kraus advises. “If your budget or travel restrictions don’t permit you to bring a spare bow, be sure and take along an extra sight and rest. Make your backup sights and rest simple to get you back in the game quicker.”

Bows are mechanical engineering wonders, but they can fail. Don’t let a breakdown crash your next hunt. Have a plan and pack the right tools to get right back into the hunt.

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