Modern compound bows and crossbows are impressive feats of engineering. With many off the shelf bows now able to deliver up to 400 feet per second of arrow speed, they are effective killing machines. They are not, however, maintenance-free. You need to be routinely inspecting, caring for, and servicing your bowstrings to ensure peak performance. If you are in need of a new hobby, learning to service your own bow can be a valuable skill to have. If you are like me and have too many hobbies already, it pays to have a quality archery shop you trust that can service your bow. Even if you leave the work on your bow to the professionals, there are still a few things you will need to know to keep your bow functioning properly.
Bow String Replacement
You can think of your bowstring like the belts on an automobile engine. They connect all the moving parts, eventually wear out, and can cause major problems if they break while the engine is running. There are several main parts of the bowstring system. The outer string you nock your arrow on and attach your release to is what is technically called the bowstring. The two inner strings are referred to as cables. The cables and bowstring all attach to the cams (gears at the top and bottom, or sides on a crossbow). As you draw back the bowstring, it causes the cams to engage the cables which actually provide the power to the bow by flexing the limbs. The string you see wrapped around the string and cables at strategic points is called a serving and serves to strengthen the cables and string in high wear areas.
The bowstring is a complex system and should be replaced regularly to ensure it is functioning properly. Replacement frequency depends on the archer, but generally, it should be replaced at a minimum every 2-3 years. If you fire your bow every day or hunt in wet conditions frequently you may want to have it replaced annually. Over time you will notice that the fibers of the string begin to fray and raise up. This happens as the string dries and the fibers experience friction from shooting the bow. String replacement on quality bows is not cheap and will typically cost upwards of $100 for the string/cables, and up to $100 for the shop labor to replace it. This is another argument for learning to do the work yourself, if you’re so inclined.
Bow String Maintenance
Since the string and cables are so important and expensive to replace, it is in your best interest to maintain them throughout the season. In a perfect world, you would never use your bow in the rain or snow but as hunters, bad weather can be one of the best times to be in the field. If your bowstring gets wet, it is important to let it dry before you shoot the bow again. When I get home from a day of hunting in wet weather, I take my bow out of its case and set it on a stand to let it air dry. 12-24 hours is typically enough to accomplish this. I also wax my bowstring regularly. As I discussed above, the fibers will raise up on the string with use. Waxing them with a bowstring specific wax will rehydrate the string and cables and prolong their life. Wax also helps keep water out. Generally, it is a good idea to wax your string and cables once a week. If the bow gets real wet in the field, you may want to wax it once it dries again. Only wax the bare string and cables. Avoid waxing the servings (the horizontal wrap that goes around the vertical fibers of the string and cables).
There are also products you can purchase to clean and recondition your bowstring. Personally, I have never used them and generally feel I get by pretty well by just drying the string out when wet, waxing regularly, and storing my bow in its case when not in use. Some top archers swear by cleaning and conditioning so it may be worth investigating for yourself.
Modern mechanical bows are amazing tools that provide lethal and accurate killing power. That same power can snap in your face and injure you if your bow is not maintained properly. By performing routine maintenance of your bowstring, and replacing it when needed you can insure that the expensive new bow you purchased will work for many years.