Buying A Used Bow – A Dozen Things You Need To Know

A great deal on a used bow or crossbow might just be the worst buy of your life. Even if the bow is safe to use, is it consistent shot to shot? The last thing you need is a problem when a Pope and Young class-buck steps out at 40 yards.

alan garbersFor a topic this important, we caught up with one of the top archers in the state, Caleb Sorrells. While he’s a Hoosier and spends a great deal of time in the woods, he’s also a world-class competition archer and has worked in bow pro shops. He has seen the problems older and abused equipment can cause, including injuries. Before you shell out hard-earned money, consider these key points on used archery equipment.

  • Why is the bow being sold? Let the buyer beware. Perhaps it truly is a good deal, or maybe the owner is starting to experience accuracy issues, component wear, or knows there is hidden damage.
  • Are parts still available? – Few bow manufacturers continue to make parts for bow models for an extended time. Replacing worn or damaged components can quickly drive the cost of a used bow higher than a new bow. Often, replacement parts are no longer available, making some bows worthless.
  • Has the bow been altered? Some shooters try to make modifications or repairs that are beyond the scope of their skills, and end up causing performance problems and even safety issues. In some cases, none OEM components may have been used as replacements, causing the smart shooter to wonder if it is truly safe to use.
  • Is there Wear? – Any compound bow, crossbow, or recurve bow that is left strung is under constant tension. There is a degree of energy that is constantly exerting pressure to regain its relaxed state. That constant pressure can distort, stretch, stress, and slowly damage bearings, limbs, risers, and most often, cables and strings.

    In just a few years this string is already seeing abrasion.
  • When was the last time the bow was serviced properly? This is the most important thing. Strings and cable have a finite life span and are supposed to be changed every two to three years for reliable and safe service. Bows build a tremendous amount of energy at full draw. By its very nature, that energy is being stored right next to your eyes, face, and limbs. One small issue can cause a life-altering accident.
  • Has it been used properly? Some shooters never learned good technique and torque the bow sideways when drawing it. This puts side pressure on cams, pulleys, and bearings not designed for side-torque, and can prematurely wear them out.
  • Has it been kept clean? Hard hunting means hard use. Cables and strings attract dirt and grit. Animal blood is corrosive. Sweat and oils from a shooter’s hands readily soak into the strings and exposed cables. The action of drawing and shooting the bow works the dirt, grit, oils, and salts into the cable and string lays, where they can nick, cut, corrode, and destroy individual strands, slowly weakening the cable or string as a whole. This is a key reason strings and cables should be replaced regularly.
  • Has the bow been dry-fired? Experienced shooters know to never dry-fire a bow, but that doesn’t stop excited, but inexperienced, family members from doing so. The results can be devastating and destructive. Sometimes the bow can be reassembled to look normal but still have hidden damage.
  • Has the previous owner been shooting the correct spine arrows for the bow weight? Shooting too light a spine weight arrow can cause damage almost as bad as dry-firing it.

    Do the cams and pulleys run true, or are they canted to the side?
  • Are the limbs still factory fresh? By their very design, compound bow limb tips have more stress on one side than the other. Manufacturers try to compensate for this uneven stress, but it still can cause cams to twist out of the proper plane, which in turn causes side stress on bearings. Bow limbs themselves can crack. Small cracks can cause accuracy problems. Large cracks can be a safety issue.
  • Does it rattle? An experienced archer can hit the bow riser with the heel of a palm to detect unwanted vibration, which indicates loose and worn components.
  • Has it been stored properly? All bows need to be stored so that nothing is putting pressure on the limbs. This is especially true for recurve bows. Over time, even light pressure can warp the limbs.
  • Have the cable guides been maintained? Worn guides allow cables and strings to abrade and weaken shot after shot.
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In reality, unless you know the history of the bow and the owner, used archery equipment should be looked upon with reservations. If you find a bow you just can’t pass up, have it checked and serviced by a reputable bow shop before using it. No flea market or garage sale deal is worth a trip to the hospital, or worse.

If you have used archery gear, be sure to bring it to The Outdoorsman Sport Shop to be services and inspected.

If you enjoy reading these articles, be sure to let the fine folks at the Outdoorsman Sport Shop know. and Like them on Facebook.

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Alan Garbers
Alan James Garbers – Alan is passionate for the outdoors. He enjoys fishing, hunting, hiking, canoeing, photography, writing, woodworking, and more. He loves exploring the BWCAW in northern Minnesota, roaming the deserts of Arizona, or hiking the mountains of Colorado. He has lived in Minnesota, Hawaii, Mississippi, Florida, Colorado, Arizona, and Indiana. From hunting rattlesnakes to black bear and fishing for catfish to muskie, he loves it all. Since 1989 his writing credits have included Indiana Outdoor News, Indiana Game & Fish, Muzzle Blasts, Outdoor Guide Magazine, Fur-Fish-Game, Boundary Waters Journal, Boys’ Quest, Fun For Kidz, Mother Earth News, Cricket, Small Farm Today, American Careers, Arizona Hunter & Angler, Old West, and others. Fiction credits include StarTrek Strange New Worlds Anthologies IV, V, and 08. Alan recently complied an anthology of his popular column, Behind The Badge: True Stories of Indiana’s Conservation Officers. It is available in e-reader format and found at Amazon and other on-line book retailers. Alan is a member of AGLOW and HOW.


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