Dry Firing A Bow : What You Need To Know

Dry firing a bow is one of the worst mistakes that can be made in archery, there is both a potential to damage your bow as well as causing injury to yourself. But if you properly understand how a bow works, you will be better able to understand how to prevent a dry fire and the potential problems that might ensue.

In this article, we are going to be looking at dry firing in a little more depth and discovering what you should do if the bow dry fires.

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Why is dry firing a bow bad?

Whilst it may sound something more akin to lighting a fire, the act of dry firing relates more to a bow in archery. Dry firing is when the bow is fired without an arrow nocked in place.

In the main, dry fires are not intentional and are a relatively common accident but that isn’t to say that you shouldn’t be mindful of them. Everywhere you look in the archery world, you will be confronted with warnings about the perils of dry firing your bow, so it stands to reason that it isn’t a good idea.

There have been many archers who have accidentally dry fired their bow and who refuse to admit it; it doesn’t seem a very experienced thing to do, does it? However, it is important to keep in mind that most archers have gone through this mishap and you might almost see it as a learning curve or a rite of passage into the world of archery; you’ve made that crucial mistake, now you’ve learned and are one of us!

You should also keep in mind that whilst admitting that your bow dry fired can be a mistake that leaves you a little red in the face, it’s best to be honest because the likelihood is that you will require a trip to the bow shop. A professional will be able to spot the damage from a dry fired bow a mile off and that would be even more embarrassing. Your warranty will likely cover accidental damage, but if the bow was damaged as a result of the user, you’ll probably have to fork out.

How Does Dry Firing Damage Your Bow?

If you have ever dry fired the bow or been around someone who has, you will be familiar with the unmistakable and often frightening sound that it makes. But not only is it scary to hear and potentially dangerous to the archer and everyone around him or her, but it could also cause some serious damage to your bow.

When you release an arrow from the bow, this arrow takes much of the force of the string being released. However, when an arrow is not nocked in the bowstring, there is nothing to absorb this force; aside from the bow itself. But this piece of equipment is not designed to handle this type of force, therefore, it may become damaged. In fact, there is a 95% chance that you will damage your bow if it is dry fired.

Unfortunately, dry firing your bow is something that will likely happen to all archers at some point during their careers. But what most people are not aware of is that despite a dry fire being classed as releasing the bow without an arrow, the same effect may be realised if you use an arrow that is too light for your equipment.

In the main, there are several things that could happen should you dry fire your bow. These things might be as follows:

  • Splintered limbs
  • Broken bowstring
  • Warped cam tracks
  • Bent cams
  • Broken cable guard

Any type of bow may be damaged by a dry fire; however, compound bows may be more likely to suffer substantial damage compared to recurve bows. This is purely because the compound bow has far more mechanical parts. It is also worth considering that the greater the draw weight, the more damage may be likely to occur.

In some severe cases, you may see that your bow appears to explode. This happens when the bowstring snaps and the limbs are severely damaged; this can be a terrifying experience and it is important to note that there is a potential for bodily harm to you and those around you.

What Can Happen To Me If I Dry Fire A Bow?

As we have mentioned, dry firing your bow can be a threat to your safety and the safety of anyone who is in the vicinity.

When you dry fire your bow, there is a significant chance that pieces of the equipment will fly off in all directions. Since the bow is located so near to your face, there is a very real chance of these pieces flying into your face and causing anything from minor cuts to serious eye irritation and even being knocked out. In some serious events, there have been reports of archers losing their sight owing to the bowstring pinging back into the eye.

If the dry fire provides enough force, anyone who is nearby might also fall victim to these flying pieces of debris.

What Should I Do If I Dry Fire My Bow?

In the event that you dry fire your bow, the first thing that you will feel is a sense of surprise, shock and fear. In some cases, archers will be extremely angry that they have accidentally joined the dry fire club. However, after the initial shock has passed, you will need to address the issue in order to get your bow back to a working condition.

Once the bow has dry fired, your priority will be to check that everyone around you is safe and that nobody has sustained an injury, yourself included.

One of the most important things to keep in mind is that you must not use the bow again until it has been checked over by either a professional bow shop person or yourself if you have the relevant knowledge.

In the moments after the dry fire, even if you aren’t a bow expert, you can give the equipment the once over to check for any visible damage. Sadly, if there is any, it will be blindingly obvious. If there is any visible damage, then you will need to have this seen to before you use the bow again. However, even if you cannot pick out any problems at first glance, it is still a wise idea to take the bow to be inspected by a professional who will be able to give it a more detailed examination.

Many people make the mistake of thinking that if there is no visible damage, they can continue using the bow as normal. Whilst a lucky few may find that this is OK, in the main, there is usually micro-damage that can cause the bow to wear over time and end up breaking completely. It is highly unlikely that a dry fire will cause no damage at all.

If there is some small damage that is not immediately noticeable and you continue to shoot the bow, this will, over time cause intense structural damage that will see you having to splash out for another bow further down the line.

Talking To A Professional

You won’t be the first archer to walk into the bow shop hanging his head and having to admit that he dry fired his bow, nor will you be the last. Think of it as a similar situation to when you visit the doctor with an embarrassing problem; he will have seen it all before.

One of the main reasons that you must ensure that you are honest about what happened is so that the person working in the archery shop will be able to assist you correctly. There are specific elements that he or she must look for in a bow that has been dry fired and if they are not aware that this is what has caused the issue, they may not look for the right type of damage. This could then result in something going unnoticed and your bow not being in full working order.

Once the professional archery expert knows what the problem is, they will be able to carefully inspect the bow for specific types of damage. Furthermore, they will put the bow onto a bow press and take it apart to give it a thorough inspection.

You might also use this as an opportunity to ask any questions that have been eating away at you about archery or your equipment as well as giving it any updates that may be needed. You might think that checking the bow yourself is enough, but going to the archery shop will allow you to fire safely in the knowledge that your bow is safe and functional.

How To Check Your Own Bow

If for any reason you are unable to attend your local archery shop then it is possible to look over the equipment for yourself. However, it is vital that you are 100% confident in your knowledge. For this reason, we have put together this step by step guide that will allow you to inspect the bow as thoroughly and in as much detail as a professional.

  • Make sure that wherever you plan to inspect the bow, the light is adequate; you want to be able to see all parts of the equipment clearly.
  • Check the limbs for any signs of damage; using a magnifying glass is a good way to make sure that you don’t miss any minor scratches or breaks. Another excellent way to do this is by running some cotton wool across the bow; an undamaged bow will not snag the cotton, however if there is damage, some of the cotton may get left behind.
  • Any damage needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency. To prevent anything further, you should remove the bowstring as this will take off some of the pressure from the limbs.
  • Next, take a look at the string – are there any signs of damage such as fraying? If this is the case, the string should be removed. If it is not and it snaps, this could further damage the rest of your equipment.
  • You must ensure that you inspect all parts of the bow, take your time so that you do not miss anything. Signs you might look out for could include: fraying, wobbling, splintering, snapping, cracking, loosening and anything else that should not be present.
  • You should also take the time to draw the bow and check whether it is making any odd noises. These vibrations or ‘off’ sounds could indicate unseen damage that should be looked at by a professional.
  • If you feel confident that there is no damage, you should try the bow by firing a few arrows. One of the things that may be affected is your sight as a dry fire could knock this out of alignment. Another thing to look for is whether your arrows are firing in a straight line, having them veer off when you would normally hit the target every time could indicate that there is a problem.

How To Avoid Dry Firing Your Bow

Dry firing is an accidental event, for the most part; it is highly unlikely that any sensible archer would dry fire ‘just to see what happens.’ In reality, however, it is something that will happen to the best of us, especially if you have been practising archery for a long time.

That being said, there are several things that you can do to make sure that it happens as little as possible.

When you first start with archery, dry firing could be a very real potential but this is why it is important for those that are new to the practice to take advice from people who are more experienced. Listen to your teacher (if you have one) and do plenty of research, including reading articles like this one. One of the most important things to learn is how to correctly nock your arrow; there is a special technique for this and it is worth taking the time to commit it to memory.

Never let anyone else handle your bow unless they are properly trained to do so. A bow and arrow could be a tempting novelty for people who don’t usually see this type of equipment and many archers have heard ‘Can I just have one shot?’ from an eager friend or family member. But those who are not trained in its use could cause a dry fire. If you cannot resist the temptation to let them have a go, be sure to fully explain the risks before handing over your equipment.

Avoid using arrows that are too light. This may not produce a dry fire, as such, since there will be an arrow present in the bow. However, it can cause a reaction that is very similar to a dry fire and potentially cause just as much damage. When you purchase your bow, there will be a section in the user manual about the type of arrows that should be used and you can also obtain this information from your local archery shop.

Periodically check the nocks on your arrows to ensure that they are not damaged in any way nor have them come loose. For the most part, they are unlikely to loosen if you only practice target archery. However, for those that do bowhunting, there is a very real risk of the nocks coming loose when hitting a particularly rigid target. Therefore, it is a good idea to check the arrows every time you go out.

Don’t be tempted to use your bow to work out. Many people will exercise their shoulder muscles by drawing their bow and there is good reason for this. The shoulders get a great work out during archery sessions but it is never a good idea to use the bow for this reason when an arrow is not nocked.

Never fire your bow without an arrow being nocked. If you draw the bow, there is sometimes a potential for the arrow to fire prematurely if you accidently let go too soon. However, this is far preferable than drawing the bow with an unnocked arrow and causing a potentially incredible amount of damage or injury.


There are some genuine risks in archery, one of the first things that springs to mind is being injured by a rogue arrow but something that poses a significant threat is a dry fire.

The dry fire is when you fire the bow without having first nocked an arrow. Not only is this potentially dangerous for your bow, which may become damaged, but it also carries serious risks of injury to yourself and anyone standing near you.

If you do dry fire, and it happens to all archers accidentally from time to time, you must make sure that you inspect the bow carefully or preferably take it to a professional for a once over. It is vital that you do not use the bow until it has been checked.

Furthermore, you should try to prevent a dry fire by preventing inexperienced users from firing the bow, never drawing without an arrow and checking your equipment regularly. This will prevent unwanted dry fires from happening and giving you the shock of your life!

About Brad Harris