If you’ve spent a lot of time around bows, it’s easy to forget just how dangerous they can be. Sure, maintaining the correct discipline like keeping clear of the range when someone is firing and always keeping your bow pointed towards the ground when you aren’t lining up a shot is all well and good, but the bow itself can be a hazard if handled incorrectly. Besides poking your buddies accidentally when you’re carrying it around, dry firing is probably one of the most dangerous accidental scenarios you can get into with a bow besides shooting something (or someone) you didn’t mean to. This being said, let’s find out what dry firing is and why it’s so dangerous.
What Is Dry Firing a Bow?
What is dry firing a bow? You’ve probably heard this term before, whether it be on the range or on archery forums online. Dry firing is pretty much the most dangerous thing you can do with a bow besides firing an arrow at another person. Dry firing is essentially firing a bow without an arrow being loaded up, which is so much worse than it sounds.
The basic principle of a bow and arrow is that you pull back your bow string, which then bends the limbs of your bow. This action causes an impressive amount of energy to be stored in the limbs and bowstring, which will eventually be transferred to the arrow and make it hurtle towards its intended target.
Now, what happens to all of that energy if your bowstring is released and there’s no arrow to fire?
Well, nothing good. When all of the energy which is intended for the arrow is simply transferred back into the body of the bow and the bowstring itself, it can cause serious and irreparable damage to the bow. This is because the bow is not designed to soak up all the energy it would normally transfer to an arrow, and the result of a bow trying to do so can be disastrous.
Why? Well, back in the day when longbows (or traditional bows, as they’re known in some circles) were essentially the only bow option you had, dry firing didn’t have consequences that could potentially be fatal. This is because they produced and stored less power, so the most damage they’d do was give you some nasty rope burn from the bowstring.
Modern bows on the other hand produce and store a lot more energy at full draw. Considering that a modern compound bow is capable of firing an arrow at up to 300 FPS, and if all of the energy used to do so can result in damage to the bow’s libs, the body, the bowstring, and even you and those around you depending on the type of bow and what material it is made of.
Why Is Dry Firing a Bow Bad?
Why is dry firing a bow bad? As we alluded to earlier, dry firing a bow can be extremely dangerous. This is because most bows are unable to adequately store and/or dissipate the energy being put into them, which results in something inevitably breaking. If you’re lucky, you could end up simply breaking your cams (if you have a compound bow) or causing your limb material to split.
The consequences of dry firing a bow can be far worse than simply damaging your bow. Dry firing a compound bow can result in the bow quite literally exploding, and considering the type and shape of the bow’s components, it can result in some dangerously sharp debris that could damage you and those around you quite easily.
Dry firing a compound bow can be particularly disastrous. Why is dry firing a compound bow worse though? Well, compound bows tend to store more energy as a result of the cams using the mechanical advantage to create more tension.
If a compound bow is dry fired, these cams can be damaged by the initial impact, causing them to crack, splinter, and shoot off in pretty much any direction they feel like.
This can result in pieces of the bow and even the bow string breaking off into your face, hands, forearms, torso, and even legs. This being said, dry firing a bow is extremely dangerous, and the more power the bow stores the worse the possible damage can be.
Dry firing is typically done accidentally, or by those that don’t understand how much power a bow is capable of producing (and the possible consequences of misusing it).
Now, you might be thinking that that’s pretty dangerous; surely people avoid dry firing their bows to prevent getting injured? Well, yes, but while your body is capable of mending itself your bow isn’t, and this is primarily why archers young and old dread accidental dry firing. The damage to a compound bow can mean replacing the limbs of the bow, its bowstring cams, shelf, and even your draw mechanism. All of this will cost you a pretty penny, besides a trip to the hospital.
What Happens When You Dry Fire a Bow?
What happens when you dry fire a bow? On the surface, dry firing a bow seems like a simple concept, and if you were to dry fire a run-of-the-mill longbow or recurve bow, you’re likely to simply damage your bow and give yourself a bit of a scare.
However, if you were to dry fire a compound bow, you’d be in for a bit of a nasty surprise.
They’re called compound bows because they compound the tension of the bowstring and therefore the amount of energy being stored from the initial pull until you reach your draw wall. Once this limit has been reached a compound bow is capable of firing an arrow at a whopping 300 FPS, which will go through pretty much any game or target with the right arrow and distance.
This incredible force being misplaced is the equivalent of a small caliber handgun exploding due to the cartridge failing to eject. This causes the cams to seize, crack, release the bowstring, and become free while still being filled with kinetic energy. This can result in you getting quite literally whipped in the face while being peppered with bits of the cams, not unlike being shot with BB pallets at close range.
Thus, dry firing a bow is incredibly dangerous, and what’s more is that new young archers are particularly susceptible to making this mistake. As you can imagine, the potential injuries caused by dry firing can be traumatizing for young archers and create an understandable apprehension toward archery in general.
What Can Be Done to Prevent Dry Firing?
When it comes down to it, a bow and arrow is a potential weapon and should be treated as such at all times. This being said, the best way to avoid dry firing your bow (especially when it comes to young archers) is to instill rigid discipline when operating a bow and arrow of any kind. After all, if proper discipline is instilled and practiced consistently when kids or newcomers eventually upgrade to a compound bow as most archers do, the mere thought of dry firing won’t even cross their minds.
Modern bows tend to have mechanisms in place to protect you in case of dry firing, so instead of the bow exploding the cams will usually just seize up and bend. You might think that your bow is still good to go in this case, but we strongly recommend replacing the cams and taking your bow in-store for expert inspection before attempting to fire it again.
Beginners are the most likely to experience dry fire, but professional archers aren’t immune to this error. Using an arrow that is too small for your bow or something as simple as using a faulty nock can result in dry firing. This is why you should be absolutely sure of every component of your bow, including the anatomy of each arrow before lining up your shot.
If you’re a pro and feel like you’re immune to the devastation of dry firing, consider this. One of your friends or family sees your bow laying around and picks it up, pulling back the bowstring for a cool Instagram picture, and releasing it to see what it feels like. Now you’re extremely upset with someone close to you, they’re probably injured, your bow is broken, and you have to pay for the repairs.
The lesson here is to keep your bow safely tucked away when you aren’t using it, as not everyone understands how they work.
Does Dry Firing Affect All Types of Bows?
Well, yes. Unfortunately, dry firing can affect virtually any type of bow, including crossbow units, be it at different degrees of severity. This being said, let’s have a look at some of the different types of bows you’re likely to come across and how dry firing affects them individually.
Longbow Dry Firing
If you were to dry fire a longbow the damage would likely only affect the bowstring and limbs of the bow, and the damage could be even less if the bowstring was not released at full draw. Dry firing a longbow can still be dangerous though and if you suspect your bow has been damaged you should refrain from firing it until it has been inspected and/or repaired.
Recurve Bow Dry Firing
Recurve bows are a little worse, which makes sense considering they produce more power than longbows. Recurve bows don’t have any cams attached to their limbs, therefore like longbows they likely won’t be inoperable if they’re dry fired.
However, because they produce more power, if they’re dry fired at full draw, their limbs and bowstring are likely to incur more damage than a longbow.
Compound Bow Dry Firing
A compound bow is arguably the most dangerous bow you could experience dry fire with. As we mentioned previously, compound bows store an enormous amount of energy and dry firing one can result in components breaking and possibly becoming little projectiles capable of penetrating your skin, eyes, and bystanders.
Crossbow Dry Firing
Even though successfully dry firing a crossbow is highly unlikely, it can be disastrous if you manage to pull it off. Compound bows and crossbows tend to have the same power output, so if your crossbow were to successfully dry fire the chances of it becoming the equivalent of a small explosive is high.
Thankfully, most new crossbows are equipped with dry fire inhibitors which catch your bowstring if it’s released without a bolt.
Now that you know what dry firing is, why it’s bad, and how to prevent it, it’s time for you to get out there and put your newfound knowledge to the test. Remember that consistent discipline and routine is key to preventing a dry fire scenario, and to never use a bow that has been dry fired until it has been properly inspected and repaired by a qualified technician.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Happens if You Dry Fire a Bow?
Dry firing a bow is extremely dangerous. When a bow is dry fired, all of the energy that would have gone to propelling your arrow or bolt is transferred back into the anatomy of the bow, which can cause the limbs, bowstring, cams, and other components to break and possibly explode in random directions.
Can a Bow Survive a Dry Fire?
Can a bow survive a dry fire? This depends on your definition of “survive”. Most new bows won’t explode if minimal force has been put into the bowstring, and will likely have some bent cams and possible fractures throughout the anatomy of the bow. Will it still be operational? This is highly unlikely.
How Much Does It Cost to Fix a Dry-Fired Bow?
Wondering how much it’s going to cost you to fix a bow that has been dry-fired? Well, this depends on the type of bow you’re repairing and how extensive the damage to the bow is. Typically, it costs around $300.00 to repair a bow that has been dry fired, depending on what needs to be replaced.