Dry Firing a Bow: This is why you should never do it!

By Andy Ryan


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Archery is one of the oldest sports in the world. This sport was very popular among the ancient Egyptians and Chinese. However, the earliest records of bows and arrows trace back to Africa some 64 thousand years ago. These communities fashioned their own bows out of organic materials like animal bone and tree branches. They yielded their arrows in similar ways, using basic tools like sharp rocks to make them. 

The archery community has grown since then, seeing a monumental rise in the past three thousand years. During this time, archery was used in warfare between all great dynasties, caliphates, and monarchies. However, now, the use of bows and arrows in war has sharply declined with the introduction of contemporary weapons like guns, cannons, and nuclear arms.

The skill included in fashioning a bow is extreme. It’s much easier to do so now thanks to advancements in mathematics and engineering. But a few thousand years ago, the bow and arrow were as hard to obtain as gold. 

Archery is still prevalent but strictly in ranges specially curated for sports. There are some rules associated with the sport, the most important of which is: Never dry fire your bow!

What is Dry Firing?


If you’re new to archery, you should get yourself familiar with the term ‘dry firing.’ Dry firing is when you pull at your bowstring without loading an arrow onto it. In a gun, it would be like pressing the trigger with no bullet inside. In archery, dry firing can seriously harm your bow, so don’t do it!

You’re probably wondering why dry firing is so bad. Understand this: playing with an arrow-less bow will revert any pressure that would be on the arrow back to the bow. This pressure causes a transfer of energy that flows through the bow with no exit.

When you lodge an arrow onto the bow, it becomes a part of the unified energy flow system. When you draw at the bowstring, the energy transfers from your arm to the bow and arrow, it then flows out as soon as the arrow leaves the bow. With the excess energy out of the system, the bow can return to rest with minimal recoil. However, if there was no arrow in place, the excess energy would have been forced to exit by violently shaking the bow. This violent shaking can weaken the structural integrity of your bow. 

Ripples of tremor are unhealthy and weaken the bow. While they’re designed to accommodate some of the rebound energy, most bows cannot bear the experience of a dry fire. This is true simply because dry firing exposes the bow to a greater shock than it can take.

Damage to the bow may include streaks or cracks across the bow and snapping of the string. In extreme cases, pieces of shrapnel may fall off. 

When Can Dry Firing Occur?


Dry firing can occur anytime you choose to shoot without an arrow. It’s simple as that. It may sound like an obvious no-no, but surprisingly, a lot of people still do it. When practicing, you’re likely to see beginners making this mistake. In their eyes, they’re just fooling around and getting to know the anatomy of the bow. But through the lens of an expert, they’re committing a grave mistake.

There is a second way through which a dry fire can occur. However, unlike the first way in which the archer is aimlessly pulling at an unloaded string, this alternate dry fire can be purely accidental. Anything could happen. Your string could slip, and it would result in dry fire. You could be momentarily distracted when shooting and accidentally knock off your arrow from the designated nock area. A dry fire could even be the direct result of an arrow that wasn’t appropriately nocked in the first place.

Dry firing, as we now know, can shatter your entire bow. But it can do more sometimes. A dry fire releases a lot of energy, which makes the string move like crazy. Sometimes, this string hits the archer’s face. A string driven by insane amounts of energy is bound to cause damage. There are reports of people being burnt by a dry-fired string and leaving the archery arena with scars. Of course, these are extreme cases and very uncommon, but not rare enough to be placed under total disregard.

While on the topic of extremities, you must note that dry fire can also cause severe damage to the eyes. If the string rocks back and whips across the eye-area, it could cause serious problems. So, always be sure to dress appropriately for archery and place your face a suitable distance away from the bow.

If you’re a beginner, wearing protective glasses may help. It’ll be easy to find a pair that is safe to use during archery. The powerful blow of a dry fire could shatter regular glasses, so be vigilant when choosing!

Alternatively, instead of the string hitting your face, a piece of shrapnel could find its way there instead. Dry fires can make the entire bow collapse. The limbs may fly off in any direction and possibly hurt those around you. Anything can happen when it comes to the overwhelming amount of energy contained by the bow system, so be safe and avoid dry fires!

Why It’s Dangerous to Use Arrows That Are Too Light


 Here’s an interesting fact: arrows that are too light can mimic the effect of a dry fire. An arrow that lacks substance can’t absorb as much energy as it should. This leaves the bow with an excess of energy that again may lead to it emulating the effect of a dry fire. While this is less deadly because the arrow still does take some energy away, it can still be dangerous. 

It’s best to avoid such a situation whenever possible. If you feel like your arrow is too light and won’t absorb enough energy, don’t use it. Instead, switch it out with a heavier arrow that suits your needs and nocks well. Don’t use an arrow that you can’t lodge onto your bow, because if it doesn’t get shot when fired, you’ll see a similar dry fire effect.

The smartest way to decide what arrow to use is by checking the manufacturer’s comments. Most arrows come with a manufacturer’s measurement table. Use it to find out whether or not the arrow is compatible with your bow. You can also take your bow along when shopping for arrows and let an expert guide you on which arrow to buy according to your bow’s design.

If you run out of arrows, don’t borrow them from a friend unless you are absolutely sure they are compatible with your bow. Avoid haste and take the time out to find an arrow set that’s just right for you.

Why Dry Firing a Compound Bow can be Worse than a Recurve Bow

Compound Bow

Photo by Adrian Long / CC BY-SA 2.0

There are many things worse than a dry fire, but in the world of archery, the only thing worse than a merely dry firing is a dry fire executed by a compound bow. If you compare the after-effects of a dry fire of a recurve bow with a compound bow, you’ll notice that the impact of a compound bow is more severe than that of a recurve bow. For this reason, we recommend recurve bows for people who have trouble with the shooting. It’s likely that if you have struggled to shoot, you may often dry fire. They are also better for beginners because their dry fire is far less deadly.

Let it be known, though, that there is damage caused by both bows. It’s just that a compound bow is more catastrophic than a recurve bow during the event of a dry fire.

Let’s cut to the chase. Compound bows are powerful. They are like the Hulk of all bows. A recurve bow is strong, too, but it’s nothing in front of the compound bow. A compound bow can retain more energy when shooting. But if the shot fired is dry, it can shatter at the speed of light. The entire bow may break-limbs, string, and all. So, be extra careful when shooting with a compound bow because a dry fire from it could be deadly.

Here’s a story about dry firing with a compound bow. A man went out one day and bought himself a beautiful new bow. Now, he didn’t know a lot about bow types, and when he asked the store owner for “the most powerful bow ever,” the owner handed him an elegant compound bow.

Excited, the man came home and showed off his new possession to his family. They also knew very little about archery and had learned most of their skills through television or the internet. The man announced that he was going hunting the next day, and his sons rejoiced.

At the crack of dawn, the man and his children went out for a hunt. They had spent the previous night learning about archery online. But nobody had warned them about the deadly dry fire. You can imagine what happened next. One of the children started toying with the bow, and accidentally pulled at it too hard. Instead of landing an arrow into a wild animal, like a hare or deer, the poor bow faced the wild whip of the bowstring.

The family watched as the compound bow shattered into pieces. One of the pieces ended up hitting the boy’s face. At such a great speed, shrapnel can cause a severe injury, and the boy had to see a doctor for the damage. Luckily, he wasn’t hurt too bad. Regardless, you must remember that bows are no joke, and a dry fire can be extremely dangerous. So, please don’t leave your bow in the hands of an inexperienced shooter because they will start playing with it and might just land themselves into a huge problem with an accidental dry fire.


The bottom line is simple: never dry fire a bow. This is easier said than done, but it is essential to be cautious and alert when shooting. If you lack sufficient experience with a bow and arrow, it’s a good idea to get some coaching and learn the right way to fire from an expert. It could save you from deadly dry fire and preserve the structural integrity of your precious bow too.

Dry fires can happen by mistake. Even experts experience an accidental dry fire every now and then, but they are less likely to execute one, and especially not on purpose. There is a massive social stigma associated with dry firing, and rightly so! If you walk into a shooting range and start tweaking at your bowstring, you are bound to hear shouts and warnings from your fellow archers. Listen to them! 

Make sure your arrow is appropriate. As we said, if your arrow is too lightweight, switch it out for a heavier one. But don’t let it be too heavy or it may not fire at all, also resulting in an effect similar to dry fire. 

Most importantly, don’t use a compound bow if you aren’t experienced. In fact, don’t shoot an arrow alone until you’ve had enough practice with a professional around. This will save you from the risk of a health hazard and protect you and those around you from the dirty effects of dry fire, such as flying shrapnel.

All in all, be sure to stay safe when on the shooting range and be vigilant throughout the entire session. Archery is not just a sport controlled by the arms. It requires the appropriate footing, aim, and handling. If mishandled, the bow or arrow may slip and cause a dry fire. So, do your best to stay alert when working with your bow. Even a slight mistake or misjudgment could have a deadly, lasting impact.

As with any sport, when practicing archery, be sure to stay safe and, most importantly, have some fun!