Total Recurve: Getting Set Up & In Tune with a Recurve Bow

Sponsored by: Vanguard World

By: Cindy Lavender

Most new recurve bows come already set up, but if you have purchased an older recurve bow or a used bow, you should understand how to set up and tune it, so the equipment is performing at its most efficient. Becoming a good shot with a recurve takes commitment and lots of practice. If you make bad shots, or have erratic arrow flight, knowing the bow is set up correctly and properly tuned will allow you to work on your shot and form, rather than learning bad habits from a bow that is not performing the way it’s supposed to.



1. Check the entire bow for straightness by first stringing the bow, and then stand back and look at the string in relation to the bow’s riser and limbs.
2. Limb gauges made by Beiter can be clipped onto the limbs to find their centers. Use the gauge to locate the center of the limbs and look to see if the string is lined up to the center of the limbs and riser.
3. If anything looks off-center, make adjustments to the top and bottom limbs according to the available adjustments where the limbs and riser connect. Some recurves have Allen key adjustments located at the limb pockets. These can be loosened, so the top or bottom limbs can be slightly moved to the left or right to line up the limbs with the center of the riser and/or bow string.


For a typical long recurve bow, the string length is 4 inches shorter than the length of the bow. Proper measurement of the bow starts at the top string groove. Run the tape measure along the unstrung bow on the side that faces you when you shoot, all the way to the other string groove (not at the tip). You may use a slightly different length bow string to adjust brace height and/or poundage if needed. Use bow string material that is stretch-and-water resistant, lightweight, and strong.. Consider adding twists to the bow string to adjust brace height and/or creep /stretch adjustment.

Recommended strands for bow strings are:

20 – 30 lbs 8 strands
30 – 35 lbs 10 strands
35 – 45 lbs 12 strands
45 – 55 lbs 14 strands
55 – 80 lbs 16 strands
Fast Flight or Dacron?
Fast Flight string material will have minimal stretching, but it will potentially damage limb tips if your bow has not been reinforced to handle it. Dacron string material has been around forever and is the standard, but it will stretch more, and adjustments may be needed over time to keep the bow shooting its best.


The brace height of the bow is the distance from the string to the back of the grip. For recurve bows, this is generally 7 inches or more. The best way to measure your bow’s brace height is by using a T-square. Finding the perfect brace height means shooting the bow and making adjustments until the arrow flies perfect. A shorter brace height will increase the speed of the arrow; decreasing the brace height distance may be done by using a slightly longer string or removing twists on a Flemish string (strands of string that are twisted together), but if the brace height of your bow is too short, the arrow will stay on the string longer before letting loose, and the arrow may fly erratically if the shaft should happen to make any contact with the riser before the arrow leaves the string. When trying different brace height adjustments, you may also notice when the brace height is set farther away from the “perfect spot,” the shot will become a bit noisier.

To increase brace height, you may get away with using a shorter-length bow string, but if it’s not optimal for the bow set up (too much distance from the string to the back of the grip), you may lose energy from having a shorter power stroke (shorter draw-back distance).

Start with the manufacturer’s recommended brace height and experiment from there to find the best arrow flight. This is a critical part of tuning the bow, and every recurve shooter should work toward finding the perfect brace height. Yes, you should spend the effort to keep shooting and experimenting with the bow and to learn how different brace height settings affect your arrow flight.


The tiller measurement is the distance that starts from the point (or inside corner) where the limb and riser meet across to the string. The tiller is the balance of energy given by the top and bottom limbs. A symmetrical tiller will kick upward on release, so most recurve bows are set from the factory with a positive tiller (the upper measurement is greater than the lower measurement). This positive tiller may typically be 1/8” greater on the top limb, thus countering the upward kick by balancing the shot when the bottom tiller is set to make the limb stiffer than the top.
3.Fine Tuning the Tiller: Keep in mind, the way you hold the bow also directly affects the tiller. If you are interested in fine-tuning the tiller on your bow, try either of these two methods.
1. To further fine-tune the tiller, set aside some time to shoot 10 or 20 arrows with the top and bottom tiller at a starting point (measure top and bottom tiller), and observe arrow flight and groups. This is where my Vanguard Endeavor ED binoculars come in handy. I am able to see and note my arrow groups and take notes of what adjustments I need to make. Adjust the top limb bolt, measure the top tiller and shoot 20 more arrows. Take notes on how the shot feels, and observe arrow flight and groups. Do the same for the next 20 arrows with the bottom limb bolts and take notes. When you feel that there is no difference at a certain setting and the shots and groups feel pretty good, record the measurement — this is the best tiller setting for your bow.
2. The sight pin should not drift noticeably up or down when you come to full draw. Draw back the bow and come to anchor. If the sight pin drifts upward, increase the top tiller distance by loosening the top limb bolt. If the sight pin drifts noticeably downward, slightly decrease the tiller distance by tightening the top limb bolt.


The center shot location for finger shooters on a recurve bow should be set up with the arrow shaft pointed slightly to the left of the string. If you are using an adjustable arrow rest, this can be done by adjusting the arrow rest (left/right “windage” adjustment) to move the arrow position slightly to the left, so when you hold the bow out in front of you and look down the string, you can see that the arrow shaft is slightly pointing left of the string. The centershot adjustment on a recurve is very limited, as the riser has a narrow shelf, and it is absolutely normal to rely on the overall string alignment to the bow and use consistency to compensate for limited centershot adjustment. Actually, most recurve bows will only accommodate a flipper style arrow rest, with no adjustments at all.


The sight pin should line up with the string for the initial set up. Sight the bow in by shooting groups and adjust the sight pin accordingly.


Ideally, the arrow should leave the bow without making contact with any part of the bow once it leaves the rest. Choose feathers over plastic vanes for older bows with a narrow riser shelf. Feathers will bend back, minimizing any contact interference with arrow flight. Hold the bow out in front of you and look through the string and down the arrow shaft to look for any obvious potential contact from where the arrow sits on the rest.

Other Possible Clearance Problems:
1. Brace height distance too short
2. Using stiff plastic vanes that, when shot, will not “give” way to any contact with the bow.
3. Incorrect arrow rest: Installing an arrow rest that does not allow the arrow to be lined up properly in relation to the bow string. For instance, some newer arrow rests, when installed on a recurve bow with a narrow shelf, will make an arrow point way too far out to the left.
4. Nock point too low
5. Nock too tight and pinching string, causing tail of arrow shaft to contact the bow
6. Arrows spine too stiff
7. Tillers measurements set too far off will introduce an upward or downward “kick”


While wooden arrows were used originally in recurve bows, I highly recommend using carbon fiber arrows for their overall durability and forgiveness. For optimal arrow flight and safety, find the correct spine (stiffness) by referring to the chart on the side of every box of arrows. Look up the draw weight and draw length to determine the correct arrow spine to shoot in your bow. Choose feather fletching over plastic vanes, as feathers will bend back out of the way when the arrow is released and traveling passed the arrow rest and riser. Plastic vanes will cause more resistance when making contact with the narrow riser shelf on a recurve bow.


There is only one way to become a good shot with a recurve bow is to shoot as much as possible. The best advice I’ve learned is to shoot 50 to 100 arrows per day. The discoveries achieved from this type of commitment will be challenging but truly rewarding. Now, finding the time to do this, well, that’s the problem!

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3 Responses to "Total Recurve: Getting Set Up & In Tune with a Recurve Bow"

  1. Joe Rissin   2011/08/06 at 9:01 pm

    I shoot long bow. (reflex deflex) No sight. The only adjustments I ever need is arrow placement on the string, I find 3/16″-1/4″ above center give best results with a 7 1/4″ brace height. I get very consistent results. I also feel there is too much compound bow and not enough instinctive. The sport is not what it used to be. I almost stopped shooting when I went to compound, (it took all the fun out of it). Now you practice a couple of hours and your ready to go hunting.

  2. Joe Rissin   2011/08/06 at 9:25 pm

    If it helps any. To shoot instinctive, slightly tilt you head over the arrow so you are looking down the shaft. If your anchor is a good one in the same place then where your arrow points is where it will go. Now the elevation can be done in 1 of 2 ways: Know the distance you are shooting at, after drawing and aiming at center look at the tip of the arrow and find a spot on the ground, remember the spot now shoot, correct the spot according to where the hits center, the same spot will hit the same place this is called “point of aim” The other way is called “gap shooting” for every distance the space between the tip of the arrow and the center of the target is consistent, learn the spacing for each distance. I feel that instinctive is a type of gap shooting. Every time I look at a target I automatically make an adjustment for elevation (the brain learns the spacing). To prove it, after shooting 1 or 2 shots at a specific distance, I am able to shoot consistently accurate at that distance. If you heard of my idle Howard Hill, he used gap shooting and was amazingly accurate. Try it with the compound. Just ignore the sight, slightly tilt the bow and get your eye over the arrow.

  3. Cindy Lavender   2011/10/07 at 1:40 pm

    These are great tips, I appreciate you sharing this Joe.