Can You Dry Fire a Compound Bow?

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On the face of it, especially to the uninformed layperson, it’s a question without an obvious answer: Can you dry fire a compound bow?

So, Can You Dry Fire A Compound Bow?

Why, yes, you can.

But should you?

Well, no. Don’t do it. Choose not to do it.

If you dry fire a compound bow, you risk damaging the bow beyond repair. You should not, under any circumstances, do it.

Let’s take a little bit of time to consider what’s actually happening when you load and fire a compound bow. This next bit requires physics though it does not require any calculations. The whole explanation involves only a small bit of abstract thought.

So, when you load an arrow into the bow and pull the string taut, you’re actually transferring kinetic energy from your body into the bow and bow string. As long as you continue to exert force on the bow, the energy you’ve endowed it with is going to need a release point.

This is where the arrow comes in. All the energy you’ve created with your body and stored within the bow exists to be released through the arrow. But if you don’t have an arrow, you have a problem. This is why the dry shot can be a problem​.

For a good idea of what this means, consider what happens when you throw a stone or heavy object into a body of water.

The stone travels for a while and then falls into the water, sending a mass of ripples across the surface.

Here, consider the ripples in particular. What they signify, essentially, is a transfer of energy from your arm into the rock, into the water. By throwing the rock, you’re endowing the rock with energy, and that energy doesn’t just die; it has to go somewhere. In this case, you can see it entering the water by observing the ripples crossing the water’s surface.

Now, let’s think again of the act of firing a compound bow, and compare it to the process of throwing a rock into a body of water.

When you pull back on the bow string the pulleys, limbs and cams inside your compound bow all respond to the energy.

That energy has to go somewhere, and, if you’re doing the thing correctly, it will exit the bow via the arrow. But if you don’t load an arrow into the bow, all that force you’ve created has nowhere to go, except back into the bow itself.

This is why a dry fire can be so damaging; it’s the same as, say, whacking your bow against a tree.

Still, accidents can happen.


Experienced hunters and hobbyists know that it sometimes gets messy out in the field.

Your muscles can get tired fast from loading a compound bow. You are required to exert a force to hold an arrow on target. Your tired muscles may let the arrow slip away before you release, resulting in an accidental dry fire.

In fact, there are several ways to accidentally dry fire your bow. When hunting you may loose your footing while loading your shot, and that the arrow could come loose as you stumble.

An accident leading to a dry shot is always a possibility. So, even though most archers and hunters know not to dry fire their bow, most also know that accidents can happen..

Suffice to say, all things considered, that you have to be careful with your compound bow. If you do dry fire you bow, then have it inspected and if needed restrung.

It is, after all, a weapon.

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