Why is Dry Firing a Bow Bad And Dangerous? The Science Behind the Damage

If you’ve taken one archery class or even been around a devoted archer, you must have heard about dry firing. Or worse, you might have accidentally ended up dry firing your bow many times already. 

There’s something more infuriating. It’s when your friend takes your bow without your permission. And then they cause a dry fire by being careless. 

But you might ask, “why is dry firing a bow bad?” It’s bad because it can lead up to serious injuries. It can damage your bow and hurt you and the people around you physically. 

I’m sure you don’t want your dearest bow to have any damage. As an archer, it is quite essential for you to learn about the mechanism and the aftermath of dry firing your bow. 

And if you’re very new to the game of arrows and bows, you must be thinking,

“What does dry firing a bow even mean?”

Well, let’s get into that first! 

What is Dry Firing a Bow?

What is Dry Firing a Bow and why it is bad? 

Let’s get into the physics, shall we? 

Just kidding! I’ll try to explain it as simply as possible. 

As we know, the two most important tools you need for archery are a bow and an arrow. When you’re going to shoot, you must have your arrow placed on the bow. 

Dry firing a bow means pulling the bowstring and then releasing the bowstring when there’s no arrow nocked to it. 

Basically, if you draw your bow without an arrow, it puts all the pressure onto your bow instead of the arrow, which leads to a disaster. That’s what dry firing is. 

But if someone is really interested in learning the science behind it, read ahead!

Natural Mechanism Behind Archery:

The game of arrows and bows is the ultimate proof of Hooke’s law – “the amount of force applied to an elastic object is proportional to how far it stretches.”

As you draw the string with your muscle power and apply force on the string, the limbs of the bow become bent backward. 

At this moment, it wants to return to its original shape. In order to do that, it creates a powerful “potential energy” in the string, limbs, and riser. 

When you release the string, the potential energy converts into kinetic energy, which launches the arrow, and Boom! Bull’s-eye! 

The arrow receives most of the kinetic energy. But a little bit of it gets transferred to the bow too. And that’s why you feel a vibration after shooting your bow. 

The Mechanism Behind Dry Firing: Why Does Dry Firing Damage A Bow

As we’ve learned, ideally, you’re supposed to nock your arrow on the bow before shooting. 

But when you don’t have the arrow and draw your bow, creating enormous kinetic energy that has nowhere to go, it returns to the bowstring, limbs, and riser. 

This huge pressure is too much for your bow to handle. So, it causes the bow to reach its breaking point. And it’s not just the bow that’s in danger. Anyone involved in this accident can be seriously injured. 

Pseudo-dry Fire Effect

Well, a dry firing can also happen when you do have your arrow nocked to the bow. 

But how’s that possible? 

You must remember that your bow and arrows shouldn’t weigh too much or too little. That’s because only then can you practice archery successfully.

If your bow is way too heavy while your arrows are comparatively too lightweight, it can cause an effect of dry firing. 

It’s because your arrow will be too weak to take in all the kinetic energy and instead pass it on to your bow. This is why choosing the arrows that fit your bow correctly is crucial. 

How Can Dry Firing Occur 

Anyone can trigger a dry firing. It can happen by an amateur archer or an experienced one too. Most of the time, the reason behind it is carelessness. 

A lack of knowledge can also cause dry firing. Someone might take your bow and shoot the bow without nocking an arrow first. That’s because they don’t know what dangers it can bring for everyone.

The absence of an arrow is not the only cause behind the dry firing. A broken arrow, a lightweight arrow, or an improperly nocked arrow can also be the reason behind it. 

Why is Dry Firing a Bow Dangerous

Now that you’ve already learned about the mechanism of archery and dry firing, let’s answer your question, 

Why is dry firing a bow bad? 

Dry firing a bow is extremely dangerous. Firstly, it will either destroy your bow completely or make it more prone to future damage. 

Not just that, but it also puts you at risk and anyone standing near you. 

Sometimes your bow’s parts get broken while it’s trying to survive a dry fire. At that time, it can hit you on your face before you can even process what just happened. 

The broken bits might even get into your eyes. And the frayed strings can skin your face and arm. All in all, it turns into a horrible situation. 

Now for your bow, it won’t look very good either. The limbs might crack, the string might get torn off, and the riser might break and destroy your bow within a matter of a second. 

That’s why it’s always advised that you should never dry fire your bow. Not even in a joke! 

Let’s read more about what happens when you dry fire a bow. 

If you’re an archer, you sure have felt the slight vibration on your bow after you shoot your arrow. 

This vibration is harmless only because most of the kinetic energy was transferred to the arrow. 

The bow can tolerate only a little bit of pressure. But when the arrow is not there to absorb the energy, it all shifts to the bow instead. 

And when that happens, it causes a massive vibration. The force behind the vibration is too strong for the bow. And the bow parts are not hard enough to endure this pressure. 

Which Parts Are More Prone to Damage? 

Dry firing a bow can cause damage to your entire bow. But if it is especially dangerous for the most important parts of the bow. 

Let’s look at the list!

Bow Limbs

Cracked Bow Llimbs Due To Dry Fire

Dry fire can break and snap the limbs in two. It’s because the amount of stress caused by a dry fire that gets transferred to the limbs is not endurable for them. 


Your bowstrings can get torn off after a dry fire. The kinetic energy that’s supposed to push the arrow forward puts so much pressure on the strings instead that they might fray right away.

Damaged Bow String by dry fire

Cams and Other Accessories

Since your compound bows have way many parts, they get easily damaged by the massive force that’s created by the dry fire. It can bend the cams and pull out other tiny pieces of the bow.

Damaged Bow Cam


A riser is arguably the most important part of a bow as it joints all the other parts together. It goes under enormous pressure while you cause a dry fire. Then it can break easily, damaging the riser can overall harm the entire bow. 

Can You Dry Fire a Crossbow? 

The answer is yes, unfortunately. Actually, it is much more common to dry-fire a crossbow accidentally. 

It’s because the steps of archery using a crossbow are different. You’re supposed to cock your crossbow first, and then you fix your bolt onto the position. 

And it’s easy to forget to put the bolt in place before shooting when your target unexpectedly comes in front of you. 

If you’re using a crossbow for deer hunting, make sure you have cocked your bow and loaded your bolt correctly. Similarly, you should also put extra attention into decocking your crossbow. 

Is Dry Firing a Compound Bow Worse? 

You’ve guessed it! Yes, dry firing a compound bow can be way riskier than any other bow. It’s because these modern bows are way more complicated by design. 

A compound bow is much more powerful than a recurve bow. This is because it can store a lot more energy in its limbs, thanks to its cam. So, a dry fire can cause a massive disaster. 

Another reason why it’s more dangerous to dry fire a compound bow is that it has many more parts and joints. Unlike recurve bows, this advanced weapon has cams, cables, etc

These pieces are susceptible to breaking and fraying if they come under dry firing. The bow accessories have even smaller parts that can easily fly off and get into your eyes. 

What Should You Do If You Dry Fire Your Bow? 

If you’re an avid archer, chances are you’ll accidentally dry-fire your bow someday if you haven’t already. So, it’s good to know what your steps are after you accidentally make a mistake. 

If you dry-fire your bow, it should be immediately checked if you have been hurt anywhere. 

Check for cuts and bruises on your face, neck, arm, and every other part of your body that was close to the bow. 

You should also look around to see if someone was near you when you shot your arrow. Because the broken pieces of the bow definitely can hurt anyone nearby. 

After you’re done inspecting your physical injury, it’s time to see how your bow is doing. Chances are your bow is also taking its last breath. 

You will be able to tell right away that your bow is gone! Because dry fire can cause visible damage to your bow. 

However, sometimes dry fire damages a bow internally or causes very small fractures on the limbs. 

In that case, you have to look for cracks, chips, stress points, splintered limbs, or anything small that looks unusual. You also need to see if the strings are breaking. 

Glide your finger over the limb and riser to see if you feel anything different. But it’s often difficult to catch the damage if the bows are made of wood. 

If you have a compound bow, don’t forget to check the cams! If they look crooked or bent, your bow is probably not usable anymore before a repair. 

You might ask if there’s any special method you can follow to do the inspection. Yes, there is.

Read below! 

Cotton-ball Method

You can rub a cotton ball over every part of the bow. The limbs and riser should be paid extra attention. If you see the cotton ball snagging against anything, then it’s bad news. 

Every expert archer will advise you against using your bow after it suffers a dry fire. Even if you don’t see any sign of damage, it is possible that the damage happened inside the bow.

It’s possible that the bow is just one step away from shattering completely. And you should never take that risk!


Because it won’t be able to withstand normal activities and injure you or others. 

So, even if you think it’s looking perfectly alright, you should still take it to a professional archery shop. They can do a thorough inspection and repair it. 

And they will also tell you if it’s not fixable anymore. In that case, you have to get a new one. 

Can Your Bow Survive a Dry Fire? 

If you’re a passionate archer, I’m sure you love your bows and arrows. You might even have a favorite! It can be an absolute nightmare if just one mishap leaves your brow shattered. 

You still might ask, “will dry firing a bow once ruin it? 

Well, it pretty much depends entirely on your luck! And also on the quality of the bow. 

Just one dry fire can make your bow unusable. It can also damage your bow internally, but only for it to get destroyed after the next use. 

However, your bow might not be damaged if you’re a lucky guy. Many modern bows are highly durable and can withstand a dry fire. 

Even if your bow looks fine after a dry fire, you should always have it checked by a professional. 

What to Do If Someone Dry Fires Your Bow? 

Archery is fascinating, and if you’re an archer, there must have been countless times when your friends and family have asked for your bows and arrows. 

Someone who doesn’t have experience with archery might not even realize if they dry fire a bow. It’ll render your bow a ticking bomb, only waiting to be destroyed after the next use. 

As we know, “prevention is better than cure.” So it’s always the best idea to warn them against dry firing before letting someone shoot. 

You should remind them that it can also physically injure them, to the point that it might even make them blind. 

If you decide to lend someone your bow, it’s very important to check for signs of damage in the bow limbs, strings, riser, etc. 

As soon as you notice anything unusual on your bow, it’s time to take it to a professional archery shop and get it repaired by them. You should never use your bow again before fixing it first. 

How to Prevent Bow Dry Firing? 

It’s not unusual for someone to accidentally dry-fire a bow. But since the consequences of dry firing can be several damaging, it is very important to be mindful when you have a bow in your hand. 

Let’s learn a few safety tips on how to avoid dry-firing a bow! 

Make Sure the Arrow is Nocked 

Dry fire occurs when you shoot a bow without an arrow nocked to the bowstring. That’s why the first thing you always need to check is if your arrow is in place. 

It might sound like a no-brainer. But it’s easy to be forgetful or careless and accidentally cause a dry fire. 

Make Sure the Arrows are the Correct Length and Weigh 

If you get new arrows, you should always check if they match your bow. If your bow is too heavy and the arrow is too lightweight, it might give a dry-fire effect. 

Similarly, it is also important to see if the arrows have the correct length and fit your bow. 

You can find the necessary information on your arrows and bows. Be sure to read them first. 

Make Sure Anyone Using Your Bow Knows about Dry Firing 

It’s common for people with no experience in archery to unintentionally dry-fire a bow. That’s why you must remind them of the dry fire every time you let someone use your bow. 

Check Your Bowstring 

Inspecting your bowstrings before every shoot is very necessary. You need to see if the strings are all strong. Because if your string breaks when you draw the bow extensively, it can also lead to dry fire. 

Check Your Arrows and Bolt 

Poorly nocked arrows and poorly fixed bolts can result in dry fire. Checking the nock is also necessary because if it doesn’t perform correctly, it increases the chances of accidental dry fire. 

Be Extra Careful If You Have a Compound Bow

Since compound bows are designed to be more powerful and complicated than recurve bows, you need to stay vigilant while using them. Please make sure all the parts of your compound bow are in their correct positions and correct shapes.  

Check Your Cams of Compound Bow 

Damaged and dirty cams can cause a derailment which is also a big reason behind the dry fire.

What is derailment? 

Derailment is when the energy takes the wrong route. If bowstrings get detached from the cams, all the energy gets released through the bow, which can cause as much damage as a bowstring. 

This is why it’s important to take good care of your cams. You need to keep them clean all the time. 

Do Not Draw Your Bow Aimlessly

If you’re not planning to shoot, there’s no reason for you to draw your bow unnecessarily. One slip of a finger can lead to a massive dry fire.

When you mistakenly draw a bow with no arrow in place, you should slowly release the bowstring. In that way, it gets enough time to let out the energy without harming itself. 

Be cautious every time you have a bow in your hand. In the end, it is a weapon capable of causing injury to people. 

If you’re an accurate archer, you can only aim for perfection! 


Can a bow survive a dry fire?

It depends on how durable your bow is and how lucky you are. But it is always a good idea to have your bow inspected by a professional after a dry fire.

Could you dry fire a recurve bow?

Yes, you can dry fire your recurve bow. Though it might cause less damage than a compound bow, it can still injure you severely.


Hopefully, in this article, you’ve found the answer to why dry firing your bow is terrible. 

Many experienced and beginner archers have dry-fired their bows countless times. But no matter how common it is, you should know dry firing your bow is always dangerous. 

It can destroy your bow, and at the same time, it can injure you and the people around you badly. But it’s easy to prevent it from happening if you keep a few things in mind.

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