Creating a deadly-quiet bowhunting outfit makes you a deadlier predator. It’s true the modern compound bow is quieter than ever right out of the box.
It’s also true you’ll never hear a bowhunter complain about his whitetail setup being too quiet. Outside Africa, where animals live in constant fear of sudden death from big cats, white-tailed deer are the jumpiest critters bowhunters regularly pursue.
This, of course, includes regional qualifiers. The public lands mountain whitetails I bowhunt in the Northwest (largely because of wolves and mountain lions) are the jumpiest I’ve bowhunted anywhere. Those I periodically pursue in Kansas, living with no large predators and hunted lightly, are tame by comparison. You’ll also find individuals at both ends of this spectrum within a herd — one buck standing and taking it like a man even after sensing your presence, another beneath the same stand coming unglued at the thump of the quietest bow. This often depends on factors such as the proximity of the shot (the closer the animal, the more apt it is to react), how practiced your shot timing is (deer unaware of your presence always make the best targets) or recent encounters with bowhunters (missed shots across the fence days earlier).
Yet there’s no way around the fact that assembling silent bows means hunters start the game at a huge advantage. Here’s a five-step approach to assure your bow fits into that category.
The Big Picture
There are several inherent truths as directly applied to shot noise. First, super radical speed bows are seldom as quiet as “slower,” more forgiving models. I put slower in quotes because many fixate on that factor without understanding speed always comes at a price. Slower might indicate giving up 15 to 20 fps IBO. More practically, it might indicate shooting an average 280 fps real-speed bow instead of a barn-burning bow spitting arrows to 300 fps real speed (those numbers are offered to avoid inflated IBO ratings).
An undeniable reality is the fastest — and shortest — bows are more difficult to shoot well (especially when that book buck saunters beneath your stand and your heart’s fluttering) because of lower brace height. They’re also less comfortable to draw with cold, stiff muscles because of aggressive cams, and you have more time pulling through peak draw and sudden let-off valleys. Low brace means arrows spend more time on the string — more time to introduce human error when pulses redline.
So, as an example, when choosing a whitetail bow — let’s say one from Bear Archery Products — I’ll make mine a Method (6.75-inch brace, 33-inch axle-to-axle and IBO 340 fps) instead of a Motive 6 (6-inch brace, 32 inches, 350 fps IBO).
More pointed, the arrows you choose have much to do with the decibel levels a bow produces after release. Simply put, a heavier shaft — 9 to 11 grains per inch (gpi) — more efficiently absorbs energy transferred by the bowstring than a lighter speed shaft (6.5 to 8.5 gpi) — resulting in less shot noise. Lighter-speed shafts absorb less of a bow’s energy, the remainder resulting in escape energies translating directly into vibrations, buzzes and twangs, creating shot noise to which deer easily react. Heavier arrows make for quieter shots, added reliability and penetration, and less influence from side-winds or light deflections.
Few whitetails are shot past 35 yards (25 yards, in reality). You don’t need blazing speed for success at such ranges, and don’t fall for the wives’ tale of beating a whitetail to the jump with blazing speed. Sound travels three to four times faster than the fastest compound.
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Many top bow models now include string-capturing devices or string bumpers that tame the inherent twang of bowstrings automatically. It’s a great innovation, not only making these bows quieter but also more accurate by initiating positive nock separation. That said, even bows with such silencers can be made quieter by installing standard string silencers.
There’s no shortage of options. Solid molded models such as LimbSaver EverLast String Leeches (installed between string strands) or BowJax (slipped over the string) are simple, deadly effective and impervious to weather but require a bow press for installation. Remember, too, anything placed between string strands can influence peep rotation, so install them before final tuning.
Rubber Cat Whiskers, like originals from Rancho Safari, are waterproof and quick to install (secure with an overhand knot) — a standby still popular decades after their invention. Poly-yarn Puffs from E.W. Bateman, sometimes shunned in areas with abundant burrs but otherwise a super silencing alternative, provide another great option. They stop string noise, hold little moisture and are the lightest of these choices, so they won’t negatively affect arrow speed.
No matter your string-silencing choice, attach them 2 to 3 inches from where string and cam meet for optimum performance. Securing silencers toward the middle of the string erodes speed without significantly adding silencing qualities.
Another area often overlooked when adding string silencers are buss cables. Today’s compound bows, especially those including pre-loaded limbs, are strung tighter than ever, meaning they can create small pings upon release. Such noise is easily squelched by applying half sections of Cat Whiskers to each cable length.
Tame The Riser
Many whitetail hunters forgo stabilizers because they’re viewed as unnecessary for close-range shooting, or because they can get in the way in tight confines — like inside a pop-up blind — or while pulling a bow into a tree via pull-up rope. Although such inconveniences are possible, they’re more than compensated for by the vibration-absorbing qualities of today’s active stabilizers. By active I mean models with special construction or materials actively absorbing unwanted shot vibrations and noise that can alert wary deer and shorten equipment life.
Picture models with rubber joints (Doinker Multi-Rod Hunter or FUSE Carbon Blade Hunter), shifting silicone fill (Hi-Tek Sports), oscillating weights suspended in rubberized polymers (PSE Vibracheck) or molded, soft rubber materials with multiple oscillating fins (NAP Apache, LimbSaver S-Coil), and you’ll get an accurate picture.
All soak up vibrations from any bow. When possible, test-fire several models before making a purchase, as there’s normally one design that will silence best combined with your bow and arrow combination. And don’t discount longer target models (9- to 12-inch), as they also add shooting forgiveness during stressful shots.
Too, understand balance is paramount to top-notch shooting, so choose models coaxing bows to sit level at full draw. Sometimes this means adding a shorter model behind the riser (Doinker’s 2-inch Chubby Hunter or FUSE Axium Pro 2-inch), as well as a 5- to 7-inch forward-situated stabilizer, or off-set designs made to compensate for side torque created by quivers or sights (FUSE Sidekick, Xtreme Hardcore XR10 Carbon).
Silence of the Limbs
When I discovered Sims LimbSavers at a sport show long ago, I was immediately convinced I’d found another product designed only to extract hard-earned cash from bowhunters’ wallets.
Boy, was I wrong.
Owner/inventor Steve Sims quickly changed my mind by inviting me to strike two aluminum baseball bats against a concrete floor; one without LimbSaver, one with NAVCOM rubber mushroom installed. The bat without LimbSaver rang like a bell and vibrated perceivably. The LimbSaver-equipped bat produced a dull thud and resonated no vibrations.
Releasing an arrow is an explosive event. Viewed in slow motion, bow strings and cables seem to turn to noodles, risers can sometimes be seen flexing slightly, accessories shimmy and limbs shake violently. Limb silencers help absorb excess vibrations and dissipate them silently. Since Sims Vibration Laboratories’ LimbSaver introduction, many companies have followed suit, including BowJax, PSE and BowTech.
Many savvy bowhunters invest the time necessary to make their bow as quiet as possible but neglect tack-on accessories such as sights, arrow rests and especially quivers. All are potential sources of irksome shot noise. After instillation, sight in and final fine tuning, it’s always wise to do a final inspection with Allen wrench set in hand, checking every set screw, sight pin and bolt for snugness.
It’s also smart to conduct such checks periodically, especially just before the season opener after a long summer of target practice, after a month of riding in an ATV rack or even one airline flight. A loose screw on, say, a sight aperture, can create rattlesnake buzzes, alerting game during season-making shots. If a particular screw works loose regularly after prolonged shooting, add Loctite to prevent it from backing out.
You might find a particular accessory creates hums or buzzes even when all screws are tight. I’ve owned sights — pendulums and movers in particular — that created slight tuning-fork hums on release. Drop-away rest arms often thwack riser shelves sharply upon release. Detachable quivers are also a common vibration culprit.
You might simply wrap sight extensions and apertures, or quiver hoods, with thick rubber bands or add Mini Limb Savers to key points. Limb Saver’s NAVCOM rubber Bow Wrap is especially helpful for small jobs, cut into strips to wrap accessories with or into a small patch to create a dropaway rest-arm pad, super-glued into place. I find the best way to discover small buzzes and hums is to strum the bowstring aggressively, listening carefully for noise, placing an ear against suspect parts to better detect raucous spots and applying silencing material as necessary.
Patrick Meitin is a longtime, accomplished bowhunter from Idaho. This DDH classic story first appeared in 2014.