When to Replace Bowstrings and Cables

Is it time to outfit your compound or crossbow with a new set?

When to Replace Bowstrings and Cables

As you prepare for fall hunting seasons, take the time to consider your bowstring-and-cable system’s age and wear. If it’s time or close to time, replace it. (Photo courtesy of America’s Best Bowstrings)

While working at my family’s archery pro shop from 2002 to 2012, I replaced hundreds and hundreds of bowstrings and cables for our customers. So did my brothers. Some folks had us replace them annually, which was great and instilled peace of mind for them before hunting season. Conversely, plenty of customers came for new bowstrings or cables only because theirs blew up or were on the verge of it.

A string and/or cable blowup is very risky. First, it creates a dangerous situation. Once, a rubber bowstring silencer broke when I shot my bow and then somehow slapped my face. It stung like a bee. I can’t fathom being face- or eye-whipped with a bowstring as it rips in half. Second, if you milk out your bowstring and cable life too long, the blowup could happen at a critical time, such as during the whitetail rut or an out-of-state elk hunt. Of course, bow shops are usually slammed during these times of the year, and your bow most likely won’t be back in business for at least a week. However, you can avoid that disaster by monitoring warning signs and replacing strings and cables when it’s time, or even before.

On a crossbow or compound, strings and cables rank near the top in importance. In this column, I’ll discuss warning signs to identify so you can replace them before they become dangerous. I’ll also talk about how to choose replacements and what to look for. Then, I’ll finish with some maintenance tips you can follow that will prolong your new string-and-cable system’s lifespan. Let’s talk bowstrings!


Read the Warning Signs

Though I can speak this language like second nature, I sat down with, in my opinion, the best in the bowstring business to discuss hints that indicate it’s time to get a new bowstring and cable(s).

Jerry Mullet of America’s Best Bowstrings said, “Customers are always asking how to know when it’s time to change their strings. No matter what brand of strings are currently on your bow, all are made of fibrous strands that eventually will break down and wear out. The rule of thumb, regardless of visible wear, is to change out strings every two to three years. Some of our customers change their strings every year, but we’ve also seen instances where folks have used one set of America’s Best Bowstrings for up to nine consecutive years. Although that nine-year-old set still looked great, we really suggest not going beyond three years.”

Duration is certainly a warning sign, but Mullet also shared that studying the bowstring for visible wear can indicate when it’s time to replace. Look specifically for excessive fuzzing on the fibers and also serving separations. As a side note, I haven’t experienced serving separations with America’s Best Bowstrings, but I’ve seen it countless times with stock strings and cables, so keep tabs on that, especially if you’re currently using your bow’s original set.

To summarize, ask yourself, “How old is my current system?” If more than three years old, I suggest replacing. If less than three years, then inspect for wear. If you’re still unsure, visit a pro shop and ask an expert’s opinion. In any case, don’t wait too long.


Choosing a New Bowstring-and-Cable System

Too many bowhunters live with the misconception that bowstrings are bowstrings. Truthfully, as I said earlier, the system is one of a compound bow’s most important components and hugely impacts performance. If you settle for a low-quality set, it will inhibit your bow’s potential and consistency. Mullet underscored that point during our discussion. 

“A bowstring-and-cable system is vital (emphasis added) to your bow’s performance,” he said. “That multiplies when we’re talking about highly efficient modern cam systems. If the bowstring moves or creeps, it will change your impact and rob consistency. It could also mean a perfectly tuned arrow becomes an untuned arrow. From a bowhunting-ethics perspective, that is not a risk we should take. I need everything to be right so that when I draw back my bow, I know that my arrow will go where I’m aiming.”

That is why custom bowstrings are best, especially if you’re shooting at longer distances, say, 40 yards and beyond.

“When it is time to replace worn-out strings,” Mullet said, “remember that not all bowstrings are created equal. First, consider the manufacturer’s reputability. Does the manufacturer stand behind its product with a warranty? Going with a high-end custom string will maximize performance because it won’t creep, peep rotation will be on point, and servings won’t separate. Those are the three hallmarks of a really good custom string.”

On a dream elk hunt, the last thing you want to happen is have your bowstring or a cable blow up and end your hunt early, so replace worn or aged strings and cables before you go. (Photo courtesy of America’s Best Bowstrings)
On a dream elk hunt, the last thing you want to happen is have your bowstring or a cable blow up and end your hunt early, so replace worn or aged strings and cables before you go. (Photo courtesy of America’s Best Bowstrings)

Maintaining Your String-and-Cable System

Just like changing your car’s oil regularly or mowing grass when it reaches a given height, bow-strings require special attention and regular maintenance in order to last two to three years. Mullet shared some ways to do it. 

“There are obvious reasons why bowstrings wear out faster than they should,” Mullet said. “Some archers make a lot of bowstring contact with their body, both when they’re shooting or even when they carry the bow through the woods. They allow the bowstring and cables to rub against clothing, brush, targets and other objects. Each abrasion will damage the string fibers and shorten their life. Try your best to avoid doing that.

“Many bowhunters also don’t understand how bow storage can inhibit string life. They think nothing of storing their bows in barns, sheds, unheated/uninsulated garages or other outbuildings. This can be highly detrimental to string life.

“Think about it. In some extreme instances, a bow is exposed to 100-plus degrees during the summer down to minus 30 degrees in the winter. That majorly speeds the wear process. Big humidity swings, even in consistent temperatures, also inhibit string life. Always store your bow in a climate-controlled environment to maximize string life.”

Beyond the points Mullet made, I’ll add it’s wise to employ some type of bowstring cleaner when your string has been exposed to dust or dirt. I also lightly wax my string and cables any time they appear dry or exhibit slight fuzzing. Get in the practice of packing cleaner and wax for every hunt.


Better Now Than Later

Just like a vehicle driven for years and years without replacing worn or broken parts, a bow with an old or worn bowstring-and-cable system spells disaster for accuracy and potentially safety, too. Plus, you could find yourself amidst a rut hunt you waited all year for with a blown string or cable, rendering your bow inoperable.

To that end, if you have any questions about whether or not it’s time to replace your string-and-cable system, remember that it’s better to do it before the damage is done. It’s a small price to pay in the grand scheme of bowhunting, and it sure can save you from a nosedive outcome on a hunt you’ve waited for all year. That’s a risk I’m not willing to take. How about you?

The author bowhunts in multiple states and shoots his bow often, so he goes with a new set every year when he gets a new bow, then keeps the stock set as a backup just in case. (Photo by Darron McDougal)
The author bowhunts in multiple states and shoots his bow often, so he goes with a new set every year when he gets a new bow, then keeps the stock set as a backup just in case. (Photo by Darron McDougal)

Sidebar: Custom Bowstring for a New Bow?

You may have heard of someone replacing a stock string-and-cable system with a custom set as soon as they bought a new compound bow. If you’re wondering why someone wouldn’t use a new, perfectly good set that comes with the bow, consider what Jerry Mullet of America’s Best Bowstrings shared in the main article. He explained that a high-end custom bowstring-and-cable set such as ABB’s Platinum Series offers three distinct advantages over stock strings: zero creep, zero peep rotation, and zero serving separations. Those factors boost a compound’s performance, and then you can keep the stock set as a backup.


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