By Michaelean Pike
From Hawkeye to Robin Hood to Katniss Everdeen, archery is everywhere. But for those who neither shoot archery nor know an archer, the sport might seem more fitting on the big screen than in your backyard.
Depending on where you live, you might not be able to set up a range in your yard. But if you’re curious about archery and want to learn more about this engaging activity, read these things you should know about the sport.
The oldest arrowheads found so far date from about 60,000 to 70,000 years ago. Fragments of flint found in a bear’s skeleton in Switzerland suggest that humans hunted with arrows since at least 13,500 years ago. Archery’s use in warfare goes back to at least the Mesolithic Age, as seen in a cave painting of bow-carrying humans chasing other archers. The oldest bows were found in Denmark and date to 8,000 years ago.
Until the 1960s, archers shot what we now call “traditional” bows, which means longbows and recurve bows. Many archers still start by shooting recurves, whose limbs “re-curve” away from the archer at the tips to provide more power to the arrow than straight-limb bows. Recurve bows are fast and forgiving to shoot, and their relative simplicity makes them easy for teaching archery.
Hollis Wilbur Allen developed the compound bow in 1966. These bows use a system of cables and pulleys, or cams, to make drawing the bow easier. Because they can store more energy, compound bows generally shoot arrows at higher speeds than do recurves. Because of their many moving parts, however, compounds are more complex and require more maintenance.
Who can shoot a bow? Anyone! Archery is a sport that people of all ages, skill levels, and physical abilities can enjoy, even at the highest levels. South Korea’s Im Dong Hyun, who is legally blind, was a two-time Olympic gold medalist, and set a world record at the 2012 London Olympics. Many sports require participants to start young to be competitive, but archery has seen new shooters of all ages advance. Former Project Runway contestant Laura Bennett began shooting as an adult, and was instrumental in getting USA Archery to field a Masters team for the Pan American Championships.
Don’t think recurve bows are just for beginning archers. Olympic archers use advanced recurves outfitted with sights, stabilizers and plungers to ensure accurate and consistent shots.
Because bows and arrows are considered weapons, many people are surprised to learn that archery is one of the world’s safest sports. The National Safety Council found that archery is over three times safer than golf, and most archery injuries occur while bowhunting.
The main reason for this impressive record is that trained instructors introduce participants to basic archery and range safety from the start. Archery ranges often use a system of whistles to ensure archers know when it’s safe to shoot and retrieve arrows. New archers also learn not to …
— point a bow at another person,
— wear clothing or accessories that could catch the bowstring,
— shoot without checking their equipment,
— shoot at a target without a safe backstop.
Whether you prefer simplicity and the romance of shooting instinctively, or you want to spend more time in the outdoors, you’ll find a type of archery that suits your interests. Shooters can choose from target archery, field archery, 3D archery, traditional archery or bowhunting—or participate in all of them.
Getting started in archery doesn’t have to cost much. If you sign up for lessons, you’ll probably use a loaner bow so you can see whether you like it before buying your own gear.
If you shoot a recurve bow, all you need is the bow, and some arrows with fletching and points. Other products that can make shooting easier or more comfortable include sights, a quiver, an armguard, and a glove or finger tab.
Compound bow shooters usually use sights, a release aid and an arrow rest.
Although archery isn’t a high-impact or fast-paced sport, it offers many health benefits. Archery builds strength in your core, arms and shoulders. It also improves posture and mental focus.
Archers also walk a great deal while retrieving arrows. During the 2012 Summer Olympics, The Economist compared calories athletes burned while competing in various sports. Archery came in second, behind only marathon running. Winning male archers burned an estimated 1,084 calories during their medal runs.
Because archery is not a team sport, it lets you advance at your own pace. Shooters can aim for the highest levels of competition, or take a more relaxed approach. There’s no right or wrong way to enjoy archery, as long as you do it safely.
If you want to take an archery lesson to see if you like it, sign up for classes at a nearby archery pro shop. Archery pros can advise you on the right equipment for your shooting needs.
What if you’re already an archer and need to perfect your form or technique? Consult an archery coach for help.