By Scott Einsmann
In this ultimate beginners guide to archery you’ll learn everything you need to choose the right gear, use it safely, and explore archery’s many disciplines.
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Many sports require big initial investments to even try them. But shooting your first arrow is easy. Just call a nearby archery store and you’ll be on your way to trying and enjoying a sport that fascinates people for life.
Archery shops are hubs for archery knowledge, equipment repairs, and everything you need to get started. Most shops offer lessons. If they don’t, their pro can refer you to an instructor.
Building a relationship with a shop is important. The store’s experts are your go-to resources for all things archery. It’s tempting to score “great deals” online, but be careful what you wish for. You can’t simply pull a bow from its box and start shooting. You need an expert to set it up to fit you.
You can find a nearby archery shop with a quick internet search, or just use our store locator by clicking here.
Once you find a shop, ask about lessons and programs. Many shops rent bows you can use for lessons. That’s a great way to try the sport and get instructions without jumping in and buying gear.
A 30-minute one-on-one lesson is a great introduction. As you progress, you might want to extend your lessons to one hour. Group lessons are a fun option for trying archery. Shops offer beginner group lessons for adults and youths.
Another way to try archery is through a program. Consider Explore Archery, Junior Olympic Archery Development, Scholastic 3D Archery, National Archery in the Schools Program, and Olympic Archery in the Schools.
When you attend your introductory lesson, you’ll find an instructor who’s excited to help. You’ll shoot your first arrows at close distances while learning archery’s basic techniques. As your skills increase, your accuracy will improve and you’ll shoot increasingly farther.
You won’t run laps or break a heavy sweat shooting archery, but you should dress appropriately. Wear closed-toed shoes like sneakers. If your lesson is outdoors, dress for the weather but avoid baggy clothes that can catch the bowstring. If you have long hair, wear it in a ponytail or pull it away from your face. You’ll draw the bowstring back to your face, and you don’t want it to catch your hair when releasing the arrow.
Once you’ve tried archery, you’ll be hooked and want to make it part of your life. Continue taking lessons, and think about the type of bow you want to shoot as you explore archery’s many disciplines.
You’ll find many great options when you go bow shopping. The difficulty comes in selecting the right type of bow. Much depends on your needs and tastes. Some people choose bow styles based on what looks cool. Others select a bow based on their goals and how they’ll use it. Let’s explore some options to help you select “the one.”
The crowd’s roar fades as your national anthem plays. The medal around your neck represents years of hard work and sacrifice, but earning this amazing moment was worth it. If that’s your dream, an Olympic recurve might be in your future. That’s the type of bow Olympians use, and it’s also the bow thousands of recreational archers prefer. Recurve shooting is a fantastic, challenging discipline, and Olympic archery combines exercise and mental discipline.
These bows can be used for 3D, target, indoor and field archery. In outdoor target tournaments, including the Olympics, adults shoot targets at 70 meters. To shoot that far accurately, your Olympic bow needs different accessories than those used on other recurves.
Olympic recurves have three main pieces: a riser and two limbs. The bow disassembles for customization and transportation. You grip the bow’s riser, which is also where its sight and arrow rest attach. The bow’s limbs create its power, and bend in unison when drawn. When archers release the bowstring, the limbs snap forward, propelling the arrow to the target.
Long rods jut from an Olympic bow’s riser. These stabilizers help archers steady the bow for precise aiming. Its other accessories are a sight, clicker and arrow rest.
Your target is 50 meters away. You dial your sight to the exact distance and prepare to shoot. At full draw, you can see the target in crisp detail through your magnified scope. You apply steady pressure to your release-aid until it “breaks” and releases the bowstring, launching your arrow into the 10-ring.
If you love precision marksmanship, consider a compound bow. These bows can be incredibly accurate. With lessons, you’ll consistently hit the center. You can shoot compounds for recreation, competition or bowhunting.
Different compound bows have different uses. Target compound bows have one job: accuracy. They provide excellent shooting experiences. You can trick them out and accessorize them for maximum accuracy. Their target accessories include long stabilizers and finely adjustable magnified sights.
Hunting compounds must be accurate and portable, so they’re smaller and lighter than target bows. Their accessories are usually more durable to withstand outdoor hazards. That doesn’t mean you can’t compete or shoot targets with hunting bows. In fact, you’ll find competitive divisions for them, or you can change a few accessories and compete with target archers.
If you like recreational archery, you have your choice of compounds. You can even custom-design your bow. If you like a target sight’s adjustability and the portability of a hunting bow, you can choose a compound that meets your preferences.
You’re hiking in a woods that looks like something out of Thoreau’s “Walden.” But this isn’t a typical hike. You have your bow in hand and a quiver of arrows. You’re stump-shooting, a game where the woods provide a target-rich environment, and your fun is limited only by your imagination.
Stump-shooting is one of many ways to have fun with traditional bows. Traditional and barebow archery provide ultimate challenges, but their added reward is extreme fun. Traditional bows are a stripped-down archery form that’s simple, elegant and romantic.
These bows take you back to the sport’s roots, when all you needed was a bow and a full quiver. The challenge of shooting bull’s-eyes with them is extremely rewarding. They’re simple bows, but capable of incredible accuracy. You’ll find endless bow styles, but traditional archery’s three main categories are longbow, recurve and barebow.
A recurve bow’s swept tips curve away from the archer, and it shoots arrows at faster speeds than what straight-limbed longbows can deliver. The longbow lacks the recurve’s curved tips, but it’s steeped in history and bends gracefully in classic design when strung.
A typical barebow resembles an Olympic recurve, but without sights, stabilizers or other accuracy-enhancing gear. The barebow division is growing in competitive archery because it draws people to the bow’s challenge and simplicity.
If you wear an analog watch, have an old soul, love the beauty of wood, or just want to shoot like Katniss Everdeen, traditional archery might be for you.
Still can’t decide? Don’t rush. You can choose more than one bow style. Consider a compound bow for serious competition or to consistently hit targets at long distances. Pair your choice with a beautiful recurve bow for stump-shooting and backyard practice. Whatever your options, the best way to decide is to visit an archery store and test-drive some bows.
Buying a bow is a fun, easy process that starts at an archery shop, where friendly, knowledgeable staff are ready to help.
Tell them your budget and the type of archery you want to pursue. They’ll make several bow recommendations based on your preferences. Then they’ll measure your draw length, which is how far you pull back the bowstring. After that quick measurement, the fun starts. You’ll get to shoot the bows and decide which one feels best.
Once you choose your bow you can trick it out with accessories. You’ll need arrows and a sight, quiver, arrow rest and release aid. You’ll be able to color-coordinate your accessories to make your bow stand out. Customarrows and bowstrings further personalize your equipment.
The archery shop’s bow technician will assemble and mount your accessories, and fit the bow to you for maximum comfort and accuracy. The bow is then ready to shoot! You can shoot it right away and sign up for lessons.
Arrows are as big of a decision as choosing your bow. Let’s get to know their parts. The shaft is the arrow’s body. The arrow’s nock clips onto the bowstring. Its fletchings, located next to the nock, stabilize the arrow in flight. The tip is obvious: It’s the pointy end of the arrow that drives into the target.
Carbon fiber’s strength and light weight make it a favorite arrow material for most archers and bowhunters. Carbon is extremely durable, and returns to its original shape when it bends. That means your arrows stay straight no matter how much you abuse them.
Manufacturers offer budget-friendly carbon arrows that are ideal for beginning archers.
*Safety Tip: During hard hits to rock or metal, carbon arrows can sustain small cracks. If you miss the target or hit something hard, carefully inspect your arrow for damage. Then, flex it while listening for cracking noises. If your arrow makes noise or breaks, throw it out or turn it into an arrow pen.
Aluminum arrows are as straight and consistent as carbon arrows, but cost less. Their biggest downside? They aren’t as durable as carbon. Aluminum can bend from mishandling or hard impacts. But if you’re on a tight budget and take care of your arrows, aluminum is a great option.
Archers have used wooden arrows for thousands of years. They’ve been used to hunt wooly mammoths and to wage wars, like the Battle of Agincourt. Many archers like the nostalgia of wooden arrows in a well-oiled back quiver. They embody archery’s romance and mystique.
Unfortunately, wooden arrows aren’t as durable as carbon or aluminum arrows, and wood is less consistent and prone to warping. But for some archers, the traditional look and feel of wooden arrows outweighs the negatives. If you’re a purist or you want to step back in time, give wooden arrows a try.
Fletchings stabilize the arrow in flight, and come in two basic materials: vanes and feathers.
Plastic fletchings are called vanes. They’re usually preferred for compound bows and modern recurves with an elevated arrow rest. Vanes are popular because they’re durable and waterproof.
Feathers are a great choice when you need maximum forgiveness and arrow stability. That’s why feathers are the choice for traditional archers, and many competitive archers for indoor tournaments. When an arrow launches from a recurve or longbow, its fletching contacts the bow. Feathers are supple, so they flatten out when contacting the bow and don’t disrupt arrow flight. Feathers are not waterproof, but powders and sprays can make them water-resistant.
Also consider the length and design of your fletchings. In general, a shorter low-profile vane is good for shooting outdoors and longer distances because it reduces drag and wind drift. A longer vane with a higher profile is good for indoor archery or short distances outdoors.
Spine is the measurement of an arrow’s flex or bend. You’ll find the arrow’s spine number on its label. Some examples are 350, 400, 500 and 600. The higher the number, the greater the arrow’s flex.
Once you choose an arrow spine that works for your bow, stick with it. The only exception is when you make changes to your bow, such as increasing its draw weight. A bow with a heavy draw weight needs a stiffer arrow, and a bow with a lighter draw weight needs a more flexible arrow.
Many variables – bow design, arrow length, and point weight – affect arrow spine. Your archery shop professionals consider these factors when selecting your arrow shafts.
The fit between your arrow nock and bowstring is important, but often overlooked. The ideal fit clicks audibly onto the bowstring, and the arrow comes off the string with a light tap. Your nock is too tight if it won’t cleanly release from the string, which can hurt accuracy. If your nock is too loose, the arrow might come off the string while you draw, which is unsafe.
The standard way to measure arrow length is from the back of the point to the throat of the nock. Your draw length and arrow spine influence your arrow length. If your draw length is 28 inches and you want an arrow that ends at the front of the riser, your arrow length would be around 27 inches. Your arrow length can be longer, however, if you need to weaken the arrow’s spine. For safety reasons, don’t cut your arrows too short. Your archery shop’s pro ensures your arrows are the proper length.
You have a lot to think about when choosing arrows. If you feel overwhelmed, the expertise at archery shops makes the process easy. Just tell the technician your budget, your bow specifications, and the type of shooting you enjoy (field, 3D, indoor or target). To find a nearby shop, click here.
To complete your archery setup, you’ll need some basic gear for your bow and arrows.
A quiver’s job is to hold your arrows while you shoot. You can choose a back quiver and channel your inner Robin Hood, or go for the waist quiver for your belt, or a bow quiver that snaps onto your bow.
Release-aids and finger tabs protect your fingers and help you cleanly release the bowstring. A mechanical release-aid uses a trigger system. The release attaches to the bowstring with jaws or a clip. The bowstring on most compound bows has a D-loop, which is a short cord tied into a loop just below where the arrow’s nock grips the string. The release-aid clips onto the D-loop.
Once the release is attached to the D-loop, the archer draws the bow, aims and squeezes the release-aid’s trigger with the thumb or index finger. With pressure on the trigger, the release-aid lets go of the string to launch the arrow. The release-aid’s trigger mechanism helps deliver astonishing accuracy.
Mechanical releases come in two basic styles: wrist-strap and handheld. Wrist-strap releases attach to your wrist with a buckle or Velcro strap. Most beginning compound archers use that style because it’s affordable and easy to use.
For a finger release, archers use their index, middle and ring finger to grip the bowstring at the first joint of the fingers. Then they draw the bow, aim and relax their fingers to let the bowstring slip away.
Recurve and longbow archers use a glove or finger tab to protect their fingers while shooting their bows. Gloves and finger tabs are made of leather, and come in several sizes.
A finger tab fits between your fingers and the bowstring. The tab should cover your three fingers but not hang over your fingertips. For a custom fit, trim the tab with a scissors.
A shooting glove resembles a leather work glove, but only covers the tips of your shooting fingers. The fingertip sections are leather, and the glove secures around your wrist. Shooting gloves come in many sizes, and you can test-shoot them at the pro shop.
When you release a bowstring, it passes by your forearm. If the bowstring strikes your forearm, it can sting. An armguard protects your forearm from the bowstring, and prevents shirt or coat sleeves from catching the string as it passes.
Bow cases protect your bow when you travel between home and the range. Unprotected bows can be damaged if dropped onto pavement or knocked against a car, door or wall.
Hard cases offer the most protection. Most are rated for airline travel, which means you can take your bow on vacation or to distant tournaments. Some models have wheels for easy rolling and maneuvering, and they can be locked for safekeeping.
Soft cases, however, meet most archers’ needs. They’re lighter than hard cases, protect your bow from nicks and dings, and help organize your gear. Many soft cases are rated for airline travel, while others are best suited for road trips.
Other items you might need:
With these essentials, you’ll have everything you need to enjoy archery at home or the range. You can pick them up at an archery shop. To find a nearby shop, click here.
The first step in your bow-and-arrow journey is trying the sport at an archery shop. Once you’ve learned archery’s basic skills, consider signing up for a program or advanced lessons.
One-on-one lessons accelerate learning because you receive the instructor’s full attention for 30 minutes. As you improve, consider extending your lessons to one hour. Another option is group lessons, which are a fun, social way to learn. Many shops offer group lessons for adults and youths. Contact an archery shop to learn your options.
Programs offer other ways to learn archery, whether through schools, pro shops, community centers or archery/bowhunting clubs.
JOAD is a USA Archery program for 8- to 20-year-olds. These group lessons are usually held weekly at shops, clubs or ranges. They help archers hone their skills at their own pace in a community-based atmosphere. Group lessons also help participants meet other archers while receiving individual attention from certified instructors. JOAD classes resemble other organized sports, and parents play an important role.
USA Archery’s Adult Archery program offers the same benefits as JOAD, including opportunities to exercise, meet new friends, and build self-confidence. It caters to archers 21 and older.
OAS is a fun youth program that gives students mental and physical challenges. As its name implies, OAS teaches Olympic-style archery. Participants compete as individuals and teams, and through a nationwide mail-in tournament.
NASP is an in-school activity that provides a basic archery introduction with Genesis bows and arrows, which fit everyone of all ages. NASP archers shoot 5 to 15 yards at an 80-centimeter target. NASP also sponsors tournaments where schools compete locally, regionally and nationally.
Scholastic 3D Archery is a fun next-step program so students can shoot 3D targets after school. These life-sized, three-dimensional animal targets are shot indoors and outdoors. Participants can use all types of gear, including basic bows, Olympic recurves, and compound bows. In addition to after-school classes, the program offers local and national tournaments. These fun events are excellent competition for boosting college resumes.
Explore Archery is an introductory program that hooks newcomers on the sport. It’s available in one-day, one-week, six-week or special-event classes. The class teaches students everything from basic archery form to simple games and fun competitions.
Many beginners try archery with an unsighted bow and few accuracy-enhancing accessories. Basic bows work well for camps and other programs where many people must shoot the same bow. Shooting a bare bow makes sense in those settings because sights, release-aids and peep sights must be adjusted for each archer, which takes time and care.
Archers USA developed a sight, release, peep-sight and draw-weight adjustment system that helps archers set up quickly and easily. The system also makes it easy for shops or instructors to set the bow to each archer’s specs because it numbers the adjustments. Once archers are set up with an Archers USA bow, they receive a code that tells a pro how to set the bow to the archer’s specs. These adjustments don’t require tools. The “varsity” program brings these unique bows into schools to shoot during or after the school day.
From backyard games to competing on the world stage, archers have many ways to have fun with their bows. Let’s examine some options.
Shooting balloons and playing archery games is a great alternative to bocce ball or corn hole. Secure balloons to the target, aim, and enjoy the satisfying “pop” when you hit your mark.
You can also fill balloons with paint, cornstarch or glitter for even more fun. Avoid paint from hardware store. You can make paint at home that’s easy to clean up and better for the environment.
Homemade Paint Recipe
Whisk the flour, salt and water until smooth. Add the food coloring until attaining the desired color.
“Roving,” or stump-shooting, is one of archery’s oldest games. Simply find an old tree stump, pick a spot on it, and shoot. You’ll feel like a kid as you fling arrows and turn routine walks in the woods into adventures. You can stump-shoot at home, on public lands, or on private lands with permission. Check with your state wildlife agency to determine if it’s legal in your area.
For stump-shooting, use an arrow point called a judo. These blunt points also have wire claws. The blunt point reduces penetration into stumps, and the claws prevent arrows from burrowing into grass.
No stumps? No problem. Ball-shaped targets are available from archery stores. Throw the round target and shoot it where it stops. Pull your arrows and repeat.
Check with your archery club for events, or travel to bigger events around the country. You can shoot these disciplines for fun or competition.
If it’s rainy, you can watch field, 3D and target events online. Watch the world’s best archers compete. Study their form, and learn archery’s many disciplines. It’s a great way to learn the sport and become a lifelong fan.
Now that you know everything you need to try archery, contact a shop to schedule your first lesson. To find a nearby shop, click here.