So, you’ve decided to consider archery as a new hobby—whether you’re looking into it for sport or just for fun, it can be a great choice. Of course, there is a lot to learn, from the basics of the sport to the different kinds of bows that are available and even how to buy the right arrows. Did you know that even mattered? This guide on archery for beginners has you covered.
We’ll start by going over the basics and then get into the details of the sport, including how to prepare, learning to hold and shoot a bow, and even how to find the right bow before you start shooting. We will even provide you with some helpful rules and guidelines, as well as helpful tips to ensure that you have the best foundation to start your new exploration of the world of archery.
To note, archery is different for adults and children. For the sake of this guide, we’ll be focusing mostly on adults. The only real difference with kids who are learning archery as compared to adults is that they’ll need smaller equipment that’s designed for a child’s smaller frame. As long as they’ve got the proper supervision and an understanding that a bow and arrow is a weapon, not a toy, anyone can enjoy this hobby.
First up, let’s get into the basics.
The Basics of Archery
Archery is a sport that has been around for centuries. It was once the main method of hunting and fighting for several civilizations. Today, it remains an Olympic sport that only allows standard recurve bows, while compound and complex crossbows are available for various sporting needs and desires. There are plenty of ways to enjoy archery, from shooting at the range to hunting for various game, depending on the hunting laws where you live.
Regardless of your interests or intentions, however, you’ll need to take the time to learn the basics. One of the most common questions people have about archery is whether it is a sport, a hobby, or a means of fighting.
The short answer? Yes.
Archery has been dated clear back to the Paleolithic Period when ancient Egyptians and nearby cultures were using bows and arrows for hunting and warfare. There are plenty of pictures in tombs depicting the act of teaching archery, and the symbols are even used in common hieroglyphs. The Shang dynasty has the first known evidence of archery around 1766-1027 BC.
Archery was initially used primarily for hunting and fighting. Over time, it became a sport to many cultures also, since it offered a chance to increase skill by creating competition between local groups and individuals. The bow has long been a weapon of war and a popular hunting tool, but today more than ever it has become a sports hobby for the sake of enjoyment.
There are still several people who shoot archery for hunting purposes and the production of military crossbows is a clear indicator that these tools still have a place in warfare. However, they’re mostly found in leisure and competitive sports, among children and adults alike looking for a challenging hobby.
How Do You Start Archery for Beginners?
You’re already on the right path by reading this guide on archery for beginners. Getting educated is a great way to prepare yourself for the adventure that you’re about to embark upon. The history of archery is interesting if you’re into that kind of stuff, but it’s not the focus of this guide. After all, you need to learn modern rules and practices to actually get out there and shoot.
So, let’s dig into the details of modern archery and how you can learn the hobby. You can call it a hobby or a sport, and we’ll use the terms interchangeably throughout this article, but regardless, it’s an enjoyable way to test your skill and challenge yourself if you enjoy shooting-related hobbies.
You’ll need to decide who’s going to teach you archery, what type of bow and style you want to learn, and what your primary use for the skills will be. Are you learning so that you can be a better hunter? Maybe you’re just looking for a new hobby where you can compete against yourself and others.
Regardless, make sure that you know why and the rest will come—passion can go a long way in realizing your potential.
Can I Teach Myself Archery?
Anyone can teach themselves archery with the right foundation and teaching tools, but sometimes it may be best learned from a professional. There are a lot more resources available today that make self-taught archers more likely to be successful, including YouTube videos and online tutorials.
Of course, you can also hire someone to help you learn the basics and get the form down before you go it alone. There may be free help available at your local range, or maybe you know someone who can help with some pointers and training tips. Regardless of how you do it, there are plenty of ways to learn archery so that it can be enjoyed.
Even though you can teach yourself the basic fundamentals of archery, it might be best for you to take some lessons or join a group that will allow you to improve your skills and learn from others as you do. There are programs for kids and adults alike, and they offer various levels of training and education. You will also find classes based on recurve training, compound bow training, and even courses for hunters or hobbyists specifically.
Even though this guide and the other resources that you find can teach you a lot about the world of archery and how to become decent at making basic shots, there is always so much more to learn. This is a sport of precision and skill, which takes a lot of dedicated time and practice. Check out your local pro shops, community centers, archery or hunt clubs, and other resources in the community that may offer in-person training or group archery classes or lessons.
Learning at the Range
Some people like the idea of learning at the range. This can be useful for several reasons. Not only does it give you access to people who have different types and levels of skill in archery, but it also allows you to have a place to practice. What’s more is that if you’re not quite ready to invest in a bow yourself, you can rent them from the range to practice for a few hours.
Yes, you can even rent a bow that’s sized for you so that you get the right training and experience. This can be even better than going to your local pro shop for advice on what type of bow to buy (which we’ll discuss more later). Actually getting your hands on a bow and seeing what feels right could help you decide on a completely different option than you might have anticipated in the first place.
What Does a Beginner Archer Need?
When stocking up as a first-time archer, you will have quite the shopping list. Fortunately, if you go to your local pro shop or sporting goods store and tell them you’re new to archery, they’ll be able to help you get everything that you need. You’ll want to make sure that you choose the right bow and set of arrows, and any additional accessories that you may need, such as a sight that’s not included on your bow or a premium grip that gives you more control or comfort.
Every archer that is just getting started will want to take advantage of as many tools and accessories as possible. In addition to a sight, you’ll want to make sure that you have a release to help improve shot accuracy and a proper rest to hold the arrows against the riser (handle). It may also be a good idea to invest in some targets or foam blocks so that you can practice to your heart’s content.
Of course, if you live in an urban area or plan on going to a range to shoot for any reason, you can probably skip the targets. If, however, you have a large yard or live in an area where you can practice outdoors, having targets on hand will ensure that you’re never more than a few minutes from a good round of shooting.
Consider additional gear like arm guards, wax for your bowstring, a quiver and bow case, and other bow accessories that will improve your shooting. Consider keeping Allen wrenches on hand along with arrow lube and a bow stringer. You’ll also find that your pro shop might have some recommendations for those who are just starting out. Don’t feel obligated to buy everything they recommend, but listen to their advice. They might be more helpful than you think.
What Type of Bow Is Best for Beginners?
There are two main types of bows to choose from in the world of archery: compound bows and recurve bows. The latter is the traditional style that most people are familiar with. Compound bows refer to the crossbows and mechanical bows that feature compound firing mechanisms or more complex operation to provide more force and speed.
Deciding on a bow depends primarily on your intended use. However, it may also be a matter of style preference. For some, the classic recurve is the only real option for recreational shooting. Others like the advanced tech of compound bows and the competitiveness of always trying to get the next best shot. It is generally easier for people to learn to shoot on a recurve bow and then upgrade their equipment and skillset.
However, thanks to modern tutorials, training, and technology, just about anyone can enjoy archery with any type of bow so long as they take the time to learn. Read on to learn about recurve and compound bows and what they offer for various archery shooting needs.
The recurve bow is a “standard” archery bow. It’s the classic curved bow that features a single bowstring and a sturdy middle section with two limbs extending from either end. This type of bow is the best choice for those who are still learning archery. It also includes premium features and upgrades in modern designs, adding more features to a classic tool.
The recurve bow is the only one that’s allowed to be used in Olympic archery shooting, which requires more specialized accessories than you would find on the average hobby bow. In the Olympics, adults are shooting at a target 70 meters away, so the upgrades will be to improve accuracy at a distance and help offer more control. Of course, all accessories and modifications must meet the guidelines of the Olympic committee.
There are several different sizes and styles of recurve bows. Most of them range between 66 and 72 inches, but custom sizes and youth sizes are available. You can also find them in several materials, including traditional wood, along with carbon fiber, aluminum, and fiberglass. Each has its pros and cons, from things like weight to durability and extended quality of life (for example, wood is flexible but known to warp and splinter, so may not be the ideal option for a solid, long-term bow).
A compound bow is going to be a bit trickier to learn if you’ve never shot a traditional recurve bow before. However, it’s still a skill that you can acquire. These bows may look like a standard recurve bow, but with more mechanics and a bigger footprint. For example, they will feature cam wheels on the ends of the limbs to propel the bowstring with more force than a standard bow. They also have other mechanical elements to assist in improving speed and force.
Some compound bows are found in the form of crossbows. There are even crossbow models that look more like a modern-day archery gun than an actual bow. These are going to offer more force and speed but could be much harder to use to nail down your accuracy if you are just getting started. There is a lot of physics involved, and it might do you well to learn a recurve first and then move up from there.
When choosing a compound bow, you’ll again have a variety of sizes to choose from. There are also going to be various styles available that are created for hunting, sporting, and other various uses. Typically, compound bows are preferred more for hunting than hobby shooting, but they can be used for both.
How to Choose
There is no right or wrong answer here. A lot of people like to learn with a recurve because it is basic and easier to handle. A compound bow can be difficult to set up and tune so that you can learn with accurate equipment. The best thing that you can do, though, is to choose the style that you like best.
Then, even if you think you want to buy your bow online, go to a local shop first. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a specific pro shop or a sporting goods store that deals in archery gear. Either will do.
You’ll want to get your hands on a few different bows to see how they actually fit. You can even try out different sizes to find the one that’s comfortable and feel the weight of different materials that are used in bow construction. All of this will make it much easier for you to choose the right bow.
Remember, it’s not about what is “right” — it’s about what is right for your needs. Take the information that you’ve learned here and combine it with your hands-on experience to get the bow that feels like a good bet to you. If you do that, you’ll be on your way to becoming a top archer in no time at all.
Bow Sizing: The One Thing That Does Matter
As stated, there’s a lot of room for you to pick and choose the different features on the bow that you select. However, there is also one very important element that you need to get right: the sizing. Fortunately, bow sizing is a pretty simple process. To make it foolproof and effortless, head to a pro shop and let them size you. They typically have the tools and knowledge to get you sized quickly and easily.
If you are going to determine your own measurements, you’ll need to calculate two elements: draw length and draw weight. We’ll talk a little bit about both below.
To size your bow’s draw length, you’ll need to do a little math. Start by taking your height and converting it to inches. For example, if you’re 5’6”, you’d be 66 inches tall. Divide that by 2.5 to determine your draw weight. In this case, that would be 26.4.
The caveat is that draw lengths are rounded to the nearest inch—so you’d buy a 27-inch draw length bow. Although it’s not completely foolproof, this method has remarkable accuracy for most people, so it should be an effective solution.
The draw length refers to how much space you need to actually draw the string back before you release the arrow. In some cases, you may decide that you want a shorter or longer draw length than what is recommended. You’ll have to practice and get the basics down before you consider something like this, however.
The draw weight is the measurement of how difficult the string is to draw. Generally, those between the ages of 18 and 21 will want to stick with a 15–30-pound draw weight, while those over 21 will be good using weights of 25 pounds or more.
Bows come in draw weights of varying sizes, from 10 pounds all the way up to 50 pounds or more. As you practice, you could become more comfortable with heavier draw weights, allowing you to choose a more challenging bow to add to your collection.
The more weight, the harder it will be to draw back the bow and shoot. Thus, it would be far more difficult to draw and fire a 50-pound bow than a 10-pound bow. Also, some recurve bows have a set draw weight that cannot be changed. Compound bows have adjustable cams that allow you to adjust the weight over time.
Combine your bow draw length with your preferred draw weight to select the right bow for your first experience out on the range.
An Arrow Is More Than an Arrow: Buying Guide
One thing beginner archers often don’t realize is just how integral it will be for them to choose the right arrows to go with their bow. Arrows, like bows, come in several different sizes, materials, and purpose-driven designs. It’s going to be up to you to explore the options and find the ones that suit your needs.
When you are shopping for arrows, you’ll have a lot to consider. Here is another great reason to consider visiting your local pro shop—they’ll be able to help you explore all of the options, learn about different arrows, and choose the best one for your needs. There are three main types of arrows used today: carbon, aluminum, and wood.
Carbon Arrows: These are popular for hunting and compound bows, but they can be used with traditional recurves, as well. Carbon is lightweight and offers a durable product, although they tend to be more expensive. Carbon arrows may also crack with heavy impacts, so they may require more attention and maintenance.
Aluminum Arrows: Aluminum is a great choice for beginners because it is so durable and easy to use. Aluminum arrows are also affordable. You’ll see them everywhere and they’re popular among those who use recurve bows because they are more durable and less prone to damage and other effects of the elements than wood.
Wood Arrows: Wooden arrows are the original, and if you really want to get into the traditional sport, this is the way to go. These arrows can be used with a recurve bow, but they are too delicate for most compound bows. The force is too great and will often shatter the arrows rather than shooting them.
Some people don’t realize it, but arrow selection can be one of the more difficult parts of learning archery because all of the companies use their own measuring and weighing systems that require you to check the details and sometimes try a few styles before you find what you like best. If you’re looking to dive right in, it might be handy to read up on how to select the best arrows for your needs. That way, you can start when you want and know that you have the right tools for the job.
Again, this is a great place for you to enlist the assistance of your local pro shop or archery friends. They can tell you all about the different styles and types of arrows that are available, including which ones offer the best features for your intended use.
Archery Rules and Guidelines
Of course, you can’t get off to a good start in this hobby if you’re not familiar with the rules and best practices. There isn’t a lot that you really have to learn, but there are some things you’ll want to note. This sport can be dangerous if you are not well-trained and prepared, but with a few tips and pointers, everyone can enjoy archery safely.
Follow the Rules: If you’re at the range, make sure that you know and follow all of the rules laid out so that you are shooting safely and not putting others in danger. If you aren’t clear on the rules, ask. It’s better to be safe.
Form Matters: You should never shoot with poor form or get lazy in your shots. Archery skill is based on repetition and your improper shooting can actually hurt your skills. Not only that but shooting incorrectly can even cause injury.
Never Dry Fire: You should never pull back and release your bowstring unless you intend to shoot an arrow. Otherwise, you could damage or destroy your bow, or even cause serious injuries to yourself or others.
Clothing: The last thing you want is baggy clothing that interferes with your shot. Wear comfortable, fitting clothes. Make sure that hair is out of the way and that there is no dangling jewelry that could cause issues. Shoes will also need to be close-toed.
Protective Gear: Archery has plenty of protective gear, including basics like arm guards and bow releases. You’ll want to protect yourself as much as possible. If you’re playing a game like archery tag, you’ll also want to make sure that you have a helmet and any other necessary gear.
Equipment Maintenance: You should never shoot with damaged gear. Your bow and arrows should always be in good condition. If you aren’t sure or if you spot damage, replace or repair the equipment immediately and don’t use it again until it’s declared safe.
Targets Only: You need to get into the mindset that you will hit what you aim at. Therefore, if you are aiming your bow, it should be at your designated target. Drawn or not, you shouldn’t aim your bow at anything you don’t actually want to hit.
Carbon Arrows: These arrows can sustain minute cracks when they hit a hard rock or metal, so it will be important to inspect them for damage before using them again. Flex the arrow and listen for any cracking noises. Cracked arrows will not only fly incorrectly, but they could splinter apart in flight or upon impact and cause serious damage or injury.
Of course, there are plenty of rules and best practices for archers out there. As mentioned, your range may have specific rules that you need to follow in addition to these general guidelines. You should always learn this sport with the intention to do everything according to the rules. That way, you will get the best training and become the best archer possible.
The Shot Sequence
Now, you’ve done the homework and gathered the gear. It’s time to start practicing holding that bow and taking that first shot. Make sure that you take the time to get comfortable with your bow before you think about actually shooting it.
And whatever you do, DO NOT dry fire your bow. Ever.
Dry firing refers to drawing back and releasing the string without an arrow in place. It can also happen in rare cases with arrows that are too light or that don’t nock well. Dry fires can result in catastrophic damage and serious injuries. We covered this in the section above, but it’s definitely worth repeating.
Some people might tell you that the shot sequence should be its own guide, but it can be broken down into smaller pieces to explain here. In order to make it easier to follow, we’re going to provide you with a step-by-step list of how to go from preparing to shoot your bow to actually following through and releasing the arrow.
Dominance: Establish your dominant hand and eye. You will need to hold the bow in the right hand in order to take the best shots. Some people are left-handed, while others are right-handed, and it may not relate to your usual handedness at all. You will also need to know which eye is your dominant eye so that you can prepare to aim.
Stance: Now, it’s time to learn the stance. Like many shooting sports, you can’t do anything if you don’t have the correct stance. Make sure that you stand with your feet firmly planted and appropriately spaced apart, holding your bow at the proper level. You can find videos that show proper stance or have someone demonstrate for you, too.
Nock the Arrow: Once you have the stance, you’ll want to draw your arrow and set it in the nock. Use the arrows rest to rest it against the riser (handle) and make sure that your nock is located in the correct place on the string for the best aim.
Bowstring Grasp: Now, you need to grasp the string with one of the methods used that is most effective for you. There are a few grips that you can choose from for drawing the bowstring, but the pincer grip is by far the most common. Make sure that you choose a method that doesn’t hurt your hands and that feels as natural as possible.
Relax the Bow Hand: It’s common for new archers to want to grip the bow with force to ensure that it doesn’t get loose or go astray—this is the worst thing you can do. Relax your hand and grip the bow calmly, but confidently. If you squeeze too tight, you could hurt your hands or affect the shot.
Ready the Aim: This is probably the biggest and most important step in archery. Alignment and aim are everything in this sport and there are several different ways to learn to aim arrows effectively. Steady arms, relaxed shoulders, and an eye on the target are a must.
Draw the Bow: Now, you’re finally ready to draw back the bow and take your shot. Don’t just shoot, though. Draw the bow back carefully and prepare yourself for the next steps of finding the anchor point and aiming.
Anchor and Aim: You should be almost ready to shoot. Find your anchor point and use that to direct your draw. Then, aim the arrow using the sights and the various tools on your bow. It takes precision and time to learn to aim a bow, and there are different methods for recurve and compound bows to consider.
Release: Now it’s finally time to let the arrow fly. You will want to make sure that you have a dynamic release and that you’re not just “letting go” of the bowstring. There’s a process involved here that may take some time to pick up on.
Follow-Through: Now that you’ve finished the shot, you can follow through and then watch the shot complete. Analyze how you did, including all aspects of the shot itself as well as things like your stance and proper form. Doing this after each shot will help you make small changes and adjustments to improve your skills faster.
That might seem like a lot of steps, and yet when you finally step up to the line and take your shot, it could all go by in a matter of seconds. Fortunately, the more you practice, the better you will get. Plus, you can practice every single step up to the release as much as you want without ever actually shooting an arrow.
If you do this, just remember to release the bowstring gently rather than releasing it as if you were to take a shot. Think of it more like “undrawing” rather than a release. Otherwise, you’re going to dry fire and we’ve already talked twice about why that’s a bad idea.
You can get a more detailed look at each of the steps in this process and even find videos and images to assist you with your stance and proper form, giving you the chance to improve your skills even when you’re not on the range. Having the right form can go a long way in helping you get the best shots on the range.
Get Out and Practice
Once you’ve got the basics down and you have the right equipment for the archery that you want to learn, the best thing that you can do is to get out there and practice. You might be feeling a bit overwhelmed right now, but there’s no reason. Archery is a lot of fun and it’s not difficult to learn. It just takes a lot of time and a lot of repetition. The heart of archery is repetitive practice. You have to do the same shots, over and over, to improve your skills.
Let’s say you realize your bow isn’t doing the job. Then, you’ll want to get a new one, and you will have to go through the process of practicing and learning to shoot all over again. This is why practice is so crucial, and you should do it as often as you can. Read up on as many tips and insights as you can to help you improve your skill from the start. Take advantage of online videos and tutorials, too.
While this guide is focused mostly on learning to shoot in a range setting for the sake of a hobby, you can also apply these steps to the hunting process with a little bit of variation. Hunters may have closer targets to consider, difficult angles, or even just the factor of having a moving target instead of one that is stationery—either way, a solid foundation is always a good start in a sport like archery.
Now that you no longer feel like a newbie, it’s time to get out there and get shooting. You’ll find yourself having a lot of fun at the range, in your backyard, or even out on the hunt, in no time at all. Remember to follow the best practices and safety guidelines above all else and make sure that you give yourself a little slack when you are first starting out. It’s a great sport, but it is a challenging one for many so it may take some time for you to get comfortable.
Fortunately, with the tips and insight in this guide, you should have a much better idea of what to expect and how to get started. Once you actually get to the range, remember these things and you’ll be ready to shoot impressive shots in no time at all. Whether it’s for fun, competition, or any other means, learning archery can be a great skill.