Archery for Beginners: The Ultimate Guide

We’ve all played Cowboys and Indians, made a bow and arrow from sticks in the backyard, but what actually is archery?

Archery is for all ages, whether you’re 3 or 93. All abilities, in a wheelchair, blind, able-bodied, or missing limbs. There is an ArcheryUP certified Archery Instructor out there who will be able to help, guide, and teach you this amazing sport. 

In this article, we will explain the different types of archery, disciplines, equipment, and how to go about starting archery as a hobby or a competitive sport. 

There are three main bow types in competitive archery, recurve, compound and barebow. Each discipline has different components that create the full set up of equipment. 

Here are some fun facts about archery:

  • World Archery is the world governing body for archery as a sport. 
  • Recurve archery has been a core Olympic sport since 1972, after debuting in 1900.
  • Archery was the first Olympic sport to allow women to compete. 
  • Bhutan’s national sport is archery.
  • The gold for recurve and barebow is the size of a blu-ray disc. 
  • The gold for a compound is the size of a cricket ball.
  • Almost all of the equipment available can come in different colours, so you can customize your equipment how you like!
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia. Beatrice Hill-Lowe shooting her bow at the 1908 Olympic Games.

Choosing a bow that’s right for you

There are a few things to help decide which discipline of archery you want to go into. You should know that each bow style has different dimensions and equipment depending on your age, strength, eye dominance and body size. 

If you are taller, you will have a longer bow. If you’re stronger, you will be able to pull a higher poundage bow. If you’re younger, you will likely need a shorter and lighter bow. 

Don’t worry about getting the equipment before you start though. Our certified instructors are able to provide all the equipment you need to try archery for the first time!

Photo credit: Paul Sherar. A beginner recurve bow will look like this. The girl is wearing an arm guard to protect her arm from the string.

Recurve Bow

Recurve archery is the bow type that is seen in the Olympic Games and probably the most well-known type of archery. The whole set up is made up of multiple components, some of which you can barely see, but have very important jobs to do!

Recurve bows get their name because the limbs ‘re-curve’. The top and bottom limbs (at either end of the riser) curve away from the archer as the string is drawn back.

Equipment

The main components of a recurve are: 

      Riser

      Limbs

      String

Photo credit: Archery360. The archer is in the full draw position with the string on their face at anchor.

You can see the riser and limbs in this picture. The riser is the middle part of a recurve bow and is held by the bow hand. The limbs are at either end of the riser and cause the re-curve effect

A recurve bow has one string that goes from the tip of the top limb to the tip of the bottom limb. The bow can be destrung and disassembled. A beginners recurve bow will usually be made from wood and use fibreglass limbs.

Accessories that are essential to a recurve bow also include:

      Pressure button

      Clicker

      Arrow rest

      Stabilisers

      Sight

      Finger tab

      Finger sling

      Arm guard

      Chest guard

Photo credit: World Archery. The essential accessories that make a recurve bow.

Here you can see the pressure button, arrow rest, clicker, and arrow rest. These are all influenced by the arrow and also influence the arrow.

Photo credit: World Archery. The different parts of a recurve sight

The recurve sight and sight pin are used for aiming at the target. The archer looks through the sight pin when at full draw to aim the arrow at the gold. Sights are adjustable, up, down, left, right, in and out. This is to be adaptable in varying weather conditions and also for different distances that are shot.

Photo credit: World Archery. The different parts of the stabilisation of a recurve bow.

The stabilisation system on a recurve bow consists of a long rod, two short rods, a v-bar, an extender, and weights with dampers. The purpose of the stabilisation system is just that, to help stabilise/balance the bow. It also reduces vibration when the bow is shot, and the arrow is released.

To shoot a recurve bow, you will need to wear a finger tab. This simply protects the fingers when pulling back the string and shooting. A beginner’s finger tab is usually made of leather with holes for your index and middle finger to go through.

The finger tab protects the fingers from the string.

An arm guard and chest guard are also worn by archers. They help protect against the string hitting, but also to keep clothing out of the way of catching.

Recurve bows can start at a length of 48” in length through to 70” in 2” increments. Both the riser and the limbs can be different lengths. 

To work out which bow size you need, extend your arms at shoulder height straight out to the side. Measure from the middle fingertip to middle fingertip, then divide by 2.5 This should calculate a rough draw length for you. The actual draw length will vary from person to person and will need to be checked before shooting. ArcheryUP certified instructors are ready to assist you with any questions about the equipment.  

Using the number from your draw length, you can now work out which length recurve bow you need.

      14-16” draw length – 48” bow length (riser and limbs together)

      17-20” draw length – 54” bow length 

      20-22” draw length – 58” bow length 

      22-24” draw length – 62” bow length 

      24-26” draw length – 64-66” bow length 

      26-28” draw length – 66-68” bow length 

      28-30” draw length – 68-70” bow length 

      31” or longer draw length – 70-72” bow length

How to shoot a recurve bow

In order to shoot a recurve, the archer needs to know which eye is their dominant one. Knowing this will determine whether they are right or left-handed. Being right eye dominant means the bow will be held in the left hand and the string is drawn back with the right. Vice versa for left eye dominance.

Before shooting, the archer steps onto the shooting line, one foot either side. The arm holding the bow will be the closest to the target (on the left of the shooting line). For example, right-handed archers will hold the bow in their left hand and stand with their left shoulder towards the target. Their feet will be parallel to the target, one either side of the shooting line.

To shoot, the archer holds the riser in either their right or left hand (depending on eye dominance), and raises that arm to shoulder level. The string is pulled back to their face using the middle three fingers on the draw arm. Once at full draw, in a comfortable anchor position, aiming takes place. The sight is aimed in the middle of the target (the gold), then releases the string and the arrow is shot from the bow.

Photo credit: Archery GB. A compound bow being shot.

Compound Bow

Compound bows were first invented in the 1960s and are the ‘newest’ bow style on the scene. 

Unlike a recurve, it has different strings and cables that work on pulley and cam systems. The bows themselves tend to have a higher poundage, or pull weight, than recurve or barebow. However, they cannot exceed 60lb pull weight. 

Due to the higher pull weight, compound bows are far more accurate than any other bow style. Compound bows work on a system of pulleys and strings that rotate a cam system when pulled back. Although the pull weight is higher than a recurve or barebow, the cams have a ‘let off’.  

Let off means the pull weight drops from 60lbs down to about 12lb (for example), which is the holding weight at full draw. This allows for more precise aiming and execution. Once the string is released, the full power of the draw weight shoots the arrow towards the target. 

Equipment

The main parts of compound bow are; 

      Riser

      Limbs

      Strings and cables – including the d-loop and peep sight

      Cams

Photo credit: World Archery. The main parts of a compound bow.

Much like a recurve, a compound has a riser and limbs. The limbs on a compound are much shorter and have a split in the top (or two limbs top and bottom) where the cam sits. The string and cables go around the cam to rotate it. When rotating, the cam creates a let off, where the draw weight drops. 

The important accessories that are used on a compound bow include: 

      Launcher (arrow rest)

      Sight – which involves a scope, magnifying lens, sight pink and levelling bubble 

      Stabilisers

      Release aid

      Finger sling

Photo credit: World Archery. A compound bow uses a magnified lens for a more precise shot.

Compound sights, like recurve ones, are fully adjustable. A compound sight, however, has a magnified lens, sight pin and levelling bubble. These all help with precision aiming. The peep sight is attached in-between half of the strings at eye level. The archer will look through the peep sight, to the sight pin. This also helps with accuracy.

Photo Credit: World Archery. The release aid is used to pull back the string on a compound bow.

The archer will use a mechanical release aid to draw the string back. The release aid is used due to the heavy draw weight. It is held in the string hand with the thumb very lightly on or near the trigger. It is attached to the d-loop on the string, so doesn’t interfere with the arrow or string while shooting.

Some compound archers also use a bow sling, or finger sling. A bow sling goes around the grip to ensure the bow doesn’t fall upon release. A finger sling goes around the fingers for the same purpose. An arm guard is also sometimes worn by compound archers, but not always.

How to shoot a compound bow

Shooting a compound bow starts the same as a recurve bow. One foot either side of the shooting line with your bow arm (the arm holding the bow) facing towards the target. 

Much like a recurve, the bow arm is raised, the string is drawn back to the face and anchor point. Whilst drawing the bow, the draw weight decreases due to the let off. This means that the archer can hold at full draw and aim for longer, which increases precision. Using the peep sight, magnifying lens, sight pin and levelling bubble, the archer can now aim before releasing. 

To release the string, the archer chooses to trigger the release aid, or keep pulling the string which will then activate the release aid. The string is then released, and the arrow is shot towards the target.

Barebow

Barebow archery is like recurve, but without most of the accessories. The name gives it away, it is a bare bow. No stabilisers or sights are allowed. Most people will start off their archery journey shooting barebow. 

As barebow archers don’t have a sight to use, they use a technique called string walking to aim. String walking is moving your fingers up or down the string below the arrow, depending on if the target is closer or further away. If a target is closer, the fingers will be lower on the string below the arrow than a closer target. 

This changes the angle of the arrow. When the archer is at anchor, they look down the arrow and use the point of the arrow to aim on the target. By string walking and adjusting the arrow angle, the point will be at a different angle for aiming at different distances.

Equipment 

A barebow set up is a lot simpler than the recurve and compound set ups. A lot of barebow risers and limbs are the same as recurve. There are some speciality risers, but bow manufacturers have produced barebow specific weights to fit onto recurve risers. 

The main pieces of equipment used include: 

      Riser

      Limbs

      String

      Pressure button

      Weight (but not stabiliser)

      Barebow tab

Photo credit: World Archery. Barebow equipment is a lot less than recurve equipment.

Exactly like a recurve bow, barebow has limbs top and bottom and a riser. Barebow archers are also allowed a pressure button and arrow rest. The pressure button’s job is to help the arrow fly straight upon release.

Photo credit: World Archery. A barebow weight is usually integrated into the riser or on the front within the limit that is allowed.

Having a weight on the bow helps with balance, as stabilisers and dampers aren’t allowed. There are some barebows that have a weight screwed into the stabiliser hole. But, the whole bow must fit through a ring that is 12.2 centimeters in diameter, when it is not strung.

Photo credit: World Archery. A barebow tab is different to a recurve tab.

The last piece of equipment that barebow archers use is a tab. This is different to a recurve tab in that it doesn’t have space between the fingers and is one piece of leather. A barebow archer can put a scale on their tab to help with string walking. It will ensure that the tab is placed at the correct height for aiming.

How to shoot barebow

Shooting barebow archery is very similar to shooting recurve archery, with the difference of aiming. As barebow also does not have a clicker, to control the position of the arrow at full draw and consistency, this must also be thought of by the archer. 

Before shooting, the archer needs to position their fingers on the string in the correct place. Using their string walking method, they will be able to find the correct position in order to aim when at full draw. 

The archer will stand with either foot over the line, raise the bow and draw the string back to their face. With a barebow, instead of having an anchor point below the chin, usually their middle finger will be in the corner of their mouth. This helps with getting a consistent anchor point each time. 

With this anchor point and string walking, the string will be aligned with the eye and the archer can then aim down the arrow. Using the point of the arrow to point towards the gold, they are ready to shoot.

Arrows

Arrows are, obviously, an essential part of equipment. There are many different arrows, depending on your level of expertise and experience and whether you are shooting indoors or outdoors.

Much like the rest of the equipment available, it is adaptable to suit each individual archer. The thinness or thickness, the length, the fletches, nocks and points are all changeable. Each archer will tune their bow in accordance with their arrow stiffness (thick or thin) and length and individual technique. 

The length and thickness of the arrow is specific to each archer. Each arrow manufacturer has a chart to help archers work out which arrow shaft they need to be shooting. Bow poundage and draw length influence what arrow shaft is needed.

Arrows are usually either carbon composite or aluminium. As a beginner, archers will use low grade aluminium arrows as they are cheaper and can be replaced easier. As archers progress through the sport, they will more than likely move onto carbon composite arrows.

Photo credit: World Archery. There are different parts of an arrow.

Arrows are made up of different parts, as demonstrated above. There is the shaft, which is the main part of the arrow and is hollow. At the end that clips onto the string is the nock. These come in all sorts of colours for customisation. 

Vanes, or fletches, are attached to the arrow shaft. They can be straight or curled. These help the arrow fly and stabilise them. 

At the opposite end to the nock is the point. These come in different weights, depending on your draw weight and arrow length.

Target Archery

Target archery is the most well-known type of archery. These are the colourful round targets, the traditional gold, red, blue, black, and white faces that you think of when you think of archery. 

During the summer season, target archery is done outdoors. During late autumn through until early spring, it is done indoors, known as the indoor season. Outdoor season allows for distances up to 70 meters to be shot. Outdoor archery is shot in ends of 6 arrows, with indoor archery in ends of 3 arrows.

Recurve archers shoot at the 122cm target face at 70 meters away with compound shooting an 80cm target face at 50m and barebow shooting at a 122cm target face at 50m. Indoor season is a set 18 meters for all age groups, with much small target faces (40cm in diameter).

Photo credit: World Archery. Demonstrating the different target faces for recurve and compound archery.

Field Archery

While target archery is on a flat field or stage, field archery is around woods and forest, hillsides, and quarries. The steeper the better! 

Field archery consists of marked and unmarked targets. Meaning that the marked targets the distance that the target is set at is known, and unmarked is an unknown distance away. Targets are set between 5-60 metres away. Each archer will shoot 3 arrows at each target.

There are four different target face sizes in field archery, and each face has set distances that they can be set within. The smallest face (three spots) is 20-centimetres in diameter. The next size up is 40-centimetres in diameter, 60-centimetres, and 80-centimetres. 

While judging the distance of the target, the archer also needs to judge the angle, cross slope, and weather conditions and how those effects where to aim or put their sight.

Whilst still round, field target faces are simply yellow and black. 

Despite being different sizes, all field faces have the same scoring system;

      Inner gold – 6 

      Outer gold – 5 

Then as the rings go out, each ring going outwards depletes by 1 point from 4-1.

Competition

Archery offers a lot of competitions in all types of archery. Barebow, recurve and compound all compete in target and field competitions. Within competition, there are individual, team and mixed team events. 

Outdoor target competitions consist of a 72 arrow ranking round, followed by elimination matches. Indoor target competitions are a 60 arrow ranking round and then elimination matches. Field archery is shot at 24 marked and 24 unmarked targets, followed by elimination matches.

Tips

If you are going to try archery for the first time, here are some quick tips to help you. 

Don’t be afraid of the string. A lot of beginners will be afraid to bring the string back to their face. There is no need to worry. You will get a better anchor point if you do commit, and are more likely to hit the target and enjoy your experience! 

Keep your feet still. Once you are ready to go and first get onto the shooting line, get into a comfortable position. Remember where you have your feet (parallel either side to the shooting line) and plant your feet the same each time. This will help with stability, and again, hitting the target. 

Wear the right clothing. It is highly recommended (in some places essential) to wear closed toe shoes. This is to protect your feet from any arrows that are in the ground. Don’t wear too many baggy clothes, they’ll end up catching on the string. Tie long hair back to avoid any unpleasant accidents.

Remember to listen. It’s very exciting trying a new thing, so remember to listen carefully to your ArcheryUP instructor. They will give you safety information, technical information and guide you to enjoying the experience. 

You don’t need your own equipment to start. All good instructors, such as our own, will be able to supply equipment for a beginner. This will mean you can try archery in the comfort of your own backyard, with no need to purchase before you try! You don’t need to have tried archery before to contact us. We love teaching archery to complete beginners. Our instructors will help create a customized training plan that works for you. You can learn at your speed, with our guidance and help.

Ready to get started?

ArcheryUP has over 3500 certified Archery Instructors nationwide, so you are never too far from an instructor! We also offer online coaching, through Skype and Facetime, to meet a schedule that suits you and your lifestyle. 

Feel free to contact us so we can put you in touch with an ArcheryUP certified instructor in your area.

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