Do you appreciate the beauty of the great outdoors? Are you drawn to the idea of eating organic, free-range, locally sourced food? Do you like to see the results of your hard work? Do you think I’m a crazy person for asking seemingly unrelated questions under the headline of an article about archery? If you answered yes to any of the previous questions, you should strongly consider learning to shoot a bow. And since it is February—the month of Cupid—let’s talk archery!
With a bow, some arrows and proper technique, you’ll be able to experience the beauty of the outdoors, the thrill of an ethical harvest, and the excitement that comes with seeing your hard work pay off in the form of well-placed shots on target. Plus, the discipline of a shooting sport trains your brain in ways that benefit you at work and school. Of all the activities that get you outside and shooting things, how is archery the perfect sport for the outdoorsy, healthy-lifestyle-living, hard-working person to seek out? Let me count the ways…
Archery is relatively affordable. Once you get a bow and some field-tipped arrows, you can keep shooting until you wear out your equipment. Fair warning—if you work hard and get good, you might end up shooting into the back of previously shot arrows, in a “feels so good and yet so sad” Robin Hood-ed arrow.
Archery is versatile and can be done just about anywhere. You can practice from 10 yards out to 100 yards with a bow and arrow, and you’ll be honing your skills and form at any distance. Since a bow isn’t a firearm, in most states you can safely loose arrows on your property without fear of noise complaints from neighbors (make sure you have a safe backstop, though!). Many recreation centers and firearms ranges have archery ranges set up as well.
Archery hunting is a timeless activity. Humans have taken bows with them on the stalk for prey for generations. If you choose to bowhunt, you’ll get the opportunity to shop Mother Nature’s grocery store for local, organic, free-range meat. This reconnection with our primal nature has advantages beyond the refrigerator. Bowhunting in most states means a longer hunting season, which in turn means more chances for a successful hunt than firearms-only hunting.
Ultimately, archery is fun. When you shoot a bow, you’ll feel like Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games and you’ll look like a goddess. If you work at it, you’ll probably shoot some center shots and experience the great feeling of doing something perfectly. (It’s awesome!) Plus, once you get started, you might be surprised at the number of people you meet who share a passion for archery and want to shoot with you.
So let’s assume Cupid’s arrow has struck, and your heart is set on archery. Where do you start? The first step to becoming an archer is to find a bow and learn to shoot it.
There are three main types of bows available to the modern archer. Long bows, modern recurve bows, and compound bows share the same basic physics, but with increasingly complex components. For the sake of brevity, I’m going to focus on compound bows from here on out since compounds are both popular and practical, and relatively easy to learn to shoot accurately.
How do you pick out a bow?
First, you don’t necessarily need to buy a bow to get started. Check out Archery360.com and local rec center listings to see if there are open archery courses where you could get a feel for different bows while getting some instruction. Sometimes archery pro shops will also offer courses, or a “try before you buy” option. The more data you gather, the better.
If you decide to purchase a compound bow, a few measurements will aid you in your search. Armed with your draw weight and draw length, you can shop either new or used bows and find something that fits you. An archery pro shop will be able to help you determine these measurements if you don’t feel comfortable doing it yourself.
- Bow Weight. You’ll be holding the whole weight of the bow on each shot, so be mindful of the weight when picking out a bow. Somewhere in the 3–8 pound range should be good for a beginner.
- Draw Length. This depends on your wingspan. I used method 4 in this article and was spot-on.
- Draw Weight. Gauge your own fitness level and commitment to getting in shape to draw your bow. Many options are available with adjustable draw weight, so you can start with something in the 20–30 pound range and work your way up. In most states there are minimum draw weights to hunt, so if you think you want to bowhunt you might consider getting at least the minimum draw weight. I bought a bow with a 40-pound draw weight and had to consult my local physical therapist for exercises to help me draw it after I got it.
There are a ton of archery brands out there who are making accurate, attractive compound bows. Hoyt, Mathews, Bowtech, PSE… you can’t go wrong with any one brand. As an engineer by trade, I cannot overemphasize the importance of gathering data before making a purchase. In addition to research of the brands and taking advantage of “try before you buy” offers, I recommend reading reviews from bow shops that operate online, like Lancaster Archery, Bass Pro, and Cabela’s. There are also specific gear review sites like Compound Bow Choice, The Best Compound Bows and Hunter’s Friend. Additionally, field trials like this one from Realtree are good to read, for the testers’ multiple viewpoints and varied experiences.
You’ve got options aplenty with style and budget. You can buy archery equipment either new or used. When my husband got started with archery, we opted to buy a used hunting bow from a coworker of mine who happened to be approximately the same size as my husband. This meant we got a bow with the right draw length and weight that was fully kitted out and ready to shoot for a good price. This is a viable option that will save some dough, if you’re willing to put the time into searching. I asked around at work and at my local gun club (which also has a big archery contingent), and searched online classifieds. When my better half decided he wanted to keep shooting archery and make the move into something with more accuracy, we again bought used to save money. He now shoots a Hoyt Pro-Comp Elite compound bow and loves it. If you do buy used, I highly recommend you take your new-to-you bow into an archery pro shop to check the strings and make any adjustments to get the bow to fit you properly.
I opted to buy a bare compound bow then accessorize for myself, rather than going with a package deal. Since I wanted to both target shoot and bowhunt, I chose my bow based on the fact that it was developed by a woman hunter for women hunters and archers: the Eva Shockey Signature Series bow by Bowtech. I appreciate the weight (with accessories, mine weighs 5.2 lbs), balance (it “feels” right in my hand) and aesthetics—it’s a good-looking bow! I’ve learned a bit more about what I like and don’t like in a bow since I made my purchase, and the next bow I buy will probably be more of a target bow, so that I can keep up with my husband. But for now, the Eva bow is perfect for me. I can take it to the range and perform well, and I can take it into the woods to hunt turkey and whitetail deer.
To get your bare compound bow ready to shoot, you’ll need the following:
- Arrow rest: to support the arrow during aiming and firing. But which type—whisker biscuit, fall-away or blade-style? If you are doing a lot of target shooting, the blade style is popular. For combining hunting and target shooting, the fall-away rest is something to consider. The whisker biscuit style holds the arrow well, which is great for hunting, but it can affect accuracy by inducing drag along the fletching.
- Bow Sights: One-pin, three-pin, five-pin—there are so many options for sights. Bow sights are different than the sights I’m used to with my small-bore and air rifles, but the principles are the same: Line up your dominant eye with the peep and put the front sight over the target. Longer sight radius equals better accuracy. I settled on a single-pin sight.
- Peep Sight: to align your eye with the bow sight. The peep looks like a small plastic doughnut. The size of the “doughnut hole” controls the amount of light your dominant eye gets. That in turn controls your ability to focus on the front sight. An archery pro shop will help install a peep for you.
- Stabilizer: to dampen vibration and smooth out your hold. Stabilizers will help make the bow feel more comfortable to shoot, and they also help steady your aim by providing a counterweight. I’ve got a 6-inch compact stabilizer on my bow right now. You’ll notice lots of pro shooters or competition shooters with side/rear-angled stabilizers in addition to the front. You can go as crazy as you want with stabilizers to help your hold feel balanced and steady.
- Quiver: for holding your arrows. Some target archers use what amounts to an elongated pocket attached to their belt, while others use tube-style hip quivers. Many hunters use a quiver attached to the bow to make it easier to walk through the woods snag-free.
- Release: This goes on your dominant-eye-side wrist to help you draw and release the bow. There are a couple styles to choose from, primarily a wrist (trigger) release and a handle release. I chose a handle release because it fit my hand well, but lots of shooters prefer the wrist-style release. Try before you buy, if possible.
- D-loop: This is a piece of nylon cord or string tied onto your bowstring, for your release to grab onto so you can consistently draw. An archery shop can do this for you, or you can watch the DIY method on YouTube.
Additional accessories that would be worth the investment once you are “sold” on archery include a solid case for your bow and a target to shoot while practicing at home. But these items, like many more that will enhance your archery experience, are icing on the cake. As you’re first getting started, give Cupid’s arrow time to take effect. Your love for archery is sure to grow if it is built on the firm foundation of a good bow and sound technique. Happy shooting, Katnisses everywhere!