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I think, therefore I harm

Introduction to Bow Shooting

Katniss shooting a bow

Katniss Everdeen and a bow, two reasons to like The Hunger Games

I was always fascinated by archery. I always thought this apparently primitive weapon looked good. In movies, archers were always my favorite characters. Legolas in The Lord of the Rings was definitely a favorite of mine. I played Dungeons and Dragons a lot back in college, and my characters always ended up being elven archers.

I must confess, there are two reasons that got me to rent The Hunger Games. The movie didn’t initially caught my attention when it went out on the big screen, mostly because the promotional campaign was mainly targeted toward teen girls, making the movie look like another Twilight. But the campaign when the movie went out on DVD was different, better showing what the movie really was. From that point, two things caught my attention: Katniss, and her being an archer. The movie had an adverse effect on me though. In addition to Katniss stimulating the man in me, it got me more interested about archery. I am not alone, as many archery retailers noted a rise of up to 20% in sales in 2012, soon after the release of the movie. This tendency is still present this year as many clubs are forced to turn people over, being full for the first time in their history.

I began watching videos and reading articles about archery. Eventually, I realized that the initial cost of beginning this sport wasn’t as high as I would have anticipated. I actually got a bow and arrows for just $100, and none of these items were crappy.

Where to begin

If you are interested in archery but would like to try, start by finding a club. You might not be aware of it if you never looked before, but there is likely a club nearby, no matter where you live. These clubs are everywhere. There are clubs in cities of all sizes, from metropolises to small county towns. All of these clubs have a shooting range, mostly outside, but in areas where winter is a terrible reality, they usually have an inside location too. These clubs usually offer a number of services to suit your needs, such as renting equipment and teaching archery to beginners.

Archery clubs are mostly populated by hunters who need a place to practice, but many of the members are really just people shooting for the sport and fun of it. Because of that, you will find many people willing to share tricks and tips with you. If you are going to try archery for the very first time, many of these clubs will let you try for free, and even provide you with a free initiation lesson, all equipment provided.


Legolas, the legendary elven archer

If you’d prefer to try by yourself, depending of your area, it might also be possible to shoot in your own backyard or in a nearby wood or vacant lot. Obviously, the professionals want a lot of space, but if you are just starting out you won’t need a lot of space. People shooting right in their backyard aren’t rare, provided space and a fence to protect neighbors.

Please take note that you shouldn’t try to shoot an arrow with absolutely no prior knowledge. If you are like me and prefer not to use the services of an instructor, please read a lot and watch videos. YouTube has a number of introduction videos to get you started safely. Archery is not difficult, and if done by a reasonable person (I assume you are a reasonable person) is quite a safe and entertaining sport, but it could possibly be quite dangerous if attempted with absolutely not prior knowledge.

If you are aiming to become an Olympic athlete, you will need an instructor at some point, but until then archery is quite easy. As soon as you grab the basics, you will only improve through practice.

The number one deterrent factor of learning archery is slapping your arm with the string, which is common among learners and is actually quite painful. So, either learn the proper way right from the start, or get yourself an armguard – these are inexpensive, you have some cheap ones for about $10 and a cheap one is all you need for a light bow. A sweeter or coat will not protect you at all so get the real thing. I have never used an armguard and have never slapped my arm, but that’s because I feared this and I learned how to keep my arm away from the string before I even learned how to shoot an arrow. Don’t be afraid to wear an armguard because you look like an amateur, even the professionals use one. Check the Olympics, almost all of them wear one. (Actually Hawkeye from the Avengers used two – which only tells you not to use him as a model for learning.)

Ready to buy

Whether you already tried and decided you liked it, or you’d prefer to try with your own equipment, you can buy a cheap bow and some arrows from a local retailers or from the Internet. If a store exists in your area which is suitable for beginners (not just professional hunters, as is often the case), I would recommend that you buy there as the staff will be able to assist you with choosing the right equipment for you. They may let you try a few bows to see which one is right for you and they will determine what arrow size you need. Failing that though, just find a friend or read a little, and you will be able to know just what you need and order that from the Internet.

A few manufacturers sell bows which they label as youth. This term is somewhat misleading as these bows are really for beginners in general, not necessarily young people. I ended up ordering a youth bow but my son is unable to pull it. A 30-pound bow is not a toy for little children.

If you don’t know where to start, Bear Archery manufactures a wide range of high quality youth bows, enough to suits the children and the full grown adults alike. These may look like plastic, but they are in reality high quality fiberglass. For some reason, they are all forest green, but nothing prevents you from painting and decorating them if you like. Most archery shops will have them, but they are all available from Amazon. You can buy just the bow, but those for the younger archers are also available as a set, including a quiver, an armguard, a few basic arrows and a few other accessories. Bear in mind though that these accessories are really for children and are only good for really starting out. As the child becomes serious he will want real accessories. If you are buying a bow for a child who already shot arrows before, you are better off buying just the bow and letting the extra accessories aside. You may also want to buy a string separately as the one sold with these bows is not what an experienced archer would dare calling a string.

How to chose a bow


Straight Bow or Longbow

There are a few factors to take into account when choosing a bow, and these are type, size and weight.

There are basically three kinds of bows: Straight, recurve and compound.

A straight bow is what you’d get if you were to make one from a tree branch. It’s really just a stick which takes on the shape of a bow once strung. This is what you see in medieval movies and this is also what Katniss uses for hunting in her district at the beginning of the movie. These are often called longbow, which is technically incorrect, as the correct definition of a longbow is one which is longer than the archer. A straight bow may be a longbow, but not necessarily.

A recurve bow is a slight improvement upon the straight bow. It has tips which curves away from the archer, adding an additional curve to the limbs, and at the same time adding more strength and weight to the bow. Though they were invented back in the time of the Ancient Egyptians, they only became popular during the Renaissance as technology improved to build these. The recurve bow is the most common bow in use by traditional archers and is the only one allowed at the Olympics.

Both the straight and recurve bows are considered traditional, and many archers, including me, will prefer these to modern technology. If you are really into archery for the sport, you will probably choose one of these, but hunters may have a different opinion.

Recurve Bow

Recurve Bow

If you are more into modern technology, you may like the compound bow. The compound can only be called a bow because it has a string and it shoots arrows, but visually gives no meaning to the word bow. A compound bow has one or more pulleys at each end, which permit to shoot arrows with more strength while being easier on the archer. Though accepted in some competitions (not the Olympics), they are usually favored by hunters. Hunting large game with a light bow is not possible because you would only injure the animal, which will finally die 14 kilometers away and wasted. Compound bows allow one to hunt using a strong bow but without the need to pull a lot of weight. Technology comes with a price though, and a compound bow must be set and calibrated exactly to you and it is not possible to share a compound among different archers. I am not a hunter and will never be, therefore the rest of this article will be about traditional bows.

For young beginners and small people in general, a straight bow is probably best, because it is light to pull. If you are stronger or you have been trying for a while, you may look into recurves as these are heavier (and therefore can hit farther targets). I have personally settled for a recurve right away without having tried anything else before. Though I am small and not particularly muscular, I am willing to develop my muscles, and once your technique is good, weight isn’t as important.

Compound Bow

Compound Bow

Although much of archery uses the metric measurement system (distance and size of target, etc), unfortunately bows are rated in British pounds (using the pound sign #), and bow length, draw length and arrow length are all measured in inches. This is because archery as a sport began in Britain, while the first organizations to regulate the sport appeared in France.

The size is probably the easiest factor to decide on, once you’ve decided for which type to use. Basically, a bow of about your height or slightly less will generally be fine. I am about 64 inches, so a 60” bow is perfect for me. I got a 54” bow for my son, exactly his height. Note that the length of the bow is measured from tip to tip and along the curves, though it sometimes says overall length to mean the length of the string (which is about 4 inches shorter than the actual length of the bow).

More difficult to determine is the draw weight. Often just said weight, it has nothing to do with the actual weight of the bow (bows are generally surprisingly light, even the more advanced hard wood ones). The draw weight is really what the string feels like on your arms as you pull it, and also how much force will be sent into the arrow when you release the string. It may be difficult to determine because there is little correlation between the draw weight and what weight you can usually pick up in your normal daily activities – archery uses muscles which you barely ever use in other activities.

The actual draw weight of a bow is relative to the draw length, which is unique to each archer and a factor of your height (or more correctly the length of your arm). However, in order to rate bows correctly for the purpose of determining which one you want, they are always rated at 28 inches, which at some point in the past have been determined to be the average draw length of an adult male archer. For example, my bow is rated at 30 pounds at 28 inches, noted 30#@28”. As my actual draw length is 26 inches, the draw weight of my bow is more like 26 pounds for me. For the purpose of picking a bow, it is not necessary to know the exact weight at your exact draw length, just knowing what the rated weight feels like to you is enough, so just take note of it as you try different bows.

Generally speaking, something along the lines of 10-15 pounds will be fine for a child, 15-20 for a young teen and 20-25 for an older teen or an adult. A strong adult will be comfortable with 25-30 pounds, but if you are just starting and you just want to practice you might still want to look for something closer to 20 pounds, as although you are strong enough to pull more, your arms will get tired quite fast until you develop your muscles.

One mistake new archers often make is to buy an heavy bow right away, such as 60 pounds or more, because they are able to pull the string. While a prospective hunter will really want such a bow, for the purpose of practicing an heavy bow is really not desirable. You will get tired after just a few shots. You are better off practicing with a light bow (under 30 pounds) and keep the heavy bow for the actual hunting session. If you look at classified, bows of 60 pounds or more are the more common, because of this mistake.

If you are unsure, start off with something lighter, and you will later be able to move on as your technique and muscles develop, and as you decide to move on to more distant targets.

Choosing arrows

When following basic common sense safety rules, archery is a very safe sport. However, there is one single factor to keep in mind and it is to choose arrows which are of the correct rating and length for both the archer and the bow. The worst accident that may possibly occur is to shot an arrow right into your hand, which may only occur if you pick the wrong arrows.

Get someone to measure your draw length. Either ask at an archery store or a club, or ask a friend which is familiar with archery. If you cannot measure your draw length, it is better to get longer arrows than necessary rather than risk an accident. If you use too short arrows, the arrow may drop from the arrow rest as you pull it and point directly into your hand or wrist. This is exactly where the arrow will be shot when you release the string – the scream is likely to annoy other archers at the range. Once you determined your draw length, your arrows should be at least one inch longer. Don’t use unnecessarily long arrows though as this will impact accuracy.

Arrows are rated for the draw weight of the bow. For example, as my bow is 30 pounds, I use arrows rated for 20-40 pounds. Never use arrows which are too light for the bow as they may break and the fragments may cause injuries to the hands and the face, and may even damage the bow. Too heavy arrows will not shoot well.

Cheaper arrows are sold in packs of 3, 6, 12, 36 or 72. They come with points already glued on, so you need to order those of the correct length. However, as you progress, you will probably want better arrows. As any archer will tell you, if you are short on money, buy a cheap bow but good arrows. Good arrows are sold individually at the store and are cut to your exact length, and you get to pick which point you want. Some places on the Internet can also ship arrows which are cut to your specifications.

Carbon Arrows

Carbon Arrows

Arrows are usually sold with a nock (the split plastic at one end to hold the arrow to the string) and feathers (often called fletch), but never with a point (except for the prepackaged arrows), because you need to pick a point for the purpose which you will be using the arrows for. Points are rated by their weight, measured in grains (an old unit of measurement of mass which has almost no other purpose today than to measure the weight of an arrow and arrow point). For target shooting, a point of 75 to 100 grains is usually good. If you don’t know better and you are not learning archery to become a hunter, 75 grains will be just perfect. Hunters, however, will usually practice with points of 100 to 150 grains, as hunting points are heavier.

Arrows are made of different materials. Woods, aluminum and carbon are the most common materials, but they could be made of about anything.

Forget about wooden arrows. They will not last long and, unlike commonly thought, cost more often more than the alternatives.

Aluminum arrows have been the most common choice for many decades, and are probably still the most used. They last long, but they are expensive. With modern production processes, aluminum arrows may be quite light.

Carbon arrows are slowly becoming the new choice of archers, even hunters. Carbon is flexible and almost unbreakable. Carbon always keeps its shape – it doesn’t tend to curve after repeated shots. However, carbon’s most noted characteristic is its weight. Carbon arrows are very light, and therefore fly farther and faster. All this said, you will be surprised to learn that carbon is usually the cheapest choice.

And lastly, the string

If you buy a bow, it will not come with a string, but the seller will be able to suggest one which will be good for the bow and what you intend to do with it. Youth bows generally come with a string, though unless it’s for a children that won’t make the difference, you really should buy a real string.

If you are just starting out with a light bow (under 30 pounds), a dacron string will be just fine. These are very cheap, about $5. Professionals won’t use that because it’s slow, but it will be perfect until you classify as one. Dacron strings will last at least a season, and possibly more, if taken care of.

For traditional archery, the string should be 4 inches shorter than the bow, unless the manual which came with it has a better idea. For compound bows, the string has to be made specifically for the bow, and thus cannot be bought off the shelves.

After a shooting session, always unstring your bow. Do not store a stringed bow. Also, you should wax your string after each session to ensure it will last longer. It might not be a big deal for cheap dacron strings, but some strings are very expensive and you don’t want to buy a new one every few weeks.

How to learn

Alright, now that you know the basics, it would be important that you know the safety rules. If you use the services of an instructor, he will tell you everything you need to know, but if you are like me and prefer to learn by yourself, you should be aware that very little is said about safety in learning videos on YouTube.

The less obvious rule, but yet a very important one, is to never dry-shoot your bow – that is, shoot the bow without an arrow. You will damage the bow, causing cracks which might not be visible, but the next time you pull it, it might explode in your face, causing injuries and still annoying other archers. You can still pull the string without an arrow, just don’t release it.

Never point the bow anywhere else than a target, even though no arrow is loaded. When you are not shooting, put the bow aside. In particular, do not point the bow at somebody or at an animal (unless you are a hunter).

At some larger ranges, or when young children are being taught, there might be someone signaling when it is time to shoot and when it is time to recover your arrows, but in most cases people are expected to use common sense. Remain behind the line until all other archers are done shooting. When you are done, just put your bow aside, and generally people wait until no one has a bow in their hand before walking past the line to pick their arrows. It is of particular importance to teach this one rule to children, who tend to forget about other archers when they are done and want to pick their arrows immediately.

If you drop an arrow just past the line, you can take it back if you can do it while keeping one foot behind the line. You could also use the tip of the bow to pull it back. Otherwise, leave it there until other archers are done shooting.

If you shoot in your backyard or another non specific place, ensure that lost arrows cannot hurt people or damage houses or cars. Make sure your target is turned in a direction where there is nothing, or there is a fence or a hard wall. If you are not alone, it’s better to use something that everyone will agree upon as a line, so that nobody goes past the line when it’s not the time.

Do not throw an arrow directly overhead. Do not shoot at targets which are not directly in front of you. Do not shoot at other objects which are not designated as targets.

As you walk to your target, pick up any arrow from the ground which are on your way to the target (even if these are not yours) as an arrow can cause injuries if unnoticed by someone else. If there are arrows behind the target, make sure to recover them first and quickly, as you may be hidden and other archers might not know you are there. To avoid damaging arrows or targets, put one hand on the target while pulling arrows, one at a time, pulling them from the bottom, as close to the target as possible. Do not leave your face in the path of the arrow, stay on the side. Also make sure there is nobody behind you are you pull them off.

* * *

I hope this article was useful to you. Please like it if it did. Please do not think of this article as complete, it was only meant as a starting point. Get an instructor or friend to teach you, or read and watch videos.

Happy shooting!


2 comments on “Introduction to Bow Shooting

  1. Year of the Bow
    January 11, 2014

    A well written and very informative post. I myself shoot traditional english longbow and prefer wooden arrows for authenticity (and NFAS guidelines). The great thing about the short durability of wooden arrows is you get to make new and improved sets.

    All the best,
    Year of the Bow

    • Tom Duhamel
      January 11, 2014

      Hi, and thanks for passing by. I get your point regarding wooden arrows, but I don’t make my own arrows. Though I like it traditional, but I use some modern technology rather than absolutely authentic. I’m spending much in my aquariums right now, but I will likely get a new, wooden recurve this spring to replace the fiberglass recurve that I currently own.

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This entry was posted on December 4, 2013 by in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , .
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