Archery is as old as time, well….almost. If you’re here then you’ve probably taken an interest in joining the wonderful world of bows and arrows. Whether you were inspired by hunger games, or Hawkeye of the Avengers, or by a friend or relative, this guide will help you get started. All you need is a clear safe space, and the right equipment to learn archery at home.
What you need to get started at Home
So, you’re going to need some basics before you can get started. This will somewhat depend on the type of archery you’re getting into (traditional or compound). I’m going to assume you’re looking to shoot with a compound bow as it’s probably the most popular. Don’t worry, if you want to shoot traditional most of this info will apply to you also. Now for the list of bare essentials:
- A Bow (don’t worry I’ll help you choose one)
- Safe place to shoot
- A release, glove, or finger tab (more on this later)
First Things First – You need a Bow
This will probably be the hardest choice you have to make before starting. Here’s the thing though, while it’s important, it’s not THAT important. Why do I say that? Because this is definitely not the last bow you will buy. You’ll most likely want to upgrade pretty early on as you learn what you like and what type of shooting you wish to pursue. For this reason I say, choose a good bow, but don’t lose any sleep over it. If you need help picking one out be sure to check out my recommended compound bows. (opens in new tab)
What’s Draw length and Draw weight?
Draw length and weight will be the two largest deciding factors when choosing your new bow. In all honesty, the best way to figure this out is to go somewhere you can try a few bows. Especially for the draw weight. If you have a local pro shop, club, or friends with bows, see if you can pull a few back and see what draw weight feels comfortable for you.
Here’s a basic guideline to get you in the ballpark for weight if you’re a total beginner:
- Children aged 8-12: 10 – 16 lbs.
- Young Teens: 14 – 22 lbs.
- Older Teens: 20 – 30 lbs.
- Young Women: 25 – 35 lbs.
- Young Men or Stronger Women: 30 – 40 lbs.
- Average Men: 40 – 50 lbs.
- Above average Men or Women: 40 – 60 lbs.
The next thing to consider when choosing a new bow is your draw length. This is critical as learning to shoot with an improperly sized bow will be frustrating at best. Here’s a good way to get a fairly accurate figure for your draw length.
- Measure your arm span from fingertip to fingertip
- Divide by 2.5
The key here is to get a helper, then stand relaxed with your arms out to your side forming a T. Have your helper measure from the tip of one middle finger to the tip of your other middle finger. Write this number down. Next you’ll do your math by dividing by 2.5. Here’s an example.
My arm span = 76″ so – 76/2.5 = 30.4″
Now in fact this is quite accurate for me as I shoot a 30.5″ draw on my Parker compound bow. I would recommend choosing a bow with adjustable draw length if you can though, sometimes you need to move a half inch one way or the other to get it just right.
Does Brand Matter?
Yes and No. At a beginner level you’re probably not going to have much brand loyalty or preference, but I would steer clear of department store brands and other “no-names”.
Stick to long time well known brands such as Bear, PSE, Hoyt, and Bowtech. There are other quality brands, but these are probably the most well known and popular of the bunch. Be sure to check out my recommended bows and other archery gear.
Great now what? You need Arrows!
Choosing arrows can be tricky for a beginner. There are a number of things to consider such as material, length, spine ….OMG! Calm down, it’s not as hard as it sounds.
Let’s make things simple, go with carbon arrows. I personally LOVE to shoot aluminum, but it’s just not that popular anymore. Carbon arrows hold up better when you miss the target also (not that it ever happens).
Determining Your Arrow Length
Next up is arrow length. You might think it’s as easy as choosing an arrow the same as your draw length, but alas, it is not. But that doesn’t mean it has to be hard. If you have access to a pro shop, simply bring your bow and have them help you out. But what if you want to buy arrows online or don’t have access to a pro shop?
Remember your buddy that helped you find your draw length, they’re gonna help you with arrow length too. Simply draw your bow and have your buddy measure from the knocking point (where the arrow attaches to the string) to the rest on your bow. Now add 1-2 inches for safety. As a beginner, I’d probably add 2″ and especially if you’re going to hunt and use broadheads (more on that another time).
Choosing an Arrow Spine
This is where a lot of beginners get confused or are simply never properly informed. Arrow spine is important to protect yourself and your bow from harm. It also affects speed and accuracy.
Once you’ve chosen a brand of carbon arrows in your price range and determined the proper arrow length, it’s typically best to use the manufacturer’s spine chart to choose the proper arrow. It’s really that simple.
Later on when you’re Robin Hooding your arrows at 50 yards, you’ll want to fine tune your choices. The manufacturer’s chart will get you started safely with the proper spine.
Gimme Something to Shoot at!
You’re almost there! You’ve got a bow properly sized for you and arrows to fit. Now you need something to shoot at. This can be as cheap or expensive as you want to make it and I’ve got a couple of good target recommendations here as well. (don’t worry, opens in new tab)
If you have the cash, I’d recommend just buying a target to get started. You’ll be able to start shooting right away and know that it’s going to stop your arrows (and give them back afterwards). DIY options are great, but require more time and research before you can start flinging arrows at it.
Things to consider when choosing a target:
- Fun factor
The price will be entirely up to what you’re comfortable spending. I would get the largest sized target in your price range. I know you think you’re gonna be Hawkeye on your first try, but trust me you’ll miss the target more than once. I still do on occasion, stuff happens. The bigger your target, the better chance you’ll hit it.
Material and Fun factor are your next things to consider. Most commercially available targets are made from different types of “self-healing” foam. Some are better than others. Solid blocks of foam will tend to make removing arrows a bit more difficult than with layered foam targets.
You can find archery targets in a variety of styles, colors, and shapes. There’s an entire sub category of archery using 3d foam animals as targets (3d Archery is one of my favorite things to do)
I would recommend staying away from the cheaper Styrofoam targets as modern compound bows tend to fire arrows straight through those things. Better, stronger targets are usually made from polyethylene.
Releases, Gloves, and Tabs – OH MY!
If you grab your compound bow and start firing arrows while only using your bare fingers, it won’t be long before you’re inside icing your blistery nubs. So what’s a guy or gal to do?
You have a few options depending on your preference and don’t be afraid to try them all. Traditionally bows were drawn and fired by using your fingers. Yes people still do this with modern compound bows, but you’re going to want a glove or finger tab to protect your fingers from soreness and blisters.
Another more modern and popular option is to use a mechanical release. There are a number of different types and if you decide to go this route you will undoubtedly try a few different kinds before you fall in love with one.
What’s better? Fingers or Release?
That all depends on who you ask and what your definition of better is. For accuracy it’s hard to beat a quality release. Some people like to feel more connected to the process and prefer to shoot with fingers. Gloves and tabs are cheap so if you’re not sure, try fingers first.
If you decide to stick to it as a finger shooter, know that typically people prefer bows with a longer axle to axle length because it’s more forgiving. Shooting with fingers will effect the flight of the arrow slightly as the string rolls as you let go.
Where to shoot at home?
You’re going to need a little bit of room if you’re planning to learn archery at home. Not only that, but it’s important that you’re not pointing your sharp projectile at the neighbors.
How much room is needed?
You’ll need 10 to 20 yards of clear space between where you stand and your target. 20 yards is a standard distance for range shooting, but beginner’s normally start at 10 yards and work their way back.
Once you find suitable space, check all of your surroundings. Assume that you will miss the target at some point, where would the stray arrow go? Is it safe? Ideally you want nothing behind your target. Shooting towards the woods is best, but if you’re in a more populated area try to position yourself so you have a garage or shed as a backdrop. Something large to protect the rest of the world from the aspiring Robin Hood that you are. Safety first!
Practice makes perfect!
Now all you have to do is practice, practice, practice. But hold on there cowboy, there’s probably a few things you should know before you start firing off arrows, so let’s have a quick look at some basic tips and tricks.
Things to keep you and your bow safe
First of all, and I can’t stress this enough. NEVER EVER dry fire your bow. What’s a dry fire? It’s when you draw your bow without an arrow and let go. Not only can it severely damage your bow, there have been instances of the bow “exploding” and injuring the shooter. Just DON’T DO IT! Here’s a few more things to keep in mind, some are obvious but still need to be said:
- Never point your bow at anyone. Arrow or not, just make it a habit.
- Never fire an arrow straight into the air
- When knocking your bow (putting the arrow on the string) point it towards the ground.
- Do NOT draw your bow if there are people or pets between you and the target, even if they are off to the side.
- Use common sense, this is a weapon after all
Shooting tips to get you started
- Use consistent anchor points – Basically this means you need to draw your bow back to the same spot every time. There are accessories that can help with this, kisser buttons, peep sights, etc. You can also draw your hand to the exact same spot on your face. Whatever you choose, be consistent.
- Use a relaxed grip – Many people, and especially beginners tend to hold their bow very tightly. This is a bad habit to get into as you’ll almost always torque the bow when you fire. Instead use a relaxed grip. Obviously still hang onto the darn thing, but don’t choke it to death either.
- Follow through – This is one that even seasoned archers mess up. You need to hold your form even after you release your shot. I usually try to hold form till after the arrow reaches the target, this keeps you from dropping your arm and causing your accuracy to suffer.
- Focus and Relax – This one seems obvious, but simply focusing your attention on everything you need to do to execute your shot will help you tremendously. Don’t forget to relax, tensing your entire body up will not help your accuracy.
- Practice – This should go without saying, but the more arrows you shoot, the better you’ll get. It’s important to maintain good form and use those consistent anchor points so you’ll be building good solid habits.
Go Have Fun!
Hopefully I’ve armed you with some good information and you’re ready to get started with a very fun and rewarding hobby. Don’t get frustrated, just practice and learn as much as you can. I promise you’ll improve. Most important of all, don’t forget to have fun!