Archery, when done with a few safety steps, is incredibly safe. The Archery Trade Association publishes data on it every few years. Here is a chart lifted from their results. It turns out that since are aren’t running, colliding, or having things thrown at us, archers don’t get injured very often. Every year, archery falls between golf and bowling in the safety rankings.
The basics of archery safety are covered elsewhere, at every archery range, and in every archery program. The extremely bare minimum safety steps are “Don’t be in front of a drawn bow, don’t draw a bow with people in front of you, don’t shoot broken equipment, don’t pull arrows if you haven’t been shown how, and generally don’t be an idiot (or, don’t stay near other people who are being idiots — leave).” That alone will keep you safe.
Beyond that, we’re asked sometimes “What kinds of potential injuries can you sustain from archery?” So here’s where I’ve decided to put that list, along with notes on how to avoid them.
During Normal Shooting:
Injuries during normal shooting are mostly minor soft tissue injuries – arm and chest bruises from string slap. Those are avoidable with better technique or tuning. And finger archers should always wear an armguard.
There is finger nerve damage from insufficient protection. Try to get about 1mm of leather for every 10lbs of weight on your fingers.
There are shoulder muscle and tendon injuries from repetitive stress – usually from too much weight or overuse. Go slowly, get stronger first. Pay attention to your soreness. Otherwise, overuse can damage rotator cuffs very easily. Your coach will also be watching for bad form like overdrawing that will strain shoulder muscles.
And you can always have a bad day, and punch your own mouth. This happens most often with compound releases coming off of the string halfway through the draw. It can happen with a finger archer, too, though.
I’ve also seen folks get so off-balance during a shot that they fell over on release. (Okay, so I’ve been that person…)
During Abnormal Shooting
The more graphic injuries happen from shooting broken equipment. Broken shafts, broken nocks, partly detached rigid feathers/vanes, shooting a shaft with the point missing, shooting with a cut string, etc. The energy stored in the drawn bow always goes somewhere. And with broken equipment, the energy goes somewhere unexpected, with chaotic results. Generally stuff ends up poking into humans. This is very rare, but if you witness it, the memories stay with you.
Please always inspect your equipment. Inspect your arrows, nocks, etc before each shot, especially if the arrow had a weird impact during the previous shot, or a subsequent arrow collided with it. If you suspect a nock, replace it — they’re cheap. If you suspect a carbon shaft, don’t shoot it unless you can extensively examine it and determine that it’s fine. When in doubt, throw it out.
It’s rarer these days for a string, riser, or limbs to crack catastrophically. But a riser breaking at full draw can hit you twice at the same time — from the top and the bottom. Limbs may split or “delaminate”, but while that can be very startling, usually it only results in pulled muscles from the jerky absence of resistance.
And always make sure you have an arrow on the string when you pull it… It’s easy to do, especially on a compound. You get into a rhythm, and a momentary distraction makes you forget to load an arrow. You attach the release to your d-loop… and then give yourself one giant scare and parts of your bow fly down-range.
From Arrow Nocks
Then there are injuries from the back of the arrow. For most arrows, that’s the sharpest end.
Pulling arrows is the most dangerous part of a shooting session, because folks are usually distracted.
When going to pull arrows, you can walk your delicate eyeballs right into the arrows. You can pull a target bale full of arrows over into someone, usually yourself – not the best way to join Iron Maiden. When pulling arrows, you can yank the nock end into someone (or yourself). That can be a serious puncture wound and an ambulance ride. If the target is lower down (like a 3D target), you can pull a shaft right into a femoral artery.
These are all easy to avoid – only two people at a time at a bale, one on each side. Pull arrows from the side, and make sure everybody else stands well back. Every archery intro class covers that, and these are the injuries that the process avoids. Some archery groups just prohibit younger archers from pulling arrows at all — an adult pulls them all and drops them on the ground to sort later.
It’s also worth mentioning that arrows in quivers of one person can be at the head level of another person. Field quivers (ones that hold arrows so they point backwards) on adults tend to be at kids’ eye level. On a tournament line, that can pose a hazard, especially if someone is doing stupid twirling when they load arrows.
The ITAA itself doesn’t hold hunting events, but plenty of archers do both bowhunting and target archery. Most archery hunting injuries are blade cuts from knives and broadheads, or falls from tree stands. Based on years of hospital reports, these injuries mostly also correlate with drinking. So don’t hunt and drink, and test out your tree stands very low to the ground first.
Non-Archery General Activity
Then there are more general issues like moving heavy bales, and paper cuts from scorecards. (Electronic scoring saves skin!) Generally doing some warm ups and leg, arm, and core stretches is a good long-term idea. Field archery requires hiking over terrain, so do the necessary training and prep to hike safely. Generally stay safe in rain, heat, sun, cold, and in traffic when traveling to and from the venue.
There’s some scary stuff here. But remember to keep it in perspective with how rare archery injuries are. The most dangerous part of an archery tournament is the traffic on the road. The volunteer at the grill cooking lunch is in more danger than any of the archers. Insurance for organized archery is cheap, because it’s safe (see below).
Postscript: Fun With Insurance and Actuaries
This British sports insurance company categorizes various activities into groups according to risk. You can take a look and see that Archery is in “Group 1” low-impact activities, with softball and basketball being the high risk in that category (perhaps because they are not common among Brits).
Muggle Quidditch is in “Group 2”.
Group 4 has skiiing and indoor rock climbing.
Soccer is in Group 6 with competitive martial arts, boxing, and horse jumping.
Group 7 has BMX racing and rugby.
The list itself is amusing, since so many activities are categorized, (including various Mt. Everest treks). And eventually there are some things that they just will not cover — BASE jumping, cage fighting, parkour.