When done well, archery can be a life-long source of enjoyment. Archery is incredibly safe compared to other pastimes, as long as you avoid some common-sense bad situations. The people most likely to hit these bad situations are participants who are just starting out. So here are some quick notes on how to get started in archery.
This guide is mainly written for folks learning about paper target archery in the US (FITA/World Archery-style). Most of the advice also applies to other archery disciplines, as well.
Steps for a good start in archery:
Here are the steps to get started. Do NOT do these out of this order.
- Talk to an instructor.
- Take several lessons with an instructor.
- Borrow/rent equipment for these lessons as necessary, as advised by the instructor.
- Eventually, somewhere down the line, acquire your own equipment.
The bad outcomes this method avoids:
- Injury to your pocketbook from buying the wrong equipment that won’t help you enjoy archery
- Injury to your body from using the wrong equipment.
- Injury to your psyche from the frustration of not enjoying the activity, events, or community of archers.
The ITAA can help:
The ITAA can help you locate instructors, camps, coaches, and lessons to get you on your feet. We work with our local clubs and shops, and we can try to get you connected to a place that works for you. There is a lot of information out there, and we can help you sort through it. If you want help finding someone who can talk with you about getting started, send us an email.
But I want more details!
Fair enough. Here are some of the reasons behind these steps:
Talk to an instructor.
Archery is a game that requires special equipment, special locations, and special training. (It doesn’t require special talent to get started, though.) Getting all of those organized is tricky, and nothing can replace having some face-to-face advice from a teacher who already knows what she or he is talking about. Archery is different for each discipline, equipment type, and body shape. Rather than hunting for information in dozens of places, most instructors can combine what you need to know into one place.
Take several lessons with an instructor.
Archery has a lot of information to keep in mind. An instructor can guide you through the process and you can take over your own archery experience piece-by-piece instead of all at once. Lessons are cheap compared to the alternatives.
Borrow/rent equipment for these lessons as necessary, as advised by the instructor.
Archery has a strength component to it, even though it is really a finesse game. As a beginner you will not be able to safely use the equipment that an experienced archer can use. (Just as you wouldn’t walk into a gym on the first day and try to lift the heaviest weights.) There is a lot of ego involved in seeing how big of a bow you can shoot, and an instructor will help counteract that to keep you safely within your abilities as you progress.
Especially during the beginning of archery, you will develop fairly quickly. It’s far better to borrow or rent the beginner equipment and save your money for your first real equipment for later.
Partner with an instructor before partnering with a cash register.
Eventually, somewhere down the line, acquire your own equipment.
Once you have a real foothold into archery, know what style of archery you prefer, and have experience with that equipment to know what is appropriate for you, then you can begin shopping. The temptation to walk blind into an archery shop and walk out with a full setup ruins the archery experience for many, many people. A bit of patience and forethought will instead give you a lot more enjoyment down the road.
Some shops are staffed by experts in the area of archery you want to pursue. Some shops have their expertise elsewhere. Working with your instructor for a while will make sure that you know what you’re buying, and then you can find the right place to buy it from.
More details on avoiding the bad outcomes
1) Archery is not expensive, if you only buy the equipment you need. Buying and rebuying equipment that isn’t right for you will break the bank. Many parts of archery equipment are long-lived, upgradeable, and nicely resellable. Knowing how to ease your way in will keep your wallet happy.
The flip-side of this is that quality used archery equipment is frequently available, and your instructor can help you take advantage of that.
2) Archery is not dangerous, if you learn the common-sense ways to avoid injury. Don’t pull a bow that is too heavy or too short. Don’t pull arrows that are too short, or don’t match you and the bow. Don’t shoot at all around other people without knowing the common “rules of the road” for safety at a range. (These are some of the things that an instructor will help manage for you at the beginning).
Different bow types feel amazingly different — even if they are marked with the same size and weight numbers. A 40# compound is barely legal for hunting. A 40# recurve will tear your rotator cuff if you don’t slowly work up to it — even for an experienced compound shooter. They’re just different beasts.
According to national sports injuries reported by hospitals, archery is roughly as safe as bowling — far safer than golf — which is in turn far safer than any sport where you run, jump, or hit other people. The majority of significant archery injuries are alcohol related. The majority of minor archery injuries are muscle/tendon injuries from trying to draw a bow that is too heavy.
These are pretty easy to avoid with a bit of common sense.
3) Archery is really enjoyable, if you avoid the early frustrations while you learn.
Archery in the US is in a time of change. Historically target archery here has been outnumbered by bowhunting, which is still true. But there is a huge growth in target archery that hasn’t really been seen since the 1970’s, especially among the youth (and the youth’s parents).
The nation-wide archery organizations are both creating more resources for organized development clubs, leagues, and events for anyone interested in archery. USA Archery (the ITAA’s parent org) has created the JOAD program (Junior Olympic Archery Development) for participants through college age.
The National Field Archery Association (NFAA) specializes more in a walking style of archery where targets are arranged along a course (roughly similar to golf in that way).
Several organizations support in-school archery programs to to archery as part of physical education. Check if your school district has Olympic Archery in the Schools or the National Archery in the Schools Program (NASP)
There is a style of shooting called 3-D Archery where the targets are made of a dense foam rubber and shaped like various animals (and dinosaurs!). This is becoming very popular in the US, and it has a natural crossover for bowhunters. The big organizations for 3-D Archery are (IBO, ASA, and the Scholastic 3D Association), but USA Archery and the NFAA have their own 3-D segments, as well.
I want even more details!
Great! If you want to drink from the firehose of information about target archery, here it is:
USA Archery JOAD manuals — club manual, field setup guides, etc (USA Archery used to be named NAA)
World Archery Coaches Manuals — 1,000 pages of archery information. (World Archery used to be named FITA)
Archery Talk — the largest US-based archery forum. Full of opinions, good-and-bad information, and equipment classified ads. This link is to the fragment of it that is focused on international style paper target archery.