Getting Started in Archery

getting started in archery

Carbon fiber arrows are very popular and work with a wide variety of bows

Archery is one of the world’s oldest sports. For nearly 35,000 years archery has been used for hunting, battle and recreation. Archery has come a long way from the ancient wooden long bows. Now they are made from plastics, fiberglass, carbon, and other space aged materials. Getting started in archery is easy, one you learn how to choose the right equipment.

Eye Dominance, Draw Length, Draw Weight

The most important aspects of choosing a bow are to know which is your dominant eye, your correct draw length, and draw weight. Each of these is different for everybody, but is needed to choose the proper fitting equipment for you.

Your dominant eye is the eye that you will aim with. Usually it is the same as your writing hand. To verify, point at an object across the room, while keeping your finger lined up with the object close one eye and open it again. Then try the other eye. Whichever eye lets your finger stay lined up with the object is your dominant eye. This means that if your right eye is the dominant eye, you are right handed and will require a right-handed bow.

archery for beginners

A recurve bow is commonly used for target shooting, either indoor or outdoors

Your draw length is basically how far back you can draw the bow. This measurement is different for everybody. To measure draw length, have a friend hold a yard (meter) stick perpendicular to your Adam’s apple on your throat. Clasp your hands together on either side of the yard stick and the measurement at the end of your middle fingers is your draw length. A typically sized adult male will usually have a draw length of around 29”. Your draw length can change as you grow and age so it is a good idea to check it each time before you purchase a new bow.

Your draw weight is a measurement of how much effort you have to pull back the string. Once again, draw weight is different for everybody but usually breaks down like this:

20lbs for children under 13 years of age.

25 to 40 lbs for people ages 14 to 18 years of age who are target shooting

40lbs to 50lbs for adults who are target shooting or bow hunting

60lbs to 70lbs and up for bow hunters of very large animals such as deer, moose, bear, etc.

Try drawing several different bows at your local bow shop. By trying different kinds of bows you will be able to find one that suits your size and ability. Most bows are adjustable by about ten pounds. This allows you to grow into it and make adjustments as your ability to draw the bow increases.

kinds of bows for archery

A compound bow showing it's many parts

Types of Bows

Once you have determined your dominant eye, draw length and draw weight you are ready to choose a bow. First you must decide what style of archery you intend to do. Will it be target shooting or bow hunting? Each style has a bow to suit it and each bow is slightly different.

Target bows are mostly comprised of traditional or recurve styles. The traditional wood D-shaped bows are still available, but most competitors use a recurve bow. The tips of the limbs on a recurve are bent back slightly giving a mechanical advantage to the shooter. It also allows for more draw weight in a shorter bow. Most recurve bows are 62” to 68” in length. Many have inter-changeable limbs should they wear out or for taking the bow apart for transportation. A recurve bow is a good bow for the beginner as they are usually inexpensive and have a lower draw weight.

Bow hunters should use a compound bow for hunting. The compound bow is usually shorter in length than a recurve and has a cam on one or both bow limbs. A cam allows the shooter to pull back the full draw weight, but as the cam turns over to only hold a fraction of the full weight. This allows the shooter to easily hold the bow at full draw while aiming or waiting for the animal to move into position. Many target archers also use this style of bow for the same purpose. Compound bows usually cost more and require yearly tuning, but the shorter overall length is a huge advantage when walking through the bush. The greater draw weight from the shorter compound bow is another big advantage when bow hunting.

Cross bows are still available and have a very short bow horizontally mounted on the end of what looks like a gun stock. The cross bow is a very accurate bow, but requires both hands to re-load therefore making it a one shot weapon. This is not very helpful when hunting because if the first arrow misses its target, the animal will be long gone by the time the next arrow is loaded

Arrow Rests

All modern compound or recurve bows require an arrow rest. An arrow rest is a small mechanical device that supports the arrow while drawing the bow. There are many different types to choose from. Compound bows typically use a drop-away style that moves out of the arrow’s flight path when shot. Recurve bows use a similar rest that moves towards the bow and out of the arrow’s way as it is shot. Traditional bows usually do not have a rest and are shot from the “shelf” of the bow. This tends to be less accurate, although typical of traditional style bows.

Arrow rests cost anywhere from a few dollars to over a hundred dollars. In most cases, the more you pay the better the arrow rest will be.


A sight is a pin or set of pins that mount to the bow to aid in aiming. There are many different kinds to choose from. Target shooters tend to use a single pin that can be adjusted up or down to match the distance they are shooting from. Since most targets are shot from a fixed and known distance, it is easiest to have one pin and adjust it as necessary. Bow hunters usually have several pins with each pin sighted in for a specific distance. Usually the distances are: 10, 20, 30, 40 and 50 yards. The pins on the sight are in groups of three, five or seven. The more pins, the easier it is to aim accurately at several distances.

When the sight is first installed on the bow, it must be “sighted-in” and adjusted. During this process, the archer determines where the centre shot is on the bow and what pin is for what distance. The archer adjusts the pins very slightly up or down to achieve the most accuracy from each shot. Then the archer moves to the next distance and adjusts the next pin. It is important that the archer be very consistent with each shot as slight variations in body position can affect how each arrow flies making it difficult to sight in the pins.

Often on compound bows a rear peep sight is required to aim as well. This is a small plastic or ceramic ring that installs in the bow string. It provides another reference point for the archer to aim with. The opening in the peep sight is usually very small (around 3/16”) and must be adjusted at the archery shop as a bow press is usually needed. (A bow press is a machine that gently compresses the limbs of the bow releasing tension on the string so the peep sight can be adjusted and the string removed for servicing).

learning about archery and bows

A recurve bow at a field competition. Archery is a great sport for both men and women of all ages

Most bows require a release aid of some sort. This is a device that grips the string so the archer’s fingers do not become sore while drawing the bow. The great tension on the bow makes it difficult to draw the bow repeatedly without the archer’s fingers becoming blistered or sore. A release for recurve or traditional bows is usually just a piece of leather or fur called a tab that wraps around the string. A tab is fairly inexpensive. Traditional and recurve archers will sometimes use a shooting glove instead of a release. The fingers of this glove are made of leather and allow the archer to grip the string and not worry about fumbling around with the relatively small tab.

Compound bows have a much higher draw weight and therefore require a different type of release. Compound bow releases are similar to a pair of pliers that clip around the string. The smaller size makes it more accurate than using your fingers and the metal pliers have a trigger attached to them making it very easy and subtle to release the string. This type of release attaches to your wrist using a wristband that has a belt buckle or Velcro for attaching it. It also will cost much more than a tab but will last longer and be more accurate.


There are many different types of arrows available on the market. Most archers use arrows made from either aluminum or carbon fiber (or both). A general rule of thumb for choosing arrow length is to add one inch to your draw length. Arrows must be compatible with your specific draw weight and draw length so it is best to have the expert’s at your bow shop help you choose what is best for your specific equipment. Many arrow manufacturers have charts on their websites to help guide you through the arrow selection process.

Arrows come with different tips on them. Field point tips are used for target archery and broad heads (either fixed blade or mechanical) are only used for hunting.

Learning More

With a little practice and the proper equipment, archery can be a very fun sport for everyone. You do not need to be a highly trained athlete to participate, and the same equipment will last you for years. Other items such as arm guards and stabilizers are some accessories that will help you to do better when shooting.

Bow hunting is becoming a popular way to hunt as well. A bow shoots an arrow much more quietly than a gun, minimizing disruptions to the other animals and people in the region. With the proper equipment and practice it can be as effective as gun hunting.

If you are serious about archery and wish to learn more, contact an archery club in your region or visit your local bow shop to find out more.

Copyright 2016 Mike Wilson

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