Beginner’s Guide to Archery – Gear and Shooting Basics

| Last Updated June 6, 2021

Archery is one of the many activities practiced today by human beings all over the world.

We have used the term “human beings” to emphasize that this pastime is probably one of the oldest known to man.

This article has been designed to guide you through the terminology, gear, and shooting basics that come with the sport of archery and will end with a frequently asked questions section.

Archery Terminology and Common Concepts

Here are the main components and terminology of our topic:

  • Anchor Point:  A point, usually on the archer's mouth, chin, or nose, touched by the bow's string or the archer's hand when drawn to shoot.

  • Arm Guard: A sheath mounted on the archer's forearm for protection. 

  • Arrow: Projectile shot with a bow. 

  • Arrow Rest: Made to hold an arrow against a bow's handle until it’s released.

  • Bow: Weapon used to aim and launch an arrow.

  • Bow Stabilizer: A weight fitted on a bow to give it balance.

  • Bowstring: A strong piece of string joining the two ends of a bow.

  • Bullseye: The middle of a rounded target.

  • Compound Bow: The most modern bow that uses a system of pulleys and cables.

  • Drawing: Pulling the bowstring—loaded with an arrow— back just before shooting.

  • Draw Length: Distance between the string's nocking point and the bow grip's pivot point, plus 1.75 inches.
  • Draw Weight: The amount of force required to draw a bow to its optimum shooting position.

  • Finger  Tab: a pad designed to protect the archer's fingers.

  • Fletching: The fins—usually made of feathers or plastic— of an arrow that stabilizes it in flight.

  • Longbow: A tall bow that’s D-shaped when strung, usually the same height as the archer.
  • Nock: The notch or groove at the rear end of an arrow that fits the arrow into the bow's string. Also, the act of loading a bow.

  • Quiver: The container that holds an archer's arrows.

  • Recurve Bow: A bow with tips that curve away from the archer—toward the target—for more accuracy.

  • Release Aid: An object that clips onto a bowstring and releases when a trigger is pressed.

  • Riser: A bow's handle.

  • Shaft: The long, thin body part of an arrow.

  • Shooting Glove: A glove worn to protect an archer's fingers.

  • Target Archery: Shooting at stationary targets placed at various distances.

  • Thumb Ring: Made to protect an archer's thumb.

  • Vane: A fin to stabilize an arrow.

What is Archery?

Archery is the sport, art, skill, or practice of shooting arrows using a bow. A person actively taking part in this, now mainly recreational activity is known as an archer, and an expert is typically called a marksman.

While we’ll elaborate more on types of bows and other equipment further on, here’s a little history of how this exciting pastime came about.

History

Scientists and anthropologists have been unable to determine the origin of the bow and arrow's invention. They suspect that their invention dates back to between 20,000 and 40,000 years ago. They would, of course, initially have been crudely made but have evolved into the masterpieces that they are today.

Archaeologists found the oldest known proof of arrowheads—made from bone and stone—in caves in South Africa. They date to between 60,000 and 72,000 years ago. The earliest definite remains of a bow and arrow were found in Germany and were dated 17,500 to 18,000 years ago.

Notwithstanding the preceding estimations, we can safely say that the bow and arrow would have been one of the most effective weapons in human history—before the invention of gunpowder. Their primary purpose would have been hunting animals for food; later, they became weapons of war.

Since the invention of gunpowder in ninth-century China and the subsequent making of firearms, bows became obsolete in warfare. Traditionally, archery now remains a sport, recreational activity, or is still used for hunting in many areas.

Modern Archery

Archery first appeared in the Olympic Games in 1900 and was contested three more times until 1920. It has, from 1972 to the present, made a reappearance. Countries the world over still practice archery as a sport and recreation.

Using archery to kill animals is known as "bowhunting." Bowhunting differs significantly from hunting with a firearm, as the distance between hunter and prey has to be much closer to ensure a swift and humane kill. Bowhunting for large and small games is legal in many countries, including much of the United States.

Compound bows are usually the bow of choice for large game hunting because of the relatively short time it takes to master them instead of the longbow or recurve bow. These bows are to be discussed shortly.

Competitive archery involves shooting arrows at targets for accuracy from a certain distance or distances. Called target archery, it’s become the most popular form of competitive archery worldwide.

Another form of the sport that’s mainly popular in Europe and the United States is field archery, this involves shooting at targets set at various distances in a wooded setting. Competitive archery in the United States is governed by the USA Archery and National Field Archery Association (NFAA).

Types of Archery

In the section above, we briefly touched on a few archery types, an activity that’s split into many categories. Now we’ll name some more with brief explanations for those not yet covered.

Traditional Archery 

A longbow or recurve bow can serve as equipment for traditional archery. The consensus here is that this archery form tests an archer's skill without using a bow sight or bow stabilizer.

Archery Tag

The equivalent of paintball shooting, archery tag is done with bows and specially designed arrows that will hit your “enemy” without causing severe damage. The competitors wear arm guards and protective headgear.

Target Archery (Indoor and Outdoor)

Target archery is the most common type practiced, both indoors and outdoors. It’s one of the disciplines featured in the Olympic games. 

3D Target Archery

3D target archery is generally practiced outdoors on three-dimensional animal models such as alligators, deer, and turkeys.

Bowfishing

Bowfishing is done with a line attached to the arrow.

Mounted Archery

Mounted archery is done from the back of a galloping horse.

Para Archery

Para archery is archery for the physically impaired.

What Does a Beginner Archer Need?

As a beginner, there are some items and accessories that you’ll need to enable you to become a successful archer or, perhaps one day, even a marksman. Your main piece of equipment is the bow, of which there are three types.

In this section, we’ll be discussing only the two main types of bow, namely the recurve and the compound.

These are the three main bow types; you, the beginner, will be introduced to two.

Photo credit: untamedscience.com

Two Types of Bows to Know About

Recurve Bow

The ends of the limbs of a recurve bow curve away from you toward the target. The bowstring then comes into contact with the top and bottom limb tips just before the string nocks.

Beginners usually start with the recurve bow as it’s the easiest to use. Recurves come in right- and left-handed options, which is something that you need to determine for yourself before getting one. We’ll touch on this aspect a bit further down.

Pros

  • Less expensive

  • Simpler for beginners to learn

  • Archery muscles develop faster

  • Not much to adjust

  • Lighter weight

  • Skills learned can transfer to compound bows

Cons

  • Less accurate than the compound bow

  • Draw weight not adjustable
  • Require developed muscles to drawback

Best Uses

  • Short distance target shooting

  • Hunting

  • Olympic archery events

Photo credit: chicagotribune.com

Compound Bow

Compound bows were first invented in the 1960s. They’re made of cables and pulleys and are a lot more potent than recurve bows. They’re complex in design and use, so they’re not recommended for beginners.

Pros

  • Easier to shoot

  • Faster arrow velocity

  • Much more accurate

  • Adjustable draw weight and length

  • More satisfying to shoot

Cons

  • More expensive than recurves

  • Harder to adjust by yourself

  • Heavier and awkwardly shaped

Best Uses

  • Archery competitions

  • 3D archery

  • Hunting

  • Longer distance target shooting

How to Choose a Bow

Photo credit: archeryedge.com

Here's your guide in choosing your bow.

Are You Left or Right-Handed?

With both eyes open, point your upright thumb at something five meters away; Close your left eye. If your thumb is still centered on the target, your right eye is the dominant one. The thumb being left of the object would indicate left eye dominance.

A right-handed archer aims with his right eye holds his bow with his left hand and pulls the bowstring with the right hand. The bow grip will have a shelf situated either on the left or right of the riser on which the arrow can rest. A right-handed bow will have its shelf cut on the left and vice versa.

Set Yourself a Budget

Know how much you’re prepared to spend on a bow plus all required accessories before stepping into your local or chosen pro shop.

Shoot Multiple Bows

Now you’re inside the pro shop and have discussed your budget and needs with an employee. You’ll likely be given several bows to try out. The more you try, the better your final choice will be.

Take your time and shoot each bow a few times. By doing this, you should end up with a bow that’s comfortable to hold and feels like an “extension” of you.

Other Gear and Accessories

As a beginner, once you have your bow, you’ll still require a set of arrows, quiver, tab, or shooting glove plus a target at which to shoot. These are your minimum requirements for taking up the sport.

There are plenty more accessories and equipment to add to your arsenal once you have become a more accomplished and confident archer.

Parts of a Bow

The graphic that follows will enable you to identify the various parts of a bow and perhaps shed some light on some of the terms you have come across.

As you can see, each bow has (in common) a grip, upper/lower limb, and string. These parts are self-explanatory, so we won’t elaborate on them. 

Now we’ll look at the parts that differ:

Nocking Point

Found on the longbow and recurve bow, the nocking point is the part of the string into which the arrow is fitted.

Arrow Rest

The arrow rest is found on the grips of both the compound bow and the recurve bow. It holds the tip end of the arrow in place.

Sight Window

A part of a recurve bow that lines up the dominant eye and arrow with the target.

Photo credit: stepoutside.org

Cables and Wheels

Part of a compound bow that adjusts its tension.

Bow Sight

Compound bow part to sight the target.

String Silencer

Fitted on the upper and lower string of a longbow, silencers reduce noise and vibration on the release of an arrow.

How to Nock an Arrow 

  1. Take the arrow from the quiver holding the area above the fletching.

  2. With the bow facing downward, place the arrow's shaft onto the arrow rest or riser.

  3. Position the arrow, so the vanes are near the string side.

  4. Ensure that the index vane faces away from the bow's side (a vane hitting the bow on release will put the arrow off-target).

  5. Your bowstring should have one to two nock locators indicating where the arrow should be nocked.

  6. Snap the nock into the bowstring, then “ready, aim, fire.”

Photo credit: crarchery.ca

How to Shoot a Bow

Let's learn how to shoot a bow.

1. Assume a Relaxed Stance

Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart and your shoulders perpendicular to your target. 

2. Correctly Grip the Bow

Get a comfortable grip using your non-dominant hand. 

3. Nock the Arrow

As already explained. We suggest that you consistently nock each arrow at the same place.

4. Grip the Bow String

Use the index, middle, and ring fingers of your dominant hand. The bowstring should rest in the groove below your top knuckles, and the arrow's nock should be between your index and middle finger.

5. Prepare Your Draw

Lift the bow so that your dominant arm is lined up with your shoulder. Your hands should now both be lined up with the target.

6. Draw Back the Bow String

Make sure that you’re using your back muscles during this action.

Photo credit: matadornetwork.com

7. Anchor the String

Once drawn, the string must touch the anchor point on your mouth, chin, or nose.

8. Aim

Line the arrowhead up with your target.

9. Release

Keeping your bow arm steady, release the string, which will snap forward, causing the arrow to take flight.

Benefits of Learning Archery

We’ll now name and discuss some of the many benefits gained from learning and participating in archery. These benefits don’t all come at once, but you’ll notice them over time.

Improves Hand-Eye Coordination

When participating in darts or playing pool, each time you throw a dart or take a shot, your hand-eye coordination will improve. The same goes for archery.

Improves Patience

Patience in humans varies from person to person, but, in archery, it’s a necessity for learning to slow down, control breathing, and take more precise shots. As with fishing and many other activities, better rewards come with increased patience.

Improves Focus

It takes much focus to practice archery. There are many things to think about during the action of firing off one shot. Imagine that shot hitting what you aimed for; to consistently hit that same spot afterward requires focus. The latter will naturally improve over time.

Improves Confidence

For most, starting with something new always has its challenges. The more you repeat doing the same thing, the more your confidence in yourself will grow.

Improves Strength

Shooting with a bow and arrow forces you to use specific muscles that you never knew you had. After the first few times, you’ll be quite sore in places, but those muscles will build up the required strength over time.

Better Social Skills

Archery benefits the social skills of adults and children alike. You’ll find that you and your youngsters will be inviting friends—besides the people you meet at practices, competitions, etc.

Provides Safety Skills

You’ll be taught many safety skills as you progress.

Not Too Expensive

After an ordinarily once-off expense in buying your bow and other equipment, you’ll find that other sports are a lot more expensive. Golf is one example.

Where to Practice Archery

There are various places to practice this fulfilling activity. No matter where you are, you’ll find that you have several different options.

First, ask yourself what kind of experience you want. It may be one-on-one coaching from a pro, group lessons, an outdoor 3D course with life-like targets, or even a climate-controlled indoor range. 

Once you have decided on your specific needs, you can start looking for the various possibilities around you. These will be places like archery shops, indoor/outdoor archery ranges, large areas with target or stump practice, archery clubs, or even outdoor 3D archery courses.

Then, providing that you have room in your backyard at home, you can build your range there. The first thing you must be sure to do is to check on your state/city laws and bylaws (if any) relating to the subject.

Once you have cleared up the above, make sure that the range you build is clear from human/pet walkways, the rear of your range doesn’t allow for errant arrows to go into your neighbor's property, you have proper targets set up, and that there’s a backstop of some form to catch off-target arrows.

Conclusion

Not being physically demanding and helping to improve your posture, if needed, the age-old sport of archery is a great way to spend your free time. It also improves your hand-eye coordination and is a relaxing way to keep yourself mentally and physically fit.

People Also Ask

Before taking up any activity such as fishing, golf, archery, etc., people will, by nature, seek answers to the myriad of questions that’ll come to mind.

We have compiled the following set of questions and answers to anticipate what we think our readers might still ask.

Can I Teach Myself Archery?

You can teach yourself archery but, unless you're a natural “Robin Hood,” it’ll take plenty more time to perfect than if you used an experienced teacher. You can also find many helpful videos on YouTube.

You must bear in mind stance, finger positioning, drawing the bow, aiming, proper release, and range safety if teaching yourself.

Is Archery an Expensive Sport?

Whether archery is expensive or not depends entirely on you. The primary piece—and most expensive—of equipment is the bow itself. Then you’ll need arrows, an arrow rest, an arm guard plus tag, and a quiver.

The items just mentioned are essential for taking up the sport and are, therefore, a once-off expense. If used and looked after properly, they’ll last for a long time and needn’t be top of the range.

What is the Best Age to Start Archery?

Childrens' strength and physique can differ from one another at the same age, so it’ll affect their ability to hold, draw, and shoot a bow. USA Archery recommends eight as the best age to start.

Photo credit: archery360.com

Please bear in mind that various clubs and ranges will have their own sets of rules and regulations wherein age might be a factor.

How Dangerous is Archery?

By letting common sense prevail and following the rules set down by clubs and ranges, archery needn’t be dangerous at all. It’s widely considered to be safer than most contact sports and even golf.

As with all things in everyday life, the odd accident can happen here and there, but these are pretty rare in this sport.

Should I Start with a Compound or Recurve Bow?

Do I learn to drive a motor vehicle using a manual or automatic? When it comes to bows, the compound is automatic, while the recurve is the manual. 

Starting with (and practicing on) a recurve bow will produce a better archer—in most professionals' opinion.

How Long Does It Take to Master Archery?

The answer to this depends on many variables such as time put in, equipment used, an individual's natural talent, dedication, goals set, self-discipline, and so the list goes on.

As Gary Player, the legendary golfer, once said, "the more you practice, the luckier you get." Bear this in mind for archery too.



My name is Jeff and I have been hunting and fishing for over 40 years. I am an avid archery lover, bass fisherman, and all-around outdoorsman. Currently, I'm obsessed with elk hunting but I'm sure I'll move onto a different favorite soon. You gotta love hunting for that reason :) If you have any questions, or just want chat about your latest hunting score or big catch, you can reach me at admin@biggamelogic.com. Read more about Big Game Logic.