Archery has become surprisingly popular lately, by what seems to be a series of movie-related coincidences. Specifically, within months of each other we have had Avengers with Hawkeye and his bow, The Hunger Games with Katniss the hunter, and, most recently, Brave where Merida is an archery master. Now, this isn’t the first time geeks have been interested in archery, especially since everyone’s favorite gorgeous elf, Legolas, was also a crack shot, but I am surprised at the frequency that it keeps coming up. Recently, there was a series of articles on archery form in these recent films from GeekDad.
I actually have been interested in archery long before any of this. I did archery in gym class in high school. We had the option of picking from a small cluster of activities, and each fall I would pick archery. I mean, seriously, who didn’t want to shoot a sharp object at a target? I also did some archery at one of our local Girl Scout camps during weekend camp-outs. I enjoyed archery, but I really didn’t get too involved at this time.
However, last summer I was working again at a Girl Scout camp, and they asked me if I would mind training to be their archery instructor. I said, of course, why not! I spent two days in intensive training learning not only how to shoot well, but how to teach it to others, specifically kids. I had a blast. Then, I spent the summer teaching archery to kids from ages 7-17. Who knew I’d be ahead of the trend?
So, you want to learn to shoot like Katniss and Merida? It’s actually easier than you think!
How to Get Started
Find an instructor and take a class. This is probably the hardest part of archery, simply finding a local range and someone to teach you. There is no safe way to learn archery by yourself. However, you can make some decisions about what kind of archery you are interested in and do a little prep work, so here’s a quick lesson in types of archery.
First, you need a bow. There are two major types of bows: compound and recurve. Recurve bows are most of what we’ve seen recently. The word “recurve” refers to the fact the the bow curves in the middle where you place the arrow, and then it curves again at the ends where the string attaches. You can see this with Hawkeye below. They are typically made out of wood or fiberglass. These bows require a fair amount of strength to pull back, and they are often classified by how many pounds you need to pull back to get your arrow in place. They are also often very tall. A properly sized bow should go from your toe to between your chin and forehead, but a weaker archer can use a shorter bow while learning. The length of these is related to weight it takes to pull them back because you are literally the only force on the bow. Size of bows is probably the biggest fault I tend to see in movies, with them often being far too short.
On the other hand, a compound bow uses a pulley system to help in pulling the string. This means that you don’t need as much strength because you are not actually holding the force at full extension, the pulleys are. Thus, these are often much shorter. Compound bows are typically fiberglass and commonly used for hunting. I prefer the recurves because you have control of your string and bow at all times and don’t rely on pulleys to hold the weight. I also find them to be more dangerous for kids, which is the group I was working with, but everyone has their own opinions.
One more thing you could do before getting started is determine your eye dominance. It’s like handedness, but for your eyes. Since you stand sideways when you shoot and stare straight down your extended arm, you are essentially aiming with the opposite eye. So, right-eye dominant people, who are often right-handed, hold the bow in their left hand and pull the string with their right. Eye-dominance is not always related to handedness however. I am a great example of someone who is right-handed but left-eye dominant, so I shoot lefty. This video explains my favorite method of testing eye-dominance.
Important Safety Issues
Archery is one of the safest sports there is. There’s less than 1 person per 1000 injured. This is mostly because it’s also incredibly strict. Ranges have to made in certain ways with extended areas to the sides and behind the targets. There is a set of rules that must be gone over every time you work with a group of archers, and these include things like only pointing arrows at the ground or at the target and never picking up a dropped arrow. There’s also a series of signals to let archers know what’s happening and when to move. The idea is that everyone stands behind a certain line until all the shooting is done, and then everyone gets their arrows together with bows down.
If you want to be safe while doing archery: listen to the instructor. They know when it is and isn’t safe to move. Even if it seems like you’ll just take one tiny step to pick up a dropped arrow: don’t! A good instructor is also always watching, and may even have a whistle to bring even slightly dangerous activity to a grinding halt. If you have a child that does not listen to directions, archery may not be their sport. However, saying that, I find that archery is so exciting that even children with discipline problems will get themselves to calm down and listen simply to get the experience. However, I have brought a group of girls back from the range early who couldn’t stop shouting between each other to and from the shooting line.
There is safety equipment involved. With younger children, arrows are often blunt-ended. Now, flying at high speeds they are still quite dangerous, but the children are unlikely to injure themselves simply by holding and maneuvering the arrows. There are also arm guards for where the string is likely to fly past and possibly bruise your arm. Also, if you hyper-extend your elbow, you will need to learn how to adjust for that or wear a longer guard. If you ever feel the string on your skin, tell an instructor immediately and they can correct your form.
For More Information
So, if you want to learn to shoot, check out your local sports and activities. Maybe there’s a range near you with classes. Check out local camps, sometimes they hold open and sign-up available activities. There may even be an archery club in your area. Hey Central New York – find a place where we can meet and rent equipment, and I’ll run a class for you!
Here are some of the national organizations that might be able to give you more information. The first two are where my certification comes from.
USA Archery the official organization for Olympic Archery
National Field Archery Association (NFAA)
International Bowhunting Organization (IBO)
Archery Shooters Association (ASA)
National Archery in the Schools Program
After School Archery Program
Archery Trade Association
So, you can see that archery, although it may be complicated, is safe and actually quite easily learned. Also, it is incredibly accessible to almost all age and ability levels. People in wheelchairs can shoot. People with limited strength can shoot with compound bows. You can hold a bow up for a small child and they can still do most of the movement themselves. I heard a great story from my instructor about a girl with one arm where someone else would hold and position the bow, and she would pull back and release. It’s also incredibly empowering to hit the target, and a good instructor will make sure that every archer does hit the target at least once in their first round of shooting.
Go. Shoot something!