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Archery for Beginners: What to Know Before You Pick Up a Bow

BY: Editors | Nov 15, 2018

Once the province of medieval re-enactors and trained Olympians, these days, archery seems to be gaining ground in the world of popular sports. Perhaps it's the influence of movies like The Hunger Games and Brave, or maybe it's just that it's become much easier to find an indoor archery range near you.

To create our handy archery for beginners guide, we visited one such hot spot: Archery Bow Range Chicago. There, instructor Jonas Lumayag outline 5 essential things new archers need to know before they shoot an arrow for the first time.

Step 1: Follow the Rules

Archery Bow Range Chicago has only four rules:

  • Don't shoot yourself.
  • Don't shoot each other.
  • Don't dry shoot ("dry shooting," we learned, means releasing the line without an arrow in it).
  • Have fun.

Rules #1 and #2 should be a given: you never want to aim at anything other than the targets, which, for beginners, should be simple. At Archery Bow Range, they use the shorter of the two indoor ranges to get their control down before trying for distance.

Over in the advanced range, it's a different story. The targets are 20 yards away from the shooting line, and the archers seem to routinely hit bull's-eyes barely visible to the naked eye. When one of these pros misses with a wild shot, they pay for it with push ups or a tray of cookies for their peers. It's nice to know experts don't make every shot!

But what's with rule #3? Turns out releasing a bow line without an arrow in it can be very bad... for the bow. Bow strings, when pulled, hold a lot of tension, and without the arrow to absorb it, that tension gets redirected to the rest of the bow and can even cause it to shatter. Yikes!

Step 2: Find Your Dominant Eye

Surprise: your bow hand might not necessarily be the one you write with. When it comes to archery, it's much more important to identify which of your eyes is more dominant, and then shoot so that you dominant eye is closest to the arrow.

To help his students determine which of their eyes is more dominant, Jonas leads them through a simple test, which you can also replicate at home. Simply face any target—be it an exit sign or a donut nailed to your bedroom wall—and extend your hands away from your body, creating a small, triangular window with your thumbs touching and your index fingers overlapping. Then, pull your hands toward you without taking your eyes off the target. The dominant eye is whichever eye your hands land on.

Step 3: Archers, Take Your Position

A proper archery stance requires the feet to be shoulder-width apart. Left-eye dominant shooters stand with their right shoulders forward, while right-eye dominant shooters do the opposite.

Using the three middle fingers of their shooting hand, archers pull back the arrow until their hand rests against their cheek. It's normal to feel very tense the first few times, and Jonas likes to remind new archers to relax. "At first, it's just about getting used to holding the bow," he says.

Step 4: Ready, Aim, Fire

According to Jonas, there's a basic method for hitting the center of a target: all you have to do is look down the arrow shaft, aim at the center, and release the string. As you might imagine, it's harder than it sounds. Jonas said the best piece of advice he ever got was "Hey man, just shoot the middle and you'll be OK."

Step 5: Now Try to Actually Hit the Target

After a few misses, Jonas likes to help new archers tweak their technique. If they're getting stung by a string, he'll advise lifting the elbow a little to avoid getting hit. He also recommends that they aim low. "The arrow will fly higher than you think."

Small adjustments can make a big difference, but don't be discouraged if you're still not landing a bullseye. Jonas says it's not unusual for beginners to realize that archery lessons are much harder than they look. "You can see the attitude change from, 'We're just shooting and having fun!' to 'Awe, man, this is so hard!'"

Still, helping newcomers improve is one of Jonas's favorite parts of teaching archery for beginners. "That's what we're here for," he says. "We always want them to have a good experience with it because the positive experience will encourage people to take it further."

Maybe not as far as The Hunger Games, but close enough.