Archery Basics: Complete Beginner’s Guide

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An ultimate guide to the key basics of archery – the ‘need to know’ before you get started.

Are you looking to get ahead on the absolute basics of archery? Maybe before your first coaching session or trip to a local archery club? If so, then this is the guide you need.

If you’re looking to learn archery yourself; this is your first step. You’re now on your journey to becoming a real archer!

Archery is filled with a lot of technical language and it’s important to understand the basics before you begin. This could be how the equipment works, or what to expect from different archery games.

If you don’t pace yourself, trying to learn this hobby can become a little overwhelming. This guide (and this website overall) aims to un-pack the technical language and make archery accessible to you. Happy reading!

Table of Contents

What are the different types of archery?

So first things first, what are the different types of archery? You may think archery is just as simple as picking up a bow and shooting an arrow. However there are lots of different formats, games and shooting methods. Each have their own competitions and dedicated clubs. Here’s the basic types of archery you need to know.

Target Archery

The most recognisable archery game in the world is Target Archery. This is due to it being the official archery competition of the Olympic games and World Archery Championships. You would be stationary and shoot on an open field (indoors or outdoors) towards a round target face. Normally this target face would have a Bullseye (a traditional five colour circular shape). This is for the benefit of scoring.

Man shooting at bullseye target in target archery
Target archery will be the sport at most archery ranges in the UK

Each ring on the bullseye relates to a different score. You try to get the best score you can within a certain number of shots – just like darts! However, in archery you count upwards rather than backwards.

Typically, you have a certain set number of arrows to shoot at a set distance, on flat ground. Distances to the target will vary based on the competition but are always the same for each archer.

In Olympic archery, the target is set at 70 metres (230 feet) for men and 60 metres (197 feet) for women. The target must also be 1.22 metres (4 feet) in diameter. The centre of the target is known as the ‘gold’ or ’10 ring’.

If you are a beginner, this is the type of archery you should start with. It is the easiest to build the discipline of the sport and will be the most widely available to practice.

A photograph of an archery target being aimed at by a child holding a bow and arrow

Field Archery

Field archery differs from target archery in that the distances are often not set within the framework of the game. There may be multiple targets at play of varying distances. You might know the distance of some targets but others might be more of a guessing game! This type of game requires more skill. You have to make an instinctive assessment of how far you think you have to shoot.

Typically this game takes place on a large stretch of land. The targets will be marked along different points – similar to golf. There can be anywhere from 10 to 25 targets to shoot at. The ground the target is on may not always be flat. It might be hidden in woodland, down slopes, or on top of hills! The targets can also be anything from the typical bullseye target to makeshift 3d objects.

3D Archery

3D Archery - click to read

3D archery involves shooting at life-like, three-dimensional animal targets. These are placed at various distances and angles. This type of archery is designed to simulate real-world hunting conditions.

Targets are typically made from foam, however it can be any material capable of withstanding repeated arrow hits. The targets are usually placed in natural outdoor environments, such as forests or fields. You must navigate through the course and shoot at the targets from a variety of distances and angles. It’s typically used as practice to prepare for hunting season. It’s illegal to hunt in the UK, so this type of archery is more common elsewhere.

Traditional Archery

Traditional Archery - click to read

Traditional archery basically means any type of archery that focuses on using traditional bows, such as a longbow or ‘barebow’. These bows are often made from natural materials, such as wood. They won’t have the advanced gadgets that are found on modern compound bows. Therefore, this ‘primitive’ type of archery emphasizes simplicity, accuracy, and skill.

Modern Archery

Modern Archery - click to read

Like an opposite to traditional archery, modern archery focuses on bows that are more advanced, like compound bows. The bow materials will therefore be modern, like carbon. Plus there will be various tools used to improve accuracy, speed and distance.

Clout Archery

Clout Archery - click to read

This archery game involves shooting towards a flag (the ‘clout’) from certain set distances. Your ‘score’ is based on how close each arrow lands towards the flag. This is like the game ‘’Boules’! In a way, it is the same as target archery but with the ground being your target. This means you will have circular zones around the flag to indicate different scoring areas. However, this is typically done in large fields over far greater distances.

The distances will vary dependent on age, gender and skill. It can be anything up to 180 yards away!

Flight Archery

Flight Archery - click to read

A simplified version of field archery. You have a large area in front of you and the goal is simple. Woever shoots the furthest forward will win! You might use specialized bows and arrows designed for maximum speed and distance. And, you’ll often shoot from elevated platforms.

Archery Tag

Archery Tag - click to read

Archery tag is a type of game that combines elements of archery and dodgeball. You’ll use foam-tipped arrows to try to hit opponents, while also trying to avoid being hit! This game has become wildly popular across the US and UK. Many venues opened up in the UK after COVID. This could be seen as very similar to that game, or paintball! However it can often take place outdoors.

It’s a fast-paced and exciting version of archery as it’s often played in teams. It’s also a good activity for parties or events. Some archery tag games may have specific rules or objectives. This could be trying to eliminate all of the opposition players or capturing a flag or other object. Overall, you might not learn much about proper archery form doing this, but you will have a lot of fun!

Popinjay and Wand Archery

Popinjay and Wand Archery - click to read

Popinjay, also known as papingo, is a type of archery game that originated in medieval Europe. Archers would shoot arrows at a wooden bird or “popinjay” that was perched on a pole or tower. The aim of the game was to shoot the bird down -first archer to do so wins! Opinjay was a popular and prestigious sport in medieval Europe. It was often played by nobles and other wealthy individuals. Today, popinjay is still practiced as a historical reenactment of medieval archery.

Wand Archery is the same premise, but you shoot at a stick stuck in the ground, rather than a bird!

Ski and Horse Archery

Ski and Horse Archery - click to read

Getting into very obscure territory, Ski archery is quite literally the practice of combining cross-country skiing and archery. You will shoot at targets whilst on the slopes! Something definitely not to be tried unless you are a master of both disciplines.

Horse archery is like skiing archery – but on a horse!

What is Kyudo Archery?

Kyudo Archery - click to read

Kyudo is a Japanese martial art that involves the practice of archery. Kyudo is often translated as “the way of the bow,”.Iit is a traditional and highly respected art form in Japan. Archers from this discipline use a specialized bow known as a “yumi”. The bow is made from bamboo, wood, and other natural materials. They shoot arrows called “ya” that are made from bamboo and feathers.

Kyudo focuses on spiritual and mental discipline. Practitioners of the art often see it as a way of developing focus, concentration, and inner calm. Kyudo is a unique and ancient form of archery that is highly respected in Japan and around the world.

What are the basic types of bow in archery?

There are hundreds of different variations of bows you can own. However all bows will fall under a smaller set of categorisations that we’ve highlighted below.

Bow types listed in a tree diagram

You can see that within the traditional bow field, culture has a unique influence on the type of bow. As a beginner, you only need to be familiar with the Modern Recurve, Compound and Traditional Barebow.

Modern Recurve Bow

A basic recurve bow with annotations to the specific limbs

This is the best type of bow for beginners whilst also being the most widely used amongst olympians. The professional ‘target’ (similar to the Olympic) recurve bows will often have a variety of attachments and gadgets. These would help you have stability and accuracy in your shooting. However basic versions can also be bought which are simply made from wood and have little to no attachments.

A recurve bow, as the name implies, is any bow with a shape that ‘curves’ inwards at the centre and outwards at the tip. They are very easy to find in the UK and easy to use by all body types and ages. Recurve bows are often less expensive than compound bows. They’re also easier to maintain over time as they have less technical parts to put together.

They need less tuning, and most models can be assembled without difficulty.

‘Target’ or ‘Olympic’ recurve bows are often long and have metallic frames. Whereas basic recurve bows are made of wood and are shorter.

Compound bow

Compound bow with annotations on different limbs

Compound bows have a variety of modern attachments built-in to the bow. Developed in 1966, these have been used from around the 1970’s as hunting bows. This is because they allow for greater accuracy when shooting moving targets. The bow uses a levering system of rotating discs that hold the string. This allows the weight of the bow to be relieved at maximum draw. This is quite literal – you will feel the pressure of the bow string get locked in place as you pull. You’ll find them often made from artificial materials, which means they’re less affected by the elements. However with the advantages of such a high-tech system comes a far more difficult learning curve for these bows.

They’re also more difficult to assemble and tune. This means you may need to do a bit of extra reading and information before you can use one. Either through online guides like this one, or potentially from a coach or archery shop directly.

However, if you can learn to use them properly, they will often excel with greater accuracy and speed at short-to-mid distances.

Traditional Barebow

A freeze frame of the moment a woman releases an arrow with a traditional bow

Barebow as a term applies to any bow that is minimalist in form and style. You can even get ‘recurve’ shaped barebows, though in the UK the term is more commonly associated with the English Longbow. It really is as basic as just the stick of wood and the string! Which is both the most challenging and rewarding type of bow to use. These can also be made at home and therefore defined as a ‘self-bow’.

You aim the arrow using your hand as there is normally no rest or knock and no sights. Barebows can be any size, however Longbow and Asian variants often have huge lengths. The English Longbow can be 72 inches which is considerably taller than a recurve or compound bow. They will therefore shoot much further distances than modern bows, due to their increased size and weight.

Barebows of any kind should only be made of wood and therefore shot with wooden arrows.

Basic archery bow measurements you need to understand: draw length, draw weight & size

So now you know the basic archery bow types. Next, before you purchase or even start using a bow, you need to know about draw length and weight. These are the measurements that make sure the bow is the appropriate size for you. If the bow is not the right size for your frame, you won’t be able to shoot efficiently.

This is important. You must shoot a bow with the correct draw weight and draw length. Or you will continually have issues with your shot sequence.

What is draw length in archery?

The draw length of a bow refers to the distance between the grip and the bowstring when at full extension. Your personal draw length is the maximum distance that you could pull back on a bowstring. This means your draw length is determined by how long your arms are.

You must use a bow that has the same draw length as your personal draw length.

If you get a bow that has a draw length shorter or longer than your own, your form will suffer. This is because your arms will be either too cramped or too overstretched when trying to reach ‘full draw’. You need to reach your full draw each time you shoot, for maximum consistency.

How to measure your draw length and your bow’s

One of the easiest ways to work out your personal draw length is to measure your personal wingspan. The image below shows the pose you must pull.

  • Stand straight with your arms in line, fully stretched out sideways, and palms open
  • Measure the distance from the tip of one middle finger to the other, in inches
  • Divide this number by 2.5
  • That number is your draw length in inches (rounded up).
A crude drawing of a human standing with arms outstretched to represent wingspan measurement

You can also get this measurement done in an archery store, where they will use a professional tool. This is normally just a bow with measurements attached, to help make the same assessment.

If being at an archery store or measuring yourself isn’t possible, there is another handy trick which often works. Take your height in inches and divide by 2.5!

For example, if you’re 5 ft 9, that’s 69 inches. 69 / 2.5 = 27.6 inches. That means you’d be comfortable and shoot best with a draw length of 28 inches (always round up).

Now, if you already have a bow but don’t know its draw length – fear not!

As mentioned, just measure the distance between the arrow nock on your bow string when pulled back to maximum capacity and the throat of the bow’s grip. You then have to add 4.5 cm or 1.75 inches to get the accurate draw length of the bow.

Perform this action, the full draw, and get a friend or family member to measure that distance for you. If there’s a huge disparity between your personal draw length and the bow’s… you might want to consider shopping!

How to buy a bow with the right draw length?

Once you know your personal draw length, it’s time to work out how to get a bow that matches it. Typically, when you purchase a bow, the bow’s draw length will be listed in the ‘details’ or ‘description’ of the product. It will typically have an inches sign: , next to it. 28” is the standard draw length. However, it’s important not to get this confused with ‘bow size’, which is completely different.

Whilst draw length ‘is the horizontal stretch of the bow – bow ‘size’ is more about the vertical length. Ultimately it is draw length that also determines bow size/ vertical length. The bigger the draw length, the taller/longer the bow.

Archery draw weight

Draw weight is a measurement of how heavy a bow feels when the bowstring is fully extended. It’s another figure you will see in a bow’s product description.

It is closely correlated to draw length, however it is also impacted by the build of the bow (thickness and weight of material). The higher the draw weight of the bow, the more difficult it will be to hold the ‘full draw’ in place. Likewise, bows with a lower draw weight will be easier to pull and hold the bow string.

Bows with a high draw weight will generally shoot further, faster and allow you more stability in windy conditions. In this sense it is often the goal of the archer to work their way towards increasing the draw weight of their bow. However, you’ll struggle as a beginner if you start with a bow weight that is too high for you.

You’ll also struggle if you are a large adult and have a bow that weighs too little. It might be super easy to pull, but you will be limiting yourself on how far you can draw the string. For some archers who prefer shooting over short distances however, this may not be an issue.

A man stands in a field with a large longbow, with text emphasising it is a high draw weight bow.

How to find out the draw weight of a bow

To find the measurement of a bow’s draw weight, you can simply attach a scale to the bowstring at maximum extension. This could just be a luggage scale. The measurement given would be the maximum draw weight. There are simpler tools you can find on amazon which can also measure draw weight effectively.

Note: for compound bows, the measurement of draw weight would take place just before maximum extension. That’s because compound bows are engineered to ‘release’ the weight of the bowstring when you’re at full draw. So you will need to measure the weight of the string before this ‘let off’ takes place.

Recurve and traditional bows have a set draw weight. However, more advanced recurve bows allow you to replace parts of the bow frame/riser with heavier options. This allows you to adjust your bow to a heavier draw weight as you get stronger. Compound bows on the other hand will always have an adjustable draw weight by loosening or tightening the bolts that hold the limbs in place.

How to find out the draw weight of a bow you want to buy

When at the point of purchase for a new bow, you will often see draw weight represented in pounds. This is shown by the ‘#’ or ‘lb’ symbols in the product description.

A screengrab of an amazon store selling a recurve bow with the draw weight information highlighted
This example has multiple lbs listed because of the different weight of the attachable and detachable limbs you can purchase with the bow. The minimum configuration is 25lbs draw weight.

However this is typically not the actual maximum draw weight of the bow, but the maximum draw weight in relation to a person that has a 28” draw length.

The 28″ draw length is a standardized unit as it is the average draw length amongst archers. If your personal draw length is lower or higher than 28″, than the advertised draw weight of a bow won’t be accurate for you. You’ll need to do more research to work out what the actual maximum draw weight of that bow will be.

How to calculate a bow’s actual draw weight

There’s much debate online around the best calculation for a bow’s accurate draw weight. The truth is there is no calculation that will give you the EXACT number. This is because the specific design will vary greatly between every bow. It is always best to just directly reach out to the manufacturer of the bow to ask for a specific draw length weight.

However, there are calculated estimations you can do which will get you close enough.

To find a recurve bow draw weight:

  • Add an extra 2.5 lbs (1.13kg) for every full inch under or over the 28” standard draw length that you are.

For example, say your draw length is 30”. You see a bow which is 30# at 28”. This means the actual draw weight for you will feel closer to 35# than 30#. That’s because you’re 2 inches above the 28″ draw length, so the draw weight is 2 x 2.5lbs above 30#.

That’s why it’s best to focus first on getting a bow at the right draw length with the lowest weight possible. Then you can slowly work your way up to higher draw weights.

To find a compound bow draw weight:

  • For every full inch under or over the 28” standard you are, add or take away #5 (2.2kg) instead of 2.5 (1.1kg).

This is because what you are capable of holding at full draw will be more forgiving with a compound bow.

An example of an old man shooting barebow with his best anchor point

Deciding which draw weight is best for you

So now you know how to work out your bow’s draw weight. But how do you work out what’s the appropriate draw weight for you? Once again, this is primarily down to preference and ability.

You often want to start out having as low a draw weight as possible and work your way up to heavier bows. You need to ensure you can reach ‘full extension’ without much difficulty holding on to the bow. However the below guide gives a rough estimation of the bow weight you should experiment with in relative to your own weight and size.

There are many charts online that suggest draw weight should be based on age. This is false: what matters is your height, size and experience.

For Recurve Bows:

  • Those who are under 5 ft 7 and/or less than 140lbs/ 60kg in weight, should pick a beginner bow between #10-20
  • #15-25 is a good range for all beginners, in particular those between 60-70kg in weight
  • If you are over 5 ft 8 and 70kg, you can start with a 25-30 pound bow, but you would need to increase your strength quickly to shoot accurately
  • No more than 35 # (15 kg) as a beginner, even if you are very large. You can always increase your bow weight later once you are comfortable with your archery form.
  • If you are over 6 ft, 80+kg and experienced with shooting accurately, you could handle a 35-45 pound bow, and eventually work you way up to a 45-60 pound bow. 

For Compound Bows:

  • You can add around #5-10 in weight to the above measurements, considering compound bows can also have their weight adjusted when you like!

It’s more important to make sure your bow is not too heavy as opposed to too light. So always start with the smaller measurement of bow draw weight as your guide as a beginner. The worst thing you can do as a beginner is have a bow that has too high a draw weight, as this will severely impact your form in the shot sequence. You’ll know the draw weight is too high if you cannot pull the bow back to full draw without having to aim the bow upwards as you pull! Or if you start shaking and are unable to hold the full draw for 30 seconds. Remember – it’s not about being able to pull it back once without difficulty, but multiple times in a row.

Remember there’s no egos in archery: having a higher drawer weight doesn’t make you cool!

What size bow should you get?

Bow size is the vertical length of the bow. It is often correlated depending on draw length. However we believe this is an inaccurate way to consider bow size, because all bow types are slightly different.

For example, consider a recurve bow with a 28” draw length. This bow could be a traditional recurve bow, a modern basic recurve bow or an Olympic target recurve bow. Each one of those bow types would be a different size, but all would be useable by anyone with a 28” draw length.

As long as you know your draw length and make sure you use a bow that matches it, you don’t really need to worry about bow size as a beginner.

The only thing you need to consider in regard to bow size is; it should be at least double your draw length. This is only necessary to consider with customisable bows, where the vertical length of the bow is determined by which risers/frames you choose to attach to it. Make sure you do not sell yourself short!

 Common myth! Some sources suggest that the size of the bow you start out with should correlate with your age, height or skill. No, only your draw length is relevant! 

Why should bow size matter then? It depends on your preferences.

Longer bows are more stable, more forgiving and can sometimes shoot further. They can however be more difficult to hold at full draw. Shorter bows on the other hand are more likely to shoot faster. This is especially true at short distances due to the tighter nature of the string on the limbs. They’re also more compact for manoeuvrability (shooting while moving).

A general guideline of appropriate bow size for competitive archery

Professional archers and some coaches will be stricter about bow sizes. They’ll suggest you get a specific size depending on your draw length and your general body type. This only really applies when you are entering a very competitive phase of your archery learning. For example, advanced target and Olympic recurve bows will typically have the following correlation with bow size to draw length:

  • 14″ to 16″ draw length = 48″ Bow
  • 17″ to 20″ draw length = 54″ Bow
  • 20″ to 22″ draw length = 58″ Bow
  • 22″ to 24″ draw length = 62″ bow
  • 24″ to 26″ draw length = 64″ to 66″ bow
  •   26″ to 28″ draw length = 66″ to 68″ bow
  • 28″ to 30″ draw length = 68″ to 70″ bow  
  • 31″ and longer draw length = 70″ to 72″ bow

However if you are struggling to find a bow of the appropriate size online, or want to get a more basic bow to start with – don’t worry. It’s fine as long as the size is at least double the draw length.

What is stacking?

The only risk with picking bow sizes is if you’re above average height and use a small sized bow. You can break a small bow if you try to push it beyond its maximum draw length. ‘Stacking’ occurs when you use a bow with a much smaller draw length than your own personal draw length. So general rule of thumb – the taller you are, the longer a bow you should get (as this will correlate with the bow’s draw length).

Find out your dominant eye to determine what handed-bow to get in archery

So now you know what weight and length of bow will work best for you.

Next, you need to know what ‘hand bow’ to get – i.e. a right-handed bow or a left-handed bow. Because it’s not necessarily as straightforward as just knowing what your dominant hand is.

When shooting, you will typically pull the string of the bow with your dominant hand and hold the bow with your non-dominant hand. However, this is a simplification, and you shouldn’t pick your bow just on this alone.

Choosing the type of bow handed-ness is not about how you hold it. It’s about which side of the bow the arrow will rest. To shoot accurately, you want the arrow to be closest to / resting underneath your ‘dominant eye’. First work out your dominant eye, and then you can determine whether to get a left-handed or right-handed bow.

How to work out your dominant eye

There’s plenty of simple tricks you can do to work out which is your ‘dominant eye’.

  • Face towards any object or target in the distance
  • Extend both your arms and hands forward towards it
  • Create a triangular window in-between your two hands by touching together your thumbs and index fingers
  • Get your target in the centre of this window between your fingers and thumbs
  • Then close one of your eyes whilst keeping the other eye open
  • Try this with both eyes – on what eye is the target still in the centre of the window?

Whichever eye it is, is your dominant eye!

An example of the dominant eye test is to create a triangle with your index fingers and thumb and focus on an object in the distance. Close one eye after the other and whichever eye has the object still in the middle of the triangle is the dominant eye.
Image of the above test to work out your dominant eye

If it’s in more or less the same position in both eyes, and you’ve tried this multiple times – you may be ‘ambi-ocolur’ (no dominant eye). This makes picking a bow much easier (just pick whatever hand-dominance you have).

If you want to try more tests to decide for certain which is your dominant eye, there’s lots on this article here.

How to work out which handed-bow you should get

A right-handed bow (i.e. where you would pull the string with the right hand, and hold with the left) will have the arrow resting on the left-side, and a left-handed bow (pulling the string with the left hand, held with the right) will have the arrow resting on the right-side.

Two archers holding bows, one left-handed bow and one right-handed bow, showcasing that the arrow rests on the left-side of a right-handed bow underneath the archers right eye, and vice versa for left-handed.

As the visual shows, the arrow is underneath your left eye when the string is pulled by the left hand, and the arrow is underneath your right eye when the string is pulled by the right hand.

So it’s straightforward that if both your hand-dominance and eye-dominance are the same, you will get that hand-ness of bow. I.e. if your left-eye dominant and left-handed, get a left-handed bow. If you’re right-handed and have a right-dominant eye, get a right-handed bow. However many people will be cross-dominant.


Cross-dominance means that even though you are left-handed, your right-eye is more dominant. Or if you are right handed, but your left-eye is more dominant.

In these circumstances we believe it is always better to pick a handed-ness of a bow that matches your eye dominance rather than your hand-dominance.

It is more difficult to aim with the wrong eye-dominance than it is to hold a bow with the wrong hand dominance when you are starting out as a beginner.

However, this will also be relative to your personal preferences and your age. If you cannot use your non-dominant hand to pull back on the string at all, or it is not comfortable, than you can sacrifice your aim in order to be able to shoot correctly. You can always get a peep sight to help your aim adjust in the future!

So to clarify:

  • If you are left-eye dominant, we recommend getting a left-handed bow that will have the arrow rest on the right side of the bow. You’ll hold it with your right hand and pull back the string with the left hand.
  • If you are right-eye dominant, we recommend getting a right-handed bow that will have the arrow rest on the left side of the bow. You’ll hold it with your left hand and pull back the string with the right hand.
  • Are you ambi-ocolur? (meaning both eyes are the same dominance). Then pick whichever bow-handedness corresponds to your dominant hand. You’ll hold the bow with your non-dominant hand and pull the string with your dominant hand.

The basics of arrows in archery

Arrows can come in a variety of different sizes and materials – and you cannot just mix and match all types with any bow. You must understand which arrows can work alongside the bow you are shooting with.

Arrows can have unique:

  • Spines
  • Weights
  • Lengths
  • Fletching
  • Arrowheads
  • and materials.
The parts of an arrow indicated with annotations: Nock, Fletching, Spine, Shaft, Head

Each one will impact how the arrow works and what type of bow it works with. We will go into each in detail in the drop-downs below.

What arrow materials should you get as a beginner?

What arrow materials should you get - click to read

There are four main materials that arrows are made from: Wood, Carbon, Fibreglass and Aluminium.

Some arrows can also be a composition of two or more materials. Typically, wooden arrows are used with traditional bows whereas carbon arrows are for more modernised bows. Most arrows you can get in the UK will be made of aluminium, and they are best for beginners and work well with recurve bows.

What arrowhead should you get as a beginner?

What arrowhead should you get as a beginner? - click to read

The arrowhead type is an important element of the arrow to understand. These come in different weights, shapes and levels of sharpness.

The most common arrowheads are bullet points, field points, blunt points, judo points and broadheads. Typically, all arrowheads except field points and blunt points are used for hunting: something that is illegal in the UK.

If you are just getting arrows for target archery, stick to field and blunt points. It’s also dangerous having sharp arrowheads as a beginner, when arrows can go astray. Many archery clubs or ranges may not let you use them on the premises.

What is the length of an arrow for a beginner?

What is the length of an arrow for a beginner? - click to read

Arrow length is directly related to draw length. When the bowstring is fully extended, you have to be certain that the tip of the arrow rests on the knock. Plus the arrowhead has to be the furthest forward piece of equipment.

As a rule of thumb therefore, you want to pick an arrow length that is around 2 inches (5 centimetres) longer than your draw length.

What is the weight of an arrow for a beginner?

What is the weight of an arrow for a beginner? - click to read

Arrow weight has a relationship with your draw weight. It’s often measured by an indicator known as ‘Grains Per Inch (GPI)’. An arrow’s GPI is what determines the weight of the shaft.

You’ll need to use an arrow chart (see example futher down) to make sure the weight of the arrow matches your draw weight. Arrow weight is determined by a variety of factors, but mainly the material and thickness. The width or diameter of the arrow is also important for this. It also depends on the type of archery you’re doing.

For target archery, you want to get a thicker arrow that is more likely to embed itself into the target you’re hitting. For shooting objects outdoors or in field archery, you may want a thinner arrow. That’s because thin arrows are less likely to face wind resistance when shot.

Arrows also have rating for how ‘straight’ they are, however this is a very technical measurement. You don’t really need to worry about this as a beginner.  

What does fletching mean?

What does fletching mean? - click to read

The vanes on the arrow are also a significantly customisable element, just like the material and length. These can be made of feathers or plastic and have a variety of colours.

Fletchings provide stability in flight, and different styles can therefore affect the flight of the arrow.

What is an arrow spine?

What is an arrow spine? - click to read

The spine of an arrow is an internal element that determines how much the arrow bends. Which is not to be confused with the shaft (length of the arrow). This affects how your arrow will be allowed to move in the air.

When arrows are shot, if you were to look in slow motion, you’d see they actually wiggle in the air. This is normal and part of what allows arrows to reach their target. If your arrow spine is too stiff or too weak, it can impact your shot. It has to correlate with how powerful your bow is. The spine of your arrow therefore must be relative to your bow’s draw weight and draw length. Once again, the arrow charts when you purchase an arrow should walk you through this.

The length of your arrow also determines how strong your spine is. The longer it is, the more it is likely to bend, unless the spine is made firmer.

How to pick an arrow as a beginner in archery

So how can you work out which arrows will work best with your bow? Now, when you’re an expert, this is a very technical question. There’s so much variation in arrow type, and each small alteration can impact the flight of your arrow. However, for a beginner, it doesn’t need to be as complicated as that.

If everything below proves too difficult to understand, remember you can often just do a quick google search! Include in the search the bow you’re getting, and ask to see which arrows will be compatible with it. Google normally has the answer to everything.

The key thing is that, if you have a high draw weight, you need an arrow that matches that weight. If not, you will shoot inefficiently. Across the internet, you will find ‘arrow charts’ like this one from Quicks Archery (click here). Or like the example below. Each one is relevant to a particular manufacturer. They will allow you to work out which arrows from the relevant supplier will match your bow.

An arrow chart
An example arrow chart for ‘Black Eagle Arrows’

How to use an arrow chart

To use the above arrow chart, or any arrow chart, you simply combine:

  • Your draw length, plus an additional 1-2” (to get your minimum arrow length)
  • The maximum draw weight of your bow (and that weight you are shooting at)

Follow these two columns on the chart, and you’ll get the GPI number that correlates. This is the arrow type you should get for your bow type.

In the Quicks Archery link above, you can see that the corresponding box is instead a reference code. This represents a ‘group’ of arrow types that are compatible with your bow. You can see them labelled in more tables lower down the page. The arrow names will sometimes be numbers or brands – but either one can be used to identify the right arrow at the buying stage.

There are always two tables to account for having either a recurve or compound bow. If you’re using a compound bow, you might also need to know your bows FPS. This will come as part of the bows specification at the buying stage.

What are the other basic equipment in Archery to know as a beginner?

Many websites will try to upsell a variety of archery equipment to beginners. Things like peep sights, stabilisers, etc. But there’s really only a few basic bits of additional equipment that are worthwhile when starting out.

  • A bow stringer
  • An arm guard
  • And a release aid
  • A bowsling
  • Bowsight

We’ll give a brief rundown on all of them below.

A compound bow and arrow being aimed at a target with a special scope that uses pins and a level

What is an arm guard in archery?

What is an arm guard in archery? - click to read

An arm guard is a piece of equipment, typically leather, wood or plastic, which protects your inner arm from being hit by the bowstring when the arrow releases. With proper archery form, you will always have a risk of getting the dreaded ‘bowstring slap’.

Your shot sequence might suffer inaccuracies if you are subconsciously trying to get your inner arm out of the way of the bowstring because you’re fearful of the pain. So getting an arm guard is normally a key first piece of equipment for a new archer.

An image of an archer just as he releases an arrow, showcasing the positioning of his draw arm and hand parallel to the bow
This archer is wearing an old school arm guard!

What is a release aid in archery?

What is a release aid in archery? - click to read

Release aids are mechanisms that make the release of the bowstring easier and more in-time. They can range from gloves or finger tabs that make holding the string easier, to actual devices that hold the string for you, instead of your fingers.

A dual image of an archer about to release an arrow with a red circle highlighting the release aid on his draw hand, and a close up of the release aid

Some release aids that hold the string can then be released on a button click or automatically by reaching a certain point of tension.

What is a bow sight in archery?

What is a bow sight in archery? - click to read

Bow sights come in all shapes and sizes but the function is the same: they help you aim! Traditional bows will come without these, whereas more advanced compound bows will normally always have a sight affixed to the frame at the point you first purchase it.

An example of POV from aiming down a scope where the target is in focus but the pin of the scope is not. This is passive aiming.

What is a quiver in archery?

What is a quiver in archery? - click to read

Quivers are satchels or bags that hold your arrows in-between your shots. They have been argued to be a very modern invention, with many traditional archers choosing to hold all of their arrows in their off-hand!

Seeing as that is a very advanced technique, most archers aim to have a quiver when they start shooting more regularly at a shooting range. If you aim to shoot 30 arrows in a session, it’s quite annoying to keep picking them up off the floor or a nearby table if you can do it all from a point on your body!

What is a bowsling in archery?

What is a bowsling in archery? - click to read

Bowslings are pieces of material which help ‘catch’ the bowhe . The reason for this will become clear as you get used to shooting with proper archery form. You are not meant to hold a bow with a tight grip. However having too loose a grip can mean that the force of the arrow makes the whole bow tilt forward after the shot. The best archery form allows this to happen, but that can make catching the bow before it hits the ground another element to think about. That’s why archers use bowslings as a type of ‘safety net’ to make sure the bow doesn’t hit the ground and get damaged.

What is a bow stringer?

What is a bow stringer? - click to read

In most cases when you purchase a bow online or in a shop, it will come de-assembled (in parts) that you need to put together. Now, there will often be plenty of instructions within the kit on how to do this. However the attachment of the string to the bow will be the most difficult part of the assembly, unless you have a specially designed tool to help you do it.

This tool is called a ‘bow stringer’ and often won’t actually come with the bow kit, which is an annoying practice. If possible, get a beginner bow kit that does include one, or just use one at your local archery store for free.

Better than explaining in words, see this video on how to use the bow stringer once you have it.

Note – this only really applies to recurve and traditional bows, as compound bows have the strings attached in a more mechanical fashion with the pulley system.

Archery – how far is the target?

In archery, the distance from the shooting line to the target varies depending on the specific competition or event. In outdoor target archery, the distance is typically 70 metres for men and 60 metres for women. However it can be shorter or longer depending on the specific venue and the age and ability level of the archers. For indoor archery, the distance is typically 18 metres.

In field archery, the distance can vary widely depending on the terrain, with targets placed at various distances from the shooting line. In general, the distance to the target is measured in meters, although in some cases it may be measured in yards.

When you’re first learning how to shoot, it’s generally recommended to start at a shorter distance from the target. This will help you develop good technique and build confidence in your ability to hit the target. For indoor target archery, try shooting at a target that is 8-10 metres away, and 20-30 metres away if outdoors.

This is just a guideline of course, as the appropriate distance for you as a beginner will depend on your individual skill level and the type of bow you are using. However it’s always a good idea to start at a shorter distance and gradually increase the distance as you become more comfortable and confident in your shooting.

What is a basic archery target I can make at home?

If you have a big enough indoor area at home, or safe outdoor area (with no attached neighbours or public property within 100 meters), then you might want to practice at home with a makeshift or homemade target. See our full guide here on how to practice archery at home safely.

Here are a few quick ideas though for homemade targets that you can use for practicing archery in your garden:

  • Hay bale target: Stack a few hay bales in a pyramid shape and use them as a target. You can shoot at the bales from different distances to vary the difficulty
  • Cardboard box target: Cut a large cardboard box into a circular shape and fill it with crumpled newspaper or other materials to create a soft, easy-to-hit target. You can also use smaller boxes and stack them to create multiple targets
  • Inflatable pool toy target: Use a large inflatable pool toy such as a beach ball or a pool noodle as a target. This can be a fun and inexpensive option, especially if you’re practicing with foam or suction cup arrows
  • Bucket target: Fill a large bucket with sand or other materials to create a stable and easy-to-hit target. You can also use multiple buckets of different sizes to create different targets at different distances
  • Paper plate target: Use a pack of paper plates and a permanent marker to create a series of targets. Simply draw a bullseye on each plate and hang them from a tree or other structure using string or twine. This can be a quick and easy way to create a set of targets for practicing your aim

Happy shooting!