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Archery is an increasingly popular family sport, not least because it is one of the very few where both children and parents can take an equal part, and the physically disadvantaged can compete on the same terms as the able bodied.

The following is a very basic guide for absolute beginners wishing to take up the sport. For more detailed information and technical advice, please email your enquiry to info@targetcraft.com or telephone 01536 726677, and we will be pleased to help you.


The two main types of archery practised in the UK are Target and Field. Target archery is shot on level ground at measured distances, which are taken to form a competitive round for recognised competitions. There are two styles of field archery. The National Field Archery Association promotes a form of simulated hunting where archers follow a course set in fields or woodland, and the targets are laid out to take advantage of terrain to give a diverse range of shots at mainly unmarked distances. Recognised competitions are held. The English Field Archery Association supports a style based on the ancient custom of roving, in which a company of archers 'roved' fields and woodlands, choosing their mark (target) as they went. The archer whose arrow was closest to the mark chose the next target. This has evolved into rounds shot using standard target faces at marked and unmarked distances. Again, courses are set out to take advantage of the terrain to make competitions interesting and challenging. 

We should make it clear that hunting game with bows is illegal in the UK.

Getting Started

Our best advice is to join a beginners course at a local club. (See our links page for links to national organisations to contact clubs in your area). Most clubs run beginners courses at various times through the year, and you will be welcomed with open arms by enthusiasts who will be delighted to share their (often considerable) knowledge and experience with you. Courses normally include several hours of lessons for a very reasonable charge, with all equipment being provided by the club.

For those who cannot conveniently join a club, we recommend 'Archery - Steps to Success', a clear, well illustrated book by Haywood & Lewis. (Current price: 12.95)

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Equipment Basics

When you make the decision to buy your own equipment, you should decide your purpose, as well as the style of archery that appeals to you. If you prefer not to join a club and are fortunate enough to have a sufficiently large, safe space in which to shoot, then an inexpensive fibreglass bow and wooden or fibreglass arrows may be perfectly adequate for your needs. However, if you wish to shoot at club or competition level, you will need better equipment, and should consider whether you wish to shoot longbow, Olympic or compound style bows.

An essential point of which you should be aware is that a bow should never be 'dry-fired', i.e. the bow string drawn and released without an arrow. All that stored energy has to go somewhere! and if not used to push an arrow to the target, could cause serious - and expensive - damage to the bow, and quite possibly injury to yourself or anyone else near by.

Olympic Bows

Usually referred to as take-downs (simply because the limb sections can be unscrewed from the main body, for convenience of transportation), or recurve bows. When buying an Olympic style bow, you should ensure it is the correct length and weight for you. The bow length is determined by your height and reach. The 'weight' refers to the effort required to draw the arrow to a specific distance, and is usually referred to as 'poundage', i.e. a description of a bow as being 26# @ 28" means it requires 26lbs of 'pull' to draw the arrow to 28" (from the string to a measured point on the bow). An estimate of your draw length can be obtained by measuring from breast-bone to fingertips with your arms held out straight in front of you with fingertips touching. This is only an approximate measurement, but should at least ensure the arrow is not too short, which can risk injury.

It is important to get the correct length bow: too long a bow for your draw length will find you struggling to get the full potential from the bow. Too short, and again, you will not get the best performance from the bow and could over-draw, which can damage the bow. You should choose a bow weight that you can draw without discomfort. However, you will probably find this is a matter of trial and compromise. The bow will feel very different to the lightweight bows usually used for beginners classes, but a higher poundage than you will be used to is needed to reach the target distances used in competition.

bow length guide (approx):

draw length less than 24":

60-64" bow

draw length 24-26":

64-66" bow

draw length 26-28":

66-68" bow

draw length over 28":

68-70" bow

Compound Bows

These bows are kept fully assembled, and use a series of cables and pulleys or cams, instead of a single string. These systems are designed so that the effort required to draw the bow is greatest at mid-draw, and least when held at full draw. However, you should remember that though the bow may have a reduced holding weight, you still have to be able to draw it through its peak weight! A compound bow should be chosen with a range including your draw length and draw weight. Most bows are adjustable, to ensure an exact match to your needs.


Recent years have seen an increase in the popularity of traditional styles of archery. An 'off-the-shelf' longbow is generally around 72" tall, with horn nocks (though they can be custom made). They are available in a range of draw weights and are used without sights, or any other aids, apart from finger and arm protection. Modern longbows bond together different types of wood to take advantage of each woods' own qualities and produce a more stable, smooth and reliable bow than those of old. Wood arrows with feather fletchings are used with longbows. The use of aluminium, aluminium/carbon, and carbon arrows is not recommended. Their use will most likely result in the longbow breaking.


Arrow shafts are made in several different materials, (fibreglass, wood, aluminium, aluminium/carbon, and carbon) and a variety of sizes. The type required varies for different types of bow, and the size (or spine) required is calculated from your draw length and bow draw weight.

Fibreglass arrows are robust, low cost arrows suitable for fibreglass bows, and club use.

Cedar, pine, and Douglas fir arrows are mainly used for longbows and American flat bows.

High tensile aluminium tube is used to produce a reasonably priced, lightweight straight arrow suitable for Olympic and compound bows both for indoor and outdoor use.

A very thin aluminium tube covered in carbon layers has produced a lighter and more durable arrow (ACC, ACE, X10). These are expensive, and best used outdoors. All carbon arrows are another choice for the modern archer.

For in depth information on shooting technique and equipment, we recommend a visit to 'Tenzone' - a site full of sound advice, run by GNAS Senior Coach Steve Ellison. (See 'Other sites of interest' on our links page).

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