The Beginners Guide To Competitive Archery Bows

The Beginners Guide To Competitive Archery Bows

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The purpose of this guide is to give new shooters an idea of how things work in the world of compound archery tournaments. This isn’t a guide for pro-shooters or Olympic athletes; it’s aimed towards people who are interested in competing but don’t know where to start.


I’ve seen far too many people at local shoots who have either never shot in competition before, or only compete recreationally without knowing much about scoring, rules, etc.


Hopefully, with broader knowledge, more shooters can enjoy the sport as well as make it easier for them by avoiding common mistakes like leaving early or not taking proper equipment (these two alone will severely limit your scores, which will make you not want to compete anymore).

The Basics

The object of the game is simple: Hit more stuff than the other guy. For the typical compound archer, this usually means shooting more X’s/10s than the other guy.-X’s are for hitting the target. –10’s are for hitting something you’re not supposed to, which includes touching the target itself or any part of the scoring apparatus. These are called “outside ends.” If an arrow hits outside an end it is scored with a 10, no matter where on the arrow that hit occurred.

Hitting an X will earn you points according to where on its circumference it was located when it stuck in the target. The inner 10 ring scores 9 points, the next ring out scores 8 points, etc., all the way out to 11 and 12 rings scoring 1 point each. Hitting one of these outer rings earns an extra tenth, so an X on the 10 rings becomes a 9.9, etc., all the way to 11 rings becoming 10.1’s and 12 rings scoring single “tenths.”


Scoring for barebow is different than compound archery. If you want to shoot barebow it’s best to ask someone knowledgeable about it because of how complicated it can be compared to compound shooting (not everyone shoots barebow). If you’re not sure whether or not you should try out barebow, check out this article, where I attempt to answer that question for you!


There are also FITA rounds, which are used in Olympic Recurve tournaments (non-Olympic recurves like Samick Polaris aren’t allowed) and involve shooting at a 46cm five-zone face. Scoring is the same as a compound but scoring zones are smaller and distances longer, making it more challenging – if you want to try FITA there’s another article for you!


In any case, after each round one of the three judges will draw a line from each X on the target and read out loud how many points that end is worth (e.g. “that was an eight”) and write down their score in a little notebook passed around to them by someone else (the scorer). Then they repeat this process for all outside 10s.


At the end of each end, they total up everyone’s scores and announce the winner as well as anyone who got a perfect (300) end. Then they clear the target and everyone moves on to the next end. Most shoots have a set number of ends for around depending on how many squads there are going that day, which can be anywhere from 5 to 25 or more (“round-robin” shoots typically have fewer shooters per squad and shoot for fewer ends than “scatter” or “DE” (direct elimination) tournaments with more squads shooting at once).


Most rounds go as such:  5 ends of 2 minutes + 1-minute transition between them, plus 30 seconds before your start time so put your arrows in the target! If you’re shooting barebow just remember that you don’t need to cycle through your sight as compound shooters do. As long as you’re shooting with your string resting directly on the arrow you’re good.

Scoring and Rules

Competition scoring is pretty straightforward. You just need to know a few rules that will keep you safe and help avoid penalty points (two of which are very important that I’ll mention later). All shooters can be subject to penalty points for breaking these rules, but they typically only affect barebow archers because there’s no way to punish compound shooters for their mistakes.


First off, if an arrow does not stick into the target it gets scored as a miss. If there’s any doubt whether or not an arrow hit then assume it didn’t and score it as a miss – unless it went into the backstop material behind the target (called the “hog panel”) in which case it doesn’t count as a hit.


In extreme cases (e.g. directly into a metal bar of the target stand) the referee may be able to see from their vantage point that an arrow didn’t stick and award it as a miss without examining where it went, but if they’re not sure they’ll typically err on the side of caution and score your shot as a miss rather than make a bad call – you can always ask them for this ruling if you want to be 100% certain!


Lastly, there’s one archer per squad shooting at once, so please don’t ask to shoot with someone else – just sign up next time or let your coach know that you squatted wrong and they’ll take care of it. The only time people can share bows and arrows is during sight-in (or “nock” as the bow arm is called) and that’s because you need to make sure your arrow will group with another shooter’s arrows, not because anyone sees any advantage in shooting together.


That brings me to the next topic: sharing equipment! While most clubs or tournaments will be happy to let you shoot their equipment for free, this article won’t go into detail about how exactly to do that – there are too many variables by the club and geographic location for me to cover them all here. Suffice it to say just talk with someone at your club and they’ll help you figure out what works best both for you and for them.


When it comes to sharing bows, there are a couple of things you need to know if the other person is going to shoot your bow:


First off, please don’t shoot their arrows unless they give you express permission.


Second, find out if their bow has an arrow rest – if it doesn’t have room for one then ask them not to shoot from a rest.


Third, check the barebow/compound division rules for your tournament because those may affect whether or not you can even use another person’s equipment – as a rule of thumb I would only recommend borrowing compound equipment from someone who shoots compound themselves (at least casually) or is at least comfortable adjusting arrow rests (e.g. making sure the plunger is up/down, the rest is on/off, etc).


Lastly, it’s impolite to borrow someone else’s equipment without asking them first, especially if they don’t shoot barebow. For example, I would feel pretty bad if a compound shooter showed up at a tournament and found out that their target points were nocked incorrectly or their arrow rests were adjusted without their knowledge so avoid this by simply asking the other person first!


The last thing you need to know about equipment is how barebow archers can tell whether or not an arrow hits. While most sighted-in bows have marks on the string for where different sections of your site should line up with each other, fresh barebow shooters can’t rely on those marks for this purpose because the lines are too far away from where your arrows actually hit. 


Instead, you can use a bare shaft stuck into a target face for this purpose, but it’s a lot easier to learn if you have a barebow-specific paper target that has some key marks on it already – here’s one such example of a professional, barebow-only tournament target: If you don’t want to spend money buying one of these targets there’s nothing wrong with sticking up printouts online and trimming them down to size (just make sure they’re at least 14″ wide by 12″ tall or larger).


Once you have your paper target hanging on the backstop face of the “hog panel” you can shoot at it to check where your arrows are hitting in relation to the key points in the target. 


These include:

The Circle (the “x” in the middle) – If your 10 rings are round, this should be dead center.


The Bullseye – This will vary for different bow setups but should be between 1/2″ to 2″ inside the outer wire of regular 3D targets.


Inside The Wire – For regular targets with 3 horizontal wires, this means somewhere between 1/4″ and 1/2″ inside any one of them when they’re not touching each other or blocking your arrow’s flight path.


Outside The Wire – Again, for regular targets with 3 horizontal wires this is the opposite of Inside The Wire and so you want to shoot your arrow between 1/4″ and 1/2″ inside any one of them when they’re not touching each other or blocking your arrow’s flight path. Notice that my example arrow is obviously outside this target wire – a beginner barebow shooter should be aiming ~1/2″ to 2″ inside the wire depending on their bow setup.


Now that we’ve discussed how to use a “barebow paper target”, let’s talk about zeroing (setting up sights) which can take some practice but I’m going to try and make it as easy as possible for new archers:

Zeroing Instructions

1. Shoot three arrows from rest at your barebow paper target.


2. Have a friend measure the distance from one hole to the next horizontally and vertically, adding them together each time until you have 3 measurements total from those 3 arrows. For example, arrow 1 is 4″ left and 2″ up – that’s 6″ for all three; arrow 2 is 7″ right and 9″ down – that’s 16″; finally, arrow 3 measured 5″ left and 8″ up making it 13″ off-center (which rounds to 14″). You can also use dividers or the Pythagorean theorem if you’re good at math but I’d suggest using both methods because you might make a mistake with one of them.


3. Make a dot for each measurement on your barebow paper target from step 1, drawing a line between the dots you just made so that they form an “X” shape (like this: ).


4. Shoot 3 more arrows to check if your measurements are accurate, not moving the target at all between shots or adjustments. If any of these arrows hit outside any of those 3 original dots (meaning they fall inside the lines you drew) then correct it by adjusting your sights up/down and right/left accordingly – for example, if arrow 4 falls above/inside the first line then move your sight down; if arrow 4 falls below inside the second line then move your sight up; if arrow 4 falls inside/outside the third line then move your sight left/right.


5. Once you have all of your arrows inside the target, congratulations! You are now zeroed in at that distance with that type of arrow – it’s time to shoot from rest instead of freehand because you’ll be able to get more consistent shots when you’re not struggling against gravity on every shot.


6. Now, what if your group is off-center vertically? For example, let’s say your first 3 arrows were 8″ low and 6″ left – draw 2 more lines on either side so there’s one above the center dot and one below the center dot (now it looks like this: ). You’d then shoot another 3 arrows and adjust accordingly on where they hit – since arrow 1 hit below the bottom line then it’d be a good idea to move your sight up, etc.


7. Now that you have every arrow inside the center dots, congratulations! You are now zeroed in at that distance with that type of arrow and it’s time to shoot from rest instead of freehand because you’ll be able to get more consistent shots when you’re not struggling against gravity on every shot.


8. The last thing I want to mention before we start shooting some groups is how far back I am from my target – right about where the first letter “R” is on this sentence is a perfect reference point for standing next to your target facing it dead-on: This helps me so I have a frame of reference for how my arrows are flying – they’re flying right to left most likely, so I want to be sure that they’re hitting my group if the target’s center is my aiming point. This also helps me with freehand shooting by keeping my ” anchor point ” consistent (more on that below).

Now that we’ve discussed zeroing and your arrow’s flight path, let’s talk about what you should do when you shoot

A) Keep your bow arm straight and tight, not moving it at all. This allows you to keep tension in your bow muscles and keep any unnecessary movement from throwing off your aim.


B) Pull the arrow back as far as way as comfortably possible, allowing your shoulder to “lock” the arrow into place instead of your fingers, providing a stable launch platform.


C) When you release (with both fingers and thumb like the picture above), the bow will spring forward and slightly down as it launches your arrow. Make sure that you’re not allowing this movement to throw off your aim; for example, I want my arrow hitting right where the center dot is on my target and if I flinch or show any sign of fear/anxiety then my shot will go wide left because I’m nervous about shooting an object so close next to me! I usually keep practicing until I can consistently hit those center dots without disturbing those shots before moving on.

Another thing to consider is anchor points: where do you grip your bow?

Most people tend to grip their bow at the furthest point from the string first, then slide forward as they draw. However, what if that spot just happens to be up near their shoulder or waist? You’ll probably find that those shots hit really low compared to the rest of your groupings which means you need an anchor point that isn’t dependent upon where your hand happens to be. I currently use my chin as the anchor point and it works great because I can ensure those shots hit right where they need to.

What is a good draw weight for a beginner archer?

This is a really great question and I’m so glad you asked! There is no perfect answer to this because it all depends on how strong your bow arm is, but in general archery, pros recommend starting with 30-40# for kids and 40-50# for adults.

Please note that these are just suggestions because when I started shooting I was just a child and I started out with 45# bows – they may be too strong for you, but it’s better to get something that makes you work than not get anything at all and give up. 


Every time I shoot the bow my muscles fatigue and if I could go back in time knowing what I know now, I would have started out with a 40# bow instead of 45# and I’m sure my accuracy and strength would be better now if I had. It’s also worth mentioning that your draw weight is only part of the equation – you need to account for how strong your arm is as well because some people can shoot 60# bows all day and others can’t even draw 30#.


The best way to figure out what your bow is set too high/low is to go shoot it with an experienced archer and ask them to adjust the tiller (the adjustable part of your bow) until you’re shooting well. If they don’t know what that means, just bring an arrow with you and they should be able to help you out.

One more thing: if you have a compound bow, your poundage will depend on what version of the draw cycle it has. Make sure you check your manual so that the safety settings are appropriate for the weight range you want!

How do you prepare for an archery competition?

This is a great question and the answer is both simple and complicated: PRACTICE! It’s really that simple. You need to find something you’re good at, figure out your strengths and weaknesses, keep practicing, watch some videos on YouTube of Olympic archers shooting their arrows so you can see what the “pros” are doing, and keep practicing some more. If you want to be good at something, it takes time and practice – archery is no different.

How much do competitive archers make?

This question is a little bit harder to answer because it varies widely depending on what federation you’re shooting in, how well-known you are, and the type of archery competition. The best way to find out is to do research about each individual federation so that you can learn more!

I hope this guide helps anyone who wants to shoot in competition but doesn’t know where to begin. If you have any questions or suggestions about information that should be added or changed, please leave a comment below! I’d love to hear your feedback!

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