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Archery 101


Archery is an inclusive sport that allows you to participate at whatever skill level you choose. From backyard target shooting to formal or field competitions, from family fun to bow hunting or bow fishing, archery offers exciting challenges for everyone. Archery is also a sport that all ages can enjoy. You don't have to be particularly strong to participate, and compared to many sports, the cost is small.


Over the years, archery bows have existed in many different forms and have evolved in both style and construction. Many bows today are made of modern components such as fiberglass and carbon fiber, while advancements in technology have resulted in several types of shooting mechanisms. We will center this discussion on four different types of bows, including Longbows, Recurve Bows, Compound Bows, and Crossbows.

Types of Bows

Longbows were the dominant weapons on battlefields until the rise of firearms in the mid 16th century. Their simple design consisted of a long, slightly curved, single piece of wood without any arrow rests or sights. Today many longbows are made from laminated strips of wood and typically include a leather-wrapped grip and a string. Longbows are much more difficult to aim than other modern bows and do not possess the same velocity as compound or recurve bows. Longbows require practice and patience to master, but many archers enjoy the tradition and challenge of learning how to use longbows.



Named for their distinct shape, recurve bows represent the first step in the evolution of archery bows. The central part of the bow limbs curve toward the archer, while the tips of the limbs curve or "recurve" away from the archer. This special curve stores more energy in a shorter length limb, resulting in more arrow speed with less strength needed to use the bow. Recurve bows can be made from wood or machined aluminum. Their construction includes a centered shelf for the arrow to rest on which provides a truer arrow flight.

Recurve bows are great for teaching archery. Beginners usually start with a bare-bow recurve, which only has the bow limbs, a string, arrow rest, and a riser to help balance the bow. As the archer becomes more skilled, components such as sights, clickers, and stabilizers can be added. Recurve bows are also used in competitive archery including the Olympics.



Invented in the 1960s, compound bows work with an innovative system of cables, pulleys, and eccentric cams to assist the archer in holding a heavy draw weight at full draw. This system allows the archer to hold the draw longer so there is more time to aim. However, it does take a lot of strength to initially draw the bow. Once drawn, the draw weight of the bow is reduced or "let off" by as much as 85%.

Compound bows are less affected by changes in temperature and humidity than bows made of natural material. This provides consistency in accuracy, distance, and arrow velocity. Because of their complex make-up, compound bows are typically not used by beginners.



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Modern crossbows look like firearms and are designed with a short horizontal bow attached to a muzzle that's held on a rifle-like stock. Bows are drawn by way of a crank mechanism, and the string is attached to a trigger device and locked in place until it's fired. Crossbows have short firing ranges and need heavier draw weights to perform at the same level as a compound or recurve bow. They are generally effective out to around 50 yards and have draw weights between 150 and 200 lbs.

Crossbows come in both recurve and compound models. The simplicity in the design and use of recurve crossbows makes them popular with first time users. However, recurves do not provide the same accuracy or power as a compound crossbow.

Because regulations on crossbows can be strict and vary greatly between states, it's always advised to check your state and local laws regarding crossbow usage.

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Most arrows consist of a shaft with an arrowhead attached to the front end and with fletchings and a nock attached to the other end. The shaft is typically composed of wood, fiberglass, aluminum, carbon fiber, or a composite of materials.


Wood arrows are the most basic type of arrow. Their fletching is usually made from feathers rather than plastic vanes as on other arrows. Wooden arrows are prone to warping and less durable than other types.


Fiberglass arrows are more brittle, but they can more easily be produced to uniform specifications.


Aluminum arrows are a popular high-performance arrow because of their straightness, lighter weight, higher speed, and flatter trajectory. They are slightly heavier than carbon arrows, but are stiffer and break less easily. Aluminum arrows are also easier to cut to a custom size.

Aluminum Arrow


Carbon fiber arrows are very light, flying faster and flatter than aluminum arrows. They can also be considered more dangerous. Carbon fiber doesn't bend or snap, instead it splinters into small shards, which could potentially damage your bow if not used properly.

Carbon Fiber Arrow


Today, arrows made of composite materials are the most popular used at tournaments and Olympic events.

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The arrowhead or projectile point plays the largest role in determining the purpose of the arrow. Some arrows may simply use a sharpened tip of the shaft, but it's far more common for separate arrowheads to be made for placement on the arrow tip. The most commonly used arrowheads are target points, field points, and broadheads.


These arrowheads are bullet-shaped with a conical point. They are designed to penetrate targets easily without causing excessive damage to them.



Similar to target points, field points have a distinct shoulder to prevent missed shots from becoming stuck in obstacles like tree stumps. Because field points offer flight characteristics and weights similar to broadheads, they are also used for shooting practice by hunters.



Used for hunting, broadheads are designed with two to four sharp blades that deliver a wide cutting edge so as to kill the prey as quickly as possible by cleanly cutting major blood vessels. Since they would damage most targets, broadheads are not used for practice. There are two types of broadheads used by hunters. The fixed-blade broadhead has rigid, unmovable blades, while the mechanical broadhead deploys its blades upon contact with the target. This allows the mechanical broadhead a more streamlined flight.

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  • Before using, inspect all equipment to ensure it's in safe, working order. Always inspect the bow and arrows for defects or disrepair, including wear, cracks, twisting, fraying, or other damage to the bow, bowstring, cables, pulleys, arrow shafts, nocks, and fletches. Be sure all screws are tightened and bow accessories are properly attached.
  • Before drawing the bow, always inspect the line of sight to the target and areas on either side of the target to assure these arrow-flight zones are clear of people, pets, or other non-intended targets.
  • Never draw a bow and point the arrow at or in the direction of another person.
  • Do not shoot an arrow into an area where its path cannot be followed. Do not shoot an arrow straight up into the air.
  • Never draw a bowstring back further than the length of the arrow being used.
  • Do not release a bowstring unless it has a nocked arrow.
  • Do not retrieve arrows until all archers have completed shooting and the "stop shooting" and "all clear" signals have been given. Likewise, do not move past the firing line to pick up a dropped arrow or other equipment until these signals have been given.
  • Always hold arrows with the points facing down or carry them in a quiver. Do not run while carrying arrows.
  • Do not wear clothing that could get tangled in the bow (i.e. hoods, scarves, etc.).
  • Keep bows and arrows stored in a secured and locked location.
  • Young archers should ALWAYS be supervised.
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  • ARM GUARD - A protection against the bowstring's strike, worn on the inside of the left forearm.
  • Arrow - The straight rod, usually fletched and tipped, that is the projectile shot from a bow.
  • Arrow Rest - A device used to hold the arrow until it's released.
  • Arrowhead - The striking end of the arrow, usually a separate piece fastened to the arrow shaft.
  • Blunt - An unsharpened arrowhead used for targets and small game.
  • Bolt - A crossbow projectile.
  • Bow Length - The length of the bow commonly measured from nock to nock along the back of the bow.
  • Bowstring - The string used to draw a bow and launch arrows.
  • Brace Height - The distance from the braced bowstring to the pivot point of the bow's grip.
  • Broadhead - An arrowhead with sharp, cutting blades or edges used for bowhunting.
  • Composite Bow - A bow made from laminating strips of wood, fiberglass, or other materials together.
  • Compound Bow - A bow that uses a system of cables and pulleys to reduce the drawing effort.
  • Crossbow - A bow mounted on a stock that uses a trigger system to shoot bolts.
  • Draw Length - The length from the front of the sight window to the bowstring in the archer's fingers at full draw.
  • Draw Weight - The pounds of force required to draw a bow a specified distance (commonly measured at a 28" draw length).
  • Drawing - Pulling an arrow against a bowstring in readiness for shooting.
  • Fletching - The stabilizing fins or vanes of an arrow. A fletch is each individual fin.
  • FPS (Feet Per Second) - A measurement of the velocity of an arrow shot from a bow.
  • GPI (Grains Per Inch) - A measurement used for the weight of an arrow.
  • Nock - The notch at the rear end of an arrow. Also, the notches at the ends of the bow limbs to which the bowstring is attached.
  • Nocking Point - The place on the bowstring where you consistently nock your arrows.
  • Quiver - A container that holds arrows while hunting or shooting.
  • Recurve Bow - A style of bow in which the unstrung tips curve away from the archer.
  • Release - The act of firing an arrow from a bow.
  • Riser - The handle section of the bow.
  • Scope - A magnification device mounted on a bow for use as a sight.
  • Shelf - The ledge at the base of the sight window where the arrow rests.
  • Sight - A device mounted on a bow to assist in aiming.
  • Sight Window - The cut out portion of a recurve or longbow rise that allows the arrow to come closer to the centerline of the bow.
  • Silencer - Strands of material attached to the string to help stop it from vibrating after the shot, thus eliminating string noise.
  • Spine - A measurement of the stiffness of an arrow shaft.
  • Stabilizer - A weighted rod or set of rods used to provide balance to the bow.
  • Tab - A flat leather piece worn on the archer's string hand to protect the three drawing fingers from the release of the bowstring.
  • Vane - The stabilizing fin of an arrow.
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There are many options to choose from when it comes to bows and archery equipment. The best way to determine how to get started and which bow is right for you is to talk with someone who understands archery equipment and then try out some bows to see which one fits your size and abilities.

One of the first things to consider when choosing a bow is whether it is right or left-handed. This is usual determine by the dominant eye. For a dominant right eye, choose a right-handed bow. The right-handed bow is held in the left hand, and the string is drawn with the right hand.

Another thing to be determined is bow length. Bow length relates to the arrow length being used. To help determine what approximate arrow length you need, stretch your arms out in front of you with palms together and fingers extended. Then measure from the center of your chest to the tips of your fingers. Add one inch to this measurement to get an approximate arrow length. The following conversions can be used to help you choose the right bow length:

YOUR ARROW LENGTH 14" - 18" 18" - 20" 20" - 22" 22" - 24" 24" - 26" 26" - 28" 28" - 30" 30"+
BOW LENGTH 48" 54" 58" 62" 64" 66" 68" 70"

A third option to be determined is bow weight or draw weight. This is the pounds of force needed to draw the bow to 28". If the bow is pulled more than 28", the pounds of force will increase. If it's pulled less than 28", the pounds will decrease. Typically, a man would choose the 28-lb. draw weight and a woman would choose the 24-lb. draw weight. However, if you have a shorter draw length, you might consider increasing to a 32-lb. draw weight. For a longer draw length, you might want to lower the weight. If you're not sure, go with the lower weight as even a bow with a 20-lb. draw weight is still powerful.

For young people just starting out we offer many youth bow kits made with small frames and adjustable draw weights that will fit the needs of the child as they grow. One of our most popular compound bows for youth is the Barnett Vortex Junior Compound Bow (item #429043).

Crossbows are also becoming more popular as a method of hunting. While some purists may feel that crossbow hunting is not true bowhunting, it is still a great introduction to the world of hunting with arrows. However, laws and regulations as they relate to crossbows are continually changing. So it's always advised to check your state and local laws before trying crossbows.

Hopefully, these tips will help you make the right choice, but it's still recommended that you try out your bow or crossbow before purchasing. We invite you to come into your local Gander Mountain and check out our wide selection. You'll also get expert advise and be able to see which bow or crossbow feels right for you.

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