How to Choose a Target Bow

It has recently come to my attention that due to the popularity of such movies as Hunger Games and such television shows as Arrow, there has been a significant increase in the number of people who want to learn the ancient art of Archery. Thus, it occurred to me that some of you may appreciate some advice on how to choose a target bow. Therefore, in the following article, I will explain the difference between the two different types of target bows as well as the difference between the three different types of formal archery competition and provide some advice on how to choose the best bow to suit your needs.

So, to start with, let’s examine the difference between the two different types of target bows. First, you have Recurve Bows such as that used by the character Katniss Everdeen (Jenifer Lawrence) in the movie Hunger Games and the distinguishing difference between a recurve bow and a compound bow is that the recurve bow not only has limbs that first curve toward the “belly” of the bow and then toward the “back” of the bow (thus creating a “recurve”), it also lacks the pulleys that a compound bow employs. Therefore, when drawing a recurve bow, the archer must hold the peak draw weight at full draw until the arrow is fired. Also, it should be noted that recurve bows commonly weigh less than half the weight of a compound bow and thus, they are far more comfortable to carry and hold and, they generate significantly less noise and recoil. Consequently, some archers find recurve bows to be far more pleasant to shoot than compound bows. However, because the archer must hold the peak draw weight at full draw when shooting a recurve bow, many archers find it difficult to draw and hold recurve bows with draw weights meant for hunting (50 lbs. to 80 lbs.) and thus, draw weights ranging from 25 lbs. to 35 lbs. are often the best choice for shooting target archery with a recurve bow. Compound bows on the other hand, employ much shorter and thicker limbs along with off-center pulleys (aka cams) positioned in the center of each limb tip and, on the most modern of compound bows, the limbs are positioned nearly parallel to each other on the riser. Thus, when drawing a compound bow, the archer reaches the peak draw weight approximately half to two thirds of the way through the draw length at which point, the peak draw weight starts to lessen and continues to do so until the archer reaches full draw where he is then only holding approximately 30 percent of the peak draw weight. On the other hand, once the compound bow is drawn, the archer must then hold up, and hold steady, a bow that weighs twice that of a recurve bow. Also, when the arrow is fired, the archer must hold the bow steady while experiencing significantly more recoil than that generated by a recurve bow which tends to adversely affect the accuracy of the shot. But, due to the significantly reduced draw weight at full draw, some archers have a distinct preference for compound bows over recurve bows. Then, of course, there is the matter of arrow speed since, as a general rule, compound bows generate much faster arrow speeds than recurve bows of the same draw weight due to their, shorter, stouter, limbs and their cams and thus, they also deliver a significantly flatter arrow trajectory than recurve bows. But, as I mentioned above, that increased arrow speed does come with price.

Now, let’s examine the difference between the three different types of formal archery competitions. When most archers think of formal archery competitions, they most often picture Target Archery which is usually shot in an open field (but is also shot indoors) by multiple archers lined up to a firing line and all firing a given number of arrows (called and “end”) at the same time at their own, individual, targets consisting of red, blue, and yellow concentric rings placed at a given distance from the firing line with the largest ring being worth the least number of points and the smallest ring being worth the most points. Thus, the archer who scores the greatest number of points wins the competition. Next, we have another popular type of formal archery competition called Field Archery which is designed to more closely simulate hunting situations and it, too, can be shot either indoors or outdoors. However, it should be noted that while there is very little difference between Target Archery and Field Archery when shot indoors, they differ drastically when shot outdoors. In fact, indoor Field Archery competitions are most often National Field Archery Association (NFAA) events which are shot at a distance of twenty yards at target faces with either three individual targets (aka Three Spot) or five individual targets (aka Five Spot) consisting of multiple concentric rings placed on a single target face. However, when Field Archery is shot outdoors, it is usually shot from a trail through open woods at target butts placed at varying distances from less than 10 yards to a maximum of 80 yards. Also, Field Archers can choose to shoot either Field Rounds which consist of a round, black and white target, with a black center, Hunter Rounds which consist of round, all black, targets with thin, white, concentric, rings and a white center or, they can shoot Animal Rounds which consist of full color pictures of various types of animals with concentric rings for scoring. Also, when shooting Field Archery, sometimes the targets are placed at marked distances from the firing line whereas, at other times, they are placed at unmarked yardages so that the archer is forced to “guesstimate” the distance to the target. Furthermore, when shooting Field Archery, because the archers move along the trail as group and each archer shoots individually, there is considerable time for camaraderie among the group members. Last, there is a third type of formal archery competition that is very popular among hunters called 3D Archery which was specifically designed to mimic hunting situations. However, the only real difference between 3D Archery competitions and Field Archery competitions is that instead of firing at two dimensional paper targets placed on a flat surface, 3D archers shoot at three dimensional foam animal targets molded to mimic various animal species. In addition, as a general rule, there are three non-concentric rings branded in to the surface of the target and then painted over so that they are invisible from more than a few feet away and, just like in Target Archery and Field Archery, the largest ring scores the least number of points and the smallest ring scores the most. Thus, the archer that accumulates the most points over a course of a given number of targets wins the competition.

Now, the reason that it is important to understand how these competitions differ from each other is because they tend to drastically affect the type of bow you use. For instance, because Target Archery is most often shot in wide open spaces at known yardages, Target Archers want a bow that is easy to draw and hold and that is smooth as silk to shoot so that they can obtain the greatest possible accuracy from their shots and thus, recurve bows with draw weights ranging from 25 lbs. to 35 lbs. are most popular among this group of archers. But, although recurve bows generally dominate Target Archery competitions, Target Archers are allowed to use compound bows as well. However, because both Field archers and 3D archers are often required to shoot at unknown distances, arrow speed becomes a major factor because the faster an arrow is launched from a bow, the flatter its trajectory will be and the flatter the trajectory is, the better able it is to compensate for slight miscalculations in the distance to the target. Therefore, both Field Archery and 3D Archery are generally categorized into divisions such as Long Bow, Recurve Bow, Compound Bow, Bare Bow, Fixed Sights, and Adjustable Sights so that those archers with more advanced technology are not competing directly against those with more primitive technology. But, it should also be noted that because both Field and 3D archers are most often firing at targets placed at unknown distances, compound bows with either fixed sights or adjustable sights tend to dominate these types of competitions.

So, as a general rule, if you decide to shoot Target Archery, recurve bows with a relatively low draw weight are best but, if you intend to shoot either Field Archery or 3D Archery, then compound bows with as much draw weight as you can comfortably handle are best. But, it should also be noted that all three types of formal archery competitions can be shot with either type of bow regardless of draw weight and divisions exist that enable archers with similar equipment to compete against each other in the same class. So, if you have an interest in participating in formal archery competitions, then try contacting a local archery shop to see what type of competitions are available in your area. Then, all you have to do is show up, sign up, and shoot!

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