dsc_0806What equipment do I need for Field Archery?

If you have had some coaching sessions, enjoyed them and having the wish to take up Field Archery, joined a club, then you will need to start thinking about fully equipping yourself for your new sport.

You might think that the first thing to buy would be a bow, but that’s not the case!

Two very important items items to buy first are your arm-guard (or bracer) and finger-tab or shooting glove. Both these items need to fit comfortably and to do the job intended correctly. They are also the least expensive items to buy, so should things not turn out as you had hoped you won’t have wasted a fortune. Visit a good archery shop and try on as many different types of bracer and tab, or glove, as they have available. Make sure that the bracer is easily adjusted. Field Archery is an all-year round sport, so you will be wearing it over both thick winter clothing and light summer clothing, depending on the weather.

You will see most longbow archers using a shooting glove as it’s considered to be traditional with that style of bow, but it will work just as well with any other style where you draw with your fingers. The great advantage of the glove over a tab is that you don’t have to take it off when pulling out arrows from targets, etc., and thus there is no danger of you dropping and losing it.

The next piece of kit which you should think of getting is a quiver. A quiver is quite simply a bag to hold your arrows as you walk round the course. A really cheap one will do that job just as well as the most expensive, although it may not last quite as long. Whichever one you choose, make sure that it has a pocket or two on it for storing bits and pieces and preferably some “D” rings to hold other bits of your kit.

Now you can think about the bow!

But first, a quick recap of some technical terms:

  • Draw-weight is the amount of effort it takes to pull the bow-string back to the full-draw position. Holding a 32 pound bow at full-draw is akin to holding a shopping bag filled with 32 pounds’ weight of groceries.
  • Draw-length is the distance between the bottom of the arrow nock and the arrow-rest at full-draw.
  • Arrow-length is the distance between the bottom of the arrow-nock and the base of its point.

At this stage you should know both the draw-weight that is suitable for you and your draw-length so that, whichever style of bow you choose, make sure that it suits both these measurements. Check that you can pull it back to full draw comfortably. Trying to draw too heavy a bow (being “over-bowed”) will not only be uncomfortable but can end up causing permanent damage to muscles and joints.

Most bows are designed for a 28 inch draw-length which should be suitable for most adults. If your draw-length is less than 28 inches then the bow will not perform as efficiently because its power will be reduced. If your draw-length is much longer than 28 inches then the bow will be over-drawn and again will perform less efficiently.

But which type of bow to choose – recurve, American flatbow (AFB), compound, longbow, or perhaps even crossbow?

You will most likely have been coached using a recurve bow and that will probably have been a “take-down” model, with the limbs being removable from the handle (known as the riser). You should, therefore, be quite familiar with this style. Recurve bows are also versatile in that you can use them in many bow-style categories depending on which bits and pieces you add to them and what sort of arrows you are using. A take-down bow is easily stored and transported which may be more practicable for you. Remember that a six-foot longbow is always six-feet long and doesn’t appreciate being folded in half!

This doesn’t mean that you have to buy a take-down recurve, of course, but if you fancy another style then ask someone in your club who shoots such a bow to talk to you about it and let you try it out for yourself before you make any decisions about buying one. Bear in mind that longbows and compound bows can be considerably more expensive than an entry-level recurve bow.

An additional advantage of a take-down recurve bow is that you can change the limbs quite readily. As you progress in the sport you should find yourself able to pull an increasingly heavier draw-weight. With the take-down bow you can buy stronger (“heavier”) limbs that will fit your existing riser. With a longbow or AFB, if you want to pull a heavier draw-weight you will have to buy a complete new bow.

What about the quality and price of a bow? Like most things, the better the equipment, the higher the price. How much you pay will be up to you, of course, but we would recommend that you only buy a very expensive bow when you have become sufficiently skilled to get the best out of it. And remember that an inexpensive bow may not necessarily perform poorly provided the arrows match the bow (see next section). Ask around at your club to get an idea of what makes and prices are favoured by your fellow archers.

Now for the arrows!

There are a number of materials used for making arrows. Each type has its advantages, disadvantages and price. Some of the bow-styles in NFAS Field Archery require you to use wooden arrows with feather fletchings. In other bow-styles you can use aluminium, carbon or composite (aluminium sheath with a carbon-fibre core). Please remember that, contrary to what you might expect, the quality of your arrows is far more important than the quality of your bow so it’s well worth spending a bit more to get good arrows, whatever their material. Bear in mind though that, as with bows, the most expensive arrows are best left until you can make the best use of them.

First, make sure that the arrows are the correct length for you. They should be the same as your draw-length plus an inch or so. Arrows which are too long will be inefficient, but arrows which are too short will be dangerous. All the arrows should be the same length and should be suitable for the bow’s draw-weight. If the arrows don’t match the bow then they won’t perform properly. The archery shop should sell you a set of arrows of the proper dimensions and characteristics that suits your draw-length and draw-weight. If in doubt ask your club’s Coach for advice.

If you intend to compete in any NFAS Open Shoots, then your arrows must be marked or numbered for 1st arrow, 2nd arrow and 3rd arrow as required by the NFAS Rules. They must also carry your name (at least your initial plus surname).

Whether you intend to compete or just enjoy practising at your club, expect to lose, bend and break arrows. It happens to the best archers. Most shooting grounds have trees, which seem to have an uncanny ability to attract arrows of all sorts. As a beginner to the sport you will almost certainly suffer more than most, so be prepared to re-stock at regular intervals! But it’s a ritual we all go through at the beginning of our archery journey and does improve, though remember to keep a sense of humour with you at all times!

And finally.

Now that you have a bow, arrows, quiver, tab/glove and bracer, you are more-or-less equipped for Field Archery. There are a few other items which you will find useful though.

  • A whistle. Someone in each group shooting at an Open Shoot must have a whistle for emergency use. Buy a nice loud one and hang it from your quiver.
  • An arrow-puller. Some 3D targets are quite dense and pulling arrows out of them is hard work. Trees are even worse. Something else to hang from your quiver.
  • An arrow rake. A paint-roller with the foam-rubber roller removed makes an ideal tool for raking through the undergrowth to find lost arrows. Stick one in your quiver.
  • A cloth or something else suitable for cleaning and drying arrows which have gone into mud or ponds.
  • A knife. One with a strong blade is handy for digging arrow-points out of trees.
  • Suitable clothing. The NFAS does not have a Dress Code, so you don’t have to wear any particular colour, but remember that you are out for a cross-country tramp, burdened down with lots of heavy and awkward equipment. Remember also that this is Britain and we have all-year-round weather!
  • Tramping round a course in warm weather is thirsty work and the tea-stop might be some time away. Buy a bottle-holder to hang on your belt.

Optional extras:

  • A plastic shopping bag. Handy for covering feather fletchings when it’s raining (the cut-off bottom of a 1.5L plastic water bottle works really well for this) or carrying those blackberries you picked while waiting for the others in your group to finish shooting.
  • If you are a little unsteady on your feet, and some of us of an advanced age are, provide yourself with a walking-stick. It could also be used for raking through the undergrowth for lost arrows.

Congratulations! You are now ready for the fray!