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How to choose an archery club or competition

By Douglas Engh

Target archery has so many different games and categories that it would be impossible to list them all. Generally, different categories are set for age, ability, type of equipment used, type of target shot at, and the number of targets or arrows shot during the competition. All of these categories fall under the heading of one of several national organizations who sanction or host events.

Local archery clubs may be affiliated with one or more of these national organizations. As a result, you might find several different types of archery competitions at these clubs, or you may find some types but not others. In general terms, though, enough crossover occurs among archers that you should at least be knowledgeable about other forms of competitions. Next, we discuss some common forms of archery competitions.

Olympic Style

Olympic-style shooting is part of the Summer Olympic Games, and it is quite common in less formal settings--both indoors and outdoors. It involves standing at a shooting line with other archers and shooting at a round target face at a known distance.

Oftentimes, Olympic style is shot in a series of ends of three to six arrows, and the target stands are moved to different known distances during the competition. A single whistle command allows archers to shoot and retrieve arrows as a group. The archers all know how many total points are possible in that tournament, as well as the size of the target face, which may vary in size according to the particular tournament rules.

The National Archery Association (NAA) is the national governing body for Olympic archery in the United States and is headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colorado. They are charged by the U.S. Olympic Committee to hold tournaments, field international archery teams, and select the Olympic archery team that competes every four years. Only three men and three women are selected every four years to represent the United States in the Summer Olympics.

The NAA has rules for specific tournaments, which are available from their office. Allowable archery equipment varies greatly. There are divisions for the longbow, recurve, compound, and even crossbow in some tournaments. Longbow competitions favor wood bows that have little or no accessories--that is, no sights and perhaps only a small counterweight attached to the lower limb to improve stability. Generally, the only thing not allowed on a recurve is a rear sight. Compound-bow divisions may also allow front and rear sights as well as front sights with optic magnifiers. The front sight generally must be a single-pin open sight. Equipment may include stabilizers, clickers, specialized arrow rests, adjustable front sights, and bows and arrows made from highly engineered exotic-composite materials. Don’t be too alarmed or intimidated by the available technology. Beginner archers can compete in divisions specially designed for them using basic and inexpensive equipment. Shooting distances are measured in meters and generally range from 18 to 90 meters (about 20 to 98 yards). The Olympics are shot at 70 meters (77 yards). In addition, NAA regional and national tournaments may require a dress code as well as NAA membership to participate.

Field Archery

Field archery is a spin-off of Olympic-style shooting and began during the 1930s to fill the needs of many archers to compete in less formalized settings. Field archery was also originally developed to hone skills for bowhunting. (This was before the days of 3-D foam-animal targets.) Since then, field archery has become extremely popular. In fact, in some areas it is more popular than Olympic style.

A field-archery range looks a little like a golf course where you have a roving path through a natural setting. The archers shoot from marked stakes--basically stakes or ground markers that designate the distance from the target. The archers rove through the course in small groups, with each archer taking turns shooting at the same target and keeping score as he or she goes to the next target. The distances are measured in yards (meters). The targets in the range are all set up at a different known distance of 18 to 80 yards (16 to 73 meters), with some targets requiring the archer to shoot from several stakes with varying degrees of difficulty.

Because field archery is a roving course shot by archers traveling in small groups, there is no central whistle command. The groups move at their own pace, and the target layout is such that no archer is ever shooting toward another shooting station anywhere on the course. The typical field-range course has 14 targets on it, with many ranges having more than one course on the property. The groups usually number around four archers per group.

The targets used are paper target faces or even paper-animal targets in some tournaments. Because these tournaments are shot in natural settings, no dress code is generally required. Equipment varies more so than in Olympic style. Although recurve bows can be used, compound bows are preferred. Rear sights, mechanical string releases, and magnifying sight aids are allowed in most divisions.

The National Field Archery Association (NFAA) is the official organizer of clubs and field-archery tournaments. NFAA is headquartered in Redlands, California, and offers tournament divisions ranging from barebow (generally a simple recurve or compound bow with no sights or other advantages) to freestyle divisions where almost anything goes in terms of technology. The NFAA hosts local, regional, state, and national competitions both indoors and outdoors. An international competition is also hosted through the NFAA’s affiliated organization, the International Field Archery Association (IFAA).

3-D Archery

3-D archery has developed relatively recently. It involves a roving course in a similar format as field archery, except the targets are life-size, three-dimensional foam animals set up in natural settings at unknown distances alongside the roving trails. Each 3-D target has a scoring circle molded into its side located approximately where the “kill zone” would be on a live animal.

Archers travel the course in small groups taking turns shooting at the targets. Because this is a game of unknown distances, and we have already learned how quickly an arrow can drop in flight, 3-D archery is as much about judging distances as it is about being an accurate shot. Archers compensate by using fast compound bows with flatter trajectories and often some form of magnifying front sight. Archers are not allowed to use distance-measuring devices; nor are they allowed to mark their bows to aid in measuring distances.

A 3-D course is set up in secret just prior to the tournament, so the archers usually don’t get a first look at the course prior to actually shooting at each individual station. This lack of prior knowledge makes the course extremely challenging. This type of competition is widely popular because of its simulated hunting environment and because of the vast array of technology available. Often, the tournaments have an entry fee that is divided up among division winners.

Two popular national organizations who offer and coordinate separate 3-D tournaments are the Archery Shooters Association (ASA), located near Atlanta, Georgia, and the International Bowhunting Organization (IBO) in Vermillion, Ohio. Both organizations have affiliated clubs that are located in many parts of the country. ASA is primarily a tournament organization, which hosts qualifying tournaments as well as a national circuit. IBO clubs host local and regional tournaments, and the national organization hosts annual championships that are very popular. IBO also has bowhunter education programs in addition to their tournaments.

Traditional Style

Several organizations and even individual clubs promote what is commonly called “traditional archery.” This style includes the use of single-piece longbows and homemade “self-bows” (bows carved from a single piece of wood). It may also include wood arrows, various leather accessories, no arrow rest (shooting off the bow’s shelf), and no sights.

Traditional archery, either on a regular target range or on a roving field-archery range, is seeing an increase in popularity in various parts of the country. Perhaps its growing popularity is a backlash to the increasing use of technology in other styles of the sport, or maybe it’s due to growing interest in reenacting history or popular historical movies. Whatever the motivation, traditional archery strips away all distractions--it’s just you and the bow and the arrow. Traditional archers shoot at almost any kind of target from foam 3-D animals to hay bales. The craftsmanship of many of the wood bows is breathtaking. A high-quality handmade bow can give you the sensation of holding onto a fly rod, rather than onto a piece of engineered sports equipment.

This is an excerpt from Archery Fundmantals.

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