How do I start with the right archery equipment?

by Jerry Rendich, Wintergreen Sporting Club

Wintergreen Sporting Club has a relationship with High Tech Outdoors in Keswick, Va. Members get a 10% discount. Keswick (east of Charlottesville) is a bit out of the way, but Brecht Sprouse takes pride in what he does and will work with you for the right match. The address is 3688 Richmond Rd., Keswick, VA 22947, 434-979-4100; email

If you are just getting into archery don’t pick a bow off the shelf in some sporting goods super-store and don’t be swayed by online offerings. Rely on a professional archery shop! Go get properly fitted by a pro which means matching the pull of the bow to your arm strength and the arrows to your draw length.

The WSC has two places at Wintergreen with archery targets. One is a traditional target range at Rodes Farm, behind the tennis court. The other is a field archery course at the end of Old Stoney Creek Road. To learn more about the WSC archery group's events & classes, email and also sign up for archery emails from WSC (right).

Also see Basic Archery Techniques here

Just by way of familiarization, there are a number of different types of bows available. Long bows and crossbows can be used by either right or left handed archers, recurves and compound bows are specifically built for lefties or righties.

Recurve bows to start cost about $160, says High Tech Outdoors’ Brecht Sprouse. Then figure in about another $100 for six arrows and all of the other basics you’ll need. “A mid-level recurve bow is going to cost you about $500,” he adds.

The traditional long bow has its origins in the early history of mankind. As the name suggests, they are quite lengthy and usually rather stiff to pull which makes them powerful. Except for traditionalists, long bows have declined in popularity as newer technologies have become available. Longbow purists do not use accessories such as arrow rests or sights and they rely on an “instinctive” shooting technique rather than sighted-aiming.

Recurve bows are usually made of wood with fiberglass lamination. They have beautiful limbs which gracefully curve toward the back and then toward the front. This curving enables them to produce as much power as a long bow but in a much shorter and easier to handle size. Most recurves are of a specific draw weight, i.e. 40#, 45#, etc. but others can be taken apart so that limbs of different draw weights can be used with a single riser (hand grip section). Most have built-in arrow rests and can be fitted with sights.

Compound bows, which cost about $400 to get started, come with a more complete package, with everything except arrows and a mechanical release, which would be less than $100 more. “A good compound bow to get started in archery will have a super-wide draw-length range and a very large draw-weight range,” says Sprouse.


Compound bows, at first, appear to be overly complicated but they are not. A compound bow has offset cams at the top and bottom of each limb and what appear at first glance to be three bowstrings! (Actually there is only one, the other two are simply part of the pulley mechanism.) The beauty of a compound bow is the letoff. For example, a bow with a 35 pound pull and a 75% letoff means that, at full draw, you are holding only about 9 pounds which makes it easier to stay on target without tiring and wobbling. Compound bows need to be fitted with arrow rests and sights. Stabilizers and other optional equipment can easily be mounted. Most compound bows can be adjusted for the amount of draw weight – sometimes over a range of as much as 20 pounds.

Crossbows look like a small rifle with a miniature bow mounted crosswise at the end. They use very short arrows (called bolts). They are fired like a rifle, and they tend to be very powerful. In general, crossbows are used mostly for hunting because of their killing power, and target shooting is usually to develop hunting skills. WSC does not encourage crossbows on our ranges because the bolts often completely penetrate the targets and the backstops and are easily lost.


No matter what type of bow you buy, never “dry fire” it without an arrow because you are likely to injure yourself or ruin your bow.

What strength bow do I need? If you are hunting dinosaurs the most powerful bow you can find might be appropriate, but for target shooting, a bow in the 25#-35# range is usually more than adequate, 40# if you like a heavier pull, 20# if you prefer a lighter pull or plan to shoot from a shorter distance.

What length arrows should I buy? Most arrows are sold in a 30” length and it’s up to you, or your pro shop, to trim them to the right length and attach the tips. At full draw, the tip of your arrow should extend 1” to 1½” beyond your arrow rest. Shorter than that can be dangerous because you might over-draw and injure yourself. Longer than that only if the arrows are also going to be used by someone with longer arms. Cedar arrows are for the traditionalist, most archers today prefer fiberglass or aluminum arrows.

Wynn mechanical trigger release

Wynn mechanical trigger release

What other equipment will I need? Definitely a quiver, hip type or over-the-shoulder style, that’s up to you. A bow sight with pins which can be positioned for targets at varying distances is also a good investment as it will help you shoot more accurately.

An arm guard so that the bow string doesn’t give you a nasty slap on the wrist. If you are shooting a recurve you’ll want a shooters glove or finger tab; if you prefer a compound you might want to invest in a mechanical trigger release. (Note: bowsights and trigger releases can run into hundreds of dollars apiece! That said, they are also available in the $25-$50 range and we have found the less expensive gear to be perfectly adequate for recreational shooting.