Back when I was teaching the beginner classes, it seemed that nearly every week, a beginning archer (or their parent) would ask what gear they should buy. Having discussed it with other instructors, this question is a very common one, so it seems a good idea to give an answer here. So here it is:
Don’t buy anything yet.
That’s my standard answer. Our beginning classes include all necessary equipment, and we encourage students to use our gear until they develop a consistent form and accurate measurements can be taken. After attending several classes, students can participate in one of the advanced classes in the various styles, all of which cover equipment selection in their specialty, and outside of these classes, most instructors are generally happy to offer further advice on the subject once the student has learned enough to be able to ask specific questions.
The truth, however, is that nobody can give you advice about equipment purchases until after you have reached the level of knowing what game you want to play.
Archery is not a single sport; there’s target archery, field archery, 3D archery, bowhunting, bowfishing, and so on. Within each of those broad categories, there are narrower divisions, primarily relating to equipment; the general groups are longbow, recurve and compound. From there, the archer can choose from a range of options from barebow (no added equipment) to freestyle (any and all possible additions such as sights, releases, stabilizers, and a plethora of gadgets to enhance accuracy and performance). The choice to adopt or reject any one of these items dictates additional choices, all of which are far beyond the scope of a brief introduction such as this.
But okay, you’ve decided you simply must run out and drop some cash on your own gear. First, understand this:
Do not go to a general sporting goods store for archery gear.
You also don’t want to go to the sporting goods department of a store like Walmart or Target. Chances are, there is nobody in the store who actually knows anything about archery. They will most likely pull whatever they have off the shelf and sell it to you, whether it’s what you need or not. If they have anything at all, you’ll most likely come away with a compound bow that’s too heavy to draw, with a draw-length that is totally wrong for you, and arrows that aren’t matched to the bow. If you look for a child-size bow there, you will come away with a poorly-performing hunk of fiberglass that’s not far from being a toy. The Bear Goblin bow shown to the right, for example, is basically a toy for people who have a big backyard. You will most likely have spent too much money for the exercise in frustration that you came home with.
You need to go to a dedicated archery shop where the staff knows the right questions to ask and has the skills to properly outfit you with the equipment you need. For that reason, I’m not including links to online vendors in this article. You really don’t want to buy equipment online unless you have held the same model of bow in your hands, felt its weight, and know how it performs for you. Shopping online is great if you know exactly what you’re looking for, but you don’t want to throw money at a wild guess and end up with equipment that does not meet your needs. Seriously, go to a shop or range where you can look at and handle bows and ask questions. There is nothing suitable for the serious beginning archer of any age at any general sporting goods store or “big box” retailer.
If you look to the right on this page, you should see ads for two of the local retailers that carry archery equipment, Hi-Tech Archery and Turner’s Outdoorsman. These are not the only places to go; there’s also the Crossbow Store in El Monte (NOTE: crossbows are illegal in Pasadena and especially on the range), the pro shop at the Oak Tree Gun Club in Newhall, and Orange County Archery as well as a few others further away. All of them can help you with whatever you’re looking for
Second, accept that if you stick with archery for any length of time, your first bow will probably not be your last; as you progress and learn, you’ll find the gear that you really want, and over time you may trade up several times. It’s not uncommon for longtime archers to own four or five bows, often different styles. With that in mind, we’ll look at some options based on a few general assumptions…
We’ll assume that you’re starting out as a recurve shooter and that you don’t want to spend a lot of money at this point. We’ll also assume you’re going to be shooting barebow to start, but most of the bows we’ll look at are made to accommodate a sight and other peripherals. We’re limiting this to recurve not because of any bias against compounds, but simply because an entry-level recurve is considerably less expensive (at least $100 less); the basic shooting technique is identical for all styles, so learning to shoot with a recurve will prepare you to use a compound later on if that’s your preference.
Just about every manufacturer makes a basic recurve bow that’s perfectly suitable for the beginning archer. They are all very similar, in fact several of them are made by the same company under different brand names. The primary difference between these bows is the composition; some bows have a wooden riser (the middle section of the bow), while others may have one made of polymer, polycarbonate or metal. All of these bows fall within the same price range, about $100 to $140.
There are several other manufacturers who make similar bows.
Again, the best thing to do is go to a shop and ask to try out a few. Most shops have an indoor range where you can shoot the bows before buying.
IMPORTANT: When buying bows for children, do NOT buy a heavier bow and expect them to “grow into it.” A heavy bow puts the archer at greater risk of back and shoulder injury. Buy a bow your child can comfortably draw and hold at full draw for at least 30 seconds, not something he or she will eventually be able to use. For most children, this is a bow in the 10-20 pound range. A heavier bow will not improve their performance or enjoyment.
By the time he or she is strong enough to shoot it, your child may very well have grown too tall to use that bow comfortably. Children grow, it’s what they do. Whatever you buy is going to serve them for only a year or three at most. For their second bow (if they stick with it), you can move up to a more expensive bow using the ILF limb system, which can easily be upgraded to heavier and taller limbs from a variety of manufacturers. These bows tend to run $200 to $400.
If you want a compound bow, be prepared to spend at least $100-200 more than for a recurve. Most compound bows need to be fitted to the archer’s draw length, and for most bows, that involves the use of special equipment; it’s not a do-it-yourself proposition.
For beginners, the hands-down favorite beginner bow is the Matthews Genesis. It’s not a pure compound; it’s actually more of a “transition” bow, having some recurve-like qualities, such as a variable draw length.
One word: Jazz. For the beginning archer, the Easton Jazz arrow is the most affordable and the best value for the money. These distinctive purple aluminum shafts can be found at virtually all ranges and shops; they cost about $50 for a dozen ready-to-shoot arrows and are available in a variety of sizes. Your archery shop will have a sizing chart to help you determine the arrows you need. At this point, there is absolutely no reason to drop $100 or more on a dozen arrows; the Jazz will perform far in excess of your ability. Don’t even bother looking at anything else unless you get a really good deal on it and have had an expert explain why the new arrows are right for you. Make sure the salesman isn’t just trying to boost his commission check.
(Easton also makes the identical shaft in black with a nifty fire graphic; it’s called the Tribute, in an obvious attempt to cash in on the Hunger Games. They are generally the same price as the Jazz, and come in the same range of sizes, so the decision here really comes down to availability and aesthetic preference.)
The fiberglass arrows that come with most youth archery sets (like the Bear set shown above) are far too heavy to be used effectively. You want aluminum shafts, not the heavy things made for summer camp programs where durability is more important than performance.
First, your new bow almost certainly came without an arrow rest or a nocking point. The rest is a small piece of plastic or metal that attaches to the bow and supports the arrow; the nocking point is a small ring of brass that clamps onto the string to indicate where to place the arrow. Your archery shop can provide both of them for a very modest charge; they probably won’t charge you for the nocking point at all, and many rests cost between $1 and $10, though you can spend as much as $100 for one if you really want to. (In my opinion, if you need a $100 rest, it’s because you’re putting it on your $5000 bow, and the only reason to have a $5000 bow is because you’re an Olympic contender and Hoyt is sponsoring you and giving you the bow for free. The magic ain’t in the wand and the bow maketh not the archer. You don’t want to be the guy who brags about how expensive his gear is because he can’t brag about his scores.)
In addition to the bow and a half-dozen arrows, you’ll also need a quiver, arm guard, finger tab, and possibly a sight, stabilizer, bow-sling and chest protector. You don’t need anything fancy or expensive to get started. A basic arm guard might cost you $10-15, a finger tab or shooting glove can be had for $5 to $20 depending on what you want, and a quiver might run $15-30. If you’re a craftsy type, you can make your own quiver out of a cut-off leg from a pair of jeans; look around online and you’ll find plenty of DIY plans. There are some inexpensive sights in the $20-40 range. All told, a basic archery setup (bow, arrows, arm guard, quiver, tab) can be yours for about $200. Most of this gear will later be upgraded as your skills improve and things wear out, but by then you will have learned what to look for.
Good luck, and welcome to the world of archery!