When I started practicing archery with my family I wanted to make sure no one would get hurt while we enjoyed this sport together. For that reason I researched everything archery safety related and want to share the safety measures we take with you.
To practice proper archery safety you will always: Inspect your equipment and safety gear, follow proper bow safety and bow firing rules, and retrieve your arrows in a safe manner. Always adhere to local laws as well as any range rules. The goal of these safety rules is to make it impossible for an accident to happen.
Many archers create their own set of safety rules to follow as well as following local law and range rules. There are even some additional rules we like to follow when we have kids practicing archery with us. Here is what we do to ensure everyone has a safe experience.
Archery Safety Rules
Here is the archery safety rules list we follow every time we shoot a bow. A lot of the time we will use practice arrows especially when just practicing archery in our backyard. Even though practice arrows aren’t sharp, these rules need to be followed every time by everyone we’re shooting with.
Here’s a quick archery safety rules sheet to get you started. I will go into more detail what each safety step requires below. You will want to go through this list with everyone you will be shooting with. This safety sheet is especially helpful to use with children.
We follow these safety rules every time and we haven’t had any accidents yet (fingers crossed!). I’ve added a pdf download above so you can print this out and use it yourself. I want to go into a bit more detail about each of these rules so you can better explain them to kids or fellow archers.
Inspecting your equipment and wearing proper clothing and archery gear are a bit more involved so I will go over those in more detail below. For now lets talk about firing safety and range rules.
Only Point The Bow In A Safe Direction
A safe direction in this case would be anywhere downrange. Downrange is the direction your target is from the firing line. It’s a good habit to get into and gets everyone in the mindset of being aware of where you’re facing. If there are people downrange, it’s best to not be holding the bow at all, lay it down on a table for example.
Never Point The Bow At Someone
You should get everyone in the habit of never pointing the bow at someone even if you don’t have an arrow. Making this a part of holding a bow will keep everyone safer when they are holding an arrow.
Never Nock An Arrow Until You Are Ready To Shoot
This is pretty straight forward. What you want to prevent is getting comfortable having an arrow nocked in the bow when it could be dangerous for those in the area. Being ‘Ready To Shoot’ typically means you are at the firing line, facing downrange, and you have been cleared to fire.
Keep Arrow Aimed To The Ground While You Nock It
Keeping the arrow aimed down toward the ground while you nock it has prevented accidents already. This is an especially good rule with kids. They tend to get excited and pull back on the arrow as they nock it. If they don’t have a good hold on the arrow they could accidentally release it.
Be Aware Of What Is In Front Of And Behind Your Target
Get into the habit of looking past your target and making sure there is nothing you are putting in danger. If you have a good backstop, this will be less of an issue. But it is still a good habit to get into. As far as what is in front of your target, you shouldn’t be shooting if there is something in between you and the target.
Only Shoot At A Target With A Safe Backstop
A backstop is the area behind your target that prevents your arrow from going anywhere if you miss the target. Usually this can be made from hay bales, a piece of plywood, or archery netting.
Only Shoot Down At A Target
This is more of a preference rule because in reality you can shoot on level ground also. You should not be shooting upwards in any circumstances though. It creates a dangerous condition where it’s way to easy to miss the target and backstop and send an arrow flying through the sky.
Only Fire When The Range Is Empty
We use a system where we have what’s called a range master. One of the adults will be the one to give commands like ‘approach the firing line’ or ‘clear to fire’ that way no one will be able to fire when someone is downrange setting up targets.
Never Draw Your Bow Until You Are Ready To Shoot
We already require that no one can nock an arrow until they are ready to shoot so this just reinforces the safety mindset. Being ‘Ready To Shoot’ typically means you are at the firing line, facing downrange, and you have been cleared to fire.
Never Dry Fire Your Bow
This rule tends to keep kids from thinking the bow is a toy. Dry firing the bow means drawing and releasing the bow string without an arrow. Doing this can cause injury and possible damage to the bow.
If You Hear ‘Hold’ Stop Immediately
If you hear anyone shout ‘stop’ or ‘hold’ you stop what you are doing immediately. You will undraw your bow and unnock your arrow right away. This is an important command to make sure everyone is aware of. If the range master (or anyone on the firing line) notices a person or animal or any dangerous situation on the field they can yell stop or hold. Also, when the archers are done shooting and want to go check their targets the range master will typically yell ‘hold’ making the range cold.
Only Fire When Given The Command To Do So
No one should ever be ready to fire unless they have been told to approach the firing line and have been cleared to fire. Sometimes a range master will say ‘the range is hot’ instead of cleared to fire.
I know this seems a bit excessive at first. But it’s really a good practice to make safety a number one concern. We tend to repeat the saying ‘safety first’ quite a bit when kids are shooting with us to keep reminding them of the safety rules.
Here’s a quote from the Journal of the American Association for Health, Physical Education, and Recreation. (source)
Never nock an arrow until after the signal is given to shoot. Stay behind the shooting line until the signal is given to retrieve arrows, when all archers will go at one time to retrieveMyrtle K. Miller (1952) Archery Safety Rules, Journal of the American Association for Health, Physical Education, and Recreation, 23:5, 12-39, DOI: 10.1080/23267232.1952.10627503
Inspecting Your Equipment
It’s always a good idea to check over your bow and arrows before stepping up to the firing line for the first time of the day. We like to make it part of practicing archery, every time we go out, we check over our equipment. Here’s a quick hit list of what to check for before you start shooting:
- Check arrows for cracks or splintering
- Check arrow fletching for damage
- Check arrow nock for cracks
- Check bow limbs for cracks or damage
- Check bow string for frays
- Check the backstop for damage that could allow an arrow through
- Check your eye protection for damage
- Check your arm guard, gloves, or tabs for wear and damage
It’s a quick and simple procedure and will make sure you’re using safe equipment. There is a lot of tension on the bow while you have it drawn back. If something were to break you could injure yourself or someone nearby. Besides, it’s usually cheaper to repair something minor before it gets worse and becomes a major problem.
Wear Proper Clothing And Safety Gear
Most seasoned archers would strongly recommend that you wear an arm guard. An arm guard will protect your forearm from the bow string. It’s a very common occurrence in archery to get whacked in the forearm by the bow string. This can cause serious injury in some cases leading to bruising or tearing off skin.
Here is my favorite Arm Guard on Amazon. For a durable arm guard with quick buckles for around 10 bucks, you can’t go wrong. If you have a hard time finding an arm guard that fits, or just want a custom arm guard, visit my How To Make Your Own Arm Guard article where I walk through step by step how to make one.
We like to have the kids wear safety glasses. It may not be entirely necessary but in the rare case that something does happen, I like to know we did everything we could to protect them.
Wear safe clothing for shooting a bow. You don’t want to wear loose clothing or anything that can get caught up in the bow string. Some of the clothing we don’t allow are:
- Loose shirts
We don’t win any awards by not allowing hoods or jewelry but there have been cases where a bow string seriously injures people by getting caught on jewelry and hood strings.
Retrieve Arrows Safely
If you follow the safety rules from above this will be a lot less of a concern. The problem is kids like to run out to their arrow after they shoot it, especially if they hit the target. It’s a good idea to reinforce that they stay behind the firing line until the range is cold. The range master can let them know when it is safe to approach the target and retrieve their arrows.
Even if they drop something just over the firing line that they can easily reach, we make them wait until the range is cold to get it. This helps them remember that beyond the firing line is dangerous and they can not cross onto the range until the have been given the go ahead.
Safe Bow Storage
You will always want to store your bow in a hard case that you can lock, especially with kids in the house. If you own a recurve bow or a long bow, it’s best practice to store them unstrung. If possible, keep your arrows, quivers, and other accessories stored separate from the bow.
If you have sharp arrow heads, they should also be stored in a locked container. There have been incidents where a child wanted to show a friend the bow they shoot with, and someone ended up getting injured. Remember, safety first.