Archery can be a great pastime. It’s relaxing to spend time shooting, and it’s a great way to spend time outside. It can be a highly social or solitary pursuit. There are few things more satisfying than the feeling of putting arrows on the bull’s-eye. Conversely, there are few things more frustrating than trying to shoot a bow and missing consistently. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could practice at home?
How do you build an archery range at home? Making an archery range isn’t difficult, but it does take a little planning. To create a backyard archery range, follow these steps:
- Check local laws to make sure it’s allowed
- Layout and measure your range
- Build a backstop
- Set up targets
- Add other equipment
- Make it realistic
To get good at archery, you must practice almost every day. You could carve out time every day to drive to an archery range. Of course, that assumes there is an archery range nearby, and that it doesn’t take too long to get there. You can easily double or even triple the amount of time you spend practicing archery if you didn’t have to commute to a range every day. In this article, we are going to explain how you can build an archery range in your backyard.
1. Check the Laws
The first step to building an archery range is checking your local laws to make sure it’s allowed. If your locality bans backyard archery, you can’t create a range. You will have to find other options to practice your shooting.
If you live in an incorporated city or town, start by checking with your city government. The local code enforcement department is the best place to start. If your town does not have a code enforcement department, check with the police department or the town clerk’s office.
If you’re still unsure how to find out this information, I wrote an article all about The Legal Restrictions Of Practicing Archery In The Backyard that will help you figure everything out.
2. Lay Out and Measure Your Range
Once you’ve determined that backyard archery is allowed, you can start laying out your range. Range layout is vital – get it wrong, and you’ll never have the best shooting experience. The first step to laying out your field is to decide the distances you need.
If you are a competition shooter, deciding on distances is simple. Look at the rules for your competition and measure your yard to find that distance. Don’t limit yourself to just the backyard, either. You can maximize the reach that you shoot if you stand at the front of your lot and shoot through the gate into the backyard.
Measuring Your Range
You have a few options for measuring your lot. One is a measuring tape. A 30-foot measuring tape lets you mark off 10-yard increments. If you want to go a little longer, you can purchase 100-foot tape and measure distances up to 33 yards.
For longer distances, a measuring wheel allows you to pace off any length you like. Measuring wheels are available at most hardware stores, I recommend this Measuring Wheel on Amazon. If you often shoot on informal ranges, a measuring wheel can be a handy thing to have in your archery kit. You can measure distances as quickly as you can walk them.
If your property is not big enough to give you the full distance that you need for practice, don’t despair. You can simulate long-distance shooting by cutting the range in half and using a target face that is half the size of your official target.
This will give you the same site picture that you get from shooting a full-size target at the full distance. Also, you will benefit from the extra shooting practice even though you’re not shooting at the full range.
Range for Hunters
If you are a hunter, identifying the distance to shoot is a little tougher. Check your stand location and identify the longest shot you are likely to take. Then, practice at twice that range. Yes, twice the range. If you have a chance at a big buck at the maximum range for your stand, you want it to feel comfortable – not like you are working at the limit of your skill.
Many archery pros (the guys you see hunting on TV) make a habit of shooting at 100 or even 120 yards. That’s how they make a 60-yard shot look easy.
You probably won’t be able to set up a range to meet that maximum distance. That’s OK. Just like for competition archers, you can use smaller targets to compensate for the lack of distance. Get your practice every day on small targets at half distance, then make sure you shoot at longer distances every few weeks.
The layout of your property will determine the orientation of your range if you are trying to maximize your shooting distance. In a perfect world, your range should be oriented so that you shoot at the south side facing north. This orientation guarantees that the sun will not be in your eyes – no matter the time of day or the season.
For most people, a west-facing range is the worst. This puts you staring directly into the sun as you shoot in the evening. South-facing ranges should also be avoided because the low winter sun will be in your eyes.
If you can’t prevent a range layout that requires you to face the sun as you shoot, try to align your range so that something blocks the sun for your shooting. A tree, a fence, or even your backstop can all be helpful.
Targets and Firing Lanes
If you’re a solo archer, laying out the range is easy. Set your target at the back of the range, mark your firing line, and start shooting. If you shoot with multiple archers of different skill levels, it can be tougher.
The most straightforward arrangement is to have your target or targets at the back of the range and mark off different firing lines. This has the advantage of requiring only one target and backstop. It has the disadvantage of requiring everyone to shoot at the same distance for each round.
If you would prefer to allow all archers to shoot at different distances, set up a single firing line. Place targets at appropriate ranges and put a backstop behind each one. The beautiful thing about this set up is that everyone can shoot at once, no matter the distance. The drawback is that you need to have multiple targets and multiple backstops.
Once you have measured and aligned your range, you will want to mark the firing lines. You can dig holes and set posts at each range, or you can mark the distances with a brick. Dig a hole the size of the brick and set your marker in the ground. Make the top of the brick flush with the ground. This gives you a visible marker that won’t move, but you can roll right over with the lawnmower. No weed-eating needed!
3. Set Up a Backstop
The next thing you need for your range is a backstop. Most of your arrows will hit the target, but sometimes even the best archer misses. OK, maybe you don’t miss. But your buddy, or your kid, or your spouse will. You need a backstop to keep the arrows from leaving your range or getting lost. An ideal barrier will stop your arrows without damaging them.
Most suburban backyards already have a handy backstop in place – a wooden privacy fence. These fences will keep arrows in your yard and your neighbors safe. The drawback to a solid-wood backstop is that it can damage arrows. It’s best if you can make the area immediately around your target have a softer barrier.
Besides arrow damage, solid-wood backstops can be very noisy. Arrows smacking into a wood fence can be loud and irritate your neighbors. A softer barrier is best because it’s quiet and easy on arrows. If want to use your fence as a backstop, I suggest adding some rubber mat to protect your arrows and cut down on the noise.
The best backstops for stopping arrows without damaging them or heavy, yet flexible. You can purchase netting that is made specifically for stopping arrows. This netting works very well and is available in large sizes, but it can be expensive. I recommend this Archery Netting from Amazon.
Another option is old carpet. The carpet will also stop arrows, and you can often get it for free. The downside of carpet is that it can be ugly and possibly get moldy when wet. You may need multiple layers of carpet to stop arrows from stronger bows, personally I avoid using carpet.
Perhaps the best combination of durability and price for a backstop is the rubber mats meant for horse stalls. These mats are waterproof and practically indestructible, yet they don’t cost that much. Hanging a rubber stall mat as a backstop will catch all your arrows safely without damaging them.
Hanging a Flexible Backstop
Whatever flexible backstop you choose, you will need to hang it up. Flexible barriers work the best if they are hanging in space and allowed to flex. Don’t attach your barrier to the privacy fence. Build a separate frame and attach the backstop only to the top of the frame. When arrows hit the backstop, it will give and flex to stop the arrow. If you stretch your backstop tight so that it can’t move, the arrows will punch through.
Build a wooden frame for your backstop from pressure-treated lumber. Make sure that you use sturdy lumber and brace it adequately. Carpet and stall mats are heavy, and blowing in the wind stresses the frame. A flimsy frame for your backstop won’t last long in bad weather.
Make sure your backstop reaches all the way to the ground, too. Arrows will go low and try to slide under your barrier. You are much more likely for an arrow to miss low than high at most ranges.
A popular backstop in rural areas is the round bale of hay. These bales are 5 ½ feet tall and weigh from 750 to 1000 pounds. If you have space and a way to handle the bale, they are terrific backstops. If you buy the bale from a neighbor, you may be able to arrange for delivery and placement of the hay at the end of your shooting range. If not, you’ll have to get creative about unloading and placing the bale.
One note about hay bales – the hay fibers have a pattern, and placement of the bale makes a difference in stopping arrows. Round bales consist of a sheet of hay about 3 inches thick rolled in a tight spiral.
If you shoot at the flat end of the hay bale, the bale won’t stop the arrow very well, and you can lose arrows in the hay. Shoot at the round side instead – that puts you shooting into the layers instead of between them. This will stop arrows much better.
If you are shooting at square bales, the end of the bale is configured best to stop an arrow. If you must shoot at the side, shoot at a side with twine or wire. If you shoot at a side without twine or wire, the hay layers are aligned in the worst way to stop and arrow.
One inexpensive way to build a backstop is the rag backstop. It requires a frame similar to the one used for net or rubber mat backstops. Instead of hanging fabric, both sides of the frame are faced with net wire. Rags and old clothing are packed tight into the space between the wires. This dense layer of cloth will stop arrows and keep your neighborhood safe.
I built my backstop on an existing fence using some plywood and a rubber mat. To see how I built mine, and get more in depth step by step instructions for some of these other backstops, check out my How To Make An Archery Backstop article.
4. Set Up Your Targets
Once your backstop is in place, put your target in front of it. If your shooting competition archery, you need a target face and a target back. The face should either be the same face you will shoot in competition, or a half-sized face if you are shooting at half distance.
You can purchase target bags to shoot at, or you can make your own. Here are my Favorite Archery Targets to just buy a good quality option. In that link I explain the use and purpose of different types of targets, to help you find one that works for you.
The back will catch your arrows once they hit the target. Hay bales are common target backs in addition to being good backstops. One or two hay bales will stop arrows for most bows and last for a season or more. You can extend the life of your hay bales and guarantee arrow stops by covering them loosely with a piece of AstroTurf.
If you would prefer to make your own target back, you have several options. One affordable option is a stack of carpet squares. Get samples of carpet, or get a big piece of used carpet and cut it into squares. Stack the squares up until it reaches the height you want, then use a pair of ratchet straps to bind it all together.
Cinch down the straps nice and tight so that the carpet is packed hard. Your arrows will slide into the space between the carpet layers, but the compression will stop the arrow. This is a cheap and safe target for shooting.
You can make a similar target back by stacking cardboard or foam flooring squares. Whatever you use, make sure the layers are packed tightly and held in place with a ratchet strap. It’s the compression from the straps that makes the layers stop your arrows.
For step by step instruction on making your own archery target, check out my article How To Make An Archery Target for instructions on many of the most popular target ideas.
If you’re not a competition archer, you have a more extensive range of choices. You can buy commercial targets made from a variety of materials that will withstand hundreds of arrow impacts. Most of these have aiming points already painted on the target. These targets cost a little more, but they will stand up to arrows and weather for years.
I recommend this Morrell Supreme Archery Target found on Amazon. These targets are a bit more expensive than a cheap foam target, but it will last through years of shooting. I’ve had mine for over 5 years now, and still use it. I would have spent more money replacing cheaper targets if I didn’t have this one.
If you are a hunter, you will probably also want to add a 3-D target to your range. This will help you get used to shooting at a three-dimensional target. It will help you with arrow placement and make sure that you are ready when you get a shot at a trophy buck.
If you live in the country or have a really big lot, you can get fancy with your range. You can place 3-D targets at different intervals or scatter them out across your property. You can get practice moving through the woods, shooting at odd angles, and even dealing with obstructions.
This works exceptionally well if you live in a wooded area. Trees and brush can serve as backstops for your arrows, and archery practice will feel a lot like real hunting. This also gives you good practice in placing your shots and identifying aiming points for the best results.
5. Add Other Equipment
Once your range is laid out, your backstop is in place, and your target is set up, you are ready to shoot. However, adding a few extra touches will make your archery experience more enjoyable. One of the best things to add is a bow stand just behind the firing line. You can set a post and add a few bow hooks, buy a pre-made portable bow stand, or build a stand from PVC pipe.
Here’s a cool video showing how to make your own bow stand out of PVC pipe.
You may also want to build or install arrow holders. You can make portable arrow holders from PVC pipe, or set pipes vertically in the ground as combination firing line markers and arrow holders. Having an arrow holder available makes shooting much more manageable.
One final piece of equipment that comes in very handy is an arrow puller. Arrow pullers come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but they all do the same job. You get a good, tight grip on the arrow with something big enough to fill your hand.
This lets you exert a lot more force on the shaft than you can if you just grab it. Sooner or later, you will get an arrow stuck in a target. Having an arrow puller makes them much easier to get out.
6. Hunters, Make it Realistic
If you’re a hunter, you will want to make your practice more realistic. It’s good to shoot from known ranges, but you should also shoot at distances in between. The odds that your shot at a trophy buck will come at exactly 30 yards are pretty much zero. Practice at a variety of ranges so that you’re ready no matter what.
Hunters should also practice shooting downhill. If you hunt from a tree stand, you’re almost guaranteed to be shooting at an angle. Practice the shot by setting up a tree stand, a platform, or even just a step ladder on your range.
Don’t make your first downhill shot the one that you have to make. Practice some variations of shots ahead of time.
If you are serious about bow hunting, make sure you have at least one 3-D target. Real game animals don’t come with bull’s-eyes and target rings outside of comic strips. Get some practice on realistic targets. Make sure you shoot at different angles, too. When you have a chance at a great buck, you don’t want to guess about arrow placement.
Finally, hunters should practice at least part of the time with broadheads. Broadheads don’t fly or handle wind quite the same as target points. You need to be ready for that before hunting season starts. Make sure your backstop and target can handle these types of arrows before practicing with them.
Even with a backyard archery range, there will be times when you can’t shoot, especially in winter. Your schedule may keep you away from home during daylight hours, or the weather may be too cold or wet. Whatever the reason, there are times when it is nice to shoot indoors. It’s not quite the same as shooting outdoors, but even five minutes a day of indoor practice can make worlds of difference.
When it comes to indoor archery practice, you have a couple of options. One is to set up an indoor shooting range. To set up an indoor range, make a target backing similar to an outdoor backing. Use a quality target, carpet, or cardboard to catch and hold the arrow. Mark a firing line five yards out from the target.
Safety is even more critical when indoors, make sure anyone around knows what you’re doing to prevent accidents. Take ten or fifteen minutes each day to shoot at the target inside. Concentrate on your form. Keep your draw smooth, get a good anchor, hold the bow steady, and get a clean release.
Pro tip: Hunters, you may want to use a different bow for this. Using a cam bow with a heavy draw that is launching arrows at 350+ feet per second isn’t ideal for this range. Get a simple recurve bow with a lighter draw weight for indoor practicing. Your walls will thank you.
The indoor range isn’t for practicing your aiming, working on trajectories, or dealing with wind. It’s just a way to tune up your form so that you’re ready to shoot when the weather is beautiful.
Another great way to keep your form sharp when shooting inside is to practice with a string bow. A string bow isn’t a fancy archery tool. It’s just a way to practice your form. The string bow is a loop of string knotted at the exact length of your draw. This simple tool is used by the National Archery in Schools Program (NASP) to make world-class archers.
Here’s a cool video explaining string bow training and how to do it.
Here are the steps to create a string bow:
- Take a long piece of elastic string and loop it around your bow hand, so the string runs where you hold your bow. Paracord is great for this.
- Hold your bow hand (with the string) in front of you as if you were holding your bow up. Run your draw hand along the string until your index finger meets the anchor point on your face.
- Pull the string snug but not tight and pinch the string there. Hold that spot.
- Tie a knot in the string where your fingers are pinching it.
- You should now have a loop the exact length of your draw. Test the string to make sure it’s the correct length.
To practice with the string bow, work through your draw steps while holding the string as if it were your bow. Set your bow hand, draw the string, anchor your hand, and released just like you would an arrow. That’s all there is to it. Practice with your string bow five minutes every day. This practice helps you keep your shooting form sharp and get ready for range time.
If you want to get really fancy, close your eyes and visualize holding your bow and shooting an arrow as you work through the steps. After you release, picture the arrow traveling to the air and striking the bull’s-eye. Believe it or not, this visualization is used by Olympic archers to help them shoot their best.
Archery is a great way to relieve stress and get some activity. It’s a challenging activity and one that requires almost daily practice to stay sharp. The best way to get good at archery is to shoot every day, and the best way to shoot every day is to have an archery range in your backyard.
Setting up an archery range can be as easy or complicated as you want to make it. Whether it’s a simple hay bale at 10 yards, a backstop with markers extending all the way to 100 yards, or even a 3-D range, you can set up an archery range to help you shoot better.
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