Archery safety? Can those two words really go together? Can one be safe with an instrument that has been used for centuries, nay millennia, as both a weapon and a hunting device? The answer is, of course, yes! Archery safety is not an oxymoron. It can be both safe and fun through a combination of the following: knowledge and practice of the rules that govern the safe (Are you sensing a theme here?) practice of archery including proper technique, maintaining your bow and arrows properly, and wearing/utilizing the proper safety gear, archery netting or backstops, and equipment.
Researching this project showed that though the list is long, there is a clear and definitive logic to all the rules regarding safety. For archery is a sport that can potentially be as harmful to the practitioner as it can be for the spectators, fellow archers, judges… essentially everyone in the vicinity of the “nocked” arrow, or in laymen’s terms, the loaded bow. According to California Archery, there are three rules that you must ALWAYS follow. The first is, “NEVER point a bow and arrow at another person.” The reason for this rule is obvious. Pointing a loaded weapon of any kind at someone for any reason besides self-defense simply isn't done. The second is, “NEVER shoot an arrow straight up in the air.” The old saying, “What goes up must come down,” applies here. The question, of course, is, “Come down where?” The fact is you don’t, (and I surely don’t), know where that arrow will end its flight, especially when a capricious thing like wind affects its trajectory. You can’t argue with physics. You or someone else could end up impaled by that arrow. And, the third most important rule is, “NEVER shoot an arrow off into the distance where you cannot see where it will land.” This is a variation of rule 2 because, while it is unlikely that you will impale yourself on an arrow you have shot off into an unseen distance, you also cannot prevent that arrow from striking someone or something else without a visible target. For the bow-hunter, (and this rule will definitely apply to the target shooter as well), The Michigan Department of Natural Resources emphatically states, “Do not use alcohol or take mood altering drugs before, during, or after shooting a bow.” Sound advice that even political leaders using firearms should adhere to. Over-drawing, or pulling the bowstring back further than the length of the arrow being used, can break the bow resulting in injury to the archer is another important safety rule emphasized on multiple websites. Dry firing, or pulling back on the string and releasing it without an arrow being nocked (loaded) is another important safety rule. Damage to the bow and consequently the shooter is the excellent reason behind the aforementioned rule. California Archery goes on to list 17 more rules from recommended distances to demarcate to inspecting your equipment regularly.
Maintaining your bow and arrows is just as important for safety as knowing the rules. A poorly maintained car is an accident waiting to happen, and the same can be said of your bow and arrows. Warped arrows result in warped and unpredictable trajectories. Physics strikes again! If you want your arrow to fly straight and true, the arrow needs to be straight, duh! Believe it or not, there is a device with the very technical term of “arrow straightener” that will do just that! Therefore, it is a critically important tool to have in your maintenance kit. A cracked arrow isn't an arrow. It is a disaster! This emphasizes the importance of routine inspection. While California Archery advocated breaking the cracked arrow to prevent its accidental use, Archery: Sport of Champions advocated the more eco friendly approach of cutting off the damaged portion and re-attaching the point so the arrow can still be used by archers with smaller bows. One hopes that close inspection will catch the crack before it extends the length of the arrow, thereby ruling out the later option. But, use the option that you feel the most comfortable with. The point, fletching (feathers), and nock, (plastic piece near the feathers or arrow vanes that attaches the arrow to the bowstring) should also be inspected for wear and tear and replaced as needed. Likewise, all parts of the anatomy of the bow should inspected, repaired, and/or replaced as needed. A bow stringer is also an important tool to have because longbows and re-curve bows are extremely difficult to string by hand without causing damage to the bow or the string or both, as-well-as causing injury to you, the archer. And, since the recommended way of storing your bow is unstrung, that is all the more reason to have and use a bow stringer. A wooden bow needs extra care because wood and moisture don’t mix. The bowstring is another part of the bow that you don’t want to get dewy. Therefore, both the wood and the string must be waxed regularly. Archery: Sport of Champions recommends sealing up any nicks in the wood with clear fingernail polish again to prevent moisture from seeping in. See guys, not just for manicures! To review, moisture=rot=safety hazard. While it wasn't mentioned specifically, I believe that a cracked bow would be the antithesis of safety. So, you are caught up on the safety rules and how proper maintenance of your bow and arrows will help keep you safe. You are all set, right?… Wrong. There is some safety gear and equipment specific to archers that will help insure a fun and, of course, safe experience.
Archery: Sport of Champions lists arm guard, chest guard, and finger tab under the heading, “Other Equipment”. These items could be more appropriately termed safety equipment, because safety is their primary function. The arm guard is to protect the arm holding the bow from contact with the bowstring. If you think being popped by a rubber band is painful, then the arm guard is a must for you. The chest guard protects, duh, the chest, but it also serves the important function of keeping loose clothing and the bowstring from meeting, which could, at best, damage your clothing and, at worst damage you. Finger tabs are for the drawing (shooting) hand to protect your fingers from damage caused by the bowstring. Blisters then calluses will form on unprotected fingers, because, let’s face it, you are basically giving yourself a friction burn every time you draw back and release the bowstring. A grip/arrow puller and a covered quiver/arrow carrier could also be termed safety gear. The grip helps the archer remove the arrow from target or carcass with an economy of motion thereby avoiding an uncontrolled removal and possible human impalement. The covered quiver protects the archer and others from the business end of the arrows, particularly the razor sharp broadhead arrow. The aforementioned items are for both the target range and the bow hunter. The following items are specifically for the bow hunter. There are a wide variety of safety harnesses and vests to keep the bow hunter safe from falls. Why falls? A bow hunter’s effective range is much smaller than the range for firearms, so an advantage for the bowman is to be above the game they are hunting. A distinct disadvantage to that is the bowman must use both hands to “fire” their weapon. That leaves no hands for holding on in high places. Hence the necessity of a safety harness or vest is obvious. With the harness or vest, you may want to invest in a climbing belt, safety line (rope), tree strap, and a controlled descent system. The next safety items, while not specifically for archers, are important for anyone who spends a lot of time in the great outdoors. All-weather gear, sunscreen, bug and tick repellant, first aid kit, and survival gear (primarily fire starting kit, water, food, a sharp knife, etc) are all important safety gear for any outdoor sports and recreation enthusiast of which the archer is one.
Well, there you have it. This sport is not a sport to be taken lightly. Knowledge of rules and proper drawing technique, proper maintenance of your bow(s) and arrows, (the bread and butter of archery), and investment in the appropriate personal gear and equipment will ensure a satisfying and rewarding experience. And, a final note on safety. Archery requires a high level of physical fitness. Whether it is the strength necessary to hold up the bow in firing position, or to draw back the bowstring or the stamina required to retrieve the arrows, track game, or bring in your kill, the fitter you are the better you will feel. Muscle strain and fatigue are the least of your worries if you are not fit. So, get fit, get educated, get geared up and see you on the range!
Written by Laura Kinzie
Sources on the web:
Archery: Sport of Champions
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources
The Sportsman’s Guide