Can you learn archery on your own? Part 1 – A step-by-step guide (with pictures)

You, as well as a lot of other people, want to learn archery and are wondering if you can do it by yourself. The short and direct answer is YES, absolutely you can learn archery. But, before you just start shooting there are a couple of things you need to learn first.

Like any other skill, archery can be learned without the need of going to a club and take lessons. Although I recommend taking beginner classes (they’ll teach you in a couple of classes the fundamentals of archery, the main safety measures, etc.), I’m aware that some people don’t have time to take classes, don’t want to learn archery’s theory, or worse, live in a city which doesn’t have archery clubs. Thus, I’ll show you how to go from zero to an initiate in the art of shooting arrows just by following this post (and, if you’d like, the subsequent ones).

Starting gear

Since you are learning by yourself, you don’t have an instructor who can lend you a practice bow. So, you’ll need to think about buying a bow first. At this point, we may start arguing which type of bow is better, a recurve, a compound or a longbow, and be hours discussing. I, personally, prefer to start with a recurve. On the one hand, recurve bows are simpler than compounds, and also cheaper. On the other hand, in my opinion, it allows you more possibilities than a longbow. What I’m saying is that you can use a recurve as barebow, i.e. without sights, stabilizing bars, etc., or as Olympic, putting all those accessories on.

So, if your budget is tight, you can start getting a barebow recurve and, as you gain practice (and some extra money), you can buy those accessories one by one. Then, when you get familiarized with the archery basics, you can try other types of bow, like the compound or longbow.

During the first year of doing archery, if you practice regularly, you will improve relatively quickly. This means that you may need to upgrade your bow within the first year. Because of this, we will focus on selecting a cheaper, beginner-tier bow. Take into account that, perhaps, within the first year you’ll reach a point in learning that you’ll want (and need) to change it for a better one. So, purchasing a beginner bow will save you a couple of hundreds of dollars.

If you want to know, in a more detailed way, the essential gear to start (especially with recurve bows), I recommend you to follow this post.

To pick your first bow, we’ll need to know first some things from you, which I’ll tell you below.

Clearing a misconception

Before continuing, I want to clarify one thing. Some people think that, as the compound bow is more modern and (technologically) more complex than a recurve, you should use one after the other, like if recurves are made for beginners and compounds are for advanced shooters. This is wrong. Both can be used by either a beginner or an advanced shooter. Some very professional archers that only shoot with a recurve their whole life (and you can’t say they are not advanced enough). Or, on the contrary, people that start straight with a compound.
This confusion may arise from the fact that most instructors prefer to start teaching with a recurve. The reason for this is that a compound bow, unlike the recurve, has to be used with all the accessories from the beginning. Thus, a first-time shooter has to learn the safety code, the archery basics and the use of accessories (like the sight) all at once. And, guaranteed, that they will lose attention on the basics so they can focus on aiming. And any instructor can testify for that.
This is the real reason why I suggest to start practicing with a recurve bow. Learn your form, master the basics, become an adept archer and, then, you can even shoot with a bazooka (please, don’t try that).

Some important data to know

Archery is a very personal sport, and the equipment should be personalized to each particular shooter. To do this, there is some data you should know for you. Among the basic ones are your eye dominance and your draw length and draw weight. Then, for the arrows, it’s completely a whole new world (pun intended). There are several numbers to take into account.

Knowing your dominant eye

The first thing you should know to purchase your bow is your dominant eye. This will tell us which eye you’d naturally use to aim and, thus, with which hand you’ll grab the bow. Curiously, one tends to think that we have a dominant side and, thus, our dominant eye is on the same side as our skilled hand. This isn’t generally true. Some people are lefties for writing and right-legged to kick a football, like myself (well, honestly, I’m unskilled with both legs, but that’s another issue).

Determining your dominant eye is a quite simple task, and you can even do it yourself, without the help of anyone. Just follow these easy steps to discover if you are left or right-eye dominant. If you want a more detailed explanation of how to determine your dominant eye, you can go to this great post.

Do this to determine your eye dominance

Before we continue, this is a short and summarized version. Go here if you want to know more about the dominant eye and how to determine it.

  • First, step in front of a mirror. You can’t use a hand mirror, because you’ll be needing both hands to do this. The best options for this are a wall or a standing mirror. Also, you have to be sure you can stand in front of it from a distance of, let’s say, 5-10 feet.
  • Standing at that distance, extend your arms towards the mirror, and form a triangle with both hands, like in the picture. You’ll have to be able to look at the reflection of your face in the mirror from the gap in your hand’s triangle. A gap with a size of a bottle cap will do (don’t look for excuses, you don’t need to drink a beer to get a bottle cap).
  • Now, start moving your hands towards your face, while still seeing it in the mirror. You never have to lose focus on your face. Try to bring the triangle closer and centered as possible.
  • As you bring your hands closer, you’ll inadvertently shift the triangle towards your dominant eye. Your unconscious mind knows which is your dominant eye, so it’ll try to look through the triangle with it. In the mirror, you’ll be able to see which eye is that.
  • That’s it! Now you know which one is your dominant eye. Moreover, the arm on that side will be the one with which you’ll pull the string and, obviously, with the other one you will grab the bow.

You can also do it with help

As you probably had figure out already, the reason why we need a mirror is to see in the reflection towards which eye your mind is moving your hands. If you have another person that is willing to help you, you can ask him/her to stand in front of you 10 to 15 feet away and let him/her see which one is your dominant eye. The other person can also stand by you and, using the triangle on some distant object, repeat the exercise.

Just a reminder, do it two or three times to avoid some statistical misdetermination of the dominant eye.

Draw length and weight

Now that you know with which hand you’ll grab your bow, the next step is to determine the other two key parameters to buy your first bow: your draw length and draw weight. I’ll put a summarized version here.

Draw length

In a summarized way, the draw length is how further you pull your string when you are at full draw. This number will be useful when determining the final poundage of the bow’s limbs.

The quickest way to measure your draw length can be done with the help of someone else. Spread your arms widely, forming a T. Ask the other person to measure the distance from fingertip to fingertip. Alternatively, the other person can mark those extreme points on a wall and then measure them. Doing this way you’ll avoid staying quiet until he/she measures.

Once you have that measure, divide it by 2.5. That will give you an approximate number for your draw length. It is preferable to do 2 or 3 measurements, so you eliminate the possibility of having opened your arms less than what you are capable of and, thus, yielding a lower draw length value.

Draw weight

Unlike draw length, draw weight is harder to measure. We call draw weight to the amount of force you can pull from a bow and still feel comfortable. I say it’s not as easy to measure as the draw length, because the best way of doing it is using bows with different poundage and try to hold it for about 30 seconds. If, after that time, you can still hold it without trembling, then you can try a harder one, until you reach your top.

Because of this, it’s advisable to go to a local archery shop and make them help you determining your draw weight. They have several bows to try, and they will guide you through it.

If you don’t have an archery shop near you, you can use an approximate, more general draw weight, like the table below.

Body buildWeight (lbs)Avg. Draw weight (lbs)
Children (7-12 yrs)60-10010-12
Teenager (13-19 yrs)75-13012-25
Female (Small to Medium)90-12020-35
Female (Medium to Large)120-160+35-45
Male (Small to Medium)110-16025-45
Male (Medium to Large)160-190+30-60

Picking a bow

Once you know your dominant eye, draw length, and draw weight, let’s pick a bow. Whatever your dominant eye is, you’ll have to buy the bow according to it. If you are right-eyed dominant, make sure your bow is right-handed (or RH). In case your dominant eye is your left one, select a left-handed (or LH) bow.

As we mentioned earlier, this selection process is focused on recurve bows. Since compound bows must have all the accessories to be used, it’s a more expensive option.

For this instance of the learning process, it is advisable to select a beginner-class bow. You can get a beginner, barebow recurve bow for around $200 or less, depending on your choice. If you choose a takedown, ILF bow, I recommend going to a local archery shop. They will help you in measuring your draw weight and picking the best option for you.

These are some great and affordable options

If you are tight on your budget and are looking for a more affordable starting kit, then I have a couple of options for you. Please note that in these options that I’ll give you, less expensive is not a synonym of less quality. Of course, they aren’t professional gear, but they are pretty good for starting. Among the best options for this are the Samick Sage and the Mandarin Duck. The Samick Sage can be found as a stand-alone bow and as a starter kit (you can check on Amazon the price for the stand-alone version and the kit version). In the case of the stand-alone, take into account that you have to also buy other accessories (as you will see later). So, a starter kit might sound like a good option, as it comes with all you need to start shooting right away. You can check the price on Amazon of the Mandarin Duck here, although it is only right-handed.

Please note that these bows don’t offer different sizes, more suitable for any archer. Instead, they come in fixed sizes of 60” for the Mandarin and 62” for the Samick. If this is a bit short for you, it’s ok, don’t worry too much about it. Since this is a beginner bow, you’ll be learning your first steps with it. Then, when you are more proficient with the bow, you can move to something better, and sell the old one. There’s always a market for used bows. If they are maintained in good conditions, a bow can last for a long time (check this post about the life expectancy of a bow).

Don’t forget these safety accessories

A good thing about starter kits is that they come with all the necessary equipment for a beginner. By getting one of those, you can assemble everything as soon as you get it and start shooting.

If you are the kind of person that prefers to buy each thing separately, then you have to take into account some accessories, besides the bow. Among the most important ones are those who serve as protection, like those mentioned in this post. You’ll need a finger tab to protect your fingers from pulling the string and an arm protector, which protects your bow’s forearm against string slapping when you release. If you eventually got hit by the string, don’t worry, nothing bad’s gonna happen, but it will hurt quite a bit. Some people, even using arm protectors, go home with some slap burns and bruises, due to poor form.
As an option, you can also get a chest guard. This accessory is not entirely to protect your body but to avoid the string getting stuck in your clothes, and affecting your shot.

What will I shoot (don’t forget the arrows)

All this equipment will be completely useless is you don’t get some arrows. Picking the right arrows for you is as complex as selecting the right bow, or even more. There are several factors when you pick arrows and, thus, it’s a very personalized thing. Because of this, I made this complete guide for picking the right arrow for you when you are a beginner.

Nevertheless, for this beginner guide, you can select a rather generic arrow. As a quick reference, you should pick arrows with a length of 2 or 3 inches longer than your draw length. Also, you can select an intermediate hardness, determined by its spine. Selecting a hardness of 600 spine is enough for starting. It’s not too soft to bend with high-poundage bows, but it isn’t too hard, either. But, please, if you have some time, go and head the link in the paragraph above. It will give you a broader knowledge about why and how to choose your first set of arrows.

Doing preliminary exercises

You can’t start practicing any sport or physical activity (even archery) without a good warm-up. You have to warm up your muscles, tendons, and joints before and after doing archery for several reasons. On the one hand, you will prepare your body for a prolonged shooting session (sometimes in archery you can be shooting for 2 hours straight like nothing). On the other hand, these exercises will help your body to gain flexibility and might help to improve your posture, form, draw length, and more. If you don’t do it, you might result in severely injured. In this post, we summarized the most common archery injuries.

It is known that archery is not a violent sport, and most of the injuries are mild. But there are some places, like the rotator cuff that, if injured, it may ruin your shooting experience, sometimes for life.

We have on this blog a post fully dedicated to teaching you a very basic, but necessary warm-up routine. However, if you don’t have time to do the complete warm-up, below I’ll show you two basic exercises you must do before start shooting. They are important because, as you will see, you emulate the handle rising and the drawing motion. For these exercises, you’ll only need a piece of an elastic band of about 3 feet.

Exercise 1: Bow-arm stretching

For doing this exercise, I’ll try to describe, step by step, how to do it. 

  1. First, stand with both feet separated about a shoulder-width.
  2. Take one end of the elastic band with one of your hands, and step over the other end with the corresponding foot.
  3. Without flexing the elbow, pull from the elastic band until your arm is perpendicular to your body (forming a 90-degree angle).
  4. Lower it until it rests on the side of your body.
  5. Repeat this exercise 15 to 20 times.
  6. Rest for about 30 seconds and repeat.
  7. It’s recommended to do, in total, 3 sets of 15-20 repetitions each.
  8. After the 3 sets, rest your arm for about 1 or 2 minutes and do the same exercise changing to the other hand and foot.

Exercise 2: Draw stretching

This exercise is a bit more complex than the first one, but it’s still very easy to do.

  1. Grab the elastic band from the middle with one hand (let’s say, with the right hand), and with the other take the two ends together. 
  2. Extend both arms to the right, like if you were grabbing the bow and the string.
  3. Keeping your right arm straight and without flexing the elbow, pull with the left hand (the one who has the two ends of the elastic band) towards your shoulder as if you were drawing the bow, and move it again to the relaxed position.
  4. Repeat this exercise between 15 and 20 times.
  5. After this, rest your arms for about 30 seconds, and repeat the exercise. You have to do, in total, 3 sets of 15-20 repetitions.
  6. When you finish, rest for 1 or 2 minutes, and do the same exercise but changing hands.
Note: If you prefer, on each exercise, instead of doing three sets with each hand, you can alternate one set with each hand, so each arm can rest between series.

As you can see, these are very easy exercises that you can do in a couple of minutes, and without needing any fancy equipment. There are many other exercises to stretch or to gain strength in the muscles needed in archery (basically, the upper torso and shoulders).

With the equipment ready and our muscles warmed up, it’s time to go to part 2 of this guide, where you’ll learn how to shoot.


5 responses to “Can you learn archery on your own? Part 1 – A step-by-step guide (with pictures)”

  1. Steven Rob Avatar

    Thanks a lot for this detailed guide. It has actually covered everything in detail, especially the test for checking the eye dominance is something that has really helped me in getting started with my passion. Will surely be coming back for seeking more help.

    1. Luciano Darriba Avatar
      Luciano Darriba

      Hello Steven. Thanks a lot for your kind words. I’m happy that my blog was helpful to you. Please, feel free to continue browsing it to find more helpful content.
      I also invite you to follow my Facebook page ( and its corresponding group. If you authorize me, I can keep sending you mail updates when new content is up.

      Keep safe and good arrows!!!!!!!

  2. Mrs. KB Avatar
    Mrs. KB

    Thanks a lot!
    I’M almost 17 and i have no idea where to start.. but this will surely help me in the future!
    I also wanted to join the Olympic games in the future.. i would like you to to tell me how and give me an advice for it… and once again.. THANK YOU VERY MUCH!♡♡♡♡

    1. Luciano Darriba Avatar
      Luciano Darriba

      Hi! Thanks for commenting. I´m glad to see young people with such an interest in this spot.

      As for your request, if you want to become an Olympic archer, I suggest you train hard and consistently. It´s not an easy path, but I´m sure you can achieve what you propose.
      My best advice is to try to contact a local archery club near your home or at least a coach. Being in person, he/she will surely give you a better picture of what it takes to become an Olympic archer. It´s not easy to train to be Olympic by looking at videos or reading blogs. It may help you to grasp some concepts, but you need an in-person coach.

      I hope this tip results in handy for you.

      Good luck on that, and good arrows !!!!!!!

  3. Rob Avatar

    I only recently discovered your site. A real treasure trove for which i thank you very much.
    From comments to your articles i understand there is a mailinglist for new articles; would appreciate if you could ad my email address to this list.

    Best regards,
    The Netherlands

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *