Am I an expert? Not really. I had a simple yew bow when I was a kid. It could shoot a full sized arrow fifty yards and I used it for years without killing anyone (an important achievement!). Later, I was lucky enough to live near an inexpensive but full-size outdoor archery range and learned the art of the recurve bow and, later, the brute power of the compound bow.
The guide below should be a good starting point for complete beginners. I also picked out some bows that illustrate the kind of thing people of all ages can enjoy without a huge outlay but decent accuracy.
The Kinds of Bow in Use Today
These are the bows you see in the Olympics. Top competition bows are complicated machines but every complication makes it easier to send that arrow where it is supposed to go.
Beginner bows usually have a sight but no balance arms. Balance arms are great for serious competition but are hard to set up and very inconvenient in smaller places.
These bows have only been around since the late 60's after being invented in Missouri by someone called Wilbur Allen. They use pulleys, cables and very stiff materials to give a lot of power in a small package. You also put a lot less effort into drawing the string for the same speed at release compared to a recurve bow.
This is the hunter's favorite but you can target shoot too. It is currently the most popular kind of bow in the US.
Simple (or self) bow
These are made of just one material. A full-sized English Long Bow made of yew can shoot an arrow 200 yards but accuracy is not a great feature. Most simple bows are fun, kids' toys, these days.
Where to Shoot and How Much Space you Need for Target Shooting
The typical distance to shoot outdoors in serious competitions is between 30 and 90 meters for men and 30 meters to 70 meters for women. Indoor ranges are common these days and are usually twenty meters.
If you are careful and have a big backyard you can set up you own range. For a beginner or junior, thirty yards will be pretty testing.
You need to think about a backstop in case you miss your target. Arrows break easily on trees and get lost in bushes. Arrows sailing into your neighbor's yard will have repercussions!
Dedicated ranges are the best choice for most people in towns. A big basement can be a place to get started.
Draw Weights for Beginners
Draw weight is the amount of force it takes to draw the bowstring back.
Bows for beginners should have a draw weight between 15-20 lbs. for children and between 20-25 lbs. for the adults. Draw weights are usually written on the lower limb of a bow.
Compound Bow vs Recurve Bow Lengths and Weights
Quality compound bows are around 4 or 5 pounds with a typical size of 32 inches, axle to axle. Drawing 20lbs on a compound bow will mean greater arrow speed and distance than drawing 20 lbs on a recurve.
Recurves can be anywhere between 25 inches (beginners) and 70 inches (serious competition). Weights of 3 to 5 pounds are typical. Recurves are more accurate in experienced hands.
These can be taken apart for easy carrying and storage.
If a limb is damaged it can be replaced.
A rest is one of the most important parts of a bow, Cheap rests foul arrows as they leave the bow. If you get a reasonable quality bow you can buy a new rest to suit you and the arrows that you prefer.
Best Full-sized Starter Bows
If you are planning on buying online there are a few bows below to help in the selection process.
Things to make sure you have in addition:
- a shooting glove or finger tab
- sights (optional)
- string wax (quiet is good)
- arrows (this may be obvious but it is easy to forget!)
Well known makers like Ben Pearson, Martins and Bear Archery all offer quality bows for beginners at reasonable prices.
The takedown recurve from Martin and the Genesis Original Compound featured below are good examples of inexpensive but high quality starter bows.
Genesis Original Compound Bow
Genesis are proud that their compound bow is the official bow of the US National Archery Schools Program.
Pretty much anyone can fire it and it is a good choice for smaller or less muscular people as well as kids:
- This bow has a light 20 lb draw weight but for power is comparable to a 35 lb recurve bow.
- It allows for adjustment to draw lengths so that it can used with as small a draw as 15 inches up to a good-sized thirty inches.
It a good bow for all the family but the power means careful of supervision of younger kids is essential.
Martin Jaguar Recurve
Martin are well known for all kinds of bows and their take down models are convenient for storage and travel. The sixty inch model breaks down into three easy to carry pieces in a quick operation.
The limbs are laminated wood and fiber glass with a thirty pound draw weight. This is quite high for a beginner but no problem for stronger people.
It is plenty accurate enough for target shooting.
If you are serious about accuracy it might be worth replacing the plastic arrow rest with a better quality accessory.
Diamond Infinite Edge Compound Bow
One of the most important qualities of a good starter bow is ease of adjustment. If your first bow never fires an arrow accurately, you will quickly lose interest.
The Diamond Infinite Edge is wonderfully easy to adjust and even a complete beginner can quickly learn how to set it up. Once it is tailored to your specific needs it is very accurate and remarkably powerful for the price.
This is an especially good choice for women who do not want to pump iron before taking aim! The draw weight of anything from 15 to 70 pounds makes it an ideal first bow.
Samick Sage: A Tough Takedown, Recurve Bow
This is a handsome bow constructed from maple, black fiberglass and brass. It is also a serious bow, drawing over fifty pounds, despite being one of the lighter takedown bows.
No tools are required for assembly but it is still very stable in use.
Some takedown bows twist out of shape when they are drawn, and even a slight deformation means off target shooting. The Samick Sage has the engineering to cope.
Bear Archery Titan Recurve for Left or Right Handed, Older Kids
This is a simple to maintain and use bow which can be bought with a kit or on it's own.
The makers recommend that it is suitable for 12 years and up. With a draw weight of 20 lbs at a 25 inch draw this is only going to suit stronger kids, however. Some kids will struggle and complain about blisters on their fingers!
It is pretty big at sixty inches from end to end so short kids will find it hard to use.
I reckon this a good bow for boys 14+.either left or right-handed.
Crosman Elkhorn Jr. Compound Bow
This is an inexpensive but capable bow which is short enough at 32 inches to be suitable for kids. The 17 lb to 21 lb draw weight will favor stronger kids though the makers say it is suitable for 8 and older.
It is a very light bow, feels nice and balanced and is well-enough made to last for years.
Some assembly is required but it is close to ready to shoot from the box.
Barnett Junior Bows
Barnett are one of the first makers to think about about, if you are looking for a recurve bow for younger kids.
- the Barnett Lil Sioux has a draw weight of 15 pounds.
- the Lil Banshee has a draw weight of 18 pounds.
- the Banshee Junior is a more powerful bow with a draw weight of 25 pound.
If you have a child who likes pink, Barnett will even sell you a pink bow
The bows are sold as a complete set, with arrows to get you started quickly. Better arrows will help as soon as enthusiasm for accuracy increases.
The bow itself is tough and good value.
Self-healing Foam Targets
Cheaper foam targets, priced at twenty to thirty dollars can be fine for bows with lower draw weights. Powerful bows can put an arrow right through one at twenty yards.
The very best foam targets can cost several hundred dollars.
If you are a beginner, it is probably best to spend thirty dollars without expecting the target to last a lifetime.
Portable Block Targets
Targets do not have to be heavy and hard to move around.
There are multi-layered, block targets that make a tempting target at twenty to thirty yards and will not fall apart after a few weeks.
The one is pictured below is from Field Logic and is great for kids.
People make arrow backstops from all kinds of things: bales of hay, carpets, burlap bags stuffed with old curtains or clothes.
Purpose made, nylon mesh backstops can be expensive. They are impenetrable, though, and stop an arrow without harming it.
Given that an arrow can cause serious injury, a big, reliable backstop can be an important investment, especially if you have neighbors and you are using a powerful bow.
A hill or slope can give you a ready-made earthen backstop.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Will Apse (author) on September 06, 2016:
Thanks for that info Solaras. It is still being made and I found a better source.
Solaras on September 05, 2016:
I loved archery as a kid, so this was a fun read. I amazed at the price variances between the recurve bows. BTW your link to Genesis Original Compound Bow goes to discontinued model with no availability. I believe there is a newer series of models available. Thanks for the memories.
Stuart from Santa Barbara, CA on June 15, 2015:
I've only done archery once before and it was a very basic model, (it was over 30 years old). But I've never seen such incredible bows like the one in this article, it looks like a lot of fun but I'm sure it takes a considerable amount of concentration.
ziyena from the United States on December 13, 2013:
Awesome hub. Put together very well. I've always wanted to learn, but my arms are so petite, I think I would have a hard time handling the bow. Love the diagrams showing the anatomy of the compound and recurve bows. Good stuff! UP
Will Apse (author) on November 21, 2012:
I am rendered humble. You must have put some hours in. And you obviously have wonderful powers of concentration.
Luis E Gonzalez from Miami, Florida on November 21, 2012:
I used to compete in Olympic Recurve archery a few years ago. I even made the Olympic Clout Team for the US, but the International Olympic committee did not approve it for actual Olympic competition. You brought back some find memories.