There’s no short answer except sometimes.
It depends on the state, the town, and the size of the public land, and your own yard size comes into question as well.
To start things off, let’s talk about public land.
Public land includes national forests and parks, wetlands and other areas, which equals to about 220 million acres of total land. That’s a lot of land, but not all of it is going to be able to host archery (or hunting for that matter).
That’s where it gets complicated; most resources only discuss the use of a bow on public land for hunting, and only during the hunting season.
There’s no real talk about target practice on public land, where you bring your bag target and set up shop. The thing is, during the non-hunting season, people might hike through the woods or simply walk around in national park areas.
That would be a problem while you’re shooting arrows.
So what’s the clear-cut solution? Well, there isn’t one.
There’s no telling what a park ranger would say if you were only there to shoot targets and not actually hunt.
If you’re there during hunting season where bows are permitted, and you’re shooting a target, consider yourself practicing to line up the right shot on your prey, or warming up before you actually begin your hunt.
If anyone asks, that’s what you’re up to. There’s no law against using targets on public hunting land during hunting season, but there’s nothing in favor of it either. It’s a bit gray.
Not all of us are hunters, though.
Some of us just want to improve our aim, our score on a 72-arrow stretch of Olympic-style shooting, but that could ironically be seen as reckless.
Only bring your bow onto public lands during hunting season, and if you’re just there for target practice, then do so with the intent or spoken intent to hunt later on.
It’s not illegal to do so, it’s just the clearest way to explain why you are there. You are target practicing; that’s the truth.
What About Private Land?
Now it gets tricky.
Some states have regulations on this, and some don’t.
To be frank, it’s quite a rarity nowadays that people are firing arrows in their backyard. It’s even rarer for it to be a problem.
You should be able to practice on your own private land if you follow these rules:
- Shooters must be eighteen years or older. If you are under the age of eighteen, an adult aged twenty-one or older must be presently supervising.
- You must be fifty yards (150 ft) from a public road or highway. That goes for you and the target, as well as the distance between them.
- You need a backstop that’s going to catch any misfires. Skill is not enough of a qualifier to be able to shoot arrows on your own land; you need a failsafe system in place. These should be tall enough to catch any arrows that don’t hit the target.
- Any activity that you perform must not cause a public disturbance, or a private disturbance to your neighbors.
- You cannot set up a backdrop, target, or expected overshoot range if a home, area of congregation, build or public path is anywhere in the line of sight. Basically, a backdrop up against your fence that you share with a neighbor isn’t okay, and that is illegal.
- Enough available space to rightfully declare that you have enough space to perform this task safely. If you have a 10×10 backyard, then not only is it not going to be very engaging for you, but it’s not going to fly with your neighbors or the police.
- You should have a bow hunting license, if for no other reason to simply show police if your nosy neighbors decided to call the authorities on you. It shows that you are skilled enough with your bow to make good judgments. If you are not in the hours of disturbing the peace, or you have not explicitly been asked to please refrain from shooting your bow, and you’re not putting anyone in harm’s way, then you are safe from harm. Even if your neighbor asks you to stop, you don’t have to listen so long as you aren’t causing a disturbance by legal definition. If it makes them nervous, well, you can choose to call the shots there.
Some states have specific information about land size before you can actually shoot arrows on it.
This usually pertains to acreage minimums (which are more than anyone owns), and can be difficult to get around.
For those, you can either find somewhere with landowner permissions, or an archery club, which we’re about to talk about in a moment.
All About Landowner Permissions
Landowner permissions are non-exclusive rights that are given to you, by the landowner of a suitably sized environment or open area, that permit you to hunt on their land.
This is something that you’re not going to come across often, but if you happen to know someone with a large enough backyard, such as a family friend or a mentor, then it can’t hurt to ask them if it’s okay to gain these rights to their land for the sole reason of using your bow for target practice.
You can set up a small range here and unleash your arrows.
Alternatively, an owner of an archery club may technically use their home for a practice range, and may require you to fill out a form that requests landowner permissions for hunting on their property if you wish to use their private range.
There’s no technical or legal form to explicitly allow the use of a bow and arrow on someone’s property, but this hunting form will do well enough.
Each state has different statutes on when these need to be renewed, but generally, they are good for as long as the landowner retains ownership over that property.
How do I Find an Archery Club Near Me?
There’s a few ways you could find a good archery club near you.
The main goal of finding one is to get like minded people in a similar atmosphere, and learn off of one another.
Find a rival, compare scores, get better and simply have a fun time.
This is how you find one.
Well, it’s not anybody’s first choice, but Facebook archery groups have filters so that you can find local events and get-togethers.
These don’t usually come with an exclusive place to fire your arrows.
Instead, they’ll meet up at local archery ranges or privately owned clubs, which will still cost some money to stay a member of.
US Archery Directory
The directory found on the US Archery website allows you to search per zipcode, state, and the level that you want to be involved with: adult, collegiate, or JOAD.
Choose how many miles you’re willing to travel to get to that archery club, and then get instant information on how to become a part of it.
After you search, there will be an option to call, email, or visit the website of the club that you’ve found.
It’s recommended to check out their site and any online reviews beforehand, especially if they require a fee to be apart of.
We’ll be the first to say it: there are some elitist archery clubs out there that can be very exclusive, and very snobbish.
It’s important to find one that’s designed to meet your needs, even if it requires a monthly fee.
Word of Mouth
Is there a local archery store near you?
Ask the shopkeep about any nearby archery clubs.
If there’s anyone who would be able to direct you towards a club, it would be the person selling all the archers their gear.
In most cases, informational pamphlets or cards will even be left behind and accessible to customers so that you can just pick one up, and contact the club owner directly.
Alternatively, you can even ask hunting shop owners the same question.
You’ll get more bow hunting-oriented clubs or areas, and some of them might be on private land where you’re just able to shoot ‘til your heart’s content.
The worst thing you can do is visit a shop and not ask—you never know what you’re going to learn about.
It’s Time to Get Training
Join a club, befriend a rich person with 160+ acres of land, or simply bring your target to hunting areas during acceptable seasons and times—there are ways to practice your archery, even if your backyard isn’t a suitable environment.
It’s more than just a hobby; it’s something invigorating, and it deserves to be treated as something you can put ample time into.
If you really enjoy archery, find legal and safe ways around current stipulations, and keep on training.