Nothing quite beats the tap on a bow release, the sound of fiberglass and steel cutting through the air, and the satisfying thump of your arrow sticking into its target.
There’s nothing better. However, you still need to have the best safety practices in mind before you can confidently begin enjoying archery.
We’ve put together a list of archery safety rules that are paramount to your success as an archer, and your commitment to keeping yourself and those around you safe from harm.
It only takes one bad release to make a mistake, so let’s avoid all of the possible problems by reviewing and memorizing this comprehensive list.
If you’d like to see a graphical breakdown of the archery safety rules, we got you covered:
- 1 1. Needle on North
- 2 2. Inspect the Target Zone
- 3 3. No Dry Firing
- 4 4. No Straight-Up Shots
- 5 5. Don’t Disregard Finger Protection
- 6 6. Inspect and Repair Defects
- 7 7. Cover Your Quiver
- 8 8. Store Bows in Hard Cases
- 9 9. No Drinking or Drug Use
- 10 10. Play It Safe With Recurves
- 11 11. Unstring Before Storage
- 12 12. No Jewelry Allowed
- 13 13. Aim for Silence
- 14 14. Hundred Shot Wax
- 15 15. Practice Clear and Concise Replies
- 16 16. Know Where the First-Aid Is
- 17 Enjoy Hitting Your Mark Safely
1. Needle on North
You should never, ever have your bow, whether it’s loaded with an arrow or not, aimed at someone.
Treat it like a firearm.
When you’re already in the habit of making sure it isn’t pointing towards anyone or anything but the target/target area, then you’re going to build an automatic sense for how to handle your bow.
Obviously, a bow without an arrow in it or the drawstring pulled back isn’t going to hurt anyone, but it’s about making proper habits and not making anyone feel uneasy or unsafe.
Even if you knew a handgun had no magazine in it, you still wouldn’t like the implications of having it pointed at you.
When the arrow is loaded in, only raise it when the vertical axis of your movement will meet the target.
Never sweep a loaded bow from one side to another, always pull up. To capitalize on this rule, never nock an arrow unless your target is clear and there are no safety issues nearby.
2. Inspect the Target Zone
If you had a standalone target on a hay bale in the middle of a field, you still can’t be sure what’s behind it.
Not until you check. You need to do a full parameter check before you even have the bow in your hand.
Set it down by a table or a stand at the far end opposite the target, where you would be standing when you decide to shoot, and then do a full security walk.
Can you see what’s behind the target? Can you see what’s in front of the target (such as structures and items in the way, but not visible in the way of the bullseye)?
Leave no stone unturned.
If you prepare an area for shooting and have to leave, for any reason, for any period of time where you cannot directly see the target area, then consider it unchecked. Go around again, check everything over.
3. No Dry Firing
Nocking is when you pull the string back and you prepare to fire an arrow.
Dry firing is when you pull to nock, but there’s no arrow. Letting go of the string at that point will simply send it bouncing and vibrating forward, and that momentum or kinetic energy won’t be transferred properly.
When you release an arrow, there’s a physical item in the way of the bowstring moving forward, and the result in the string’s tension is the launching of the bow.
When they’re nothing for that energy to go into, it could result in excessive pressure to the limbs of your bow, as well as injury to your hand. It’s very important to never dry fire.
If you’re going to “mess around” with your bow and toy with it for a bit, never pull more than 5 to 7 pounds of draw weight. Anything that gives it serious tension.
If you do pull back, do not release: slowly ease off the pressure until the string is in its normal placement.
4. No Straight-Up Shots
This should be common sense, but you’d be surprised how often it, in fact, isn’t.
You can’t perfectly, properly shoot an arrow straight up in the air. There are a few reasons you can’t, such as the fact that nobody is that pinpoint accurate, but there’s also the rotation of the earth known as the Coriolis effect.
Even if you shot it straight up in the air with perfect angling, the earth is moving and it’s going to come down in a different spot.
There are no trick shots that are worth that. There’s a huge chance of injury when you do this. It’s simple; just avoid it.
5. Don’t Disregard Finger Protection
The amount of pressure and sheer speed of a nocked arrow is immense, but that power is coming from the bowstring.
Without the proper protective equipment for your fingers and hands, you’re at the mercy of miscalculations (which we all day), and that backlash is going to sting like nothing you’ve ever felt before.
This is where arm guards come into play as well.
After a while, it can seem like you’ve stacked up an absolute ton of safety gear for your archery hobby.
Don’t be worried about looking like a newcomer; it’s the experienced archers that know how important safety gear is, and what to wear.
You’re bound to make a mistake from time to time or endure equipment malfunctions. Just be prepared for it, and when that moment finally comes, you’ll be glad you were prepared.
6. Inspect and Repair Defects
Anything can go wrong at any point. It’s not exactly settling to think about, but it’s the harsh truth.
You should be prepared for everything, and when you’re vigilant about come-what-may, you’re doing well. The other thing you need to do on a regular basis is to inspect your equipment.
Inspect the takedown limbs, your bowstring, your arrows, and your safety equipment. In most instances, you can spot a malfunction before it becomes an issue.
To perform a full inspection on your gear, you should have a rhythm to it, and do it every single time before you begin firing.
It can be quick and take as little as 1-2 minutes, but it’s important that it’s thorough. Make a checklist that you keep with your archery gear, and run through it every time you set up shop.
Eventually, you’ll be faster at your safety checks once you’ve done it a few times (and you might not even need the list anymore).
Repair defects the moment that you see them, and don’t use damaged gear just because “it might be okay.”
7. Cover Your Quiver
If you’re going full traditional with a quiver on your back, just do yourself a favor and keep it covered.
Whether you’re practicing alone or with other people, a covered quiver lets you know where your arrows are at all times.
You wouldn’t want to find out that you’d lost one somewhere in the grass, especially if it’s a commonly traveled archery spot that other people use.
8. Store Bows in Hard Cases
Without making too many comparisons to guns and bows, you have to admit that in your trained hands, both could be equally as lethal.
Just as you would keep a firearm in a safe or locked location, you should do the same to your bow.
Purchase a hard case with a simple lock system or added padlock, and keep a spare with somebody that you trust or in a hidden location.
Children can be taught that firearms are dangerous, and understand just how scary they are—the very design is something they’re repeatedly told about and why it’s bad.
Who’s hosting bow and arrow safety courses for 1st graders? They might see it as a toy, so treat it like an heirloom and keep it locked uptight.
9. No Drinking or Drug Use
As with anything, the introduction of alcohol will impair your judgment and capabilities.
It’s not wise to mix drinking with something that could prove potentially fatal when left unchecked. We have blood alcohol level checks for drivers who get pulled over and are believed to be under the influence.
If they’ve had one drink and their BAC is low, then they are okay. If you have an archery accident where someone is hurt or killed, any trace amounts of alcohol in your system are going to look bad.
If you’re like many of us that only have the weekends to dedicate to archery, you should stop having any alcoholic drinks on Tuesday night.
Alcohol can remain in your blood for up to 24 hours, but it can remain in your urine for 80 hours (3 days + 8 hours). Reasonably, if you have alcohol at 11:00 PM on Tuesday, you’d be clear by Saturday at 7:00 AM.
As far as drug use is concerned, this also includes any prescription medication that could have side effects of cognitive impairment (sleeping pills) or promote a hyperactive feeling (uppers).
You have to tread lightly here. It’s important to discuss your concerns with your prescribing doctor. Let them know that you do archery, and just ask questions to be prepared for the worst-case scenario.
10. Play It Safe With Recurves
Recurve bows are great for beginners and seasoned professionals alike, but they are a tad bit dangerous.
If you overdraw your recurve bow then you’re running the risk of snapping the string, which is far easier than we make it sound here.
Since the pressure is distributed differently, you could be putting more pressure on your recurve than it truly feels like on your end.
Practice the right pulling methods, and consider using an arrow release in place of your hand. In the event that a bowstring does snap, that would put you further away from potential harm.
As we mentioned earlier with checking your gear, make sure the strings on your recurve bow are free from splits or signs of extreme distress prior to use.
11. Unstring Before Storage
For recurve bows and longbows alike, you need to unstring at least one end before you put them away.
This isn’t out of fear of snapping the next time you use it, it’s out of fear that your bow will be permanently bent (more than it is supposed to be) the next time you open that case.
Recurve bows have more pressure being pulled down on them, and longbows share a similar issue as well.
Too much tension over time will either snap the strings, but more likely, it will bend the limbs and cause permanent damage.
If it’s five to seven days in between your archery sessions, then it’s not going to take long to see that wear and tear take hold on your bow.
12. No Jewelry Allowed
Bracelets, chains, earrings, and facial piercings—they don’t belong in archery.
If you’re questioning that last one, just think of how close you pull the bowstring towards your face. There are plenty of examples as to why it’s not good to wear jewelry when doing archery.
If you aren’t in a position to leave them at home, consider purchasing a backpack that includes a hidden valuables pocket.
Bring something along for the ride that can hold onto your jewelry if you have to take the piece(s) off just before picking up the bow. It’s a minor safety reminder, but one that’s definitely important to remember.
13. Aim for Silence
Your surroundings can change in the blink of an eye, especially when you’re focusing on the task right ahead of you.
It’s easy to forget that the world is spinning around outside of your current focus bubble, which is all the more reason to take this safety tip into account.
Don’t bring music. One earbud in your non-dominant ear is not okay; you lose half of your peripheral awareness, and you risk injuring others.
Apart from music, you should aim for total silence. If you’ve brought a friend along for the ride, don’t strike up a conversation with them while you’re nocking the arrow.
Let them know that when it comes time to draw and fire, you need silence for concentration. No distractions, no problems; you’re minimizing a lot of risks by doing this.
14. Hundred Shot Wax
Did you know that you’re supposed to wax your bowstrings?
Each manufacturer will have their own specifications, but in the event that they don’t or you received a bow as a gift, you should aim for every one-hundred shots.
Failing to wax your bowstring could mean that your shots won’t release accurately. The wax wears down unevenly, and that could affect your arrow flight path.
If you suspect that your bowstring wax isn’t up to snuff, then it’s important to stop what you’re doing and wax it before you continue.
If you bring along a bit of string wax, you can usually do this on the scene of wherever you’re practicing or competing.
If you’re hunting with your bow, your tree stand hours would be a great opportunity to carefully and methodically wax your bowstring.
15. Practice Clear and Concise Replies
This applies to competitors and firing range regulars, but it’s an excellent tip.
It can also work well if you’re bow hunting with a friend. Learn how to properly communicate with your team/instructors/fellow competitors.
When you hear hold, you hold. You keep that arrow drawn and pointed towards the ground temporarily.
Simple one-word commands, such as “South” to instruct others to aim their bows down, or “Clear” to indicate that the playing field is wide open and safe.
16. Know Where the First-Aid Is
When all is said and done, you need to know where the first-aid kit is.
Even when you follow a list of safety rules and tips like this one, you’re still at risk for making a mistake. You’re just at a much, much lower chance of those mistakes.
Accidents happen, and when you’re being as careful as possible, those accidents don’t tend to be too bad.
Have access to a first-aid kit. It should be reachable within 15 seconds of a possible accident.
Whether you keep this under the passenger seat of your car, or you keep a small one in your archery backpack, just have something on-hand.
Since one of the most likely injuries is a cut or laceration from an arrow tip, be sure to have plenty of antiseptic spray/hydrogen peroxide available, just to be safe.
Quick-acting ice packs are also good if the injury is a sprained knuckle or injured arm.
Enjoy Hitting Your Mark Safely
You’ve been thinking about firing at a target while reading this whole post—get out there, be safe, and enjoy every second that you have.
There’s a lot of patience and rigorous training that goes into being a safe, confident archer who plays by the book, but there’s also a huge reward in it.
Get back to what you love, and be sure to check out other great lists and helpful information on our site to keen your archer know-how as sharp as your arrows.