Although many archers get their start indoors, archery offers many opportunities to shoot outdoors year-round. And unlike the single-distance, climate-controlled environments of indoor archery, outdoor archery offers an unpredictable mix of terrain and weather at varying distances to challenge your shooting skills.
The Olympic and Paralympic Games are probably the best-known example of outdoor target archery, but archers compete outdoors at everything from local to national events.
Outdoor target archery offers two main competitions. Recurve archers compete at a distance of 70 meters, shooting at a 122 centimeter target face with multicolored rings. (For kids, the distances are shorter; there are opportunities for everyone to try target archery!). Compound archers shoot an 80 centimeter target face that's placed 50 meters away. Many of these tournaments end with elimination rounds that pit archers in head-to-head matchups to determine the winner.
Outdoor archers face all sorts of weather-related challenges. Only lightning and tornados halt outdoor tournaments. Archers judge the wind by feel and by watching indicator socks above the targets and alongside the range. Some 144-arrow tournaments start and finish in one day, requiring archers to have enough stamina to maintain their shooting form throughout.
To find outdoor target archery opportunities, visit USA Archery's events page.
Paralympic archer Lee Ford knows where she prefers to shoot. "I love outdoor target archery because I love being outside and enjoying nature," she said. "It's good for your soul. I also like the variable challenges you don't get indoors, like wind, rain and weird ranges."
Carli Cochran, a member of the United States Archery Team, recommends practicing as much as possible when learning the muscle memory archery requires, and to practice in all kinds of weather. She also advises everyone to have fun!
When combining target archery with a hike in the woods, what do you get? Field archery. As with outdoor target shooters, field archers deal with varying terrains and weather, and shoot in varying lighting conditions. Field archers usually shoot in groups of four, and then hike a course to shoot targets at varying distances.
In World Archery field tournaments, the course is "unmarked" on the first day of competition. Archers are expected to judge the distance and take their shots in three-arrow ends; that is, each archer shoots three times before walking to the target to score their shots. Field archers shooting World Archery events -- also called "FITA Field events" must develop a system for estimating distances and practice it while honing their form to prepare for tournaments. If you aren't ready for that challenge, try National Field Archery Association tournaments, where distances are marked.
Heather Koehl, a U.S. field champion and 2014 Olympic team alternate, thinks field archery is special because archers connect with each other. "Sometimes your group must wait for a target to open up, and that's when they talk, share snacks and discuss how they felt about that last target," she said. "It strengthens your bonds with fellow archers."
Koehl also likes this style because she "feels like Robin Hood out there" as she goes through the woods from target to target, shooting great scores at varying targets. "Field archery is never the same course, so it's always fun and exciting," she said.
Koehl said new field archers must work on their system for gauging distances and controlling their torso for shots that angle up or down on these demanding field courses.
Hunter Jackson, a compound archer and 2010 silver medalist at the World Archery Field Championships, tells new field archers that once they shoot a field tournament, other forms of archery fall short of their expectations. Her fondest archery memories take her back to field tournaments.
Like field archery, 3-D archery involves wooded ranges and challenging terrain, but this sport also features three-dimensional animal targets on marked and unmarked courses.
Photo credit: BowJunky.
These archers hike to shooting stations, where they sometimes must estimate distances to the animal target. However, most 3-D tournaments only allow one shot per target. Even if you don't want to hunt some day, 3-D archery provides a fun, challenging test. Dee Falks, a USA Archery coach and National Federation director of the Archery Shooters Association (ASA), said 3-D competition distances are much shorter than those for target or field archery, so it's accessible to more people. "It's just plain fun," Falks said.
To prepare for 3-D archery, you must practice judging distances, develop stamina to carry your equipment, and learn the scoring rings for different animal targets. Check the target manufacturer's website for photos of the different models, and carry binoculars to verify where you need to aim.
Coach Falks thinks 3-D archery is special because you're shooting a course set in a natural setting. Plus, it features varied terrain and you're shooting with people you might not know. "It provides exercise, fresh air and a chance to make new friends," Falks said. "This is a family sport. A family can shoot together in the same group and enjoy a day of sporting competition or recreation."
Falks also notes that archers on a 3-D course are helpful. To start, just show up. Veterans on the field will help you learn everything else.
Any form of outdoor archery can help build friendships, strengthen your form, and increase your enjoyment for the sport. From summer sunshine to cool walks in the woods, outdoor shooting can help you enjoy all the health benefits of archery.
Ready to try archery now? Find an archery store near you.