Practicing Safely at Home

shooting into garage

Once new archers have been hooked with the archery bug, they will commonly want to practice more in their quest for world archery dominance!  Often I’ll hear from a new archer that they have been practicing at home, followed shortly by me questioning whether they have taken into consideration the safety of their new ‘range’.

This may shock some, given archery’s excellent safety record compared to other sports, but archery is at its core a weapons sport, and should be treated as such when it comes to safety.  Club grounds will have equipment available such as signs and flags to indicate to the public that there is a range.   When setting up a range at home, archers must be aware of the risks, and take all practicable measures to mitigate risks.  In many cases in suburban areas, it is simply not safe to have a range – in these cases, call it quits and practice at the archery club only.

What Can Go Wrong?

The reason many new archers are unconcerned about the location for their new home range is that they haven’t seen what can go wrong, and so can’t think of all the different situations or consequences.  In 15 years of archery, I have seen a number of instances where even the best archers have had poor shots, sending arrows well outside their normal group.  Here are just a few instances where this has happened:

  • Arrow accidentally placed on top of the button
  • Back-tension release aid over-rotated, or release Aid caliper/D-loop breaks mid-draw (NEVER ‘sky-draw’ for this reason)
  • Nock breaks on release
  • Arrow pinched off the arrow rest at the point of release
  • Sight accidentally left on 90m setting

The list could be endless.  Bear in mind that even shots slightly off centre can end up much further away – arrows have ricocheted at surprising angles, and ended up 100m down-range from the target!  My compound bow would shoot approximately 350m if I drew it up to 45 degrees, so there is a lot of energy in a bow to consider.  Arrows can also rebound off hard surfaces like steel, and injure you when shooting close – these surfaces need to be protected.

Improving Safety of Home Ranges

It is still permissible to set up a range at home if the risk can be safely managed.  Always work on the risk hierarchy EIM (Eliminate > Isolate > Minimise).  This means that at first you should eliminate a risk.  Where this is not possible, isolate the risk, and as a further stage, minimise any residual risk.  In this case, if you are not able to eliminate the risk of archery at home by practicing at the club, then we must either isolate or minimise.

Isolate – Isolation means to separate.  As an example, putting an impenetrable wall between the risk and other members of the public will achieve isolation.  If you have a block-work garage at home, this is an ideal location.  Note that glass windows or tin walls will barely slow an arrow down.   You can cover windows with thick ply (>12mm).

Less beneficial means of isolation may be to put up cordons to prevent people crossing into a danger area, or barricading doors.

Minimise – Where all other options are not possible, you must minimise the risk.   If you have sufficient visibility down-range (i.e. on an open farm paddock), you can minimise the risk by keeping aware of everyone’s movements, and if someone were to enter the danger area, you (or a parent) could halt shooting until the area is clear.

If for any reason you do not have visibility of a location that an arrow could land, or an entrance point where someone could access the range, DO NOT SHOOT.  In this situation it is simply not safe to set up a range.  Expect the worst, and imagine a next door neighbour’s child hopping the fence to collect a ball, or similar.

Guidelines for Home Ranges

  1. Wait until after your first full year of shooting before setting up a home range – you should appreciate what can go wrong before you can safely assess whether you have an area that is suitable for a home range. If necessary – ask an experienced archer to look over the area you are considering and offer advice.
  2. The preferred location for a home range is within an enclosed structure like a garage that arrows can’t penetrate (e.g. concrete block, brick or hard wood). Beware of windows, or other weak points where arrows could penetrate.
  3. If you are in a rural area, set up a range where you have visibility well behind and to the sides of the target.
  4. Set up a catchment behind the target bale or block – like a few old carpets, some thick plywood, or both! If you accidentally miss, you want your arrow to sink into the carpet or ply, not go through to either concrete or the shed wall.
  5. If you are planning on shooting up against a fence, make sure the fence is completely covered (no holes or slots), and make sure you have a large catchment area behind your target bale. Do not shoot unless you know that there is NOBODY behind the fence.

Andrew Russell

Article first published in issue 516, May/June 2013