A Quick Note on Archery Target Safety

Archery is a very safe sport. This chart from Arrowsport V2, 05, the Archery Trade Association’s overview on archery safety, shows just how safe compared to other sports:

Keeping archery safe is the responsibility of all archers. With that in mind I have to offer an opinion on a common misconception I came across while researching archery gear on-line:

A target company said this of their closed-cell foam archery target (an arrow backstop):

“A nice inexpensive youth target with enough shooting surface to keep arrows out of the neighbor’s yard, the [archery company] youth target will keep your kids shooting safe. For bows up to 35#. 24x22x2”

It is a good company and good product when put to its proper use. But, no, a 2-foot square target is not enough “shooting surface” to keep arrows out of your neighbor’s yard. Archery targets are not the primary safety mechanism in a properly set up archery range. They are there to catch arrows, to protect them from damage, keep them where you can find them easily and retrieve them, and to hold your arrows neatly so you can accurately score your target face. Archery range safety is determined by using safe procedures and having a safe area behind and around the target. You cannot rely on the target for the safety of those behind the range. Targets can sometimes fail to stop arrows and people can sometimes miss the target entirely. For safety purposes you need to assume arrows may possibly pass through the target or that someone will miss the target. Arrows that miss the target can skip off objects in unexpected directions. With that in mind, safe archery ranges need something in the area behind the target that arrows cannot pass through, whether shot high or low, left or right, or a large amount of clear area. Absent a large area for a safety zone behind the target, an arrow-proof hill, high wall or other barrier is needed to keep stray arrows from, well, going astray. Please consult a qualified expert on archery safety and range set up.

For reference, Texas Archery has a PDF of the 2000 Archery Manufacturers Organization (AMO, now ATA) range set up guidelines. They are meant for large club ranges and trail ranges, but the information there is useful to anyone considering setting up a range.

The term archery target can refer to the butt, matt, bale or other backstop used to stop arrows, and it can refer to the paper target faces with the classic 5 ring target used to score archery. In this post archery target is used to refer to the foam backstop. For clarity the ringed paper targets for scoring are often refereed to as “target faces.”