Archery: Inherently Cool OR Irresponsibly Dangerous?

AS AN ARCHERY instructor (and co-director of the youth program at my local range), I am often asked about archery safety, usually by parents whose children have expressed interest in the sport. Whenever a movie comes out featuring archery, we get a wave of young people eager to be the next Legolas. Avatar was very good for the club (in fact the actors were trained at our range!), as well the Hunger Games which brought a lot of attention to the sport.

So how safe is archery?

Absurdly safe. Safe enough that most ranges have never had a serious accident or injury. According to the National Safety Council’s statistics, archery is more than three times safer than golf. For every 2,000 people that participate in the sport, fewer than one will be injured. For golf, it’s about 1 in 625. About 94% of archery injuries will be caused by hunters cutting themselves with their razor-sharp hunting arrowheads, which are not permitted at most recreational archery ranges. Other than those, the most common injury is slapping the wrist with the bowstring, which does hurt, but can be prevented through use of proper equipment and instruction. Injuries to innocent bystanders are statistically zero at archery ranges; the very rare cases of someone being hit by an arrow usually occur when someone is practicing in an unsafe area such as a backyard without adequate fencing.

In most urban and suburban areas, archery is prohibited by law in backyards, parks, and other open areas, unless specifically designated as an archery range. Archery ranges, whether public or private, generally carry insurance in case of an accident. As an indicator of how safe the sport is, the insurance premiums for an archery range are roughly equivalent to insurance for badminton, handball, or golf. This is one reason not to practice archery in your backyard; if a stray arrow should happen to go onto a neighboring property, your homeowner insurance may not cover any liability that results. Additionally, depending on the local laws, you could be charged with discharging a firearm or some similar violation, which could have much more serious consequences. It’s best to practice at an actual range where qualified instructors can supervise and provide expert guidance.

For children who are interested in archery, there are several options; both USA Archery and the National Field Archery Association have children’s programs. USA Archery, the organization that trains the US Olympic team, has the Junior Olympic Archery Development Program (JOAD), while NFAA runs the After School Archery Program (ASAP), and several states are participating in the National Archery in the Schools Program (NASP). Additionally, many archery shops, ranges, and summer camps offer archery instruction. Many offer free introductory lessons, and most provide or rent equipment, so you don’t need to spend a lot of money in order to try the sport.

One very appealing aspect of the sport is that anyone can do it, and entire families can participate together. At our range (Pasadena Roving Archers, Pasadena CA), we have children under ten practicing side-by-side with people in their 70s and up. My youngest student is three years old, and I’ve given lessons to retirees; the oldest person ever to show up was 100. We have a blind archer, we’ve had wheelchair archers, and there are archers without arms. Archery is one of the most accessible sports for people with disabilities. One of my students is a young girl with a brittle bone disease; she can’t participate in soccer or basketball, but at the archery range she is an archer, without any qualifiers attached. She is not a “disabled archer” or a “special archer,” she is simply an archer, and she competes on equal footing with her peers, which she finds tremendously satisfying.

Archery has been described as “the sport for kids who hate sports,” because unlike in most sports, when they’re practicing their archery, nobody is trying to block, catch, tackle or stop them. The competition is between the archer and the target, and this is very appealing to many kids, especially the geeky ones. It also has a bit of OCD appeal, as it is a sport of discipline, focus, consistency and precision. Most of my regular students are geeks of one sort or another; on any given week, you’ll find at least one t-shirt featuring superheroes, anime characters or Star Wars, along with the occasional math or science joke (“There are 10 kinds of people; those who understand binary and those who don’t,” for example). That may have something to do with the fact that Caltech is about two miles away.

In short, archery is – perhaps unexpectedly to many – about the safest sport you can practice (billiards is safer, but that’s about it), and also one of the geekiest.

Written by Jim Macquarrie