10 Rules for Shooting at an Outdoor Archery Range

If you are new to using an outdoor archery range, please read this. Here is a link to ALL of the outdoor ranges available to you here in Northern California:

Northern California Ranges and Shops

I took the pictures at my “home” outdoor range, the Redwood Bowmen Club in Oakland, CA. If you would like an expert personal coaching session at this range, contact Stephen Williams:

(510) 686-3392

1. Donate the requested range use fee

All outdoor ranges whether public or private have very limited income streams. They survive on member dues, income from “novelty” tournaments, and day use donations. All have some form of “honor system” donation receptacle like the one pictured below.

Please think ahead and make sure you bring at least $5.00 cash with you when you come to use the range.

2. Read and follow the rules

Rules keep people safe and establish etiquette that promotes an enjoyable experience for all. Regardless of how fun and easy social media and Hollywood make archery appear, bows and arrows are weapons that can hurt people. Read the rules. Follow them. If you don’t know what they mean, ASK SOMEONE. Please keep archery safe and enjoyable for all of us for a long time to come.

ALWAYS follow the directional markers on the course; NEVER walk backward. Depending on the range, you will probably need to walk about 1 to 2 miles up and down hills before a safe exit presents itself. Plan accordingly – plan on it taking about an hour to safely get through the course (as much as twice that if it is crowded). My advice: make your first pass at the course exploratory – maybe only shoot one arrow at each target. This way you’ll know better how to plan your trip the next time you return, and how courses are laid out in general. And to repeat: ALWAYS follow these markers and NEVER walk backward:

3. Prepare for what you are about to do

Most outdoor ranges provide the opportunity to hike in the woods and shoot a bow at targets in a variety of conditions. How cool is that?! But think about it before you go: Hiking. Outdoors. Temperature. Bugs (mosquitoes & tics!). Poison Oak. A short prep list before you go is: hiking boots or shoes; appropriate cold or hot weather clothing; sunscreen; water; snacks; bug repellent; how to identify and avoid poison oak.

4. Exercise a back packers garbage code – pack it in, pack it out

On the day that I roved the course and took these photos I was hoping I would not find anything to show you, but here they are:

Yep, two people apparently thought it was OK to leave plastic drink bottles laying about, even though there are trash receptacles within 10 feet of each of these bottles. C’MON MAN – seriously!? OK maybe it’s asking too much to ask you to pack your own garbage out, I get that, but please at least put it in the trash buckets that the volunteer members empty as part of their volunteer donated hours to maintain the range. Please show some respect. Oh, and by the way:

Please pack out your own damaged arrows. Clubs, ranges, and archery shops do not have a super secret recycling program for damaged arrows; they are just as much of a pain for us to dispose of as they are for you – so be responsible for your own arrows.

5. Found arrows are not subject to the “finders keepers” rule

There is an unspoken rule among the members of the archery community: when you find an arrow, take it to the club house or shack or whatever. All outdoor ranges have a “lost arrow” bucket that you can look through when you come to the range. We all know when you look for your own lost arrow, you’ll never find it, but you WILL find someone else’s. If the club house or shack is not open, if there are no club members about, lay the arrow on the alter, er, doorstep, and they’ll know what to do with it. Find out when members will be around if you want to retrieve your own lost arrow.

6. Appreciate and be grateful for the opportunity to use the range

As already mentioned, outdoor archery ranges are run and maintained by people just like you with full time jobs and families and obligations. They donate time to making the range available for public use. Maybe you donate your time elsewhere – cool. Maybe you don’t have time to donate to causes – that’s cool too. There are people at these ranges who take time-consuming positions of leadership, and people who simply do stuff that needs to be done. Every aspect of the range is attended to by a giving human being – every single detail. So please, think twice before you complain about the targets being shot up, the foliage not being trimmed to your liking, or the target butts being in bad condition. If it matters to you, join the club and make a difference. Otherwise, simply appreciate and be grateful for the opportunity to hike in the woods and shoot your bow at a place that other people donate their time to maintain.

7. Shoot only a distance that you can handle; avoid the temptation to do stupid stuff

With one local exception, outdoor ranges have a “static” practice range where everyone stands on the same shooting line but shoots targets at varying distances to that line. This makes it easy for you to learn how to hit targets at increasingly longer distances as you build your skills, which is something you should do. The outdoor range walking courses are set up like golf courses – you hike on trail and shoot at targets uphill, downhill, across ravines, between trees, etc. VERY FUN AND COOL. These courses are set up according to a structured international scoring system, click HERE if you want to know about that. To learn about it first hand, ask to be a “guest” at your local range’s “Club Shoot” on the 2nd Sunday of every month. If you are in the Oakland, CA area, contact Stephen Williams for a personal introduction (see intro paragraph above).

The courses are set up with “shooting stakes” (positions) at distances from 10 yards to 80 yards. Here is a picture of what you will typically see when you walk the course:

This is target no. 1 on the “Upper Course” of the Redwood Bowmen range. You’ll notice different colored markers (red, yellow, blue, white) they all mean something different – but you don’t care about these. Keep walking toward the target and you will always find a marker like these:

These are obviously 15 and 20 yard stakes. These are called “Cub Stakes”, meaning they are the stakes that young folks shoot from when they formally compete. It’s an unfortunate name – I like to call them beginner or recreational stakes. They will never be more than 30 yards from the target. Shoot these and only these if you want to avoid losing and breaking arrows, and if you want to build your confidence. Remember, an arrow sailing over the top of the target butt on an outdoor range will end up in the bushes or under the loose top layer of ground foliage, and, very likely in a poison oak bush that you might not recognize. Shoot only the distance at which you can get your arrow to hit a 4′ x 4′ square. Enjoy the hike and the joy of shooting your bow while doing so, but be smart about it – you don’t HAVE to shoot the longer stakes. It’s super duper tempting to “see if I can hit the 50 yard target” – so be it, just be prepared for the consequences.

Which leads us to “don’t do stupid stuff.” I’m grateful that Hollywood keeps stoking the archery fire by depicting archers in just about every single super hero film and many action films. I REALLY do. But, the stuff that those archers do in those movies is HOLLYWOOD, it’s NOT real life and it’s not anything you could ever do or would be allowed to do for example in MY range. And you shouldn’t try any of those stunts at an outdoor range simply because you’re alone out there and no one is watching. Here’s why. Trying to do stunt archery ALWAYS results in stray arrows. Stray arrows leave the safe haven area that has been established for you to shoot in. Most if not all ranges are on park land, and some are within an arrow’s flight of the general public. DO NOT JEOPARDIZE OUR ABILITY TO ENJOY THIS WONDERFUL PAST TIME BY DOING STUPID STUFF. Arrows stuck high in trees, in telephone poles, on hiking trails in close proximity is NOT FUNNY. IT’S NOT. If you want to do that stuff do so on private property – find someone with a ranch in a rural area and make friends with them and go do it there, but DON’T MESS AROUND ON PUBLIC ARCHERY RANGES.

8. Put something in front of the target butt if looking for stray arrows

It’s really hard not to try and hit those far away targets. It’s just too tempting. So knowing that you can’t stop yourself, come prepared to keep yourself safe when you end up searching for arrows behind or around the 4′ X 4′ target butt. Bring a brightly colored jacket with you. Drape it over the front of the target butt while you rummage in the poison oak, and most importantly, NEVER DO THIS IF YOU ARE OUT THERE ALONE. LET THAT ARROW GO. In addition to having a brightly colored jacket draped over the target, there should always be ANOTHER PERSON standing there watching and ready in a heart beat to yell “NOT CLEAR!” to anyone who might walk up TO the shooting stake for the target that you missed. If you go out on the course alone, let that arrow go. Hopefully the person who finds it 2 months later read this blog post and gets the “no finders keepers” rule.

9. Respect other archers desire for focus and meditation

Archery is meditative for many people. For others, outdoor ranges provide the opportunity to more seriously practice and prepare for upcoming tournaments. And of course it can be very social too. Many folks new to archery are excited and can’t wait to talk with others about it, ask questions and learn. However, be mindful about approaching people at outdoor ranges; those people may be there to do their zen thing or want to really focus on something. A good rule of thumb: if you see someone and they don’t make eye contact or immediately jump at the chance to start a conversation, leave them be.

10. Properly Supervise Children

Archery programs for kids are few and far between – it takes a special kind of person to teach kids, and the student/teacher ratio needs to be very high (like 1:1) to keep kids (and others!) safe while learning or participating in archery. If you go buy a bow from Big 5 and haul your kids to an outdoor range without you or them having first had a lesson, you are creating some bad circumstances. Archery is not something you should just turn kids loose to do. If you bring young ones to an outdoor range, follow the 1:1 student/teacher ratio rule – that means you should not expect to shoot while a young one is getting up to speed, ESPECIALLY if you bring more than one little person. As kids get older and develop the proper focus and maturity less supervision is required.

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