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Be prepared for competitions

Updated: Apr 23

Shooting line at an outdoor target competition

It can be daunting to venture out to your first target archery competition. Everyone else seems to already know what to do and without a coach or team to guide you, you may feel a bit lost. Where do you get this information? Look no further. Here is everything you need to know!

What to bring

Indoor competitions typically have restroom facilities, water fountains, etc. Outdoor competitions may not. Just think about what would make you feel comfortable shooting out in a field by yourself and bring all those things. Here's a sample packing list:

  • Bow: riser, limbs, string, plunger (olympic recurve: stabilizers, slight, clicker)

  • Arrows (make sure you bring extra in case some get lost or damaged)

  • Quiver

  • Tab / Release (and a backup!)

  • Bow stringer

  • Armguard

  • Finger sling (and extra!)

  • Arrow puller / lube

  • String wax

  • Backup string

  • Scope or binoculars

  • List of your sight marks

  • Water & electrolytes

  • Snacks / lunch

  • Shade of some sort (hat, umbrella, tent)

  • Sunscreen

  • Rain gear

  • Pen for scoring and marking arrow holes (and a backup!)

  • Layered clothing

  • Waterproof shoes

  • Tissues and hand sanitizer (in case the bathroom facilities are not fully stocked)

  • Folding chair

  • Activities in case of a delay (almost all nationals events I've been to have had weather delays)

  • Cooling towel

When to arrive

It's a good idea to arrive for a competition about an hour before shooting starts. That gives you time to find parking, get your gear set up, find out where the facilities are, etc. You don't want to be rushed and have your bow blow up on your first shot (*cough-cough Marjorie cough-cough*).

Find your lane assignment

For most competitions you will have a lane assignment. As soon as you arrive find out where you are assigned. There will typically be 4 archers per bale. So your assignment will be a bale number and a letter (A, B, C, or D). Example: 5C. Only two archers will shoot together on the bale at a time. A shoots with B, and C shoots with D. A and C will stand on the left side of the bale, while B and D will stand on the right side.


Unlike practice, there will be a clock running for competitions. Once you find your lane assignment locate the nearest clock you will be able to easily see. Much like airplane lavatories, the nearest clock may be behind you.

Equipment Inspection

Some competitions will conduct an equipment inspection. Here's the short list of what they normally check for.

  • For Olympic recurve:

    • No mechanical release on your tab

    • No magnification in your sight aperture

  • For barebow:

    • Uniform tab markings

    • Center serving not being in the archer's eye line

    • The bow and everything attached passing through a 12.2 cm ring

  • For compound:

    • Draw weight must be under 60 lbs

  • For any type of bow they also check:

    • Dress code

    • Numbered and initialed arrows (that all match)

    • No electronics on the equipment

Here are the equipment rules: If you want all the nitty gritty check this out for 112 pages of completeness:

Whistle commands

Most competitions use whistle commands to indicate what is to be done when. Here is what they mean:

  • 1 whistle - shoot

  • 2 whistles - go to the line

  • 3 whistles - retrieve your arrows

  • 4+ whistles - STOP EVERYTHING - do not shoot - there may be an emergency

So here's how this will go:

  • The first thing you will hear is 2 whistles. That means the first line (A and B) should grab their bows and step up to the shooting line. You can load and arrow at this time, just make sure you don't shoot yet.

  • Next there will be one whistle. That means you can start shooting. Once you have shot your arrows you should step off the line.

  • Next will be 2 whistles again. This marks the end of the shooting time for the first line and when the 2nd line (C and D) can grab their bows and head to the line.

  • Another single whistle will be sounded indicating the 2nd line can now shoot their arrows. They too will step off the line once done shooting their arrows.

  • Next 3 whistles will be sounded. That marks then end of the shooting time for the 2nd line and that all archer can proceed down to the targets to score and pull their arrows.

When to shoot

All four archers will not be shooting that target at the same time. There will be 2 "lines". The A/B line will shoot, and then the C/D line will shoot. They will alternate during the qualification round. During eliminations (or Olympic rounds) A/B will always shoot first. The timing system will have an A/B or C/D indicator to show when each line is to shoot. If it is your first competition you should find yourself a line buddy. This should be a more experienced archer who is shooting on the same line as you. Then just plan to follow that person. If they are shooting, you should be shooting.

Practice ends

All competitions have official practice ends. When you arrive find out how many there will be so you can prepare accordingly. You can shoot as many arrows as you want during the allotted time of the practice ends. Some competitions may also have unofficial practice prior to official practice.

Marking arrow holes

Target faces are typically not changed between practice and scoring so depending upon the competition you may need to mark your arrow holes on the target face. That way if there is a bounce out or pass through it will be apparent by the only arrow hole on the face that is not marked. Arrow holes are marked with a pen directly on the target face by drawing 2 lines 90 degrees apart starting right next to the arrow shaft and extending out by about a quarter inch.

Shooting etiquette

When you have shot all your arrows for the end, take a look to either side of you and make sure those archers are not a full draw when you step off the line. You don't want to accidentally bump your fellow archers while they are shooting. You don't want to win that way.


After practice ends are completed you will go right into scoring. After everyone shoots their end and the 3 whistles signal you will go down range to score. You will be scoring with 3 other archers on your bale. There will typically be at least 1 paper scorecard to be filled out for each archer (the OFFICIAL scorecard). In addition there may also be a 2nd paper scorecard or an electronic scoring system. So 2 archers will be recording the scores. That leaves the 3rd archer to call arrows and the 4th to verify what is being called. The first scoring end usually takes the longest because all the bales are figuring out who will be doing which job on each bale. Arrows should only be marked AFTER all arrows on the bale have been scored. No arrows should be touched until after all arrows on the target have been scored.

Arrows are scored from highest to lowest value (with misses scored as "M"). In some competitions there is an X ring that is also worth 10 points. If an arrow is in the X ring, it is scored as an "X" instead of a "10", but it is still worth only 10 points. This may be used as a tiebreaker if two archers have the same cumulative score.


There may or may not be a scheduled break during scoring. If there is not, then bathroom trips could be a logistical challenge. The best you can do is try to visit the facilities right after you are shooting first that end and 2nd the following end. That will give you the most time to take care of business.

Running totals

On your score card there will be a running total of your score. When you start scoring the 2nd half, some competitions want you to continue the running total from the first half and other will want you to start a new running total. Ask a judge which way it is to be done for your competition if it is not obvious from the scorecard. You may also need to write the total number of Xs, 10s or 9s on your scorecard to determine the winner in case there is a tie. Be sure to count and write down these values in the appropriate boxes if asked.

Correcting mistakes on scorecards

Occasionally, one might make an error and write the incorrect value of an arrow on the scorecard. It is perfectly fine if this happens; everyone has made this mistake at some point of their archery career. To fix the error, cross out the incorrect value with just one line, and have everyone on your target sign their initials next to the correction. Be sure not to scribble out the mistake, as that can make the scorecard hard to read. Archers only need to sign their initials if correcting an arrow value; if a mistake was made writing one of the totals, you may cross it out and write the correct total without needing everyone to sign the error.

Disagreement of arrow values

Sometimes an error may be so close to touching a line and earning a higher score that it can be hard to tell if the arrow is in or out. This may cause a disagreement between your bale mates on what the arrow should be scored. If this happens, simply step away from the target and raise your hand to call a judge to determine the arrow value for you. Be sure that all remaining arrows on the bale are scored first (but not marked), as the judge may have to bump into the surrounding arrows which can change their score.

Turn in scorecard

Once you are done scoring you will need to get the other archers on your bale to sign your scorecard and then turn it in to those running the competition. Don't let your fellow archers take off before signing yours. Your group should turn in their scorecards together in case there are any errors so you don't need to hunt down that bale-mate who ran away. Make sure you congratulate your fellow archers and show good sportsmanship.

Thank your judges

It's a thankless job but competitions would not be possible without them so make sure you thank your judges and those organizing the event.

Connect with your archery community

I try to make sure I meet at least one new person at every competition I shoot. We are a close-knit community and I've made some of my best friends at these competitions.

Thank you to Jason Sures and Steve Caufman for contributing to the information in this post.

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