Getting Started in Competitive Archery: USA Archery Rules

Learning any sport can be intimidating. Besides mastering its skills, you must also understand its rules if you plan to compete. USA Archery is a governing body for target archery events, and it selects those who represent the U.S. in the Olympics, Paralympics, Pan American Games, World Championships and World Cups.

USA Archery also sanctions state and regional tournaments around the country. If you’re about to start competing in archery, here’s what you must know before your first competition:

Equipment: Recurve

USA Archery lets you compete in recurve or compound divisions, but only recurves are allowed at the Olympics. Under USA Archery rules, you cannot use electronics or a release aid when shooting recurves. You can use a sight, stabilizer and clicker. Arrow-rests are allowed, and they can be adjusted and have more than one vertical support. USA Archery prohibits electronic devices that can attach to your bow.

Equipment: Compound

You can use a release aid with compound bows. Photo Credit: USA Archery

Archers competing in the compound-bow division cannot shoot bows with peak draw weights exceeding 60 pounds. Compound archers can use release aids. Most stabilizers are allowed, but they cannot touch anything except the bow. A sight with a level is legal, and it can be capable of calculating wind speeds and elevation adjustments. It can also have a magnifying lens and/or prisms. No electronic devices can be attached to the bow.

Equipment: Barebow

Brad Fiala, event development manager at USA Archery, hears many questions about barebows. USA Archery’s rules in this category differ from those for the National Field Archery Association, and that causes confusion, Fiala said.

USA Archery defines a barebow as a recurve without a sight, clicker or stabilizer. All of USA Archery’s national championships (indoor, outdoor, youth, collegiate, field) offer barebow divisions. Fiala is often asked whether youths can shoot the popular Genesis bow, which is often used without a release aid. USA Archery considers the Genesis to be a compound bow, but NFAA considers it a barebow. USA Archery’s new Explorer Division is a basic compound division for youths through age 14.


Archers must mark their arrows with their initials. Photo Credit: World Archery

Each competitor’s arrows must be consistently matched in shaft and fletchings. They should be marked with the archer’s initials in the same place on the shaft for easy identification. Arrow shafts at USA Archery events can’t exceed 9.3 mm in diameter. Arrow tips/point cannot exceed 9.4 mm in diameter.

If you have questions about arrows, visit the experts at a nearby archery shop to ensure your arrows are legal for competition.

Range Procedures

In most competitions, archers are divided into an A group and B group. When hearing two whistles, archers in the A-line group advance to the shooting line and load an arrow. They wait for one whistle, and then must shoot their arrows in an allotted time. Once they finish shooting, they wait behind the waiting line. After all archers finish shooting, they hear two whistles, which signals B-group archers to advance to the shooting line. After these archers finish shooting, they’ll hear three whistles, which signals it’s safe for the competitors to walk downrange to score and pull their arrows.

Fiala said five or more whistle blasts signal an emergency, and you should stop shooting. That seldom happens, but you must stop shooting. It could signal dangerous weather, or an animal running on the field.


Archers will score the arrows for each round. Photo Credit: World Archery

Archers score their shots after each end. Do not remove or touch arrows in the target until they’re scored. Arrows are scored according to the shaft’s position in the target face. If the arrow shaft touches two colors or the dividing lines between scoring zones, the arrow gets the higher value.

Two scorers are assigned to each target, and they enter each arrow’s value as it’s called in descending order by the athlete. Other archers with arrows in the target check the value of each arrow. In disagreements, a judge makes the final decision.

In each set archers can score a maximum of 30 points for three arrows (10 points per arrow). The archer with the highest score earns 2 set points. A tie earns both archers 1 set point. The first archer to earn 6 set points wins, and moves to the next round.

Teams can score a maximum of 60 points in each set, and mixed teams can score a maximum of 40 points. The team with the highest score earns 2 set points, and ties earn each team 1 set point. The first team to earn 5 set points is declared the winner, and advances.


Archers must be cautious around the targets because pulled arrows could jab someone behind the puller in the face or chest, Fiala said. When pulling arrows, grasp your arrow and look immediately behind you to ensure no one is in the way.

If you drop an arrow while on the shooting line, don’t try to retrieve it. Leave it there. An arrow is not considered shot unless it’s beyond the 3-meter line, Fiala said. But if it’s completely past that line, it’s considered a miss. A dropped arrow that’s touching the line or closer to the archer can be left without penalty. Just shoot another arrow.


Friends, family, etc. can cheer on competitors from the stands. Photo Credit: World Archery

Parents, friends and other spectators can cheer on archers during competition. Spectators cannot enter the controlled-access area, which is restricted to competitors and coaches. Spectators and coaches can use spotting scopes or binoculars to view where arrows hit, and make hand gestures to archers. Loud verbal communication is discouraged.

Dress Code

Shoes must cover the entire foot. Until recently, denim was not allowed. USA Archery has approved jeans, but they cannot have rips or holes. Camouflage clothing is prohibited. Shirts cannot be sleeveless, and must cover the midriff even when at full draw.

These are just some of the rules for USA Archery’s sanctioned events. USA Archery recently assembled a comprehensive reference guide that answers even more questions about rules and regulations. World Archery offers an in-depth look at rules for international events.



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