Getting Started in Competitive Archery: What to Expect at Tournaments

Trying the unknown can be scary, but don’t let fears of new experiences keep you from tackling the excitement of competitive archery. Whether you’re new to the sport or an experienced archer who has never competed, you’ll have fun at archery tournaments. Competition sharpens your skills and, as a bonus, helps you make new friends.

This article will help you prepare for your first tournament.

Find Tournaments

There are plenty of tournaments to get you started. Find one near you. Photo Credit: USA Archery

Many archery clubs host indoor and outdoor tournaments year-round. Your local archery shop will have information about nearby clubs and tournaments. You can also find tournament information on events calendars on club websites.

Check out USA Archery, Archery Shooters Association, International Bowhunting Organization and the National Field Archery Association. These organizations’ websites have information about events they sanction.


Online registration is available for most big tournaments. You can usually register online through the event’s calendar, which links to specific tournaments. Online registration probably won’t be available for local tournaments, said Sheri Rhodes, USA Archery’s national events manager. Instead, sign up by contacting the tournament’s host or a nearby archery shop.

Registration deadlines vary. Some events cut off registration two weeks before the event, but others let archers register until the tournament begins. Rhodes encourages archers to register at least a week in advance as a courtesy to event organizers.

Do Your Homework

Make sure you do your research before the tournament to know what to expect. Photo Credit: ATA

You’ll feel much more confident walking onto the course if you do your homework. Even though competing will be a new experience, you’ll feel better prepared if you understand these tournament basics:

  • Review the tournament’s rules, such as this brief list for USA Archery’s sanctioned events.
  • Know how many arrows you’ll shoot.
  • Follow the dress code.
  • Know when the event starts, and when you’re scheduled to shoot.
  • Pick the right division for your equipment.

Come Prepared

Besides your archery equipment, you should bring some basic items to tournaments like water, snacks and binoculars. For outdoor tournaments, Rhodes encourages archers to check the weather forecast and plan accordingly. “Even if the weather looks like it’s not going to rain, bring a rain jacket,” Rhodes said. “It doesn’t take up much room in your luggage, and you won’t regret it.”

Click here for a gear list you’ll need to compete in tournaments.

Arrive Early

Some tournaments offer a practice day the day before the actual competition. Photo Credit: Teresa Johnson

You should arrive at least an hour before the tournament’s official start. “If you’re familiar with the venue, an hour is more than enough time to park, unpack, bring your stuff to the field, and stop by the check-in station,” Rhodes said. Arriving early reduces overall stress, and ensures you don’t cause unnecessary anxiety by hurriedly inspecting your equipment before shooting.

At larger events, archers sometimes get to practice on the competition field the day before the event. That practice is considered part of the tournament. If you’re traveled far to the tournament and need a place to stay, some events offer suggestions in the event’s information package, but you must often find lodging on your own. If you’re visiting a town for the first time, arrive early and be sure to account for travel time and possible traffic delays if you’re not staying near the venue.

Tournament Format

Tournament formats vary depending on whether you’re shooting field, 3-D or Olympic-style archery. Most indoor tournaments use “alternate shooting,” which means one group shoots, a second group shoots, and then everyone scores their arrows together. In field and 3-D tournaments, groups of archers walk the course together, similar to golf. Everyone in the group shoots the designated number of arrows, and then they score and pull their arrows.

When it’s time to score your arrows, archers score in groups. Every archer goes to the target, where two competitors are the designated scorekeepers. A third archer calls out the score for each arrow. Arrows are always scored before they’re pulled.


Make sure you’re aware of how the results will be posted: online or in person. Photo Credit: ATA

Even if you don’t expect to wind up on the podium, it’s important to know how you’ll get your results. Years ago, tournaments mailed the scores to archers after the tournament. That’s no longer the case. Check with the event’s organizers to learn if they email the results individually, post them somewhere at the event, and/or share them on social media or club websites.

Ask Questions

If you review tournament information beforehand and have questions, contact the event’s organizers. At many club tournaments, your answer could be standing next to you. And don’t be shy. Yes, it can be intimidating to walk onto a course filled with experienced competitors, but they were once in your shoes. Your fellow archers can be great resources for your questions during the competition.

Have Fun

No matter how the results turn out, have fun. Photo Credit: ATA

Archery tournaments should be fun. They’re an opportunity to test your skills against other athletes and yourself. Competition will feel far different from practicing at a nearby range. It also helps you learn from other archers, and develop friendships with like-minded people.

Go ahead. Give competition a shot.



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