Every serious archer eventually gets the longing to build his own archery range at home. There may not always be a public range close by, and many ranges require you to pay membership dues or high range fees. Having an archery range at home that is free to use any time of day can be a great asset to your archery training.
Designing and building your own range will provide you with a convenient training dojo, as well as a sense of pride and self-satisfaction. Perhaps the biggest benefit of the home archery range, however, is that there are no rules against drinking a cold beer while you shoot with your friends and family.
Archery Range Design
The process behind designing a range is similar, though much reduced in scale and scope, to the process used by architects to design buildings. An investigation is undertaken regarding the restrictions on the project. What and where is the space? What are the limits imposed by building codes? Then the designer must make a series of decisions about the space. In the same way, you must first start with an investigation, and then make some decisions of your own.
First, you must decide where you will build your range and start analyzing the dimensions and properties of the space. Clearly an outdoor range is the most cost-effective option in terms of space, but if you are resourceful, it is not impossible to build a space indoors on the cheap.
A few years ago, my wife and I lived in an apartment with a long narrow hallway. In complete violation of our lease we assembled duct-taped frames of stacked corrugated cardboard, layered it with two outdoor rugs, and a commercial kitchen standing pad. While there was some minor damage to the drywall, for reasons I’ll go into later, I’m happy to report that we did get most of our security deposit back.
At a minimum, for a target shooting range (I’ll go into how to build a field archery range in a later post) you need a lane that is at least 30 inches wide by 20 yards long. Most ‘certified’ archery ranges, as defined by the NFAA, require a target butt (the arrow stop) that is at least 40’’ square or 48’’ in diameter if using a circular butt. You will need either a backstop immediately behind the butt or be able to see for 25 yards beyond your target.
Take some measurements of your space, and start thinking of what you can do with it. Will you be able to sink posts into the ground to build a stand and backdrop for your target? Will you need a deeper target butt to cushion arrow impact in an indoor range?
Often the best materials for building an attractive archery range are those that you find or repurpose. It certainly doesn’t hurt your finances, either.
Backstop – According to the NFAA, a backstop can be any material that will not damage arrows that are overshot or pass through the target. Commonly, large sheets of plywood are used in competitions. Many larger tournaments will also use a heavy closed-mesh curtain. Wooden pallets are usually free and readily available and when taken apart and typically sanded, can be reconstructed to make a beautiful range, for as little as the cost of wood sealant or stain.
If shooting on level ground, the backstop should be at least 8 feet tall, and a minimum of four feet wide. Alternatively shooting downhill into an earthen berm
Target Butt – The primary consideration when deciding on the dimensions of your butt (all joking aside) is what is behind the target? If you have interior drywall behind your target, like my apartment hallway range, you will need a deeper butt (again all joking aside), to stop the arrow before it does any damage to what is behind it.
Our flimsy cardboard backstop consisted of four layers of disassembled cardboard boxes reinforced with duct tape at the corners and creases. We probably needed at least 2-3 times more butt (last one) to protect our apartment’s drywall, and our security deposit. Additionally, we found a scorpion between some of the boxes when we eventually took it down. These are some of the things you have to consider.
Corrugated Cardboard – when stacked in layers of 6’’ or more makes a good, inexpensive butt that allows for relatively easy withdrawal of arrows.
Hay bales – another inexpensive choice that provides excellent depth and clean retrieval. Keep in mind that if left outdoors and not protected from moisture, hay bale can be susceptible to rot and mold. In this case it will need to be replaced.
Foam – Many cheaply made commercial targets are simply plastic or burlap bag filled with Styrofoam. Styrofoam can often be found cheaply by asking local furniture and electronics stores, or if you are uber-resourceful, dumpster diving. The disadvantages? It can ‘goop up’ on arrows, particular those of composite materials, and will fall apart over time. Actually, the biggest disadvantage is that god-awful, nails-on-a-chalkboard sound arrows make when they are being withdrawn.
Other Materials – There are literally hundreds of different materials including recycled forest and agriculture by-products, recycled plastic, or tightly bundled cloth currently being sold commercially as target material.
Finally, you have your target. This can be simply painted on the target butt, but will need to be repainted periodically as the target deteriorates with regular shooting. Paper targets are inexpensive and easy to store and replace. Another benefit of paper targets is that you can use regular circular competition targets, animal targets, or even the classic bad guy with a gun target. For Christmas I got these Zombie targets, and after watching Walking Dead, they have seriously inspired my archery training.
The one concern about paper targets is that if they are going to be left on the target for days at a time, they will need to be shielded from the sun and rain. This can often be done with scrap wood or corrugated metal, and can also protect hay bales from moisture if they are kept off the ground.
Once you have analyzed the requirements of your space and selected your materials you are free to add your own flourishes to truly make your range your home. From custom-built PVC bow, arrow, and drink holders, to a sheltered shooting patio that allows you to shoot in all weather, to lighted targets for night shooting, the options are truly endless. I personally, have always dreamed about a Japanese style meditation and tearoom attached to a shooting porch and a covered standalone target butt stand.
What does your dream archery range look like? Let us know in the comments!
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