Archery is a sport accessible to just about everyone with a disability, including the visually impaired. While it is not only fun to challenge yourself to hitting the target, it’s also physically beneficial, increasing body strength, focus, flexibility, and attention skills.
“Archery is a sport that almost anyone can compete in. It can be done just for fun, for hunting, or for competition. It can be done if a person is young or old! It’s usually fairly easy to adapt – and the thrill of hitting the bull’s-eye is unforgettable,” said Randi Smith, U.S. Paralympic Archery Team head coach.
Archery instructors, shooting ranges, and classes abound. The best way to try archery is to make inquiries at local clubs and organizations that have programs or members willing to provide one-on-one instruction. A good starting point to search out instruction is the USA Archery Association to find a certified coach, according to Glen Harris, CSA, USAA Level 4 National Coach Director. Harris is also the National Chairperson of Disabled Archery USA. “A certified coach can make an evaluation and be able to give direction on how it can be done. Do not think you cannot do it; we’ll find a way,” Harris said.
For most people, very little adaptive equipment is necessary, but of course, it depends on the ability.
“Some common adaptations include a stand or stool to sit on, a mouth tab for an archer who can only use one arm, or a mechanical release,” Smith said. “Many able-bodied archers also use a mechanical release.”
Mouth tabs enable a shooter to steady the bow with his hand and pull the string back with his mouth. Devices and shooting rests can be mounted to a wheelchair or a tripod to secure a rifle or bow in place while the archer readies to shoot. Slings and shoulder straps that fit snugly to the body can also help shooters with disability carry and support equipment.
According to Harris, quadriplegics with very little or no arm function can use a crossbow mounted on a gun rest. Although crossbow cocking devices are available to simplify the process, cocking still requires considerable upper body strength. For those persons, an electronic cocking device is available.
Archers with significant upper extremity disability are allowed to utilize a device to secure the bow to the hand. These devices may be as sophisticated as a universal cuff or as simple as tying or bandaging the bow to the hand of the archer. Additionally, persons with significant upper extremity disability are allowed to have a person nock (the part of the arrow having a notch for a bowstring) the arrow onto the bow.
“There are always more possibilities than limitations,” Harris said.
Many wheelchair archers require no equipment modifications, but position themselves at a ninety-degree angle from the target and may remove the front armrest to allow increased draw of the bowstring.
Visually impaired archers can have a foot locater to enable them to stand at the correct point, a tactical aiming device, and spotters, who help the VI archer line up and call the result of arrow strikes.
“Archery is an awesome sport for people with disabilities; it readily lends itself to adaptations that are very compatible to the game as developed for able-bodied persons,” said Harris. “It’s individual specific.”
Bow lengths and weights vary considerably. Bow lengths vary from four to six feet; it is generally recommended that persons in wheelchairs and children utilize a 48-inch bow. Draw weights range from a 10 to 15 pound bow for a child under 10 years old to a 30 to 40 pound bow for teenage boys and men.
Individuals wishing to hunt start with bows weighing between 40 and 50 pounds. “The basic skill set for bow hunting and target archery is exactly the same,” Smith said. “The difference is in the equipment and the precision necessary. Most bow hunters don’t shoot beyond 40-50 yards while Paralympic competition is at 70 meters with some competitions out to 90 meters (100 yards).
“Archery allows everyone success at some level. Not everyone goes into archery to be a Paralympian, but it can be fun at whatever level a person chooses,” she said. “The easiest way to find out is to give archery a try. Most archery clubs and pro shops will help people get started. Events like the Endeavor Games in Oklahoma offer clinics for people to give it a try.”
Target archery has been a Paralympic sport for more than 30 years and is governed by the Federation of International Target Archery (FITA). The rules and scoring are the same as in the Olympics.
- There are basically four classes in Paralympic Archery with divisions for men and women. Sometimes two divisions may be combined. The divisions are based on physical classifications. Athletes have to be officially classified before they shoot internationally. The classification is done by physical therapists and other professionals.
- W1 (AR1) Archers: Have some sort of disability that effects both their upper and lower body. They use a wheelchair for mobility, and have some sort of function loss in their hands and/or arms. Most W1 archers shoot compound bows, but they cannot have peep sights or magnifying sights. There is a maximum weight of 45 pounds for men; 35 pounds for women.
- W2 (AR2) Archers: Use a wheelchair for mobility but have good hand and arm function. W2 archers shoot recurve bows from wheelchairs, following FITA rules.
- W3 Archers (ARST): Archers with a physical disability who shoot from a standing position. Many of the archers use a stool or some sort of support, but their feet are on the ground. They shoot recurve bows, following FITA rules.
- Open Compound: Archers who fit into one of the above categories, but choose to shoot a compound bow following FITA rules. FITA rules allow a peep sight in the string, a magnifying sight, a mechanical release, and a maximum weight of 60 pounds.
More information about classifications can be found at the Paralympic website.
A FITA round is 4 distances with 36 arrows shot at each distance. The two longest distances use a 122 cm target (about 48”); the two shorter distances use an 80 cm target (about 36”). Distances are 90, 70, 50, and 30 meters for men; 70, 60, 50, and 30 meters for women and W1 shooters.
All 70 meter rounds, Olympic rounds, and team rounds are held at 70 meters.
Harris noted the learning curve to reaching elite level could be three to five years of intense training, including daily shooting, aerobic and strength training and learning the FITA rules.
- American Disabled Archers
- Bow Hunting Basics
- International Field Archery Federation
- Physically Challenged Bowhunters of America
- Salt Lake Archery Company
- US Paralympics/Archery
- World Archery
- IPC Archery
Steps to Hitting the Target
Each one of these steps is possible by any disabled person; it is a matter of adjusting position, tweaking equipment, and having an aide if needed.
- Stance: Must be able to consistently stand in the same place in the same position. One foot on each side of the shooting line. Wheelchair users should place one wheel on each side of the line.
- Nock: Get the arrow out of the quiver, turn it around, place it on the string, keep it on the arrow rest, and get a release on the string.
- Set: Get the bow into upright position, get bow hand and drawing hands in position, get fingers on string and position shoulder.
- Pre-Draw: Sight the target and begin to pull.
- Draw: Keep the sight on the target and continue pulling.
- Anchor: Draw the string to the front of your chin. Continue to draw smoothly without stopping.
- Aim: Keep the string lined up with the center of the bow. Continue a smooth gradual draw.
- Release: Release the bow, but keep the bow towards the target as you release.
- Follow Through: Drawing hand continues back beside the neck with fingers relaxed; bow arm continues extension toward the target; maintain follow-through until the arrow hits the target.