Adaptive Archery

Looking to challenge yourself with a sport that doesn’t require a large amount of cardio effort that you can participate in year-round?  Consider archery.

“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.

Many indoor archery ranges exist to keep the sport going during colder winter months, so don’t wait for spring to get started on this year-round sport.


Getting ReadyLance Cpl. Richard "Shakey Jake" Stalder, a Wounded Warrior with the West Team, takes aim at his target during archery practice at the 2012 Marine Corps Trials, hosted by the Wounded Warrior Regiment, at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., Feb. 17, 2012. Wounded Warrior Marines, veterans and allies are competing in the second annual trials, which include swimming, wheelchair basketball, sitting volleyball, track and field, archery and shooting. The top 50 performing Marines will earn the opportunity to compete in the Warrior Games in Colorado Springs in May. Stalder, from Muenster, Texas, was formerly with 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment. "I like it here at the Trials a lot," Stalder said. "There are a lot of great people out here and we're all dealing with the same things. It's nice to compete and push each other."

Don’t think you have to purchase all of the equipment you need before you hit the range for the first time.  Instead call your local archery range.  Many will allow you to rent equipment so that you can try out a variety of pieces prior to purchasing your own.  Any Disabled Sports USA chapter that provides lessons will also include all of the equipment required in the lesson fee.

Bows come in two types: compound bows and recurve bows.  USA Archery recommends using a recurve bow for your first time out as have a fixed weight draw (effort required to pull back the bow string) whereas compound bows require the archer to find their maximum draw weight, relative to the length of the bow which can take time to discover for each individual archer.


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When you head to your first lesson, take the time to talk with your instructor.  To complete an archery motion, you will want to be able to nock the arrow (place the arrow onto the bow string), lift the bow to shoulder level, draw back the bowstring to your chin and release the arrow towards the target.  Once all the arrows have been shot, the archer is also expected to retrieve their own arrows.  If you have concerns about any of these motions, mention them to your instructor and they can help you come up with adaptations to help your arrows reach the target.

The first thing you’ll want to decide is which position you’ll take your shot from.

Standing: Archers with upper-limb amputations, single leg amputation or those without balance issues will participate in the sport while standing.

Bracing: For those archers that may need just a small amount of assistance holding their position, but are interested in standing, consider a braced position.  A simple wedge under the heel may be all that’s required to help maintain balance.  Other archers may request the use of a post or brace to lean against to help steady themselves throughout the shot process.

Sitting: If standing isn’t an option, archers can participate while sitting in their everyday wheelchair or on a stool.  Archers should take care to make sure the chosen seat doesn’t impede the shot motion.

Once you’ve selected your bow and your position, you’ll want to speak with your instructor about any range of motion concerns you have. Common adaptations for each step are listed below.

Nocking the arrow: Archers with limited hand movement, can request assistance with placing the arrow onto the bowstring.

Drawing and releasing the bowstring: Drawing the bow requires arm strength and grip.  If you are unable to draw back the bowstring without assistance, you can request help from a coach or volunteer or use one of the common draw and release adaptations below.

Finger Tabs: For archers with limited grip, finger tabs and gloves can help.  Finger tabs are a flat leather device that fits between the finger and bowstring.

Bow Stands: Another adaptation is a bow stand which helps hold the bow so the archer can focus on just pulling back the string.

Mouth Tabs: For archers who have lost the use of an arm, a mouth tab can be used to draw back the string.  The tab attaches permanently to the bowstring and is held between the archer’s teeth while drawing holding and releasing.

Mechanical Releases: For archers who use a compound bow, a mechanical release aid using a trigger mechanism can assist with the release of the bowstring.

Arrow Retrieval:  For archers that have difficulties walking or, a volunteer can be assigned to assist with arrow retrieval at the end of each round.



Now that you’ve taken your first show, you might wonder, how do I count up my score?  Scoring in target archery competitions is fairly simple.  Each target features 10 scoring rings divided among five colors, and the closer to the center of the target the higher the score.  Working from outside in, the two outer-most white rings are worth 1 and 2 points, the next two black rings are worth 3 and 4 points, next up are two blue rings worth 5 and 6 points, then comes two red rings worth 7 and 8 points and finally the two gold center rings are worth 9 and 10 points.   If you hit the line between two circles, you use the points associated with the circle closer to the center.

Exact competition rules vary.  Some competitions have every archer participate in the first round, and move the top scorers on to the next round, continuing this until there is a winner.  Others have two archers compete against one another in a best of three rounds scenario with the winner advancing.  No matter the exact rules, every competition has archers shoot the same number of arrows in a set number of rounds from the same distance.  The archer with the highest score wins.


Drawing Down

While aiming your arrow and hitting the target is important, it is equally important that archers can safely draw down in case of an emergency on the range.  Each range has a set of whistle calls that let archers know when they should approach the shooting line, when it is safe to shoot at the target and in the case of an emergency, when they should release their arrows and back away from the shooting area.  Archers should practice this motion so that they can be ready to safely draw down without sending their arrow into the field.


Finding a Range

Ready to take your shot?  Visit to find a local chapter that provides archery instruction.

Don’t have a chapter near you? Visit to find a range near you.  If they don’t have an adaptive program, speak to an instructor and provide them with the Adaptive Archery Instructor Manual to help integrate yourself into the program.



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In partnership with USA Archery and the Department of Veterans Affairs, Disabled Sports has produced an Adaptive Archery Instructor Manual.  Designed as a complement to the USA Archery coach’s certification, this manual will explain the various teaching techniques and adaptations required to help integrate an athlete with a disability into a new or existing archery program.

Courtesy of