Archery—The Ultimate Survival Skill

Given the skyrocketing price of guns and ammunition these days, it’s no wonder people are flocking to the stick and string. That’s right; archery is on the rise. In fact, it has been for years. Archery classes and sales swell with each Olympic medal or anytime archery is featured in a movie. Do Lord of the Rings or Hunger Games ring any bells?

However, shooting arrows and plucking strings isn’t just for fun. Archery has a rich history in hunting to provide table fare. Today, we do it mostly for sport, but it wasn’t that long ago archery was more than a shooting sport; it was a means for survival.

The prepared “prepper” spirit that is becoming more in vogue and infiltrating the psyche of everyday Americans; archery is a natural fit. Beyond being a ton of fun and a great way to spend a Saturday (or any other day of the week), it is the ultimate survival skill. Why? For the most part, you can reshoot the bullets—both for practice and under more dire circumstances.

Making The Switch: From Guns to Crossbows

Gun hunters looking to make the transition are flocking to crossbows in record numbers too. Many states allow archers to hunt with crossbows during the general archery seasons. Others require a special permit based on physical needs. The transition is easy because the weapon platform is simple and familiar. You have a stock, and optical sight with ballistic compensation for range. Modern cocking devices make it easy for the elderly, women and handicapped to load a crossbow. I have no such excuse, but use one every chance I get too.

Sure you can reload bullets and having those skills are a real asset, but you must also have the components (bullets, powder, press) to do so. Heading out for a day at the gun range can easily run you hundreds of dollars—if you can find the ammo at all these days. With archery you head to the range, shoot all-day and return with the same six or 12 arrows you left with.

CTD Expands Archery Category

Given the growing popularity of archery, the powers above me have decided that Cheaper Than Dirt needed to start giving it the proper attention it deserves. In fact, I was beaming and swollen with pride when my boss assigned me this task. He gave me full latitude to make it a regular topic, part of my regular “weekly chores” and did not even burden me with the  worry of how I would spend the extra money from a bit more compensation for my efforts! Actually, that is a joke of course. I would almost pay him for the assignment (almost). I know guns, own guns and have shot guns for most of my life, but archery owns my heart. I competed as a collegiate archer for the University of California, Los Angeles. I taught free archery classes for close to 10 years on one of the archery ranges supported by Easton Sports Development Foundation. I worked for several years as the Executive Editor of Petersen’s Bowhunting magazine. I have lived and breathed archery and bowhunting for over two decades.

I did not start out as a target archer though. I grew up in a hunting family. Bowhunting first arrived on my horizon about 25 years ago. It all started when I bought a bow and headed home from the Navy on leave. On a whim I had ran out and bought a bow. I was ready to try out my skills and impress the family. That was back in the late 1980s. I walked in with a bow, and by the look on their faces, you would have thought I had walked in a declared myself a card-carrying member of the Communist Party.

Finally, a cousin recovered from the shock (and laughter) and asked, “What the heck do you plan to do with that?” “Hunt deer,” I replied. “Haven’t you hillbillies ever heard of bowhunting?” Another cousin interjected at that point saying, “That sounds about right… hunt. I’ll lend you a rifle when you get done ‘hunting’ and decide you want to put some meat in the freezer.”

I wish that story ended with me getting the biggest deer. I really wish it ended up with me getting a deer at all and proving them wrong. But that would take a bit more journalistic liberty than I can muster. In fact, it took several years of bowhunting before I harvested my first buck. Bowhunting is a skill separate from gun hunting; much the same as fly-fishing raises the bar from simply catching fish with a casting or spinning reel.

If you are already an archer, welcome! If not, there is no better time to take up the stick and string. Like any skill, you are not born with it and waiting until you actually need the skill is too late to learn. It isn’t hard to become proficient with today’s compound bows and mechanical releases in a short period of time, but there is a learning curve. I would recommend finding a coach and getting started right. With a coach, your skills will improve more in two days than six months of trying to figure it out on your own.

Look For These Stories in the Near Future

Interested? Ready to take up the challenge? Questions? Need a local place to shoot? Please let me know in the comments below and I’ll try to round up an answer for you.

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (27)

  1. Sorry about the errors in the lat comment, my computer sent it off before I was ready. the distance was 10 – 15 yards. Shooting a longbow or recurve is one of the funnest things you will ever do.

  2. Dave, I would go with the recurve, if you choose the compound, You need light and knowledge of the distance. If you break a string you are off to the archery store to get repairs. The idea that the compound is more powerful is not true. It is not speed you want in a bow it is the weight of the arrow. (think of throwing a golf ball or a ping pong ball into a snow bank. you want the arrow to be heavy,400gr or more. You would not need to shoot a bow along way, 10-15 yds is enough. Remember an arrow with a cut on impact broadhead will go through a bullet proof vest.Once you have trained yourself to shoot instingtivally

    you can shoot alot of arrows fast.

  3. I need guidance, I have two bows, an old colt recurve and a decent compound.which one would be more beneficial for me to start with?

    Either one depending on your preference. The compound has more power and you will be able to become proficient with it easier. The recurve is a simpler design and less technology is appealing to some ~ Dave Dolbee

  4. The world before guns was all Bows & Arrows, Swords,& Rocks…I am glad I have a gun now would hate to go in to war with a rock…When I was a kid my folks & went to the range to shot our bows almost every night in the summer. My dad bought a flecher & we made our own arrows. We each had our own color code on them..I think I would like to try a compound bow just to see If I could pull one. If I was going to buy a bow I think it would be a long bow..Looking fwd. CTD stocking bows & arrows…

  5. I’ve been shooting Trad all my life, I’m now 59 I shoot a 53# longbow. I fill my freezer each year with game and fish. no hunger here. I can kill dear at 30 yards, a compound bow is too cumbersome and needs a bow press to repair, I can change a bow string in the deer stand. shoots through kevlar vest too. I highly recommend one to use for the future, very very quiet too.

  6. True Bert, but archery is a good way to hunt quietly and save your ammo 😉
    In Canada you have to register bows or cross bows anyways.

  7. Great way to learn survival skills. Primitive weapons will never do for defending your country from it’s government though. Only high capacity .30 cal Personal Defense Weapons will work for that. Battle rifles will get a deer beyond 40 yards and defend your home. Try that with archery. When guns are outlawed bows will be next.

  8. My advice to anybody wishing to start down the archery path is to go to an archery pro shop and let them guide you. I do NOT recommend a novice just go somewhere like Bass Pro Shops or Cabelas and buy a bow off the shelf. Archery is a fun and rewarding sport, and bow-hunting is probably one of the most rewarding forms of hunting you can find. However, bows come in different sizes (draw lengths) and if you’re a novice you need someone experienced to help fit you with the right bow.

  9. I always get a kick out of the “primitive” label when applied to compound bows.

    Colt started producing revolvers in 1831. The S&W Volcanic cartridge revolver came along in 1854. Rimfire cartridges were introduced in 1859, centerfire in 1869. The Mannlicher semiauto rifle was invented in 1885, and Browning and Remington semiautos were common on the U.S. civilian market by 1905. The M-1 Garand was invented in 1929, and adopted in 1936. The AK-47 was adopted by the Russians in 1947. The U.S. Army had M-16s by 1959.

    Holless Wilbur Allen, Jr. applied for the patent for the compound bow June 23, 1966.

  10. Excellent article Dave and timely what with all the news over the gun ban and such. Please expand your views and opinion about learning to use a sling shot and an arrow for small game hunting.

  11. Yes, with gun prices on the rise right now, perhaps zigging while everyone else is zagging is the route to go. I’ve never shot a bow though – can someone w/experience please advise on how I get started? What should I buy? Where? Costs?


  12. Dave,

    Enjoyed your article. All I can say is, “It’s about time!” Like you, I have been practicing with archery for years. I do say practicing, as I’m still learning about what works, and then again what doesn’t. I do try to shoot a few arrows everyday. Some days we get a few more shot than others. It does help to stay sharp, and keep equipment tuned. Was hoping that CTD would come around one day. And now look, here you are! Keep up the great work, and we will continue to watch for more. ~ Gracias!


  13. You have to be careful with archery equipment though, especially the modern stuff. It is not as simple as being able to just find any old arrow or fashion them from a straight stick or something. You basically can’t use wooden arrows on compound bows because they aren’t strong enough to survive the shot. Composite arrows can be dangerous also. You have to have a little bit of knowledge and experience with matching arrows to bows with stuff like arrow weight and spine if you want them to be accurate and not break apart when shot. Many manufacturer’s are going as far to suggest only shooting an arrow at a potential “hard target” (ground, tree, animal with bones, etc) once before discarding it due to the risk of internal damage that might cause failure on the next shot. My neighbor had this happen with an arrow that had no outward signs of problems that broke in half when fired and skewered his wrist. A crossbow might be a little better in terms of safety to the user in this area. But if I was going with a bow it would be a longbow and aluminum arrows (a little more resilient and easier to tell when they are damaged). Possibly with the setup to make my own wood arrows also but that is pretty labor intensive, especially without power tools.

  14. I started shooting a bow when I was a kid. Being somewhat dyslexic and some of my friends left handed and some right, I couldn’t remember which hand you were supposed to hold the bow in. By the time I figured it out, I could shoot equally well either side. I continued to shoot both ways and even did that with firearms.Today I have some lefty bows and some righty bows but most are custom ambidextrous stick or composit horse bows( for mounted archery) I look foreward to seeing archery/ fletching supplies on your site.

  15. An excellent writeup, and thought-provoking. I can no longer manage a bow – right rotator cuff is destroyed beyond repair – but perhaps a crossbow would be doable. I will have to look into it. Thank you for the idea.

    Please continue writing about archery. The ammunition is so much more economical.

  16. What a great and timely article. I’ve wanted to add archery to my skill set for a while, but spend almost all my time with improving my students (and my own) skills with firearms. Its definitely time to diversify. You’re fly fishing analogy was perfect and “hooked me” (pun intended). Will start looking for a recurve to keep it simple. Looking forward to your other articles, especially the one on Backyard Bow Tuning”.

  17. I recently bought a crossbow. I was looking to expand my arsenal and going low tech. Plus, I am interested in archery (as well as my wife). I am looking forward to shooting my new crossbow and reading future articles about the sport and skills involved. I enjoyed the article and I’m happy to see CTD is expanding in thi area.

  18. I agree a bow is the ultimate challenge.
    I hunted for 4 years with a 45# recurve and only got 1 deer and barely wounded one lol – hit him in the ass- he heard my string twang as I let the arrow release, turned and was already starting to run when the arrow hit, found the arrow a few dozen yards away– hadn’t penetrated far enough to do anything.
    Took one more later with a compound– so 2 deer in 6 years lol Guess I needed much more practice.
    I still would consider a long bow- recurve or recurve cross bow the best and simplest to use and to make arrows for as well as maintain.

  19. This very thought occurred to me several months ago – if the world were to blow up and I survived, I would NOT want a firearm. Ammunition and most of its components, e.g., powder, have a shelf-life and mechanical devices break. Once the ammo is gone or outdated or if a machined part wares out or breaks, you’re just OOL. So, as an avid believer in the KISS concept, I thought that stick and string would a good survival tool to master and I have begun to shop. In addition, other primitive weapons that were used for hundreds of thousands of years: knife, ax, spear; skills needed both making and using, would be the most important. In fact, learning and mastering all the basic living skills of ancient man would be a wise thing to do. Dealing with the needs of water, shelter, food, and protection – that would be the new profession de jour. Mastering a bow would be as important as knowing how to turn on a light switch, today. MHO. Thank you CTD for this attention to archery.

  20. Great article. I have thought about bow shooting for a long time. Long bow v cross bow, what is your take? Finding a coach, have no clue where to look. Get a “beginners” bow or go for the gusto? Your thoughts on that. I confess that Robin and his long bow still have a place in my heart. Could I handle it, probably not. thanks. Louisville,Ky. PS, Frank, I have been told that all caps is the written equivalent to SCREAMING.

  21. I agree, bowhunting is the ultimate survival tool. For the prepper and the survivalist, a compound or stick bow beats a battle rifle every time. You can hunt at night and no one will hear you if you have to in a SHTF situation.


  23. Please add articles/discussion on crossbows. I’m interrested in a recurve crossbow primerarily because I think it would more robust with less to go wrong than a compound … but I’m almost completely new to archery.

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