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Archery for the Apocalypse

Archery has been a darling of popular media for years. Is it truly a viable skill for a dystopian future?

Raise. Aim. Shoot.
Release the string gently. Don’t jerk it. Let your fingers slide calmly to rest on your cheek. Keep your bow arm where it is. Look at where your arrow lands. Focus on how it all feels.

Thanks to popular media, archery makes mainstream sense as a survival skill. The Last of Us, The Hunger Games, Horizon Zero Dawn, and decades of the Robin Hood legend only just scratch the surface of how effective, practical, and outright hardcore it can be, anywhere from medieval settings to dystopian futures. And, of course, it looks very cool.

“For target archery, you have different accessories to stabilize the shot,” Coach Marc Law of DMZ Archery Range explains. “You put sights, stabilizers, plungers, rests. Even with the arrows, there are configurations for them so that when you shoot, they fly straight as far as 70, even 100 meters.” He emphasizes that it is a very technical system assisted by engineering and technology.

“Survival archery, that’s more on the traditional side. Just like in medieval times, there’s no special configuration. There wasn’t any carbon fiber or anything like that back then. All they cared about was that bows should have a certain amount of power: enough to kill a person or an animal, pierce through targets, pierce armor, win battles. No extras. That’s the difference,” Law points out. Accuracy rests a lot more on your skill, your instincts, and how well your body translates your desire into action, making it more ideal for handling certain scenarios, like hunting.

Possibly a war-torn landscape with marauding monsters, human or otherwise. Perhaps even a nuclear holocaust where guns barely work, and bullets are scarcer than food.

Draw and nock your next arrow. Don’t aim with it. Refocus your eyes solely on the target. Remember how your previous shot felt.
Raise your bow arm. Aim with your entire body. Shoot as you breathe out.

There’s nothing quite like having your own bow. Training with a range’s in-house equipment can give you a handle on the basics, but solid proficiency, the purity of sensation and execution, can only begin when you have your own gear. The feel becomes distinctly yours: the weight of the frame, the tension of the draw, the way your body reacts to each shot. That’s what you build muscle memory with, and where your real growth as an archer begins.

Even if you want to start building an armory for yourself in preparation for a possible apocalypse, though, make sure to learn first. “Study archery first,” Law asserts, when asked about what kind of equipment to buy for a post-apocalyptic scenario. “Don’t buy a bow yet. Buying something like that, something that can be a weapon, that’s no joke. Here at the range, we teach students not just how to shoot, but how to practice safety all throughout. We teach you how to not hurt yourself or others. Take classes first, and then only after you learn enough should you consider getting a bow. Especially if you’re thinking of traditional archery, of hunter-class bows.”

After you have the right training, then you can properly start gathering gear. “If I were to prepare an armory for that kind of future, I would buy different bows,” Law admits. “The bows should be ambidextrous, should not be that heavy. I want everyone to be able to use the bows. Because if I get injured and I’m the only one who can use them, everyone dies. I want everyone to use my bows in case anything happens.”

Like, say, the things in the dark come knocking. Have we mentioned something about a post-apocalyptic scenario where typical civilization has fallen?

Walk, don’t run, to your target. Retrieve your arrows one at a time. Check where they landed, remember each one. Visualize how you hit those points.
Examine your arrows: the tips, the shafts, the fletches, the nocks. Replace an arrow immediately if there is damage. Never shoot a damaged arrow so that it doesn’t injure you or others.

“The best thing about archery from a survival standpoint is the efficiency of the gear,” Law says. “First, you’ll never run out of arrows. You can always pull them out and use them again. Second, shooting with a bow and arrow is super quiet, so it’s good for hunting. Third, you can technically make a bow with any material available. With just a length of sturdy wood, for example, and then some kind of durable string, you can make a bow. Branches, you can carve into arrows. Anything can be deadly, if you study and prepare to make the equipment.”

While it would be tempting to gather and use expensive, elaborate gear, especially if you’re an archery enthusiast, Law maintains that nothing beats the basic bow-and-arrow setup in a real crisis. “Crossbows are cool, for example, but they’re too much trouble unless you’re just dealing with one target. Just cocking a crossbow can take at least 20 seconds. It’s not a good idea if you’re shooting multiple targets or if you’re in a desperate situation.”

That said, there are still ideal ways to maximize the basic setup. “Use high-power bows, around 40lbs of draw weight or more. Not all threats or game are small. You could encounter big game, like deer or boars, so you need to prepare for those. You shouldn’t shower a target with arrows. You want to kill it in one shot to eliminate the threat or secure your next meal without ruining the meat.

“For the arrows, better to use aluminum rather than carbon fiber so that they don’t shatter if you hit something hard, like a tree or bone. And while we only use target tips here at the range for safety, hunting tips do exist, the ones with surgical-grade edges.”

Of course, it’s important to have supporting equipment like knives and protective clothing. Law emphasizes that you can’t rely solely on your archery, especially when things get up close and personal.

Return to the shooting line. Assume the proper stance and balance. Reorient yourself with your target. Remember every shot you took in your previous set. Breathe.
Raise. Aim. Shoot.

“Traditional archery, if you learn it well, it really stays with you,” Law says. “Trust your body, trust how it feels to shoot. While we’re just enjoying ourselves for now and training as a sport, archery really can be a survival skill. If things get bad, there’s no question it will save your life someday.”