Meet Your New Bow

Female archers are on the rise.

Maybe it’s the allure of The Hunger Games’ arrow-slinging heroine. Maybe it’s the pink-camo bows. Or maybe women are getting tired of telling the men, “Enjoy hunting with your bros,” and are ready to say, “Hang on—let me grab my gear.” Whatever the reason, as fall rolls around, more women are tuning their bows, hitting the range, and gearing up to start archery season off with a bang—er, thwap.

In 2012, 18.9 million Americans participated in archery, and one third were women. The archery industry is responding to this, upgrading women-specific gear and offering clinics for every level of shot. Bowhunter Zach McCarthy has been working at Extreme Performance Archery for the past year, and is proud to show off his girlfriend’s first bow. “I’ve never had a girlfriend who shot before, or even wanted to shoot,” he says. “It’s something for us to do together.” This seems to be a common theme. In an informal poll around local archery shops, women picked up a bow for three main reasons: movies made it look cool, it seemed like a unique hobby, or they wanted to go hunting with the menfolk.

In an effort to further interest, Bozeman Parks and Rec offers clinics every year at Big Sky Archery, where women can be found releasing a volley of arrows into dense foam blocks across the cavernous shooting range. Fewer than half of the women attending these clinics are interested in bowhunting, which follows the national trend—two-thirds of female archers shoot strictly at targets. Exceptions do apply: one flinty-eyed woman didn’t pause in her draw as she said, “I’m here because I’m going to get a bigger elk than my husband.”

Women looking to bag a six-point trophy approach bowhunting differently than men. “Because women are smaller and typically have shorter draws, they won’t put out the kinetic energy and momentum that a higher-poundage bow and arrow would,” explains McCarthy. “You have to be aware of that in hunting situations—women have a shorter safe-shot range.” This isn’t a drawback; it’s a test of skill. Shorter range? No problem. Watch me get within 20 yards of this bull.

Regardless of motivation, archery improves focus, coordination, and patience. The consistency required to shoot tight groups is addicting, as is seeing accuracy improve over longer-range shots. Despite increasing numbers, bow-toting women still feel like a novelty at times—but don’t be afraid to get in there with the guys. They aren’t staring at you, they’re just impressed with your 30-yard group.

Like most sports and hobbies, archery can be expensive to get into. Once you gear up, the expenses pretty much disappear (until the upgrade yearnings hit). Used recurve and compound setups can be found online or at second-hand stores, but always take it to a certified technician before shooting. Sporting stores can help tune your bow and get you started, along with dishing out info on local clinics and 3D shoots.

Give it a shot. This is Bozeman, and what’s that saying? Oh yeah—the more hobbies the better.