Imagine an arrow flying through the air at your target. It gets closer and closer.
But unfortunately, it narrowly sails past the target. Now the arrow is gone and you find yourself spending the next several minutes searching for it and wasting valuable time that you could otherwise have spent shooting.
What you are missing in this scenario is a backstop.
A backstop is any barrier that can be erected behind your target to stop the rogue shots that go awry, or those occasional accidental releases.
It stops your arrows by absorbing the shock of the arrow’s impact. It helps you save time by not having to search for your arrows.
It also gives those around you protection from the occasional stray arrow. After all, you wouldn’t want to hurt anyone while on your quest to improve your archery skills.
So if you are planning on creating your own archery range, be it in your backyard outdoors or in your basement indoors, make sure to have a backstop as part of your preparations.
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1. Types of Backstops
Most backstops are essentially just a large barrier placed a little way behind your target. Backstops are of course larger than the target as their purpose is catching arrows that miss the target.
There are no hard and fast rules about what your backstop is made out of. A backstop can be a wall, a plank of wood, a fence, a pile of rocks or any other similar thing you may find to be a sufficiently large barrier.
However, the problem with the aforementioned backstops is that they are hard and hence are extremely likely to damage your arrows. There may also be a danger of shrapnel flying around from the broken arrows.
To save your arrows from such mutilation, it is advisable therefore to invest in either constructing or buying a proper backstop, one that is especially made for blocking arrows and not just a large and hard object.
There are various kinds of backstops that you can use. Some of the most common are listed below.
1.1 Hay Bales
These are basically just huge bales of hay set up to make a wall of hay such that it can stop arrows. It is pretty common owing to its ease of setup as well as its easy replaceability.
Hay bales might be better for an indoors setup as exposure to the elements such as rain and sun can cause it to deteriorate faster than otherwise.
Compressed straw in place of bales is another form of backstop.
This is another kind of backstop that is easy to access and to set up.
The plywood can be held in place by a metal frame for further firmness and durability.
While this set-up may be pretty much guaranteed to stop your arrows there is of course also the possibility of damaging them.
A sufficiently large mound of mud or sand also works remarkably well for stopping arrows.
The arrows just sink into the mud which absorbs their force and stops them.
Of course, you may end up with dirtier arrows that you will have to clean but that is far preferable to having broken arrows you can only throw away.
Needless to say, this set-up works best in your outdoors range.
1.4 Hanging Cloth or Netting
In terms of readymade backstops, this is the most common kind. Hanging backstops stop your arrow down by slowing it.
As the arrow hits the netting, it will get entangled within the netting as the netting naturally wraps around it causing it to lose most of its force and just harmlessly fall to the ground.
Hanging backstops can be used both indoors and outdoors and of course, need a frame to hang from.
1.5 Foam Sheets
Foam blocks are popularly used as targets owing to the fact that foam not only stops arrows with ease but also sometimes has the property of self-healing whereby it adjusts and fills up the space left when the arrow is withdrawn, giving it a longer life.
These same properties make foam an attractive option for backstops as well. Large foam sheets can be erected with the help of metal or wood frames to serve as backstops. One major drawback of these is the cost of foam sheets.
2. Homemade VS Readymade Backstops
2.1 Homemade Backstops
Homemade backstops are usually sufficient for the DIY archery range that you may be constructing in your backyard or basement.
If you are ready to replace them once in a while and have access to the materials, homemade backstops are the best option for you.
For added safety, you might also consider having layers of backstops, each perhaps made of a different material and spaced a few feet apart. Using multiple backstops in this manner will help further ensure safety as the arrow will go through multiple barriers and definitely get slowed down.
If you’re using a bow with a higher draw weight or a compound bow, your arrows will have more force and hence it may be safer to have a firm backstop or multiple ones.
- Cheaper than readymade backstops
- Easily replaceable
- Can have multiple layers
- Harder materials might damage arrows
- May get worn out faster
2.2 Readymade Backstops
There are a number of readymade backstops available on the internet or at your local archery store. Most, if not all, readymade backstops are generally hanging backstops made of netting or cloth.
Their advantage is that they stop the arrows without damaging them.
Depending on the type of netting, it may be able to handle fieldpoints or broadheads or both.
If you are concerned about damage to your arrows or the reliability of homemade backstops and if you can afford them, readymade backstops may be worth looking into.
- Slows arrows without damage
- Can be used indoors and outdoors
- May be costlier
- If not put up correctly, arrows will pierce right through the netting
3. Backstop Materials
Backstop materials can consist of anything that is tough enough to stop your arrow. Using spongy and absorbent materials will help in minimizing any damage to your arrow.
The materials used can vary including carpet cuttings, rugs, thick plastic tarps, foam mats, hay bales, mud, sand, straw, etc. Cardboard may also work.
The harder materials such as wood, plywood, concrete, being used as backstops can cause irreversible damage to your arrow.
However, there is no denying that these hard materials will definitely be better at stopping your arrow and thus safer for those around you.
Hence the best solution would be to combine both the kinds of materials listed to make layered backstops that will ensure the safety of your arrow as well as those around you.
4. Homemade Backstops: Constructing Backstops
4.1 Hanging Backstops
You can use any fairly thick material that is capable of stopping arrows as a backstop.
The idea behind using fabric is that the fabric will wind up around the arrow shot at full speed and slow it down enough that it will just drop to the floor harmlessly.
Take some big-sized canvas flaps, old thick rugs, rubber mats, a heavy tarp or woven plastic, any thick and heavy material, to form your backstop.
A DIY archery idea may also be using pet screens, made of polyester with a thick weave, they work at stopping arrows just as well as they work at sharping the sharp claws of our furry friends.
You will also probably need to construct a frame of wood, metal or even PVC pipes to hang your backstop from.
Once you’ve hung up the backstop, you need to make sure that it is loose with a fair amount of folds, as having the backstop stretched taut will only cause the arrows to pierce straight through the fabric, rendering it useless.
You can hang up two sheets of fabric with space in between to make the set-up work better. For extra safety, it may be prudent to have a sheet of plywood erected behind the hanging backstop as there is not always a guarantee of fabric stopping your arrows.
Hanging backstops are great for stopping your arrows with minimal damage to the arrows, but they are not as durable as other kinds of backstops, as the fabric may take damage easily depending on the kind you are using. Hanging backstops work well both indoors and outdoors.
Depending on the fabric used, they may stop both fieldpoints and broadheads. It must be noted that fabric may not be enough to stop arrows from bows with a higher draw weight.
4.2 Hay/Straw Backstops
These are pretty common owing to their ease of construction and easy availability. Hay bales work well at stopping arrows, and they can be fluffed up again to cover any gaps or even replaced if they get worn out.
Just take a number of hay bales and stack them up to form your backstop. You could stack the bales on a raised platform to keep any pests away and if you stack them on a platform with wheels, you could even transport your backstop from place to place.
You can make the hay sturdy by constructing a frame around them instead of just tying them together. You could also use compressed straw instead of hay bales for a sturdier backstop.
Again, as hay may not be entirely fool-proof, using a plywood plank behind the hay is a good idea. Hay should be able to handle both traditional and compound archery, but higher draw weights may once again be a problem.
Ideally, hay should be able to stop both field points and broadheads. These work better in an indoors setup as hay may deteriorate if left out under the sun or in rain.
4.3 Mud/Sand Backstops
These are backstops in which the archer can take advantage of what nature has to offer us. Mud and sand are soft enough to not damage your arrows, but can also absorb the force and stop them.
Constructing these is pretty easy as you just need to get a pile of mud or sand and stack it up in the form of a hill or so. You can add plywood at the back to form support for the mound of mud.
Of course, your target needs to be sufficiently high and deep enough to stop the stray arrows. These are perfect for an outdoors setup and if you have the means to do so, constructing one of these would be a perfect backstop for your backyard archery range.
Mud should stop both broadheads and fieldpoints and if deep enough, can handle higher draw weights as well. You would do well to ensure that the mud/sand is free from stones and rocks as these may damage your arrow in case of impact.
4.4 Plywood/Wood/Concrete backstops
The essential purpose of a backstop is to stop your arrows and plywood, wood and concrete will do that sure enough.
However, these materials are hard and may damage your arrow, hence it is advisable to not use them as the only barrier for your arrow. Moreover, removing the arrows will most likely be a tough job.
Combining these with one of the backstops listed above will not only ensure that your arrow is safe from damage, but also give an added layer of security to the enterprise, as these will stop the particularly intent arrow that your primary backstop may have been unable to stop.
Adding a few large sheets of foam mats before the plywood/wood is an excellent way to make a backstop that will stop your arrows without much damage while also enduring for a long time.
An old mattress may also work wonders, although broadheads will probably cause too much damage to the stuffing.
5. Readymade Backstops – Buying Some Backstops
Readymade backstops are usually hanging backstops made of a variety of fabrics.
Readymade hanging backstops will work better than homemade ones as they are usually made of polyester or nylon fabric with a thick weave to keep the arrows from just tearing through the fabric. They tend to be meshed to offer stability and durability.
The most attractive ones have weather resistant features making them suitable for your outdoors range. They can also, of course, be used indoors.
Another great feature of readymade backstops is that they come in different sizes, offering you variety and choice.
Using fieldpoints or broadheads depends upon the specific kind of backstop you are using as the fabric is usually made such that they are able to withstand either of them or both.
As such, do check the features to ensure the readymade backstop is suitable for the kind of arrow you use as well as the draw weight/type of your bow.
Whether the backstop is suitable for traditional or compound archery also is dependent on each one specifically.
6. Which is the best backstop for you?
The best archery backstop for your archery range depends on a number of factors.
A few important tips to keep in mind while deciding on your backstop, whether homemade or readymade are:
- Your backstop should be a good deal higher and larger than your target to enable it to catch any stray arrows.
- Your backstop should be placed a few feet behind your target.
- Having multiple layers of backstops will ensure maximum security.
- The higher your draw weight, the more sturdy your backstop needs to be.
- A good way to ensure your backstop will hold up against your high draw weight is to place it farther than you usually would. Placing it farther away means that the arrow has time to slow down and will thus be easier to stop, and your backstop will hold up better.
- Traditional archery is slower and can probably do with a normal backstop, while for compound archery the arrow is faster, and the backstop needs to be sturdier and farther away. For a recurve bow, the margin of error may be higher, and you may need a larger backstop.
- Your backstop will vary according to whether you have an indoors basement range or an outdoors backyard range.
- For an indoor range, as space may be limited, it is advisable to get a sturdier backstop.
- For an outdoor range, if you have space, the backstop can just be placed a little farther away in case your arrow keeps going through it.
- Whatever backstop you decide to use, remember to test it out by shooting at it from different distances so that you can make sure you have the perfect one for your range and bow.
Eventually, the archery backstop that is best for you will vary depending on your own personal needs, and it may very well be a game of trial and error before you find the perfect one.
However, it is a game that is worth investing time in, as a backstop is an important component in your archery range that helps you become a responsible and better archer, all while ensuring all-around safety and being a great time-saver.
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Hi, I’m Vineet. Creator of DivinioWorld. I am an outdoor enthusiast and absolutely love researching, learning, and applying skills and knowledge in the real world. I started DivinioWorld to share everything I know so that even a beginner can follow the ropes and master the subtle art of outdoors adventure and survival.