How long will an archery target last?

Archery targets come in many shapes and sizes. If you are looking for a target you will see that many manufacturers claim that their target is very durable, or that it will last a lifetime. These manufacturers, however, never state actual numbers on how many arrows it will last. If you don’t want to read this entire article, here is my short answer:

A decent archery target (with normal use) will at least last 2000 arrows. The lifespan of your target highly depends on the materials and build quality. You can greatly improve the lifespan by: changing the target face, turning your target upside down, switching the layers (if possible), and changing your arrows.

There is way more to an archery target than most people think. The cheapest option is not always the most cost-effective, since it will often last shorter. Expensive targets are not always the better option, it’s really dependent on the materials used and how it’s constructed. In this article, I will therefore answer this question in more detail and explain why some targets last many years, while others last just a few months. I will also discuss how you can increase the lifespan of your target and what target I would recommend.

How long it lasts

In the intro of this article I said that a decent target will last at least 2000 arrows. This is a very rough estimation though, because there is no data on how long an archery target actually last. There are also so many different factors that influence how long a target lasts, that the number wouldn’t even be a good representation. If you do everything wrong, and bought a really cheap target, it will probably not even last 100 arrows. If you follow all the guidelines, take proper care for your target and your target is of superb quality it can last upwards to 20,000 arrows.

The most important factors that influence the performance of your target are:

  • Type of target used: foam, straw or linen
  • Quality of the material (primarily with foam targets)
  • Arrow points used: field tip or broad heads
  • Thickness of the arrow
  • Poundage of the bow

Especially with foam targets the quality tends to differ. With foam targets, the manufacturer has to consider how stiff the foam should be. If the foam is to soft it will not adequately stop the arrow. If the material is too stiff on the other hand your arrows will punch large holes in your target. A good foam target should leave holes that are about 1/3 of the diameter of the arrows. If is to stiff it will be above ½ which greatly reduces the lifespan of the target.

This target is made out of stiff foam, therefore the arrows punch large holes out of it

How different target materials perform

There are multiple different targets available, although they all have one goal stopping the arrow, they all work a bit differently. In this section I will discuss, how these targets perform and what to keep in mind while shooting.

Foam

The most common option is the foam target. The advantage of foam targets is that you can get them in many configurations and that they tend to be quite cheap. There is a huge quality difference between different foam targets. There are really cheap targets available that will last only a few hundred arrows, therefore you should do some research on the quality of the target. Some manufacturers also have really thin targets that will only stop the arrows of a youth bow. Therefore you should always check how thick the foam is before buying. It should be at least 3 inches (7 cm) thick, otherwise it will have no chance at stopping an arrow.

If you shoot a high draw weight bow the foam sometimes gets melted on the arrow

Straw

Another common material often used as a backstop is straw. Although straw targets tend to be quite expensive, they have the reputation to last very long. The advantage straw has over a foam target is that the straw gets compressed instead of getting pierced, therefore straw targets tend to last longer. Some straw targets allow you to even tighten the targets which screws, which allows you to use this target even longer. Therefore this target is preferred by archery clubs and archers that use the target daily.

Bags (linen)

If you see a target that closely resembles a bag, it is probably a linen target. Both the straw and the foam target work by catching the arrow with friction. When the arrow is piercing the material, the arrow experiences more and more friction, until the arrow stops. These linen targets don’t work by friction, but slows the arrow down by mass. When the arrow pierces the bag, little pieces of linen will catch the arrows point. Since linen is compressible, the arrow will start to compress all the linen in the bag until the pressure from the linen becomes too much.

Most of the time the arrow will only cause minor damage to the linen. The part of the target that experiences the most abuse is the outside of the bag, which will gradually fall apart after many shots. Therefore, there are replacement bags available which allow you to use the target like it’s almost new. These bags are preferred by crossbow shooters and compound archers, because they will stop arrows from bows with a very heavy draw weight. One of the major disadvantages of this target is that you can’t use pins to attach your target face. You will have to use duct tape instead.

Comparison

Foam Straw Linnen
Durability Highly differs Good Decent
Stopping power Highly differs Good Very good
Ecological No Yes No
Can attach target face with pins? Yes Yes No
Weight Average Heavy Light
Average price Highly differs High Low

How target design can increase its lifespan

There are a few design elements that can greatly improve it lifespan. With a standard target you will have to trash the target when it gets worn out. With these design elements you can get extra life out of your target.

Strips

Both straw and foam targets are offered in strips. If you stack these strips together you can make an archery target out of it. The advantage of these strips is that you can switch them around after using it for a while. Experienced archers shoot almost all arrows near the middle of the target. Therefore the middle of the target will get worn out the fastest. Therefore by regular switching the strips, you can greatly increase the lifespan of the target. Therefore these strips are the preferred option by clubs that use a straw wall as a backstop. At my local club they switch the strips around about every 2 months.

Target with replaceable strips and tightening screws

Domino

The disadvantage of strips is that if you use them on a single target, the middle part of the strip will suffer the most. The outer edges of the strip will see less abuse since you always aim at the center. Therefore domino targets have a grid of 9 foam pieces, which you can exchange. Therefore, you can only replace the center if it’s worn out or you can keep switching the order of the cubes to prevent it from getting worn out.

There are many different options available that basically offer the same features. Some targets only have a replaceable inner ring while others have a grid pattern. The principle is exactly the same; you don’t have to trash the entire target when only the middle part is worn out.

Tightening screws

Some straw and foam targets have tightening screws. These screws enable you to compress the straw or foam. By tightening these screws you will create more friction and thereby increasing the stopping power. Which in turn allows you to shoot with a heavier draw weight.

These tightening screws can also increase the lifespan of your target. With every shot, you lose a little bit material from the target. Often little pieces of straw or foam dust will fall out of the target after every shot. When it loses this material it will have less stopping power until it isn’t able to stop your arrow at all. With these tightening screws you can compress the materials, thereby filling the holes from the lost material and increasing the lifespan of your target.

How to increase its lifespan

The lifespan of your target is not only influenced by the materials and the features of the target, but also how you use it. I often see targets that have a big hole in the center while they are completely intact at the edges. Therefore, I have a few tips that will greatly increase the lifespan you get out of your target.

Do not only shoot at the center

If you are just starting with archery, you probably can use your target for quite a while. Since you will have a larger spread in your shots, you will not only use the center of the target. When you are getting more accurate, your shots will be more condensed around the center of your target. When this happens, you will quickly make a hole in the center of your target. You can prevent this by placing your target also a bit away from the center. When I am shooting in my garden I use 4 or 5 small targets which I place in different places every time, thereby spreading the wear over the entire target.

If you are shooting really accurate, another good way to increase the lifespan of your target is by increasing the distance. When you increase the distance, your spread on the target will increase, and it also makes for a nice challenge :).

By using multiple smaller target faces, you can spread the holes more, thereby improving its lifespan

Turn your target

Most archers have a certain shot pattern. When I shot with my recurve bow, my most common mistake was to aim to low. Therefore I got two hotspots, one directly on the yellow and one just below it. If you have a shot pattern, you will most likely use one side of the target more extensively. By flipping your target 90 degrees every shot, you will spread this out more. Some targets also allow you to shoot on both sides, be sure to evenly use both sides to more evenly spread your shots.

Switch the layers around

If you have a target that consists of different layers you should switch these layers around between every shooting session. It doesn’t matter if you have layers that are horizontally, vertically or from back to front as long as you can change it, I would change it between every session to increase the lifespan.

Change your arrows

One of the best ways to tear your target apart is by using broad heads. The cutting edges will cause a lot of damage to the target and after extensive use major parts of your target will start to fall apart. Additionally, some targets will tightly grab the broad heads thereby locking it into the target. Therefore you shouldn’t use broad heads on your targets; you should use field tips instead.

The larger the diameter of you arrow the bigger the hole in your target will be. Target archers often use extra fat arrows to score higher points, but it will also have a side effect. Since the fat arrows will cause larger holes, they will damage your target more. So if you have thin arrows and you want to get as much use out of your target as possible, you should use your thin arrows.

Recommended targets

In general I think foam, straw and linen targets are all great options, only for different purposes. A foam target is best for archers that are just starting and want a cheap target. A straw target is for archers that want a target that will last a long time. And a linen target is for archers that shoot a high draw weight (above 70 lbs). Although there are also great foam targets available, that will last a long time, they often tend to be as expensive as straw targets. Therefore you can make this choice purely on what kind of target you like best. Below I will discuss my top picks for targets that I would buy in each segment.

Foam target

If you just want a cheap target that will last a while I would recommend this target from Amazon. This target was originally made for crossbows, but also works great for bows. Since it has a target face build in, you don’t have to buy a target face before you can use it. This target is a good option if your bow has a draw weight of 50 lbs or less.

Straw target

A straw target will last a long time but will be much more expensive. Therefore this target is ideal for archers that don’t want to buy a new target every year. You can choose how thick you want this target to be, from 2 cm to 10 cm. Here are my recommendations on what width to buy based on your draw weight.

Width Draw weight
1 layer - 2 cm Less than 20 LBS
2 layers - 4 cm 20 – 25 LBS
3 layers - 6 cm 25 – 40 LBS
4 layers - 8 cm 40 – 70 LBS
5 layers - 10 cm More than 70 LBS

Linen target

By far the most popular linen target is the Morrell Yellow Jacket Stinger. This target bag is so popular because it is one of the cheapest you can find, while it will last a long time. You can even buy a Yellow Jacket replacement bag to increase the lifespan even longer. This target bag is also suitable for crossbows and bows with a heavy draw weight. Since this target doesn’t work with friction, the arrows are really easy to remove from the target. There are also smaller and bigger target bags from Morrell, but this one is the most suitable for archery.

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