Outdoors Magazine

How to Build an Archery Target for a Compound Bow

By Chris Noal

Archery TargetArchery requires a lot of consistent target practice to work on form and accuracy. For that, you need a target. If you’re willing to pay for a pre-made target’s convenience, you can certainly head down to your favorite sporting goods store. You’ll find several options like 3D targets, bag archery targets, and foam block targets that come in various shapes and sizes. They even come in the form of a deer and other game. However, these can get expensive – especially the 3D archery targets.

Have you considered building your own archery target? You could make it to suit your needs and specifications, and in some cases, save a little money.

In this article, we will show you three different DIY archery targets you can make that will stand up to the power of a compound bow. With a little planning and “sweat equity,” you can make a durable target—one that you can be proud of and will last you months or years.

Things to Know

It’s worth mentioning a few limitations on these targets you should be aware of with your backyard archery range.

Not All DIY Targets Are Appropriate for Broadheads

The targets we talk about in this article are only for use with field points. Use broadhead arrows only with high density or layered foam targets. The compression frame target-type could convert to accept broadhead arrows. But, you would have to use layers of foam or dense self-healing foam. That could become more expensive than just buying a prefab foam block target from Cabela’s.

Broadheads are for bowhunting, and it’s important to tune them to your bow before hunting season. However, shooting them into an unapproved target is unsafe and potentially deadly.

Compression of Target Materials is Critical

These targets work because they use sandwiched layers of material, compressed so tightly, that they create enough friction to stop the arrows.

Whether you are using ratchet straps, tape, or threaded rods with boards, the principle is the same. Carpet, foam, cardboard, rubber mats, plastic bags with chicken wire, or any other materials have to be compressed tightly to work right. There are a ton of variations and types of targets a bowhunter could make. Just make sure to squeeze them tightly. Otherwise, you’ll have arrows fly through your layers like they were air.

Pick a Safe Area for Your Backyard Archery Range

Your target shooting shouldn’t endanger members of your household or the neighbors. Never shoot towards any homes, including your own – no matter how bombproof your DIY target or backstop seems. Even if there’s a fence between, don’t put your archery target where a stray arrow could hit a neighbor’s home. Arrows have a sneaky way of snaking through fences if there are big enough gaps in the slats.

How to Build a Hay Bale Archery Target for a Compound Bow

It doesn’t get much easier than just buying a hay bale and painting dots or putting a paper target on it. “Building” is a stretch, but for an archery target where an archer may be shooting lower poundage draw weight, hay fits the bale, or bill.

Step 1. Obtain a pallet

This step is optional, but you may want to incorporate a pallet for a target stand. Getting the hay bales up off the ground will help keep moisture out. When hay gets wet, it becomes less effective as an archery target. You can hit up a local warehouse or business and probably get a pallet for free.

The pallet should be on the larger side to accommodate the bales’ width, so at least three feet. If the bales are a little larger, it’s okay if it hangs off a little on either side.

Step 2. Purchase the hay bales

Buy two or three square bales of hay. Bales typically cost $3 to $10 per bale, and you can buy them at most feed stores or local farms. If you don’t have a truck or other means to haul it home yourself, you can always have it delivered. Of course, that will depend on who you’re purchasing the hay bales from.

Two-wire square bales measure around 14 inches tall, 18 inches wide, and 35 inches long. They weigh 50 to 60 pounds. Three-wire bales are larger and measure roughly 16 inches tall, 22 inches wide, and 44 inches long—these larger bales weigh-in around 100 pounds.

Step 3. Reinforce the compression on the bales

When you purchase the hay, inquire about how tightly baled it is. Make sure it isn’t “loose hay,” as arrows will sail right through that stuff. To ensure you don’t have any arrows passing through your hay bale target prematurely, you should reinforce the compression.

You can compress the bales more by using two ratchet straps – one on the front of the bale and one on the back. The straps should follow the orientation of the baling wire.

Stack the bales and wrap the ratchet straps on top of the wires and ratchet it down tight.

Step 4. Wrap the hay bales in plastic

Unless you have some sort of covered structure to put the hay bales in, you should wrap them in plastic to help keep water off. An easy method is to just wrap a tarp around them. You can purchase a fairly inexpensive tarp (depending on the overall size of the stacked bales). Wrap it around the bales and use zip ties or rope through the grommets to secure it. You can fold it so that it actually looks nice—think Christmas present wrapping.

Yet, another option is to do multiple layers of shrink-wrap around the bales.

Step 5. Make your bullseye

The last thing to do is to put on your target. There are various things you can do for the bullseye. You can attach paper targets, spray paint dots, or use little stick-on circles.

You can buy paper targets at most sporting goods stores or archery shops. For the most inexpensive option, just cut an appropriately-sized hole out of the middle of a paper plate or scrap cardboard, and use it as a stencil. Spray a single dot, five dot, or whatever pattern you want, and allow to dry.

You have a quick, inexpensive target that should last for hundreds of shots. Arrow removal should be a snap, and due to the bale’s overall size, it should help contain stray arrows.

How to Build a Cardboard Archery Target for a Compound Bow

This one is ridiculously easy.

If you or your significant other shop online a bit, you undoubtedly have enough cardboard boxes to make a super-quick, low-cost cardboard target. If not, you can get them free from a variety of places, including grocery stores, schools, or even your workplace. Make sure you get 40 or 50 boxes of roughly the same size.

Step 1. Decide on a box size for the frame

Choose a box size that you think is appropriate for the archery target frame. Something in the range of 3 1/2 feet long, 3 1/2 feet wide, and 1 1/2 feet thick. It doesn’t have to be this size, just make it big enough to be comfortable shooting it at different yardages.

This box will be your target frame and what you’ll stack all the other cardboard into.

Step 2. Cut the cardboard boxes to fit the frame

Get cuttin’! You are going to need a pile of cardboard to get the frame stuffed. You’ll need about 80 to 100 layers for a frame the size we mentioned. If you were able to get boxes of roughly the same size, you should cut them in half and double up. Cut the cardboard to fit flush when stacked inside the frame box.

The idea is to pack the frame box with the other cardboard to get the maximum compression. The orientation of the internal cardboard will be with the edges out, making up the target’s face.

Step 3. Compress the whole box

In the same fashion as the hay bales, you’re going to use two ratchet straps—one towards the face of the target and one towards the back. The straps will wrap around the width of the box.

Cinch the straps down as far as you can without crushing the frame.

Step 4. Make your bullseye

For your cardboard target, you can tack a paper target on it. You can also spray paint dots, using the stencil method, in any pattern you choose.

You’re ready to go. This quick and easy target should last for weeks, depending on how much you shoot. When the cardboard seems like it’s starting to get shot-out, you can simply release the ratchet straps, and readjust the cardboard or replace it altogether. Tighten it back up, and you are ready to shoot again. Enjoy the easy arrow removal on this one.

How to Build a Compressed Frame Target for a Compound Bow

This target is the “premium” target of the three options we’re outlining. The awesome thing about this compound bow target is that you can use nearly any appropriate material for the backstop; carpet, foam, or cardboard.

Materials for the Compressed Frame Target build:

  • (1) 6′ 2×12 board
  • (4) 1/2″x36″ threaded rods
  • (8) 1/2″ nuts
  • (8) 1/2″ large washers
  • A lot of carpet scrap

Step 1. Split the 2×12 board

With a tape measure, measure out the halfway point on the length of the 2×12 and make a pencil mark at 36 inches. Using a speed square, draw a guideline at this mark. Use a hand, Skil, or a miter saw to cut the 2×12 in half so that you have two 36-inch long pieces.

One board will become the top and one will be the bottom of your compression target frame.

Clamp the two boards together with four C-clamps. Drill a ½” hole in each of the four corners, making sure to drill through the top and bottom boards. This will ensure the holes on the top and bottom boards line up perfectly as long as the board orientations are kept.

Step 2. Attach the bottom board to thread rods

Slide the four threaded rods through the holes in the bottom board. Push the rods through until you’re just a couple of inches from the bottom of the board. For each rod, slide a washer over the end and screw on a nut. Your bottom board should now fasten to the threaded rods.

The bottom board is now ready to stack the backstop material in. For this example, we will be using carpet as our material of choice.

Step 3. Cut and load the carpet onto the bottom of the frame

Hopefully, you’ve raided the dumpster behind your local carpet store and have found a ton of scrap carpet that you can cut to size.

Once you have your carpet, you can proceed to cut strips approximately 33 inches long and 12 inches wide. Try to cut them as uniformly as you can so you will have a relatively flush face.

You will need enough carpet to stack 38 inches high—the length of the remaining threaded rod, plus a few inches. You’ll leverage this extra height for better compression.

Step 4. Put on the top board and tighten it down

Slide the top board down over the rods. If you can, get assistance from a second person to push down on the board. Slide a washer over each rod’s ends and follow it up by screwing a nut down as far as you can with your fingers.

Finish tightening all four nuts with an open-ended wrench. Have your assistant push down on the board while you crank down on all four nuts as much as possible. You’re trying to compress the carpet layers so it will stop your arrow without much penetration.

Step 5. Shoot a test arrow

Get out your bow and fire a test shot. At this point, you should be good to go. But if you’re getting too much penetration, keep cranking down on the top board until you reach the desired compression level.

Step 6. Add your target or bullseyes

Same drill as before. Tack paper targets or spray paint circles on the backstop’s face, and you are ready to shoot!

This target will last you years and is probably the longest-lasting DIY compound bow target you can make. If layers start weakening, you can swap them very easily. You can also change the material to cardboard if you wish, or foam if you need to change it to a broadhead target.

At this size, the target is relatively mobile. But if you want to make it bigger, you should either attach casters or build it where you plan on installing your archery range.

Building an Archery Target for a Compound Bow FAQs

Why would you want to build your own archery target?

For customization and cost savings mainly. You can make many DIY-style targets with scrap materials that you can get for free from businesses or even your workplace.

Will these DIY archery targets work as a crossbow target?

We caution against using crossbows on hay bale targets due to their shooting velocity. Even a recurve bow can eventually blast through a hay bale target. Compressed cardboard, mats, foam, or carpet will work fine.

Can you shoot a bow in your backyard?

In many states, it is perfectly legal to shoot a bow in your backyard. However, there are cities with ordinances that may make it illegal in a “non-designated” place. Always make sure to know your local and state laws.

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