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Inspection of Archery Equipment

As a warranted target archery marshal, one of the most important things to learn and be comfortable with is how to inspect equipment.  In theory the longer you inspect archery equipment the better you get at it.  This doesn’t always prove to be true.  If you don’t have some guidelines or someone to “show you the ropes”, you may never get much better at inspecting archery equipment.   

You should have already read the article on the Middle Kingdom Archery Equipment Standards that I wrote.   The article should give you a good start in knowing what the standards are.  If you don’t know the standards, how can you inspect?

The article was only the “Reader’s Digest” version of some of the  Society and Middle Kingdom standards of archery equipment. The article was  NOT a complete detailed list of all the rules and exceptions nor was it ever meant to be.  I encourage anyone interested to go the following sites to read the complete material first hand. The Middle Kingdom may make Society standards more restrictive but not less.

Here is the Middle Kingdom site for the complete rules and the Society Archery site for the complete and most current rules is at:

Where to start?  One of the most important things besides knowing what to look for is to establish a pattern to inspect by.  Consider it like a mental check list.  As a heavy weapons marshal I start inspecting a person from the top of their head and work down.  As a Master Chirurgeon when I do a quick patient evaluation I once again start at the top of the patient and work my way down.  So, it should come as no surprise that when I inspect archery equipment I start at the top and work my way down.  This is only one way to inspect equipment.  If you have a better way that works for you, go for it.  The important thing is to have a routing and method to check by. 

Note:  Everything in italics is taken word for word from the Middle Kingdom Archery rules:


When a person shows up for inspection how many arrows do you check?

The marshal must also inspect the archer’s arrows but it is impractical to evaluate each and every arrow. One or two, taken randomly from the quiver, should suffice to determine if they are legal and safe equipment. If problems are seen with the first two, more should be pulled to see whether an overall pattern develops. When done inspecting return the arrows to the archer or his/her quiver. Note: Some quivers have sections and the archer may have arrows separated for a reason. Exercise courtesy, return them where you got them. 

Starting at the top (point) gently attempt to turn the point to see if it is loose.  A loose or missing tip is a fail for that shaft.  Remember that field and target tips are allowed while broad heads and razor heads aren’t.   Work your way back down the shaft looking for any stress cracks or big enough nicks to be considered iffy.  If you find any cracks or big chunks gone in the shaft that is a fail.  At the nock end once again gently check to see if the nock is secure.  If the nock is not secure that is a fail.  What you are looking for on the fletching is whether there more than one fletch gone.  If one is gone it is not unsafe but won’t fly very well.  If two are gone then there should be reason to doubt the arrow will fly safely and that is a fail.   

Bow Inspection:

If a person shows up for inspection and their bow isn’t strung then you inspect it, have them string it, then inspect it again.

If a person show up for inspection and the bow is strung then you inspect it.

The biggest thing you can’t check for if the bow is strung is the condition under the string at both tip ends under the nock.  While many prefer that the bow not be strung while first inspected there is nothing in the rules that state it must.  If you insist that the bow be unstrung, then have a bow stringer there for the shooters use. 

Holding the bow like you would shoot it, the top part of the upper limb is above the handle.  The part of the limb below the handle is called the lower limb.

What you are looking for on the bow are any cracks or stress cracks in the limbs.  Small chips or scrapes in the finish are not the same as if they were in the wood itself. 

Starting at the very tip of the upper limb, work your way down the top limb to the handle looking at the front side of the limb.  Repeat looking at the backside of the limb, then repeat for both edges of the limb.  

Check the string at the tip or nock end of the upper limb.  Does it seem to be centered in the groove or way off to one side? 

Repeat this process for the lower limb.

Now, let’s look at the string.  Is this the right length string for this bow or is the bow under or over strung?  One the bow isn’t bent enough, the other the bow is bent too much.  

Check the condition of the string starting at the upper limb tip and work your way down the string to the tip end on the lower limb.  Is the loop binding unwrapping at the limb tip ends?  It could separate in use and if it is bad enough should be failed.  Repeat this for the lower limb tip end also. 

If one strand of the string is broken, advise the shooter but use your judgment as to whether to fail the bow.

If two or more strands of the string are broken, this bow should be failed. 

Any knot in the bow string to repair it or shorten it is a reason to fail the bow. 

Any metal bow string is not allowed and the bow will fail.

Any metal clip holding the string together at the tip ends may pass as long as the bow is very low poundage (children’s bows under 20 pounds).  Any string on a bow of higher poundage may not use a metal clip to hold the loop together and fail the bow.

If the serving where the arrow nocks on the string is fuzzy, or frayed advise the shooter but this isn’t an automatic reason to fail the bow.

If a bow string is very dry that is not a reason to fail the bow, but do offer the archer some wax to put on their string if they want it.  A dry string will deteriorate quicker than one that is kept waxed. 

Now, you will have the archer pull their bow back as if they were going to shoot.  Stand behind them and you will be watching to see if the string pulls off center at either tip end on the upper and lower limb.  Have them slowly release pressure on the string while holding onto it and letting it go forward.  If the string does go hard left or right and not stay centered when the bow is pulled, then there is a limb twist and you need to check further to see if the bow is safe. 

Lastly check the bow for limb twist.  If there is very much limb twist the bow is unsafe.  Feel free to get a second opinion from another archer marshal that has more experience.


Many marshals have very limited experience around crossbows and certainly don’t feel comfortable inspecting one.  There are some big differences but there are some things that you already know to look for.  

To start with you need to know what is never allowed.  The following are taken directly from the most recent Society Rules for target archery.  While any Kingdom can make rules more strict, they may not make them less than the following: 

Society Rules for Archery:

1. No non-period center-shot trackless crossbow styles are allowed.

2. No compound prods or break-cocking crossbow styles are allowed in competition. There will be no exceptions to this prohibition.

3. No archer shall continue to use a crossbow that is observed by a Target Archery Marshal to have too heavy a draw for the archer to use safely.

4. Prods of most materials are allowed, provided they are judged safe to shoot by the Target Archery Marshal. Prods of unusual material or construction will be required to pass the inspection of the Kingdom Archery Marshal or a designated deputy.

5. Simple rear sights are allowed. Front sights are not allowed.

6. Stocks may be of any material.

7. If a modern stock with openings that can be seen through from the side is used, all such openings must be filled or covered to appear more period. Openings that are intended for gripping the stock need not be covered. Openings may be covered with tape, leather, cloth, etc.



Note:  Everything in italics is taken word for word from the Middle Kingdom Archery rules:

Crossbows should always be strung when presented for inspection. There are many styles that range from very simple lever release forms to modern rifle-like forms with safety features. If the style is unfamiliar to the Marshal, either get assistance from a marshal with more knowledge of that style or ask the archer to describe or explain its features. Unless s/he just purchased it, s/he is probably more familiar with it than the marshal is. 

 Look over the crossbow in a general way to note its features, to see that its form and

accessories conform to the required standards, to see if any major flaws or irregularities stand out, and to get a feel for the age and general condition of the crossbow.

Turn the crossbow on its side so the tip of the prod (on a bow they are called limbs) are facing vertical.

It is preferred that prods are not wrapped but it is not necessary to take off any wrappings currently on them.

If the prod is not wrapped, examine the actual surface material of the prod. Check for parallel cracks in metal prods that may indicate possible metal fatigue. Fiberglass prods should be checked for discoloration and cracks. When fiberglass separates just under the surface, the thinner top layer becomes more translucent (lighter in color). These conditions are cause for concern. 

Closely examine the nock ends of the prod to determine any stress damage and any fraying of the bowstring loops.

String material should be appropriate to the bow and its poundage. Metal cable is not allowed.  Examine the rest of the string, checking for broken strands and frayed or unraveling servings. Damaged strings should be repaired or replaced before use. Observe the position of the string in relation to the table where the bolt will rest. The prod should be oriented in such a way that the string should be pulled downward slightly on either side of the stock. If it is exactly parallel to the stock surface (just resting with little to no downward pressure), this is cause for concern since it may cause the string to jump over or deflect the bolt when fired.

Test the firmness of the attachment of the prod by holding the stock firmly, then grip the prod and gently attempt to move it. The prod as a whole should not slide back and forth, nor be able to be moved or wiggled excessively in its bindings. If it can be moved, the binding system is too loose and needs to be tightened before the bow can be used. For prods held in place with wedges or clamps, even a small amount of play indicates a need to tighten the prod since it will continue to loosen with each shot.

Check the table of the bow (where the string slides and the arrow rests). Inspect it closely for nicks, exposed screws/nails, roughness or anything that might abrade the string. This is very important with heavy poundage crossbows (200-500+ lbs.), due to the speed and force with which the string is released. Note: All heavy poundage crossbows should be treated with extra caution. A potential hazard is doubled with high poundage crossbows and can result in fast and far traveling bolts in unpredictable directions. 

Examine the trigger mechanism. A barrel mechanism depends on a cylindrical nut for its action and is usually notched in two places, one for the trigger and one for the string. The nut should rotate freely and evenly but should catch at one point, the set point for the trigger. Rotate the nut to that place and then, while maintaining forward pressure against the string notches, gently pull the trigger. The barrel-nut should roll suddenly but smoothly forward. Some cylindrical nuts are tied in place while other are designed to fit the socket made for them. If the Marshal turns the bow upside down, and the nut falls out, it is cause for concern. If it pops out when the Marshal push forward on it (as though under tension by a string) it is cause for concern. Spring mechanisms involve the dropping of a hook in response to pulling a trigger. These can be tested by passing a loop of heavy string (a bow stringer is a useful test string) behind the hook, then gently pulling the trigger as the Marshal pulls forward on the test string. Again, the response should be smooth and fast. If there is any major hesitation in the release mechanism, especially if it occurs consistently or if it jams without releasing, it is cause for concern.

 Rolling nuts can be made of any appropriate material (wood, metal, ivory, and plastic).

Rolling nuts that are tied in are preferred but not mandatory. Other string release mechanisms are allowed.

 If the crossbow has a safety lock, it should also be tested. 

A bolt clip or other device for keeping the bolt in place is required.


Note:  Everything in italics is taken word for word from the Middle Kingdom Archery rules:

As with arrows, it is impractical to try to examine every crossbow bolt the archer has. One or two selected randomly should be sufficient to determine if it is legal and safe equipment.

1) Check the composition of the shaft, point, and fletching to see that they match the kingdom and shoot requirements.

2) Check the security of the points by gently twisting them. If they feel loose or come off, they should be reglued before use. It may also indicate that the rest of the points may have a similar problem if they were all put on at the same time. (Glue loses adhesive ability over time.)

3) Look over the fletching to check for any places where it is pulling away from the shaft or is missing altogether. Missing fletching on bolts may cause them to veer upon release, as will loose fletching that gets caught on its way out of the bow. Bolts with these problems should not be used. Check to be sure that the fletching pattern matches the bow. 

4) Check the shafts for dents and gouges. Dents that are deep and long may be cause for concern. Talk to the archer about them asking if they are still flying well. If a gouge is large enough that actual wood is missing (about one sixteenth of an inch or more deep), the archer should discard that bolt since the strength of the shaft is weakened at that point.

5) Check the end of the shaft that rests against the string. It may or may not be capped. If it is capped, twist the cap gently to be sure it is secure. Check to see that the cap edges meet the shaft smoothly. If it is not capped, check the shape to be sure it is flat or concave. If it is worn enough to be convex (rounded outward), the string may be able to slide under it causing a misfire. Bolts in that condition should not be used. Also check uncapped ends for splits or other damage from arrows or bolts that might have hit them. Bolts with split ends or heavy chipped ends should not be used.

This short overview was not intended to give you all the information you need to inspect archery equipment.  You will need to read and become familiar with both Society and Middle Kingdom rules plus gain experience working with more experienced Archery Marshals.  Even then you will not know everything there is to know.  We all learn new things as time goes on.