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A hay bale archery target sounds like it should be a cheap and easy target that can be set up in the backyard for year-round target practice. But is it?

Certainly, bales of hay aren’t expensive and can be delivered to your door. Setting them up in a pile sounds pretty straightforward and should make a solid target.

For all their positive aspects, you should also be aware of the negatives and either take steps to overcome them or simply accept their faults.

Otherwise, you might understand that hay bales as targets are neither as cheap nor as effective as you thought they were and choose to buy a commercial block target or bag target instead.

We’ll take a look at the types of hay bales you might consider, ways to prolong their life and reduce the chances of damaging your arrows. We’ll also discuss a few of the different ways you might use them.

Using A Hay Bale Target

You might use a hay bale in one of two ways, each of which will give you a forgiving barrier into which an arrow will find itself embedded.

As A Target

The first is as the target itself. In this case, with today’s powerful modern bows it will be necessary to set the bales up at least 2 deep to ensure you don’t simply blow straight through.

A standard hay bale measures around 14” high x 18” wide x 35” long and weighs 50-60 lbs. To create a reasonable sized target you need to get yourself at least 4 bales and then use ratchet straps to draw them tightly together.

Once you’ve got your bales positioned in a configuration that suits, you can attach paper targets onto the front to give you a variety of aiming options. 

It’s possible to find this size of hay bale for around $25-$30 for 5 or 6 bales.

The second type of hay bale is the larger coiled or round hay bale. These bales weigh around 100 lbs and are usually packed more densely than the smaller bales.


Although they cost a little more, they are larger and will last longer, particularly if you use the rounded side as your target area.

As A Target Backstop

The second way to use the hay bales is as a backstop set up behind a commercial type of target.

One of the principal guidelines for any archery range is to provide a backstop, either man-made or natural, and this is where the hay bale can be useful.

In this case you would be using the bales to catch arrows that have missed the target so that they don’t fly into harder surfaces or into dangerous situations beyond your property.

In this case you would expect the bales to last longer because they should only be getting hit on the rare occasion the target is missed so they won’t cop as much damage.

Positives of Using Hay Bale Targets

Archers who have used hay bales as the primary material for their targets have cited a few reasons why they use them and why they believe they are a good option.

  • Low cost

  • Easy to construct

  • Can be positioned in any formation

  • Effective in stopping arrows

Low Cost. Depending on where you live, a block of 5 or 6 bales of hay can be very cheap. In some cases you might even be able to get them for free. This may be the single biggest attraction for using them as a target.

Easy To Construct. Once you’ve taken delivery of them or brought them home, they can be easily stacked into a usable target shape. Construction can be as quick as 1 or 2 minutes.

Position In Any Formation. Bales are reasonably easy to move around and position so that they offer different shapes and faces to the archer. This gives you the opportunity to change the look of the target just by moving a few bales around.

Effective In Stopping Arrows. As an organic material, hay has some give so it provides a cushioning effect when an arrow hits it. This means it won’t cause significant damage to the arrow in the process of stopping it.

Of course, its effectiveness will very much come down to how tightly the bale is built and how well maintained it has been over the course of its life as a target.

Negatives of Using Hay Bale Targets 

Here are a few of the main drawbacks cited by archers who have attempted to use hay bales as a target or as a target backstop.

  • Degrades very quickly
  • Is affected by weather
  • May not be dense enough to stop an arrow
  • Can damage arrow fletching
  • May be more expensive over the longer term

Degrades Very Quickly. The continued impact of high power arrows hitting the hay or straw causes significant damage to the material and holes start to form in the bale.

This leads to soft spots within the cube and an increased chance of arrows blowing straight through the hay.

One of the ways to mitigate this damage is to wrap a couple of ratchet straps around the bales and occasionally tighten them. This will, in a sense, tighten the weave of the hay.

Affected By Weather. Hay is an organic material and this means it is prone to breaking down. Add some water to the mix and the decomposition is accelerated.

If the hay bales are left out in the weather without any type of protection it won’t take terribly long before your nice tight hay bale has become a sagging sodden mess.

May Not Stop An Arrow. Depending on the actual type of hay you’re using and how tightly it has been compressed, a single hay bale may not be enough to stop an arrow. This is particularly the case for the top line speed compound bows being sold today.

In order to ensure you’ve got the stopping power, your hay bale target should be at least 2 bales deep. Either that or you get yourself a larger, round bale and use the rounded edge as your target.

Of course, this leads us into the next negative…

Can Damage Arrow Fletching. If your arrows are blowing straight through a hay bale, there is not doubt that some damage is being done to the fletching. It won’t take terribly long before the fletching starts to get ragged and frayed or is ripped off the arrow completely.

If you’ve fired only a few arrows at your new hay bale target and it has disappeared up to the fletching it would be a good idea to condense the bale with a ratchet strap or move on to another type of target.

May Be More Expensive. Here’s the hidden cost that you may not consider when faced with what looks like a very cheap target solution. A few bales of hay might be really cheap (or even free in some cases) but that’s just your starting point.

Potential costs down the road include replacement bales when the originals are degraded, new fletching after it has been ruined, new arrows if they’ve been broken in some way by the target. If you want to practice with broadheads there may also be a need to replace those if they have been damaged in some way because they’ve penetrated too deeply. 

Conclusion

No matter whether it’s the primary target or simply a backstop behind a 3D target or as the “stand” for a paper target, it's possible for them to be a low-cost solution that will last for a reasonably long time.

If, however, you're planning to put a lot of arrows into the target using a powerful compound bow or crossbow achieving significant speeds, you're probably going to be better off paying the upfront cost of a commercial target.

At the very least, if your hay bale deteriorates quickly to the point of being unusable as a target, you still have yourself a great source of garden mulch.

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