I am pretty lucky; I live just three miles from the Woodley Park Archery Range, an outdoor range with an excellent 18 meter short range and a huge long range. This is run by the Woodley Park Archers club, of which I am a member and a volunteer. I practice here often and help out with the bi-weekly free open shoot basic instruction classes. It is close, and use of the range is free anytime from dawn to dusk. This is also where I teach my students how to shoot and where I hold my instinctive archer events.
Not everyone is so lucky to have an archery range so close that is free to use, running entirely off of donations. most people have to drive pretty far to get to a range, and most ranges are indoors. While this has its advantages, outdoor ranges offer longer distances and the challenge of wind variables, something critical to learn when shooting instinctively. Indoor ranges also typically have to charge a fee, as do most ranges; they have to pay space rent, after all. At $10 and hour or so, this adds up. When practicing for a tournament, it is not unusual for an archer to spend one to four hours a day, three to seven days a week in preparation. I don't begrudge the range's need to charge, I completely understand. But that cost adds up; $30 to $280 a week depending on duration and frequency.
That is a lot of money to cough up for most people, especially in this economy. To be fair, many of these ranges offer free access when you pay for a membership, and pretty much all of these ranges have great membership rates, from $10 a month to $100 a year depending on the range. Even so, many people are tempted to shoot in their backyard or standing in the driveway into the garage. On the surface, this seems fine, and in many cases, I do not have any problem with this. However, many local and state jurisdictions do.
I live in Los Angeles, so I can only speak about this city. Well, ok, I live in one of the many cities that make up Los Angeles. I have heard that many states do not have any laws and regulations about practicing archery on personal property, no matter how small the property is, and the same goes for many small towns. Los Angeles, however, is not one of these places. Going through California state and Los Angeles city ordinances, there are several laws on the books, but most of them are about hunting. Los Angeles, however, has some laws specific to archery that apply to backyard shooting.
The most important municipal code is SEC. 55.06.It is titled "Use of Bows and Arrows Prohibited." It states,
The use of bows and arrows in the City of Los Angeles is prohibited except when shooting at targets on an established public or private range.
For the purpose of this section, the following phrases shall be construed as hereinafter set out:
An “Established target range” is one where adequate precautions have been taken to insure that arrows do not pass beyond the perimeter of the target range facilities.
The term “bows and arrows” shall include crossbows and any other device for the shooting of bolts or arrows capable of piercing flesh.
Interesting, no? I'm not a lawyer, but simply creating a backstop doesn't sound like it is good enough in this case. This sounds like it needs to be either a very large space that an arrow could not possibly be shot off of the space within reasonable limits, or an enclosed location that an arrow is not capable of penetrating. This would require building permits, inspections, and so on. Because of this, backyard archery is not legal anywhere in Los Angeles.
What if you are not in Los Angeles? You will want to check your local city ordinances, which should be freely available on any city's website. If you live in California, you can probably find your city and its codes on this list: California Municipal and County Codes and Ordinances. You will want to check state ordinances as well, since many states have laws that apply to archery beyond hunting laws. Less than a year ago I found a California law on archery, but I cannot find it at the moment. It stated that an arrow cannot be fired within 100 yards of any building, waterway, or road. At the time I called Parks and Recreation and they confirmed this as a state law at the time. They also confirmed that State parks are exempt; no firearms of any kind can be shot in a state park. However, going out to a wilderness area or a national forest, a person can set up against a hill and shoot at a target they bring in. No stump shooting is allowed in California Wilderness Areas, but National Parks may be ok depending on the park; call the rangers in the area first. As applied to back yards, however, even the biggest back yards in Los Angeles usually have a building or a road within 100 yards of a shooting spot.
So, what's my take? I think backyard archery should be legal if there is enough room and if the archer can demonstrate a certain level of skill and safety. I think that the 100 yards rule is too restricting, but understandable. I think necessitating an "Established Range" is overkill in many cases. However, these laws are in place, and some probably for good reason. So the verdict is, backyard archery is not legal in Los Angeles. However, other cities may be ok with it. Just do your research first!
We like seeing you at local ranges, so even if backyard archery is legal in your area, please com out and be a part of your local community of archers!