With the price of seemingly everything going up these days, shooters are putting more effort into making sure their purchases go further by re-using them as much as they can.
One of those ways is by placing an effective backstop behind your target and ensuring those costly arrows don’t go flying past the target and into the bushes never to be seen again.
A nifty choice for a backstop is a horse stall mat, but is it good enough?
The job of an archery backstop
The sole purpose of an archery backstop is to do as the name suggests, stop any arrows that have either missed the target or passed through, from getting lost or becoming a safety hazard to anything behind the target.
A backstop needs to then tick the following boxes for it to be deemed suitable:
- Large enough in width and height that it is greater than the target
- Durable and tough enough to stop an arrow without allowing it to pass through
- Absorbent enough that it will not damage the arrow yet pliable enough to allow the arrow to penetrate but not pass through
Hay bales make for an excellent backstop as they fit all the criteria mentioned above but they are not practical, as most people do not have access to them, they are not very mobile and will degrade over time.
In a similar fashion, steel or metal backstops would not be ideal as they will certainly damage an arrow, while netting is not tough enough to stop an arrow at close range.
Does horse stall matting meet the criteria?
It is important to make this clear before we delve into the specifics of the horse stall mat as a backstop. The backstop is meant to be the last resort in stopping a wayward arrow, it should not be used as the primary target.
We have established that the ideal archery backstop needs to have 3 major characteristics:
- Large surface area
- Durable to handle the impact of an arrow
- Mobile to move around
Horse stall matting is generally made from any form of rubber or recycled material. They are designed to be durable, after all, they are made to be stepped on by horses.
One specific material that makes up most horse stall mats is vulcanized rubber. It is dense and durable but also has enough give and pliability to allow the arrow to penetrate through.
It doesn’t allow for a complete pass-through unless, of course, you are standing 4-yards away shooting a 450-grain arrow from a 70-pound bow, but that’s neither practical nor smart.
The vulcanized rubber does this perfectly, although it can hold the arrows a bit too tight and pulling them out can be tough.
Many archers have suggested applying a light layer of cooking oil or baking spray to the arrow spine which should make the removal a little easier.
I would suggest, removing the broadhead from the opposite side first before trying to pull out the arrow.
Vulcanized rubber has a tensile strength of 321 psi (pounds per square inch) which certainly has the capabilities to stop or at the very least greatly slow down an arrow from a 75-pound bow.
The size really depends on what exactly you are wanting the backstop to do. If you are shooting towards a neighboring house or area where people may be passing by (which I seriously hope not) then of course you will need the biggest backstop possible for complete safety.
A rule of thumb however would be 3 to 4 times the size of the target you are shooting. If you are a novice archer or have kids that will be shooting at the target, then make it slightly larger.
The initial thinking of “the thicker the matting the better” which may be true to stop the arrow but in practical terms is not the best option.
The arrow needs to penetrate far enough through the matting that the broadhead or practice tip is exposed on the other side.
If the mat is too thick not only, could it cause damage to the arrow, but it will make getting the broadhead out very tough.
In my opinion, matting that is ¾” to 1 ½” is ideal for stopping just about any arrow from 20-yards back. Anything thicker than that, you run the risk of getting a broadhead stuck in the mat or having the arrow spine splinter.
Example of a horse stall mat
Tractor Supply Co. has a horse stall mat that sells for around $55.00. The mat is 4 ft. x 6 ft. x 3/4″ and made from heavy-duty vulcanized rubber. The dimensions are more than adequate to cover the area behind a standard bow target.
This mat comes in a bit heavy at 94 lbs. but one of the attractions of a horse stall mat is that it can be cut to a specific size which should reduce the weight drastically.
The 3/4” thickness of the mat seems to be ideal, as many archers that make use of horse stall matting as a backstop achieve the desired results with that thickness.
Ok, this product at Tractor Supply Co. may not offer the archer much mobility as it is heavy and large.
But for those DIY savvy shooters, the matting could be placed on a wooden sled type frame to make moving the target around the garden easier, or even by placing a rope/chain through loops so it can be hung from nearby trees.
The ideal way to use the horse stall mat would be as a fixed structure set 3 to 4 feet behind your primary archery target.
For those archers that are happy with a set shooting range and not too concerned about having to move the backstop constantly.
The dimensions of 4 ft. x 6 ft. may seem a bit excessive, especially for the more experienced archers that are confident in their abilities.
But as mentioned earlier If you happen to be practicing in a residential area the risk of having an arrow completely missing the target and backstop is simply not worth it.
With the horse stall mat being durable and tough, it can withstand weather conditions better than a conventional hay bale.
The bonus is that the mat can be drilled or fastened to a wooden frame or designed to hang from a rail behind the target.
Distances to shoot from
Horse stall matting has very good stopping ability and there is sufficient evidence with feedback from other archers that the 3/4″ mat can effectively stop arrows from a 75-pound bow within a 30-yard distance.
For the most part, if you are completely missing a target at 10-yards, hey these things happen and there is no judgment here, then placing the mat 3 to 5 feet behind the target or doubling it up with additional matting may be a good idea.
In most cases, horse stall matting will stop an arrow from as close as 20-yards, and the further you shoot from the lower the chances the arrow will completely pass through the mat.
Damage to arrows & broadheads
Quite a few archers have stated that they find it difficult to remove their arrows from horse stall matting. This can be seen as a good and a bad thing.
It’s good because it highlights just how well the matting handles an arrow. But it’s bad in the fact that it increases the risk of damaging arrows when pulling them out, or potentially causing splinters on the spine of lighter arrows.
It’s common sense anyways to sight in your bow with your cheaper less desirable arrows.
Horse stall matting will most definitely blunt your broadheads over time and will damage the blades if you try to pull them back through the mat.
This is why if there is a chance you may miss the target, rather use practice tips or be sure to remove the broadhead once it has gone through the matting and you want to pull the arrow out.
Again, an archery backstop is a last resort to prevent any accidents, not a means to replace a target. A few cracked or stuck arrows are far better than a wayward arrow that can cause serious harm.
Horse stall matting meetings all the criteria to be a suitable archery backstop, yes, it is heavy but heavy is a good thing in this case.