Archery is the sport of shooting with a bow and arrow.

The most popular versions are bow hunting, target archery, field archery, indoor archery, and flight archery.

In bow hunting, the archer hunts game with a bow and arrows.  This is strictly illegal in the the United Kingdom and it will not be mentioned again. 

In target, field, and indoor archery, archers compete in shooting at targets.  In flight archery,  archers shoot for distance.  Amateur archers from many countries participate in international competitions and archery is an event of the Summer Olympic Games.

There is no doubt that archery is gaining in popularity , especially among the young. Films like ‘Brave’ and ‘The Hunger Games’ have probably had an effect!

As archers we are no doubt biased, but we believe that archery offers something for everyone. some will enjoy the latest technical innovations and gadgets, and others may chose the ‘traditional’ route, using e.g., a longbow. Some even go on to make and shoot their own bows.

Archery equipment

Bows.  Three main kinds of bows are used in archery–the recurve bow, the compound bow, and the longbow.

The recurve bow, the most common type used by target archers, has tips that curve away from the archer.  it usually a take down bow, meaning that the limbs can be separated from the handle – often called the riser – for easy transport.

 A compound bow has a system of two cables and from two to six pulleys built into it.  The cables and pulleys make this kind of bow easier to draw (pull back) than other types.  Please note that unfortunately, due to the power of these bows and the need for a very long ‘overshoot’ area, it is not permitted to use compound bows at our club.

 The longbow, once the most popular type of bow, is still in use by many archers.  There are other other type of traditional bow such as the American Flat Bow and the Mongolian Horsebow

Most modern club recurve bows are made of carbon-reinforced plastics or wood.  The core consists of several layers of wood that have been laminated (glued together).  Some bows can be separated into two or three pieces for carrying and storage.

Bowstrings are made of plastics, notably Dacron or polyethylene cord, and have a wrapping of nylon thread opposite the handle of the bow.  This wrapping protects the string at the nocking point, the place where the notch of an arrow fits.  Each end of the string has a loop that is used in stringing the bow.  In recurve bows and longbows, the loop fits into a notch at each tip of the bow.  In compound bows, the loop is attached to one of the two cables.  Some strings for traditional bows are made from natural flemish hemp.

It may come as a surprise to some to learn that in the UK imperial measurements are still widely used in archery. Metric conversions are offered in what follows!

The amount of pull required to bring a 28 inch (71m)  arrow to full draw is called the draw weight of the bow.    A beginner should use a bow of 20 lb (9kg) or less. Accomplished adult archers may use bows up to 55 – 60lb (25 – 29kg). It is tempting for beginners to buy and shoot bows that are heavy in draw weight, but this can lead to injury. Slowly progressing upwards is a better strategy.

Bows vary in length, depending on their use.  Archers also choose a bow that is comfortable for their draw length.  Many recurve target archers use bows 5′ 8″ to 5’10” (173 to 180 cm) long.  Junior bows are correspondingly shorter.

Arrows are made of aluminium, carbon, fibreglass, or wood.  Target archers prefer lightweight carbon composite or aluminium arrows, which travel especially fast and accurately.  Hunters and other archers who sometimes must shoot on rough land generally use aluminium arrows, which can withstand rough treatment.  Beginners should shoot with aluminium or wooden arrows.

All arrows have three main parts–the point, which in most cases is made of metal; the shaft; and the nock, which attaches to the string.  Points vary in shape and size. Target and field archers use a conical, bullet-shaped point.  The nock has a notch for the bowstring.  Three or four vanes (feathers) on the shaft help provide accuracy in shooting.  An arrow may be fletched (feathered) with plastic vanes or natural feathers.

Arrow length varies from about 2′ to 2′ 7″ ( 61 to 81 cm).  An archer can determine the proper length to use by holding an arrow perpendicular to the chest and extending the other arm straight out.  The arrow should reach just beyond the fingertips.

There is a whole area of knowledge related to the matching of arrows to bows. Arrows must flex a little to clear the bow without hitting it, and the amount of bend in an arrow is called its ‘spine’. Beginners will find that shops and club members are ready to help with getting this right.

Most archers carry their arrows in a leather holder called a quiver. The quiver may be attached to the bow or a belt, or placed on the ground.

Other equipment includes an arm guard or ‘bracer’ made of leather or plastic.  The bracer is worn on the forearm of the hand that holds the bow.  It protects the forearm when the bowstring snaps back after being released.  Archers also wear a shooting glove or a leather tab to protect the fingers that draw the bowstring.

Many bows are equipped with a bowsight that helps the archer aim.  Bowsights range from simple metal pins to telescopic eyepieces.  Most target archers use one or two composite or metal rods called stabilizers to reduce the vibrations in a bow after the bowstring is released.  These rods, manufactured in various lengths and weights, are usually attached to the back of the bow handle.

Archery competitions

Archers take part in many types of competition.  The most popular contests include those in target archery, field archery, flight archery, indoor archery, and 3-D archery.

Target archery is the most common form of competition.  The archers shoot down a long course at woven straw mats called butts.  The butts are covered with a target that is divided into five coloured circles.  A thin line divides every colour into two rings, each of which counts for a different score.  The colours and their values in points are: gold, 10 and 9; red, 8 and 7; blue, 6 and 5; black, 4 and 3; and white, 2 and 1.

The number of shots allowed each archer is called a round.  In the United Kingdom, the Grand National Archery Society governs national competitions.  Olympic archery competition and all international tournaments are held under the rules of the International Archery Federation.  These rules call for men and women to shoot from varying distances, 90 metres being the maximum distance for men and 70 metres the maximum for women.  The types of rounds that the archers shoot vary according to the level of competition, such as the World Championships or the Olympic Games.  In the 90-, 70-,and 60-metre distances, archers shoot at targets 122 centimetres in diameter.  The 50-and 30-metre distances use a target 80 centimetres in diameter.

Field archery involves walking across a course set out in an open field or wooded area and shooting at butts from various distances.  The National Field Archery Society establishes the rules for most field archery competitions in Great Britain.  The basic contest, called a field round, consists of a course with 14 butts.  The butts are covered with black-and-white targets that measure 15, 30, 45, or 60 centimetres in diameter.  Each target has three circular scoring rings–a black centre ring worth 5 points, a white middle ring, 4; and a black outer ring, 3.  The archers shoot two rounds of four arrows each at every target.  The distance to the targets ranges from about 6 to 72 metres.

Flight shooting is competition in which archers try only for distance, not accuracy.  They use special bows with a draw weight of up to 91 kilograms, and small, lightweight arrows.  In regular flight shooting, the archers shoot while standing.  In free-style flight shooting, they lie on their backs with the bow strapped to their feet.  They use both hands to draw the bow.  An archer can shoot farther than 640 metres.

Indoor archery involves shooting at a distance of 18 metres.  The archer generally shoots 12 rounds of five arrows or 10 rounds of six arrows.  Many archers compete indoors during the winter months to keep in shape for outdoor competitions or hunting.

3-D archery consists of shooting arrows at lifelike foam models of game animals, such as deer and elk.  The archer must correctly estimate the distance of the target.  The model animal has scoring rings that can only be seen from a short distance.  Because 3-D archery has many of the same challenges as hunting, it is a popular off-season activity for bow hunters.


Prehistoric people invented the bow and arrow thousands of years ago.  The weapon revolutionized early hunting methods by enabling people to kill animals from a distance.  The ancient Egyptians were the first people known to use the bow and arrow extensively.  They used the weapon for hunting and in war as early as 5000 B.C. Other early peoples who used bows and arrows included the Assyrians and the Persians.

By the A.D. 900s, the Turks had developed advanced archery equipment.  They used laminated bows made of a combination of wood and animal horns and tendons.  The tips of their bows curved outward like modern recurve bows.  By the 1100s, the crossbow had become a popular weapon in Europe.

The longbow ranked as the chief weapon of the English Army when the Hundred Years’ War began in 1337.  In 1346, in the Battle of Crecy, 7,000 English archers routed a much larger French force that included more than 1,000 armour-clad knights.  In 1415, in the Battle of Agincourt, about 6,000 English troops with longbows defeated a French force of about 20,000 to 30,000.

By about 1500, firearms had replaced the bow and arrow as the chief weapon of English infantry.  In the 1540s, English author Roger Ascham wrote Toxophilus, the first book to describe the proper way to shoot a bow and arrow.  The Royal Toxophilite Society was set up in England in 1781 to promote archery as a sport.

In the United Kingdom, the Grand National Archery Society was established in 1841.  The first national championship was held in 1844.  In the United States, the National Archery Association was established in 1879.  In 1931, the International Archery Federation (FITA) was founded to conduct international tournaments.  The National Field Archery Association was organized in 1939 by a group of American hunters.  In 1969, the International Archery Federation added field archery to the events in world championship archery competition.  In 1991, the federation added indoor archery.

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