Archery articles, tips and advice

A Guide To Different Archery Types

Source material: GNAS, EFAA, Barry Groves, Merlin Archery Centre

Archery has many different formats. Here are just a few examples of popular types.
Target Archery - An Introduction
target archer on aim
target fun
archery tournament

Target archery is the only form of archery allowed in the Olympic games and has over a hundred member nations throughout the world. These nations are represented by the Fédération Internationale de Tir à l'Arc (F.I.T.A) which is the international governing body for the sport.

There are quite a number of different target archery rounds, but generally, target archery consists of archers shooting a fixed number of arrows at a specified distance. That target is circular with 10 concentric rings. The inner ring of the gold scoring 10, to the outer ring of the white scoring 1. After an end of arrows, usually 3 or 6, all arrows are scored. At the end of the day, the person with the highest score wins! Simple!

A wonderful and probably unique aspect of archery is the opportunity for competitors of any ability to compete.

A paraplegic archer won the Gold Medal at the 1982 Commonwealth Games, paraplegic archers also competed at the 1984 and 1996 Olympic Games alongside the able-bodied competitors.

British archers have won 9 medals at the last three Olympic Games.

There are over 1000 registered target archery clubs in the UK, so there is most likely one near you. Contact the Grand National Archery Society (GNAS) to find your nearest club.

A Brief History

The distinction of a sport can be traced back to its lineage. Archery is a most ancient sport, a sport of both Kings and Queens and is today the only sport providing the official royal bodyguard to the monarch. The skilful use of the medieval longbow at Crecy (1346) and at Agincourt (1415) laid down its mark in the annals of history and today we retain that history and balance it alongside a modern Olympic sport.

The oldest recorded archery event in the British Isles occurred in Scotland. This is the "Papingo" shoot at Kilwinning in Ayrshire for which records go back to 1483. The Royal Toxophilites (f. 1781), Woodmen of Arden (f. 1785) and the Royal Company of Archers (f. 1676) in Scotland survive to this day to illustrate some of the ceremonial and historical activities of the earliest sporting societies.

Archery is an Olympic sport and was represented as early as 1900 at the Paris Olympiad. At the 1908 British Olympics it is interesting to note that the great all round British sportswoman, Lotto Dod (1871-1960) won the Silver Medal and her brother Wily won the Gold in the mens division. The Gold and Silver Medals in the women's division were also won by British archers.

Archery has now been an permanently established part of the Olympics since 1972 and has been highly commended by the International Olympic Committee for its ability to adapt to the changing face of sport and the media.

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Field Archery - An Introduction
field archery target
3D archery
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EFAA archery
Taking aim

One of the great attractions in archery is the diversity of shooting styles, the seemingly endless variations of equipment and of course the great variety in courses and targets that can be shot. In all of these variations there is one single intent and that is to hit the specific point on the target that you are aiming at. Like any sport unless the objective of the sport can be achieved with some regularity its not much fun. As with any other sporting pursuit practice is the way to improvement.

Whilst hitting what you are aiming at is the main ingredient of target archery and any number of its variants. There are those who seek to achieve such things as the furthest distance or in the case of Zen where archery becomes a state of mind and body.

Whilst one of the common objective of archery is to hit what you are aiming at, there are far easier ways of hitting something at which you aim , the use of a rifle for example. This leads one to conclude that archers are enjoying doing it the hard way, using their own strength and co-ordination to achieve a successful hit. Interestingly enough the sport recognises this and allows a wide variety of equipment which can be used to help hit the target. Sights, stabilizers and bows that provide a mechanical advantage are all catered for within the laws of the sport, providing various divisions to ensure fair competition.

So what’s different about Field Archery? Well despite what the name says it certainly is not normally shot in a field this is much likely to be done by Target Archers who typically will shoot in a flat field. The ideal Field Archery course will be set in woods with steep slopes and as variations in ground as can be achieved safely.

On the left are some typical field archery scenes.

Whilst there are various rounds that are shot by Target Archers they will typically shoot greater numbers of arrows from fewer fixed distances. The process of shooting is tightly controlled by a Field Captain who will ensure that the arrows are shot within a specified amount of time and that all the archers collect their arrows and record their scores together. Archers are allowed to sit and rest between shooting, some will have special tents in which they can shelter from the weather. Target archery demands very high levels of concentration, with the archers needing to be fit physically and mentally to achieve success.

Field archery, meanwhile, means a day of shooting in the woods and necessitates walking from one target to the next. The distances walked will be determined by the available space and the course setters ability to set out 14 or 28 targets in safety. The sort of round and distances shot can vary widely. A Hunter and Field round comprise 28 targets each, with four arrows being shot at each target. These rounds are shot from marked distances varying from 20ft up to a maximum distance of 80yards. Most of the targets require the archer to move forward to the next distance between each arrow. Other rounds will include shooting at monochrome or coloured pictures of animals, these can be either from marked or unmarked distances. In some rounds all the arrows that hit the target will score, whilst in others the first arrow that hits from a total of three arrows will score depending which arrow or which zone on the picture is hit. In some cases the shots will be made more difficult by clever use of the intervening ground or the positioning of the peg from which you have to shoot forcing the archer to not only estimate the distance but allow for the slope of the ground or perhaps the incline of a tree which can influence the bow alignment especially for those that choose to shoot without sights. Other factors which can influence the shot will include the lighting conditions, in woods this may mean from shooting from the dark to the light or the other way round both contributing to the difficulty of the shot. This wide variety of terrain, shooting conditions and rounds are the true attraction of field archery, it is without doubt more physical than target archery, but it still demands high levels of concentration but with a wider spectrum of skills.

For more information on field archery, visit the following links.
GNAS - Field Archery
Official web site of the GNAS for field archery
The English Field Archery Association, affiliated to the I.F.A.A.
The Welsh Field Archery Association, affiliated to the I.F.A.A.
The Scottish Field Archery Association, affiliated to the I.F.A.A.
The National Field Archery Society

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Flight Archery - An Introduction

Mike Willrich shooting in the American longbow class, Nevada, 1999One of the first things any boy does with a piece of bent bamboo, a string and an 'arrow' - which is usually another piece of bamboo, thinner than the first and, with a bit of selection, straighter - is see how far he can shoot it. This is Flight archery in its simplest form.

Flight is the only form of archery which doesn't involve a target. Or it has the biggest target - the Earth - depending on how you look at it.

It is ironic that this first type of archery for children has the fewest adherents among adults. Yet it is Flight archery that is at the cutting edge. Without Flight, archery generally would be much poorer. For Flight archery is the 'Formula One' of archery. Like a Grand Prix car, dedicated Flight bows are not built for the reliability needed for 150 arrow FITAs, week after week, year after year. The dedicated Flight bow is built to shoot an arrow as far as possible - that's it! The Flight bow is refined to its ultimate, stressed to the limit, strings with as few strands as possible for lightness, and with arrows hand-made for aerodynamic perfection. It is in Flight archery that tuning and technique are all-important. To win at Flight nothing less than perfection is good enough.

The five facets of Flight

I have divided Flight archery into five different but interdependent facets: the bow, arrows, tuning, technique and, lastly, somewhere to practise.

Alan Webster shooting a Drake Flight bow The bow

Any archer can shoot Flight. No special equipment is needed as Flight rules have classes for all types of bow from longbow to Flight bow, recurve to compound, or even crossbow. The Target archer, therefore, can shoot Flight and many do.

With an 'off-the-shelf' Target or Field bow the amount that can be done to increase its performance is limited. In essence the faster an arrow leaves a bow, the further it will travel. The aim with the bow, therefore, is increasing its efficiency so that as little energy as possible is used to move the limbs or overcome friction, and as much of the stored energy as possible is used to accelerate the arrow. With the Target bow this is usually restricted to modifying the bracing height and draw length. The weight (mass) of what the bow is moving also has a large bearing on how quickly it will accelerate, so weight of the moving parts - limbs, cams, arrows, even string - also plays a significant role. Bows used specifically for Flight invariably have thinner, shorter and, therefore, lighter limbs and strings. With the compound bow, other areas to concentrate on are the size and weight of the cams and friction in the axles and cable guard.

Because Flight bows are very short, and the arrows shot are of the order of 14 to 15 inches in length, they are usually fitted with a handle in front of the riser.

Livvy Stewart shooting in the Target bow class, Nevada 1997 And as they are centre shot, using a release aid, their risers normally have a hole in the centre through which the arrow passes (see picture, right). Harry Drake showing centre shot bow

Dedicated Flight bows, both recurve and compound, are available commercially but, as there is a limited market for them, there are very few manufacturers and they tend to be expensive.


Arrows should be as light as possible. They should also cause as little friction through the air as possible. Easton ACEs are excellent arrows for the target archer shooting Flight. To keep the air friction down, fletches should be as small as possible. But there is a trade-off here in that while smaller fletches reduce friction, they also reduce stability, and stability in flight is also an important consideration. And do not forget, these must be regular Target arrows.

Target bows are allowed a certain amount of overdraw. Use it - to shoot shorter and, therefore, lighter arrows.

Dedicated Flight arrows cannot be bought. They are generally made from 3 mm or 4 mm solid carbon rod by the archers who shoot them. They are invariably barrelled to some extent, have centres of gravity around or just in front of the mid point of the arrow, and fletches which measure no more than 6-8 mm in any direction. Points and nocks are made from pieces of 3-4 mm aluminium rod (knitting pins are ideal), and fletches from bits of computer floppy disk, stuck on with Superglue. Until the advent of computers they were generally made from razor blades.

Arrow rests.

On a Target bow you will use your normal arrow rest and pressure button. However, the Flight bow is allowed an overdraw as far back as the string on a compound, and as far back as you like on a conventional recurve. This means that the string is going to follow the arrow through the arrow rest; which means in turn that this has to be something which will not impede the arrow's progress or deflect the string.

The commonest arrow rest is some form of brush - toothbrush or small paintbrush - with the arrow very delicately balanced on it. I managed to graze my arm with one - it is not for the nervous archer. I favour Ted Mallett's invention: a piece of thin balsa wood with a notch cut in the centre. This is safer as the arrow cannot fall off, but has the disadvantage that it is broken with every shot and can only be used once.


Tuning of arrows to bows was never more important than in Flight. When the arrow leaves the bow it is travelling at its fastest. Even the slightest deviation from straight at this point will slow it down no end. It is essential, therefore, that the arrows are correctly spined and tuned to the bow. And don't forget that stabilizers can be tuned too. Stabilizers fitted to a bow so that you don't have to buy a bowstand, may not be set up to their best.


Shooting technique ties in with bow tuning. Without good shooting form the arrow will not come out of the bow straight. You can get away with a less than perfect technique in Target archery: if the arrow leaves the bow sideways, the fletches will correct it, and the arrow will hit the target. But that won't do in Flight. In California in 1996, my wife was helping me (see below) by making sure I was pointed in the right direction. It was "right a bit . . .left a bit . . .". On one of my shots she said "okay" just as I loosed. My concentration was disturbed at that moment. As a consequence that arrow only went 350 yards - the others were all over 800.


To reduce archer's paradox and allow a straight arrow flight, all archers using conventional Flight bows are allowed to use releases. These are generally handmade from strips of leather and rubber. Target compound archers can use their regular release aids, either wrist or hand held, but compound Flight archers' releases must be hand held.

Somewhere to practise

And so to the problem of finding somewhere to practise: a problem I have yet to resolve. As I have shot over a kilometre, not only do I need something like an airfield, I need one with very short grass or I cannot find the arrows. However, for the Target archer practising Flight it is easier. A good Target bow, shot well, will make 400-500 yards; a longbow considerably less. And as Target arrows are much bigger, they are not so difficult to lose. A large field or two fields together may suffice. I started shooting Flight on a local golf course - across three fairways and along a fourth I had a total of 650 yards of well-trimmed grass to play with. The only disadvantage is that golfers always seem to get out at dawn and you can't shoot when they are around.


Unlike in other forms of archery, Flight archers are allowed to have an assistant. Normally the assistant helps the archer by telling him when he is at the correct angle. Most commonly this is done using a 45 trisquare which is lined up with the arrow and the horizon. More sophisticated ones may have a plumb bob in case there is no convenient flat horizon. I prefer to use my own judgement rather than someone else's and fit my bows with spirit levels.

Do not worry if you attend a Flight tournament on your own, there is invariably someone there who will be happy to assist you.

The angle of the dangle

The optimum angle to shoot at for distance is theoretically 45 . However, as the arrow slows down as it travels due to friction through the air, the flightpath is not symmetrical and it is better to shoot at just under 45 . If you are shooting with the wind, aim a degree or so higher; if against it, a degree or so lower.

In the USA Flight is always shot with the wind. In Britain we always seem to shoot across or against the wind - and rain too!

More angles

When the distances of the shots are measured, it is along a preset line laid out on the ground. If your shot lands off to the side, you will forfeit some of the distance your arrow has actually travelled. So as well as looking into the sky to get the angle of elevation correct, you also have to gauge your angle of azimuth so that the arrow lands as near the line as possible. So I lied: you do have a sort of target after all! If you are shooting directly with a slight wind, as in the USA, this is not too difficult. But if you are shooting in North Yorkshire on a typical day, you have to get some idea of what the wind is doing 1,000 feet and more up. That's a lot more fun.

Tournament Strategy

Only one arrow is going to count - the furthest one. In the USA, only one end of six arrows is shot in any one Class - and there are no sighters in Flight. So you have just six chances to get it right. In a British Flight tournament normally four ends of six arrows each are shot, which makes life easier.

If you are trying Flight for the first time with your Target bow, you will be in competition with others using similar bows, which will have similar characteristics and shoot similar arrows a similar distance. To be the one who wins, you have to be just that bit better than the competition. The most important thing to aim for is the perfect loose and the perfectly straight arrow. Get this right and, not only will it help you win at Flight, it will also improve you scores in Target, Field and Clout.

A sport for all

Bows for which there are classes include not only dedicated Flight bows but also Target recurve bows, longbows and compounds, with separate classes for men, women, boys and girls, so all are catered for.

And we Brits are good at it: Britain has more World Record holders in Flight than in any other discipline. As an example, there were no fewer than seven World Record holders at the 2002 West Midlands Championships. And that is really a relatively small local Flight shoot.The author with a Groves/Merlin Flight bow in Nevada, 1997

Distances shot

The furthest distance shot with any bow is 2,047 yards (1,871.84m) . This was shot by the late Harry Drake in 1988 using a crossbow. The furthest with a hand-held - and pulled - bow is 1,336 yds 1' 3" (1,222.01m) , shot by Don Brown with an unlimited conventional Flight bow in 1987. My 40kg Compound World Record of 1,162 yards was made shooting a 30 kg bow -- I can't pull 40 kg!

Distances achieved in Britain include:

Conventional Flight Bow (unlimited): Alan Webster - 916 yards
Compound Flight Bow (under 60 lbs): Barry Groves - 914 yards

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