Archery Basics

Archery is an ancient and multi-faceted pursuit: born of survival and warfare and developed into a challenging and highly rewarding sport.

It is at once a very basic principle (stored energy is released, sending a projectile towards its target) and a technically- and mentally- demanding skill.

Here is some information about the modern sport in all its various forms.

Types of Archery

Archery in the UK is undertaken in two major disciplines: Target archery and Field archery. Less common disciplines such as Clout archery are also enjoyed but hunting with bow and arrow is illegal in the UK.

Target Archery refers to the kind of individual and team sport you might see at the Olympics. Target faces of various sizes are placed on stands at distances of up to 100yds and archers attempt to score maximum points by shooting ‘ends’ of 3, 5 or 6 arrows at the target.

Field Archery takes place on a roaming outdoor course (in woods or on mountainsides, for example). Targets of various sizes and scoring zones are arranged around the course at different distances and angles. Again, individual archers or teams attempt to score maximum points. A similar practice, simulating hunting, is called ’3D Field’ and uses lifelike animal models as targets.

Types of Bow

Arrows are shot from three main types of bow: Recurve (or Olympic/Takedown) bow, Compound bow and traditional Self bows (for example the famous English Longbow).

The Recurve bow is the type used in Olympic competition, and is so called because the ‘limbs’ (which flex when drawing the string) initially curve towards the archer but then recurve away from the archer at the tip. The archer draws and holds the full weight (‘poundage’) of the stored energy (which can be anything from 20lb up to 50lb or more) and releases the string using the fingers.

The recurve bow is usually accessorized with sight and stabilizer rods which stick out at strange angles and serve to steady the bow at full draw. Recurve bows can be shot without these accessories – in which case they become ‘Bare bows’.

Recurve bows are sometimes referred to as ‘Takedown’ bows: they are modular in construction, comprising a handle (or ‘riser’, typically made of cast aluminium) and the two limbs (made of carbon fibre and/or laminate wood). To store and transport the bow it can be de-strung and ‘taken down’ into its constituent parts.

Compound bows are very futuristic and compact-looking bows: identified by having very short ‘limbs’ and wheels (or ‘cams’) around which a complicated string is threaded. The principle is to maximize the stiffness of the limbs by making them much shorter. The cams act as pulleys to assist the archer in drawing the much greater poundages and (unlike Recurve bows which increase poundage as the string is drawn back) reduce the overall weight at full draw. This allows the archer to more precisely stabilize and aim the bow, and the higher poundages allow for much faster, flatter arrow flight. The string is released with the aid of a hand-held ‘trigger’

Compound bows are not currently allowed in Olympic competition but are most likely to appear in any (non-historical) film with any suggestion of archery (see Hunger Games, Avengers etc)!

Self bows are more traditional, and are made from one piece of wood. A good example is the English Longbow which is, as the name implies, a long self bow! The result of often beautiful craftsmanship, these bows are direct descendants of the ancient forms of hunting and military archery practice. Draw weights for self bows can be huge (longbows found on the Mary Rose wreck are estimated at 70lbs draw weight, for example) and releasing the wooden arrows with any degree of accuracy can be a serious challenge.


Arrows used in modern archery are typically made of aluminium, carbon fibre (or a composite of the two), and wood (for the traditional forms).

Type and size of arrow is dependant on the archer’s draw length (how far back they draw the bowstring) and the maximum poundage of the bow itself.

Arrows are ‘fletched’ with ‘fletchings’ or ‘vanes’ which may be feather, plastic or mylar depending on application: choice of fletchings is often highly personal but the principle is simple – the fletchings must stabilize the arrow in flight, must have minimal ‘drag’ (which slows the arrow down), and must look good!

Arrow points (or ‘piles’) are usually solid metal (steel or tungsten), sharp and usually the heaviest part of the arrow.

Arrows do some very weird things in flight, and much of modern archery practice revolves around minimizing and controlling these behaviors, collectively called ‘The Archer’s Paradox’.