Handicaps and scoring

There is often a great deal of confusion and mystery around the issue of handicaps in scoring. Phil Lees has put together a basic explanation of how handicaps work – its a tricky subject but Phil has done a great job of simplifying the calculations.

An archery handicap is a number between 0 and 100 which indicates the ability of an archer. The lower the handicap the better the archer. Every archer can have one outdoor handicap and a separate indoor handicap for each bow style they shoot.

Handicap tables are produced by GNAS which give a handicap for every possible score for every round irrespective of the archer’s age, gender or the bow style used. The handicap tables can be purchased from GNAS.

The archery handicap system has three uses:

  1. It helps archers to monitor their progress
  2. Enables scores to be compared between different rounds.
  3. Enables archers of different abilities to compete on equal terms.

Calculating a Handicap

Calculating a handicap is the same for both indoors and outdoors and requires the use of the GNAS tables. All handicaps are quoted in round numbers.

To work out a handicap rating for a given round you look up the relevant table and check your score in the column for that round (or the next lower score if not exact) and look across the table to the handicap column for that score. See examples below.


  1. Score for a National round of 133 gives a handicap of 70.
  2. Score for a Warwick round of 157 gives a handicap of 64.
  3. Score for a Short Warwick of 170 gives a handicap of 69.
An archer might have recorded some scores but may not yet have a handicap. In this case, the initial handicap is the average of the handicaps for the first three rounds recorded. The average must be rounded up to the nearest whole number. For example:

If an archer shoots 3 outdoor rounds with handicaps of 64, 70 and 69 then the initial handicap is 68 (being the average of those three handicaps).

As the season continues, the archer improves his scores and thus his established handicap: if a round is shot with a handicap improvement of at least two points over the established handicap then his new handicap is calculated as the average of the established handicap and that for the round just completed. For example:

Archer has a handicap of 68, then shoots a round handicap of 70: the overall handicap doesn’t change and stays at 68 (being better than 70).

He next shoots a round with a handicap of 67 which, although better than the current 68 handicap, is not better by 2 points so the handicap stays at 68.

He then shoots a round for a 66 handicap. This is 2 points better than his current 68 so the two are averaged at 67.

An archer with a handicap of 68 shoots a round with a handicap of 61 which is more than 2 points better and averaged together (and rounded up) becomes a 65 handicap.

End of the Archery Season and Handicap Improvement

At the end of an archery season (1st January for Outdoors, 1st July for Indoors), each archer’s handicap is re-calculated. If the archer has shot at least three rounds in the previous season then the new handicap is the average of the best three rounds in the previous season, rounded up to the nearest whole number. For example the best three handicaps listed above are 66, 65 and 61; this gives a handicap at the start of the new season of 64.

The only way an archer’s handicap can go up is if the average handicap of best three rounds in a season is higher than the average handicap of the best three rounds in the previous season.

Handicaps in Competition

Handicaps can be used to enable archers of all standards to compete equally against each other. This is achieved by adding a certain number of points (allowance) onto an archers score at the end of the round. The lower an archer’s handicap, the fewer points get added to his score. The winner is the archer with the most points after the handicap has been taken into account. The number of points to be added is included in the GNAS handicap tables.


By way of example, a handicap of 23 on a National round gets an allowance of 817 points to be added to the actual score achieved by the archer. So in a handicap competition an archer with a handicap of 23 and an actual score of 623 gets a final score of 623 + 817 giving 1440.

Some archers may not have completed 3 qualifying rounds to achieve a handicap. In this instance, a temporary handicap can be worked out by using the first 2 dozen score of a 5 zone scoring round, or the first 3 dozen score of a 10 zone scoring  round on a 122cm face using GNAS tables 13 & 14. This method cannot be used for handicap reduction, however.

Online Resources

Take a look at Archers Mate, an online classification and handicap calculator. This may help to understand whats going on!