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Archers in Competition

Archery is the practice of using a bow to shoot arrows. Archery has historically been used in hunting and combat, and has become a precision sport.


Modern competitive archery

Competitive archery involves shooting arrows at a target for accuracy from a set distance or distances. This is the most popular form of archery and is called 'Target Archery'.

While people have no doubt been competing with bows for millennia, the first recorded archery competitions began around 1583 in England. Archery has been an Olympic sport since 1900, with some interruptions. Recently the Koreans have dominated the event, especially the women's divisions. At the Sydney 2000 games, the Korean women won bronze, silver and gold in the individual competition and won gold in the team event. The Korean men have not fared so well in Olympic competition but still produce good results. As of October 2004, every record in the men's and women's open divisions are held by Korea. It should be noted that the Koreans stick primarily to outdoor competition, particularly the 70 m Olympic distance. Indoor distances tend to be dominated by European and American archers.

Modern competitive archery is governed by the International Archery Association (, abbreviated FITA (F餩ration Internationale de Tir ࠬ'Arc). Olympic rules are derived from FITA rules.


Archery competitions may be held indoors or outdoors. Indoor distances are 18 m and 25 m. Outdoor distances range from 30 m to 90 m (for senior archers, juniors can shoot closer distances), with 70 m being used in the Olympic Games. Most outdoor competitions consist of several distances.

Competition is divided into ends. An archer shoots between 3 and 6 arrows per end, depending on the type of round. After each end, the competitors walk to the target to score and retrieve their arrows. There are 10 ends of 3 arrows in a round of indoor competition. Outdoor competition varies, but outdoor rounds generally involve more arrows being shot. All competitors must wait for the command to shoot and retrieve.

Archers have a set time limit in which to shoot their arrows. For indoor competition, this is 2 minutes. Signalling devices such as lights and flags inform the archers when time is up. Since archery involves the use of potentially lethal weapons, much attention is paid to order and safety.


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These arrows score as an inner 10, and a 9

Targets are marked with 10 evenly spaced concentric rings, which have score values from 1 through 10 assigned to them. In addition, there is an inner 10 ring, sometimes called the X ring because of the small cross printed at the centre. This becomes the 10 ring in some compound competitions. Usually it serves as a tiebreaker with the archer scoring the most number of X's winning. In FITA archery, targets are colored as follows:

  • 1 ring & 2 ring - white
  • 3 ring & 4 ring - black
  • 5 ring & 6 ring - blue
  • 7 ring & 8 ring - red
  • 9 ring & 10 ring - gold

Archers score each end by summing the scores for their arrows. Line cutters are awarded the higher score. Values scored by each arrow are recorded on a score sheet and must be written in descending order (e.g. if an archer scores 5, 7, 6, 10, 9, 8, this must be recorded as 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5.).

During competition, there are usually at least two archers per target. This is to allow for "double scoring", a system where two archers will record and sum all scores on individual sheets. This is done to prevent any errors. During scoring no one is allowed to touch the arrows. After scoring, each hole is marked before arrows are retrieved. In the event of a "pass through" (the arrow passes straight through the target) or "bounce out" (arrow hits the target and bounces out), points may be awarded to an unmarked hole.

Different rounds and distances use different size target faces. Common sizes (and example rounds they are used in) are:

  • 40 cm (18m FITA Indoor)
  • 60 cm (25m FITA Indoor)
  • 80 cm (30m and 50m FITA)
  • 122 cm (70m and 90m FITA)

122 cm faces are used in Olympic competition. There are also versions of the 40cm and 60cm targets known as the "3 Spot". The targets contain 3 instances of the inner 5 rings of the 40cm and 60cm faces arranged in a line or an equilateral triangle.

Other competition

Field archery involves shooting at targets of varying and unmarked distance, often in rough terrain. 3D archery focuses on shooting at life-size models of game, and is popular with hunters.

Clout Archery (G.N.A.S. rules in the United Kingdom) Similar to target archery, except that the archer attempts to drop arrows at long range (180 yards for the men and 140 yards for women) into a series of circular scoring zones on the ground surrounding a marker flag. The flag is 12 inches square and is fixed to a stick. The flag should be as near to the ground as is practicable. Archers shoot 'ends' of six arrows then, when given the signal to do so, archers proceed to the target area.

Scoring. A 'rope' with a loop on the end is placed over the flag stick. This rope is divided into the scoring zones of the target i.e. Gold (5 points), Red (4 points), Blue (3 points, Black (2 points) and White (1 point). The rope is 'walked' around the target area and arrows falling within a particular scoring zone are withdrawn and,on completion of the full circle, are laid out on the rope on the corresponding colours. The designated scorer would then call out the archers' names and the archers would (in turn) call out their scores as they pick up their arrows.

A Clout round usually consists of 36 arrows. Clout tournaments are usually a 'Double Clout' round (36 arrows shot twice). They can be shot in one direction (one way) or both directions (two way).

All bow types may compete (longbows, recurve and compound). There are shorter distances for juniors depending on age.

Roving Marks A number of marks or flags are set out in an area archers shoot from a start point at an elected mark attempting to drop arrows as close as possible. The archer coming closest to the elected mark scores that shot and selects the next mark. Ranges vary. The furthest 'Finsbury' mark is 13 score and 5 (265) yards. When England was a less crowded, country roving marks was a popular pastime and military training. Marks would have been artificial markers or natural features such as tussocks of grass or tree stumps. Roving marks are normally shot with English Longbows.

Flight Archery. Flight Archery can only take place where space permits since archers compete by shooting for sheer distance. Archers shoot a number of arrows and then search for the one which has been shot the farthest, marking it with an identifiable marker. At the end of the round, archers stand or sit by their furthest arrows while judges measure the distances they were shot.There are many classes that one can shoot in, depending on the type of bow and its draw weight.

Popinjay (or Papingo). A form of archery originally derived from shooting birds on church steeples. It is almost unheard of outside of Belgium. Archers stand within 12 feet of the bottom of a 90 ft. mast and shoot almost vertically upwards with 'blunts' (arrows with rubber caps on the front instead of a pile), the object being to dislodge any one of a number of wooden 'birds'.


There is much controversy over hunting with a bow. Some people believe that bows are an acceptable if not preferred way to take game, while others find the practice abominable.

In North America, bow hunting is usually legal and often encouraged over rifle hunting. Many american hunters prefer using a bow because of the added challenge. While a rifle hunter may take a shot at any distance under 200 yards, archers must get within 30 yards. Some localities stipulate that certain types of game, often deer, may only be taken with a bow. In other localities, special bow hunting seasons are set aside to prevent interference from rifle hunters. Besides deer, many bow hunters shoot feral pigs, small game, or birds. People also occasionally fish with bows.

In certain other areas, including many countries in Europe, bow hunting is considered unnecessarily cruel to animals, and is therefore prohibited.

A bow requires substantially more training than a rifle to use successfully and humanely. An experienced archery hunter can place a shot that will kill an animal in a second; an inexperienced archer may fire a non-fatal shot which an animal may carry for a long time.

Compound bows are usually preferred for hunting, although recurve bows are not uncommon and usually legal. Hunting points are traditionally broadheads, which are wide and knife-like in design in order to cut into game.



Archaeologists suspect that archery may have begun up to 15,000 years ago, but the earliest concrete evidence is between 8,000 and 9,000 years old. The bow probably originated for use in hunting, and was then adopted as a tool of warfare. Bows eventually replaced the atlatl as the predominant means for launching projectiles. Archery was practised in antiquity on every continent except Australia, demonstrating that it is both basic and versatile.

Classical archery

Classical civilizations, notably the Greeks, Parthians, and Chinese, fielded large numbers of archers in their armies. Arrows proved exceptionally destructive against massed formations, and the use of archers often proved decisive. Archers sometimes rode on horseback, combining range with speed. Apollo, Odysseus, and other mythological characters are often depicted with a bow.

Medieval archery

In medieval Europe, the value of archery on the battlefield steadily increased. The Mongols perfected archery on horseback, and used it to dominate the Asian steppes, and eastern Europe. Horse archers would fire while approaching their target, then turn around in the saddle and fire again after they passed.

By the Hundred Years' War, the English had perfected archery on foot, using a longbow. Archers were drawn from the peasantry, and trained rigorously from childhood. In combat, they would often fire two arrows, one on a high trajectory, and one on a low trajectory. These two arrows would hit the enemy simultaneously from two different angles, making defense difficult. The advent of the bodkin point allowed arrows to pierce most armor.

The crossbow, while dating from classical times, became quite popular during the Middle Ages. While it took decades to train a longbow man, someone could become proficient with a crossbow with little training. The crossbow had about the same power and range as a longbow. Its major drawback was that it took a long time to reload.

The advent of firearms rendered bows obsolete in warfare. Although bows had a longer range and could fire much more frequently than the earliest guns, guns could penetrate most armor and required minimal training. Later development gradually gave firearms advantages over bows in range, accuracy and eventually in reload time.

The term "Second String" derives from the fact that medieval archers would carry a second string in the event that their "first string" snapped.


As a minimum most archers wore a padded jacket and a helmet for protection, others having mail coats or pieces of armor scavenged off the battlefield. They also wore wrist protection: bracers to protect them from the passing bowstring as they released an arrow. A leather tab or gauntlet was often worn on the right hand so the archer's fingers would not be cut by the bowstring.

An archer would of course have his longbow, preferably some arrows of his own and a few spare strings. When battle was joined sheaves of arrows would be passed to the archers, from huge wagons that followed English armies.

Bowstrings were linen, hemp, or gut, and had a distressing tendency to shrink when wet, so they were usually coated with beeswax.

For close quarters combat - which was avoided at all costs - the archers carried personal weapons; the most popular weapon being roundel dagger, a long thin knife that could be pushed through a knight?s visor when looting on the battlefield. Others carried swords (and bucklers), falchions (a heavy cutting sword instead of piercing) or even axes.


Occidental archery

Occidental, or Mediterranean archery developed in Europe. Modern recurve target archery is a type of occidental archery.

The arrow is placed on the outside of the bow. (left side for a right-eye dominant archer) The bowstring is held with two or three fingers. A finger tab is used to protect the fingers from the string. The bow arm is extended towards the target and the string is drawn back to anchor point. The anchor point is usually somewhere on the face. In antiquity it was often at the ear or the back of the chin.

An archer usually wears a bracer on the left arm to protect it from the string, and to prevent loose clothing from interfering with the shot. Arrows are usually kept in a quiver attached to the archer's string hand side, they may also be stuck in the ground, and are occasionally worn on the back.

Oriental archery

Oriental archery developed in Asia. In modern times it continues to be practised in some Asian countries but is not used in international competition. Oriental archery increases the archer's rate of fire, and is also more practical on horseback.

The arrows are less stiff than western arrows with smaller fletchings. Bows vary widely.

The bow is held clasped to the chest, arrow point slightly up. Both arms are extended, the left arm up and toward the target, the right arm back and away from the target. The bow and arrow are drawn down into a line with both arms locked on opposite sides of the body, but the elbow of the right arm is permitted to flex. The bowstring and fletchings are held behind one's head. The arrow is held at the first joint of the thumb, and the string rests on a thumbring (Mongol or Manchu) or a slot at the base of a gauntlet's thumb (Japanese tsuri), so it does not hurt the thumb. A headband may be worn to keep the bowstring from hurting one's ear or head. Thick, loose clothing protects the arms and chest from the bowstring at release. The soft fletching and flexible shaft cause less damage if they hit. Professional soldiers wore leather gauntlets, chest armor and helmets with flared ridges to protect against the bowstring.

See also: Goongdo- Korean archery. Kyudo- Japanese archery.

Recurve target archery

This section focuses on the accepted technique for modern competition which is used worldwide. Many other variations exist, some of which are documented below.

The bow is held in the hand opposite the dominant eye. This hand is referred to as the bow hand and its arm the bow arm. The opposite hand is called the string hand. Terms such as bow holder or string elbow follow the same convention. Right eye dominant people hold the bow with their left hand, have their left side facing the target, sight towards the target with their right eye, and handle the arrow and string with their right hand.

Generally one wears a bracer (also known as an arm or wrist guard) to protect the inside of the bow arm, and a tab to protect the fingers of the string hand. Some archers also wear protection on their chests (see photo).

To shoot an arrow with a recurve bow, an archer first adjusts stance. The bow shoulder is towards the target. The archer straddles the shooting line with his or her feet shoulder width apart.

To load, the bow is pointed toward the ground and the shaft of the arrow is placed on an arrow rest attached to the bow. The bowstring is then placed into the notch at the back of the arrow. This is called nocking the arrow. Typical arrows with three vanes should be oriented such that a single vane is pointing away from the bow. This vane is often colored differently and has numerous names such as index fletch and cock-feather.

The bowstring and arrow are held with three fingers. When using a sight, the index finger is placed above the arrow and the next two fingers below. The string is usually placed in either the first or second joint of the fingers.

The bow is then raised and drawn. This is often one fluid motion which tends to vary a bit from archer to archer. The string hand is drawn towards the face, where it should rest lightly at an anchor point. This point is consistent from shot to shot, and is usually at the corner of the mouth or on the chin. The bow arm is pushed outward toward the target. The elbow of this arm should be rotated outward so that the bowstring doesn't scrape the inside of the wrist or catch on a bracer when released. The bow should always remain vertical.

In proper form, the archer stands erect, forming a T. The archer's back muscles are used to pull the arrow to the anchor point. Most bows will be equipped with a mechanical device which produces a clicking sound when the archer reaches the correct draw length.

The arrow is typically released by relaxing the fingers of the drawing hand. An archer should pay attention to the recoil, or follow through of his or her body, as it may indicate problems with his or her form.

Compound Bow Technique

A compound bow is designed to reduce the weight that an archer must hold, and increase the overall energy stored by the bow. Most compound designs use cams on the ends of the limbs to optimise the leverage exerted by the archer and reduce the holding weight of the bow at full-draw while maintaining the weight through the draw.

The archer usually uses a release aid to hold the string steadily and release it precisely. This attaches to the bowstring at a point and permits the archer to release the string with a pull of a trigger. With less force required to hold a compound bow at draw, the muscles take longer to fatigue, thus giving a compound archer more time to aim. For these reasons, the compound bow is sometimes derogatorily referred to as a "training-wheel bow." In general, good recurve technique usually makes good compound technique. A compound bow must be adjusted so that its draw length is correct for the archer. The draw length is determined largely by the archer's arm length and shoulder width.

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