An Introduction to Archery

Archery is a sport that can be enjoyed by nearly everyone, indeed you often find disabled archers competing against able-bodied archers. This is a brief introduction to help you understand a few basic ideas about modern archery.

The origins of archery are lost in the mists of time but even now its history is passed down to us in some of the archaic terms related to archery as a means of hunting, warfare or sport. Today there are some 20,000 active archers in the UK. Most shoot one of three basic bow types. Usually an archer focuses on one type but there are those who shoot two or three types.

Recurve Bows

(aka Olympic style or take down bows). This is where the majority of archers today start in the sport and, to be fair the majority remain. The bow is based on Mongolian designs and as its name suggests the bow limbs curve back on themselves.

Most of these bows come in three parts and are assembled prior to shooting. If nothing else it makes them more transportable. The centre part called the riser or handle is a rigid section some 25" long into which are inserted the two limbs (the flexible bits). The riser can also carry the sight and stabilisers and one or two other gadgets to aid accuracy.

What can and cannot be added is laid down by the archery societies to keep rein on the techno-freaks. These bows can be made of wood (usually at the beginners end of the market) through to the latest CNC machined metals and carbon fibre composites.

The arrows are usually of aluminium, carbon fibre or exotic combinations of the two. The technology, materials and use of a sight make this bow accurate but still requiring physical strength as the weight on the fingers climbs as the bow is drawn back.

Compound bows

These take the technology to the furthest degree allowed in UK shooting. The materials are much as the more expensive recurve bows but the main difference is the inclusion of cams in the ends of the limbs, which act to give mechanical advantage. This means that the peak load occurs well before the bow is at full draw so a compound archer is holding a lot less weight at the point of release. Add to this the use of a back sight, a magnifying scope, release aids and higher arrow speeds: the accuracy goes up.


The Longbow

Most redolent of Robin Hood and the Battle of Agincourt. It is the traditional wooden bow with a string of natural fibre.

The purists will have the bow made from a single piece of wood carefully selected to combine different layers of the timber to give the necessary mixture of strength and resilience. More likely the bow will be made from a laminate of 2 or more woods glued together and then shaped into a bow.

The arrows are wooden with feather fletchings and metal piles (tips or points). There are no sights except possibly a rubber band on the bow. Targeting is by way of either the tip of the arrow in relation to some fixed point or, say, a knuckle in line with something.

Accuracy is not that high but many would claim it to be the most demanding, difficult and hence most satisfying form of shooting.


The choice of which bow style to shoot is really down to the individual.

Archery in the UK

There are two main concepts. Target archery (the type done at FoBB) is done on a flat open field with targets at defined distances or field archery where the targets are set out round a circuit through roughish terrain (woods) and where the angle of shooting and the distances are very variable. Sometimes artificial animal targets are used to simulate hunting (in the UK bow hunting is not allowed, if you want to kill things go to the USA or France).

The UK governing body is the Grand National Archery Society (GNAS) which administers the sport through a pyramid of regions, county associations through to the clubs or individuals.

Most archers affiliate through a club and most shoots and clubs are only open to those who join GNAS, mainly for insurance reasons (remember we are talking about a weapon here and modern bows are just as deadly as their predecessors).

Rules of shooting and the conduct of archers and tournaments are laid down by GNAS with a strong emphasis on safety.


Internationally, GNAS is affiliated to FITA (Federation Internationale de Tir a l'Arc) who govern the sport world wide.


What to expect

First and foremost archers generally are a relaxed and welcoming lot and have been through getting started themselves so please do not be afraid to ask.

The field is laid out with a shooting line, which is ONLY crossed with the permission of the field captain, usually by whistle. The targets will be at distances of 40 to 100 yds. (beginners are not expected to shoot 100yards but it is a great sense of achievement when you can).

The targets are usually 1.2m across. Arrows are shot in groups of six before scoring and collecting and NO ONE collects until all have finished shooting and the go ahead is given by the field captain.

Rounds

In more formal shooting situations archers will often shoot "rounds" and keep the score like they would at competition.

There are many rounds consisting of different numbers of arrows at different distances. There are imperial rounds using yards and metric using meters. Metric rounds are the internationally recognised rounds whereas imperial rounds are specific to the UK. There are slightly different rules for the two types of rounds.

Gents usually have a maximum of 100yds or 90m, ladies 80yds or 70m.

Examples of Imperial rounds could be:

  • York (the big one) 6doz at 100yds, 4 doz. at 80yds and 2 doz. at 60 yds
  • Hereford (the ladies equivalent of the York) 6 doz. at 80 yds, 4 doz. at 60 yds, 2 doz. at 50 yds
  • Windsor 3doz at each of 60, 50 and 40 yds
  • National 4doz at 60 yds, 2 doz at 50 yds

There are no Imperial rounds with 90 or 70 yards in them.

Metric rounds could be:

  • Gents FITA Outdoor. 3doz at each of 90, 70 50 and 30m, but with a smaller target face at the shorter two distances.

In all cases the longer distances are shot first and then the target is moved forward. The shooting line stays put. It is meant to simulate the advancing enemy.

For both imperial and metric the target faces are the same, concentric circles of gold, red, blue, black and white (centre to outside). Imperial rounds are scored as these five bands (9,7,5,3,1). For metric rounds each ring is sub divided into two and the scoring is then 10,9,8,7 etc down to 1.

So why have rounds outside competition? There's a very comprehensive handicap and award system built up around the rounds that allows archers to monitor their performance, achieve recognised standards (classifications) and to shoot in competition where there might be a right old mixture of bow types, ages, skill levels etc. An archer's progress can be monitored by submitting recognised, completed rounds to a club records officer who will calculate the handicap and classification each time.

There is a link between the classifications and the handicaps although the classifications are generally more specific in what type of round must be shot to qualify.

The classifications are Unclassified, Third Class, Second Class, First Class and Bowman Class.

There are also Master Bowman and Grand Master Bowman classes, but these are only open to those who shoot in specific competitions. Achieving these standards in quite an achievement and only done by the top few percent of archers.

Many archers are quite happy to come up to the club just to shoot and have a pleasant time.