Splitting the Arrow

Archery is all about precision. The standard archery contest (in both fiction and real life) involves a marked target, and points based on how close to the center (or bull's eye) the archer can place his arrow.

A common dramatic situation is one where The Rival shoots first, and hits the target right in the center. It looks like The Hero has lost the competition, until he fires his arrow at the opponent's and splits it in half lengthwise.

To some extent, this is Truth in Television. It's not unusual for aluminum arrows to "telescope" — one stuck in the end of another. Most archery ranges that have been open any length of time will have some examples mounted on the wall. However, for this trope to be active, the second arrow has to split the first from nock to tip. This normally requires everyone (or at least the first archer) to be using wooden arrowshafts.

In the field, this is known as a shaft shot, sometimes called Robin Hooding.

This is a subtrope of Improbable Aiming Skills, and a Sister Trope to Shoot the Bullet. Compare to William Telling.


Trope Maker

Comic Books
  • In Green Arrow #18, bad guy archer Komodo is shown effortlessly doing this during practice to illustrate what a superlative archer he is.

Film - Animated

Film - Live Action
  • Played with in the archery contest scene in Robin Hood: Men in Tights, where Lucky Luca does this to Robin's arrow.
    Villager: He split Robin Hood's arrow in twain! (whereupon one of his teeth flies off)
    • Robin's Patriot Arrow flies wildly around, before slamming into the target utterly destroying the other arrows.
  • Robin's daughter Gwyn does this in Princess of Thieves; splitting the arrow at 100 yards to win the tournament.

  • In the second book of the Sword of Truth series, Kahlan mentions her Home Guard gives ribbons for such shots (called shaft shots). A few had half a dozen ribbons, one had ten. She herself manages such a shot after some training by Richard... who, due to his magical powers awakening, ruined a hundred arrows in a single session.
  • The Time Wars novel The Ivanhoe Gambit has a scene where one of the time-travelling heroes, standing in for Robin Hood, pulls off this feat using a high-tech arrow with a built-in guidance computer.

Live-Action TV
  • Both Alfred and the villain known as The Archer did this several times in Batman.
  • The MythBusters took on the Errol Flynn scene twice, and busted it both times. They suspect the arrow Flynn (or archery advisor Howard Hill) shot at had been tampered with — their guest archer pulled the split off on the first try when firing at a hollow bamboo arrow.
  • The Doctor Who episode "Robots of Sherwood" takes this Up to Eleven when Robin Hood and the Doctor keep splitting one anothers' arrows in the famous archery contest. Though the Doctor later confesses to cheating with homing arrows.

Newspaper Comics
  • Prince Valiant (Jan. 6-13, 2013) takes it over the top, with the challenger splitting every one of her opponent's arrows, no matter where on the target they are. Making an impression is apparently more important than winning the tournament, or else she would consider aiming for the center of the bull's-eye.

Tabletop Games

  • Gunnerkrigg Court had Janet and Willy doing this "fancy shooting", resulting in a draw on the last shot of a competition. It looks like they cooperated and rehearsed this "accident", of course.

Web Original

Western Animation
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: Near the beginning of "The Blue Spirit" episode, the Yu-Yan Archers are shown at a firing range. One of them splits an arrow, then splits that arrow, and finally the third arrow in succession, so each is embeded in the other.
  • Parodied in a Robot Chicken sketch where Robin Hood does this to the Sheriff of Nottingham's arrow and the Sheriff argues that this shouldn't mean an automatic win.
    • In it's use in Ivanhoe it actually just means a tie; hitting a tiny target from a range is the real tiebreaker which Robin Hood wins.
  • An episode of Dave the Barbarian has Dave's girlfriend for the episode doing this during their Falling in Love Montage, at which point they're doing underwater archery.
  • The opening credits of Robin Hood Daffy have an arrow flying into the centre of a target, followed by a series of arrows each flying into the end of the one before it. The camera pulls back to reveal that Daffy is firing each arrow from less than an inch away.