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Useful Notes / Archery

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Disclaimer: This information is presented purely for educational purposes, particularly for creators who may want to depict archery more accurately. You should seek professional instruction if you want to learn archery, and we are not responsible for any harm that may come from attempting to imitate the practices described herein.

Ah, archery. Basically the art of using a bent stick with a string tied between the ends to shoot a smaller pointed stick at something quite a long way away, it began as a techinique of primitive survival, spent a long time as a major force on the battlefield, and has finally become a rewarding pastime enjoyed by athletes and hobbyists the world over. Fiction loves to depict archery, as demonstrated by the enduring popularity of folk heroes such as Robin Hood, along with more modern characters such as Legolas, Hawkeye, Green Arrow, Rambo and Katniss Everdeen. However, what you see is often determined by Rule of Cool and may give you an unrealistic or overly narrow idea of what archery is. This summary can help you to start learning about archery.


First, some safety rules in no particular order. See here for a full list.

  1. Follow all laws and regulations pertaining to archery in the place where you wish to practice it. Seek out a licensed club or professional instructor: they will make sure what you're doing is safe, and you will not bear sole legal responsibility if there is an accident.note 
  2. Never point your bow at any living thing that you do not intend to shoot, even if there's no arrow drawn.
  3. Never draw an arrow if there are any people between you and your target.
  4. At the range, obey all commands from the appointed person. Do not begin to draw or shoot until you recieve the signal to do so, and do not go to retrieve your arrows until everyone on the line has recieved the signal to stop shooting.
  5. Everyone at a practice must shoot while standing behind the same line, since to do otherwise would violate the rule not to shoot with people between you and your target. If you want to increase the distance between yourself and the target, never move further behind the shooting line than the people on either side of you. Instead, wait for shooting to be stopped and then move your target farther away from the shooting line.
  6. Maintain your equipment, and make sure your bow, string, and arrows are undamaged every time before you shoot. Replace any worn or damaged equipment immediately instead of continuing to use it.
  7. Never dry fire your bow. That means, don't draw and then release the bowstring without having an arrow knocked. This gives the energy that's supposed to be transferred to the arrow nowhere to go but back into the limbs, which are not designed to handle that kind of strain. If you're lucky it'll just crack a limb and render the bow unsafe to use, but—especially if it's a compound or similarly high draw weight and delicately tuned bow—it could cause the limbs to shatter and throw all kinds of fragments that could injure you and others.
  8. Do not use broadheads on other people's targets without permission; they chew up a target much quicker than bullet or field points, and it's inconsiderate to ruin other peoples' targets. Never leave broadheads behind in the target or on the ground; someone might hurt themselves.
  9. Do not handle another person's bow or arrows unless you have their permission and they are supervising you. Do not let anyone handle your bow if they are not properly trained.
  10. Tie back your hair, and remove any jewelry that might catch on the string. Use a forearm guard and a shooting glove or tab. If female, wear a chest guard.

Remember, the rules are in place because nobody's perfect. No matter how skilled you are, it's still possible for your equipment to malfunction or for you to make a rare mistake, and following the rules can make the difference between your accidentally loosed arrow embedding itself harmlessly in a backstop, or making you responsible for accidentally shooting a human being.

Arrow wounds can be very serious, and are particularly tricky with barbed arrowheads. You can't leave any part of an arrow where it is—and the process of removing it is probably more painful than being shot in the first place, if you're not unconscious or drugged. You'd need to get the arrow cut out of your flesh, by the way. And that's only if a trained surgeon has the tools for it, lacking that the only alternative is to push the arrow out the other end, break it and then pull the shaft out which is as painful as it sounds. Yanking it out would cause lots of bleeding, may cause permanent damage depending on where it is/wasnote , and at the very least would make the wound much harder to treat than if a trained medic/surgeon made some very careful incisions before carefully pulling it out.

The main drawback of archery as a basis for military forces throughout history was the learning time needed: It takes weeks to build up the strength to shoot even a light 25-pound bow consistently, and far more time to develop good instinctive aiming (which was necessary in the days before sights and clickers) while working up to weights that would be useful in hunting or warfare. Altogether, it takes months and years of continuous practice to get to the point where you can shoot a heavy war bow repeatedly and accurately: a popular saying in England was that "To make a good archer, start with his grandfather." Also, something as minor as slouching or head position can affect your shooting drastically, while guns can be shot from any reasonable position. The fact that early guns were comparatively quicker to learnnote —and did not require the shooter to be impressively strong in muscle groups that most people rarely use—was a major factor in them replacing bows in a military contexts. Other factors were that bullets struck with more energy and penetrated armor more easily than arrows, that the lead ammunition was a lot easier to mass-produce than arrows, that opponents unused to guns could be terrified by all that noise and smoke, and that the butt or bayonet of a musket could make it a viable melee weapon, while the bow was basically useless as soon as you ran out of arrows. These advantages helped to make up for the musket's lower rate of fire. That said, the disappearance of the bow from military conflict was mainly a Western European phenomenon: in Eastern Europe, Northern Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, many warriors carried and used both bow and musket for different applications.

Despite what it looks like, arm strength is the worst way to judge how much draw weight you can pull—you'd risk dislocating your shoulder every time you draw. The back and shoulder muscles are the ones that should bear the draw-weight, and one should only use the arm muscles to keep them properly aligned. (This is why archers are typically depicted as Fragile Speedsters or Glass Cannons.) Most people are unaccustomed to using their back muscles, and may need a much lighter draw-weight than they think; rule of thumb is to get a bow that only requires 75% of one's strength at first. Beginners are strongly advised to have someone act as a spotter for the first few weeks, since improper technique can lead to extensive problems both short- and long-term.

Also, if you prefer traditional archery (anything but a compound bow), you should always unstring your bow when it's not in use. This greatly increases your equipment's lifespan, so you won't have to worry about your bow and/or string breaking in half only a few months later.

There are common misconceptions to the effect that modern archery is "easier" than traditional archery, or that modern bows don't require skill because they practically "shoot themselves". However, asking which requires more skill is like comparing apples and oranges because they are different tools and are judged by different standards. A modern recurve or compound bow has mechanical aids to accuracy and consistency, but such aids merely increase the maximum potential accuracy and precision that can be achieved. They do not shoot the bow for you, and how much accuracy you get out of your bow still depends on how good your technique is. Skilled traditional bow archers can shoot them almost as accurately and precisely as modern recurve bows at the relatively short distances you might encounter in indoor ranges, but they become far less precise and accurate than the modern bows at long range where tools like a clicker, sights, and stabilizers become necessities. Modern style archers can do much more than traditional archers, but because of this a lot more is expected of them. The distances at which they have to shoot and the precision with which they're supposed to hit the target are beyond the capability of something like an English longbow. At the extreme end, such high performance is expected from compound bows that the winner of a compound bow tournament isn't so much the one who surpasses the others by reaching closest to perfection, as they are the one who deviates the least from the perfection required by making the fewest screwups. So using a modern bow isn't easier or harder than using a traditional one; the goal is made to fit the tool.

Yes, archery is hard. It's pretty damn awesome once you get it right, though.

Useful Terms

  • Anchor point: The position that the draw hand reaches when the archer has fully drawn back the string. Common anchor points are the chin, just under the cheekbone, the nose, and as far back as the ear for longbows. One isn't necessarily superior to the others, but it is necessary for an archer to pick one anchor point and stick with it, since you cannot properly adjust your aim based on where your previous arrows landed unless you're sure there's nothing inconsistent about your form.
  • Arm-guard/Bracer: Gear for the bow arm to avoid getting hit/bruised by the string. Essentially a piece of material (often leather) that covers the inside of the forearm. While most garden-variety bracers cover the majority of the forearm, the more skilled archers only need small bracers (3-4 inches) since having very good/consistent form results in a smaller possible area that the bowstring might hit.
    • Of note is the fact that one can avoid being hit entirely by rotating one's elbow and not locking the joint, which some prefer not to do because it interferes with their grip on the bow and can put stress on the bow arm.
  • Barebow: A style of shooting in which the bow isn't equipped with any aiming devices such as a clicker, sights, or stabilizers. The term usualy refers to using modern recurve and compound bows this way, since most traditional bows are barebow by definition.
  • Bow arm/hand: The hand that holds the bow. Requires an arm-guard/bracer to keep from injured by the bowstring if it strikes the forearm (resulting in a potentially nasty bruise). Modern bowyers often make specifically right- or left-handed bows with an ergonomic grip and right- or left-side cutout in the riser, while traditional bows are ambidextrous.
  • Bow length: In traditional archery, the length of the unstrung bow. This is important, since correctly-sized strings are about four inches shorter than the bow. Longer strings would decrease the bow's power and make it difficult to shoot, and significantly shorter strings run the risk of damaging the bow. A sixty-inch bow would ideally have a fifty-six-inch string.
  • Chest guard: Exactly What It Says on the Tin. A virtual necessity for women, particularly if that woman has a more generous chest - otherwise that woman will be wearing turtlenecks most of her life to cover the bruises. It should be noted that as with many sports, enough practice with the bow will shrink one's bust size, and chest guards should be adjustable to accommodate that.
  • Dominant eye: The eye used to aim, which is usually determined by one's dominant hand. Right-handed people draw with their right hand, so their right eye is dominant. The reverse is true for left-handed people. However, if your eye and hand dominance is different, choosing your eye dominance is preferred. In that case, your draw hand will be the same side as your dominant eye. Most people determine eye dominance by pointing at an object a few feet away and closing one eye at a time—if you're still pointing at or close to the object, that's your dominant eye.
  • Draw arm/hand: The hand that pulls the string. Requires a shooting glove or tab or thumbring or release to keep the bowstring from cutting into the fingers. Which hand is the draw hand and which is the bow hand can be determined either by your dominant hand or your dominant eye.
  • Draw length: A measure of how far an individual archer should draw back the string using their own bow and arrows. Draw length, along with draw weight, is one of the factors that determines how much energy will be imparted to the arrow. In order to ensure consistency and accuracy, an archer should try to reach the same draw length with every shot. The clicker is a bow accessory invented to help modern archers know when they've reached their personal draw length. Each individual has to figure out a draw length that works for them, and get arrows that work at that draw length. A rough approximation of draw length can be made by dividing one's arm-span by 2.5 (rounding up to the nearest inch if necessary). Arrows should be two or three inches longer than this, so that the arrow's tip will be safely clear of the bow hand even at full draw.
  • Draw weight: The amount of force needed to draw the bow to the archer's full draw length, often used as the main description of power. A common way to measure draw weight is to secure the bow horizontally by the handle to a hook on a wall or a special framework, hang a bow scale from the string, and pull down on the scale until the string is pulled back to the archer's draw length. A "light" bow requires less force to draw than a "heavy" bow: For example, a 25-pound bow is commonly used for target practice, while hunting requires at least a 35-pound bow to ensure a humane killing. Bows for children should not exceed 20 pounds of draw-weight, while adults can usually learn to shoot from a 20- or 25-pound bow. War-bows, if needed to punch through armor, could reach well over the sixty pounds of draw weight typical for a contemporary hunting bow. The English longbows on the Mary Rose ranged from 100 to 185 pounds (averaging 150—160 lbs.), while Turkish horse bows are reported to have had draw weights of 175 pounds or more (with reported arrow flight distances of 845.5 meters, 220 pounds is not unreasonable). Remember, you cannot get a meaningful draw weight number unless you specify a draw length to measure it at. The same bow will be heavier the further you draw it back, and vice versa; usually if you buy standard limbs for a takedown bow, they will have a quoted draw weight based on a 28 inch draw, so the number will be higher if your draw length is longer, and lower if your draw length is shorter.
  • Nock:
    • When used as a verb, the action of putting the arrow to the string.
    • When used as a noun, the notch in the end of the arrow for that purpose, or the notches for the string at the end of the bow (e.g., the horn tips of an English longbow).
  • Quiver: A container designed to hold arrows, and often made of leather in western cultures.
    • Ground Quiver: A device for holding arrows on the ground, suitable for target shooting or other times where movement is not necessary. Has the advantage of not causing any interference in body movement and stance. Usually consists of a horizontal ring attached to a stake driven into the ground, sometimes with a rest for setting the bow on.
  • Shooting glove/finger tab: Protection for the draw hand. The former is a glove that covers the first three fingers, while the second is a piece of leather held against the fingers. Do not confuse shooting gloves with fingerless gloves; fingerless gloves are the exact opposite and do absolutely nothing for protection. While one can develop calluses akin to that of string musicians, nobody short of a Determinator would tolerate the constant pain long enough to do so. A Middle- and Far-Eastern alternative is a thumb ring, which may be made of leather, bone, jade or a myriad of other materials. There are a number of other options, as well as the mechanical releases commonly used on modern compounds.

Types of bows

While the most famous type of bow in the Western world is the English longbow, there are several commonly-found types that vary in style, materials, and shooting technique.

  • The self bow: A category encompassing bows made from a single piece of wood. According to the other wiki, "extra material such as horn nocks on the ends, or built-up handles, would normally be accepted as part of a self bow. Some modern authorities would also accept a bow spliced together in the handle from two pieces of wood." It's generally the simplest type, and probably the oldest.
  • The takedown bow: A bow assembled out of a riser and two limbs, which form a complete bow when strung. The riser is the central piece that includes the grip and the attachment points for the limbs, and the limbs are the parts that bend when the bow is drawn in order to store energy. The advantages of the takedown bow are that it can be disassembled and transported in a shorter case than a one-piece bow, and that once an archer has the riser, they can buy additional limbs that are longer/shorter, stronger/weaker, etc. without having to buy a whole new bow.
  • The composite bow: Made of different materials laminated together, and despite often being the smallest in size they can be even more powerful than ordinary bows because of their high efficiency. The most powerful traditional bows use horn and sinew, and can reach over 160 pounds of draw weight. It should be noted that while many composite bows are recurves, not all recurves are composites. These were often used in areas where quality bow-wood was hard to find.
  • The recurve bow: The main differences between recurve bows and longbows are size, and shape. Recurve bows are smaller than longbows with tips that curve away from the archer when unstrung, and they require comparatively less effort for more power than the straight bow. They were common in heavily-forested areas and with mounted archers. The recurve bow is the only kind used in the Olympic Games: the recurve bows used in modern Olympic archery are takedown bows made of modern materials and fitted with various aids to accuracy and consistency, including a clickernote , sights, and stabilizers. This modern style of recurve bow began appearing in the 1970s.
  • The (English) longbow: This classic self bow was made from a single piece of wood, often taken from the place where the springy sapwood meets the stiff heartwood: the heartwood forms the belly of the bow and the sapwood forms its back. One reason they might have done this is so that the tensile strength of the sapwood and the compressive strength of the heartwood would combine to make it more efficent, like a composite bow, but it's just as likely that they did this to make manufacturing easier, and bows made entirely of heartwood were not unheard of. Yew was preferred, and often called the King of Bow-woods: yew from the mountains of Spain or Italy was prized because the high altitude caused the trees to grow slowly, producing a closer, stronger pattern of growth rings. However, other woods such as ash or elm were also used. A yew bow would have plenty of knots in it, which were left standing proud when the bow was shaved into shape because shaving them off would create weak points. The cross-section of the bow was D-shaped, with the back of the bow flat and the belly of the bow curved. While less efficent than a bow with flat limbs, the D-section reduced the danger of breaking under the enormous stresses they were subjected to. Unlike Victorian longbows, which have a hand grip and only the limbs bend, the medieval longbow had no built-up grip and would bend along its entire length. Since the wood changes shape and balance slightly in response to humidity, archers may have preferred the freedom to adjust their grip to wherever the limbs were balanced. Nicely made longbows had knocks made of horn on the ends, and the tips of the arms were slightly recurved, although not enough to make them actual recurve bows. On lighter bows the string could be made of linen, but the heaviest bows used hemp as one could get a single long fiber that would be guaranteed not to snap. Hunting bows were rarely more than 50-60 pounds in draw weight, as all but the largest game can be penetrated and dropped with that much power, and more power would have been a waste. This is because animals don't wear armor, and are usually engaged at relatively close range. Since warbows had to deal with long ranges and armored foes, their draw weights could be truly monstrous: surviving warbows recovered from the wreck of a Tudor warship, the Mary Rose, range from 100-185 pounds at a 30 inch draw, with the median being 150-160 lbs. The average length of the Mary Rose bows is 6 ft, 6 in (1.98m). The high draw weight of the warbow was used to propel heavy war arrows, which carried more force to the target than light arrows and were more likely to penetrate. Boys practiced from a young age, using progressively more powerful bows as they developed the powerful back and shoulder muscles required to draw heavy bows. The basic form of the longbow has been around since prehistoric times, and bows similar to the English longbow were used throughout Europe during the Middle Ages. What made the English different was that they had a pervasive and organized bow-shooting culture that enabled them to raise large numbers of archers for military service who were proficient with very powerful bows, to a degree unmatched by the other European states.
  • The yumi: A kind of Japanese bow. They, like longbows, are massive at nearly two meters (6.5 feet) in length, and traditionally made by laminating bamboo, wood, and leather—thus they can technically be considered composites as well. They are asymmetrical in shape, with the grip located at the bottom third of the bow rather than the center. The exact reason for this is unknown: theories range from making mounted archery easier, to being able to shoot while kneeling, to the shape being the best way to deal with inferior materials. As with many other aspects of their culture, the Japanese prefer to uphold tradition; while bows of synthetic materials exist, they are often passed over in favor of bows with the traditional wood/leather combination.
  • The compound bow: Invented by Holless Wilbur Allen during the 60s and patented in 1969, the compound bow uses cables and cams (irregularly-shaped wheels) to provide mechanical advantage when drawing the bow, causing the weight felt by the archer to actually "lighten up" as it approaches full draw, in contrast to all other bows which feel progressively heavier up to full draw. Thanks in part to this assisted draw, the limbs can be made significantly shorter and stiffer than those of recurves and other bows, which increases the efficiency of energy transfer to the arrow. Their construction incorporates significant amounts of metal, usually aluminum or magnesium: they're as far away from primitive bows as you can get in terms of their radically different appearance and mechanical complexity. While compounds can be used like a traditional bow, it is unusual to find a compound bow set up for barebow shooting or a finger release. In order to take advantage of their higher potential for accuracy, they are normally fitted out with a sight and stabilizers, and used together with a mechanical arrow release. As a result, high performance compound bows tend to dominate in any comparison of arrow speed, flatness of arrow trajectory, accuracy, and projectile energy. Compound archery has still not been incorporated into the Olympic Games for a variety of reasons, and even optimistic predictions by advocates speak of making it happen in 2024. Nevertheless, compound bow competitions are increasingly popular, and many bow hunters favor compound bows.