The Physics of Archery

if you’ve ever wondered what makes a bow and arrow work, this is for you

Target Archery

Target archery is the main type (but not the only type) of archery practiced by the Bowmen of Minchinhampton archery club.

Target archery is the most popular form of modern competitive archery in the world; the kind that is an Olympic sport. Archers shoot at stationary circular targets from set distances, and a number of different sorts of bow can be used in competition, including the recurve, the compound, and the longbow.

Target archery is practiced outdoors or indoors depending on the season. Competitions are also held both indoors and outdoors.

target archery

We also recommend you subscribe to the World Archery Channel on YouTube, it’s an inspiring channel.

Field Archery

field archeryIn field archery the archers shoot at targets but whilst walking around a course with targets set up in various locations at varying distances, sometimes involving shooting up or down a slope. Although it is less well-known than target archery, none the less there are international competitions in field archery. Some field archers like to shoot in woodland or rough terrain. For many, the appeal of field archery lies in its closer relationship to the traditional use of the bow in history. However, one purpose of the practice of field archery is to improve the techniques and abilities used in bowhunting by shooting in an outdoor setting akin to places where hunting might take place. This is why field archery will often make use of three-dimensional targets in the shape of game animals. (N.B. Hunting live animals with a bow is illegal in the UK, though it is legal in some American states and most bowhunting information that you find on the internet is American.)


Clout Archery

clout archeryClout is a form of archery in which the archers shoot at a flag (“the Clout”) from a long distance, shooting their arrows up into the air so that they arc down on to the ground as near to the “clout” as possible. There are competitions in clout archery with circular scoring zones around the “clout”. Each arrow scores points depending on which zone it lands in, with the number of points scored increasing the closer the arrows land to the “clout”.


Instinctive Archery

instinctive archeryGenerally speaking, the great appeal of instinctive archery is that the archer dispenses with the assistance of all high-tech equipment such as sights, stabilisers, clickers, etc., and shoots in a more traditional fashion called “barebow”. It returns the archer to the basics, or to the essentials of archery, shooting naturally and using a “crooked stick” to shoot another stick. (Although it does make use of the latest modern bows, as distinct from “primitive” archery which usually means that the archer has made their own bow in a literally primitive fashion.)

Some instinctive archers aim by sighting down the arrow but others simply use hand-eye coordination and lots of practice, relying on an intuitive sense of where to aim; hence the name instinctive archery. (See the Greyarcher YouTube videos.)


Horse Archery

Horse archery, as the name suggests, involves a mounted archer shooting the bow (usually very rapidly) whilst riding on horseback. Given that the archer must be able to shoot on both sides of the horse and twist round in the saddle to shoot to the rear, the bows used in horse archery were traditional quite short (e.g. the Scythian bow). They are usually recurve in design in order to generate power despite their short length.

The most famous horse archers in history were the Eurasian peoples such as the Mongols and the Huns (not forgetting the native tribes of America). In recent years there has been something of a resurgence of interest in horse archery amongst the countries for whom mounted archery is a part of their heritage, such as Hungary and Korea. (See the YouTube videos of Kassai Lajos.)




Japanese Archery – Kyudo

Kyudo is a traditional Japanese martial art, the way of the bow, and it is performed contemplatively, almost as a form of meditation. Modern kyudo practitioners are called kyudoka.

The bow used in kyudo, called a yumi, looks rather different to bows from elsewhere in the world, being unusually long in the upper limb. Yumi are traditionally made of bamboo, wood and leather but these days some archers use bows incorporating synthetic materials such as glass fibre.

Although kyudo is primarily viewed as a path toward self-improvement, there are kyudo tournaments where archers engage in competition.