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Archery 101: The 11 types of archery explained for beginners


Archery has been practiced for thousands of years, and in that time,  we have come up with some ingenious, fun and advanced ways to practice it. If you’re just starting out with archery, you might not even know all of the many ways you can practice archery.

In this article, we’ll talk about 11 types of archery and explain each of them for beginners. From target archery to bowhunting to popinjay, I will explain all the ways you can enjoy archery.

As well as going over the different kinds of archery, I will also go over the different kinds of bows available to modern archers. The type of bow you use can distinctly change your shooting experience and the skills you will need to develop no matter what type of archery you participate in.

Types of Archery

Archery has a long, rich history.  It is one of the oldest sports still practiced today. We know that the Ancient Egyptians are the earliest people known to use bows and arrows for hunting (source).

Amazing to think that after thousands of years, we still gather to practice this sport today.

There are several different kinds of archery, but some are more common and well known than others. I’ll start with the more commonly practiced forms: target archery, field archery, 3D archery, and bowhunting. Then I will make my way through the less common types of archery.

To add a level of complexity, most forms of archery can also be practiced with any one of the seven types of bows described at the end of this article, and many types of archery can be practiced outdoors or indoors.

Target Archery

Target archery is one of the most recognizable forms of archery. It is when an archer shoots a fixed number of arrows at a stationary target from a predetermined distance.

The target in target archery is traditionally a bull’s eye style target. There are ten rings on the target with the center being the smallest and each ring getting a little bigger. The center of the target will earn you ten points, while the last ring in the target will only earn you one.

The structures of indoor and outdoor competitions are very similar, but during indoor target archery, the targets are usually only about 18 meters away while outdoor targets can be up to 70 meters away.

In addition, when target archery is done indoors the ends, or rounds, are usually shot with three hours, and when outdoors ends are usually shot with 6 arrows, but the numbers will vary depending on the individual competition.

Target archery competitions are held for all age groups, skill levels, and you can usually find one for just about any type of bow, although the most common bows used for target archery are recurves and compound bows.

Olympic Archery

Olympic archery is a subset of target archery with its own particular rules. Target archery with recurve bows is the only kind of archery in the Olympics.

Archery has been in the Olympics since the 1900 Summer Olympics. There are a men’s event, a women’s event, and a team event.

Archers participating in Olympic archery must use recurve bows, and they are permitted to use special equipment like stabilizers, sights, and clickers. Compound bows are not used in Olympic events.

The targets are placed 70 meters away, which is about 77 yards. The target face is 1.22 meters or 48 inches in diameter. The gold on this target from 70 meters way doesn’t look much bigger than the tip of your pinky finger.

Check out this video below of the 2016 Men’s Gold Medal match from Rio 2016:

To start the tournament, there is a ranking round. Each archer shoots 72 arrows. The maximum score they could get is a 720, but no one has ever been able to get a perfect score.

The top 64 archers make it through to compete in the main event. The number 1 archer will go up against the 64th archer, and the rest of the archers are paired up using the same method (number 2 archer is pitted against the 63rd and so on down the line).

The elimination rounds eventually produce two archers who go head to head for the gold and the silver medals. The two archers who lost to the two finalists will compete for the bronze medal.

Here is how each individual round works. The archers take turns shooting three arrows, and the archer with the best score gets two points. If the match is a draw, each archer gets one point. The first archer to reach six points wins and can move on. The other archer is eliminated.

For a country to qualify for the team event, they must have at least three of their archers make it into the individual rounds. Those three individuals’ qualifying scores are added together, and the totals are used to rank the teams. The top 12 teams are allowed to compete.

The top four teams go directly to quarter finals and the others compete in head to head matches. The final teams compete for gold and silver just like in the individual competition.

Field Archery

Field archery is another commonly practiced style of archery. It can be practiced with any type of bow from an Olympic recurve to a traditional bow, but recurve and compound bows are very common. You can find competitions for people of varying ages and skill levels. Check out my full article about Field Archery here.

Field archery takes place on courses that are often compared to golf courses. The courses offer a set number of targets, but the distance from the target, the angle of the shot, the openness of the land surrounding the shot can all vary greatly from target to target.

The targets are usually similar to what you would find in a target archery competition, but they don’t have to be. They can also vary in size and shape across the course.

To add to the complexity, the distance the archer is from the target is not always posted. An archer must judge the distance for themselves and attempt to make the best shot they can.

Many people enjoy field archery because of the variety of the shots and the different skills that are required to make them. It is also a great way to spend the day if you love getting outdoors for some light hiking.

There are many individual field archery competitions, but there are also team events. The team members for these events typically each use a different style bow — one each of a recurve bow, barebow, and compound bow.

The World Archery Field Competition

2018 World Archery Field Championships

The World Archery Field Competition is one of the most important competitions for field archery. In the two day qualification and ranking round, archers shoot a total of 48 targets. Half the shots are fired from a marked distance from the target, while the other half are shot from an unmarked and unknown distance.

Compound and recurve archers shoot from a further distance than barebow archers, and they compete within their own division.

The scores from the qualification round are used to rank the archers. The top 16 archers get to advance to the first elimination round where the archers shoot at 12 targets.

Only the top 8 scoring archers get to make it to the second elimination round. Only 4 make it into the semifinals. The two archers who lose the semifinal round compete for the bronze medal while the winners compete for silver and gold medals.

3D Archery

3D archery is any archery that involves using targets that look like animals. The courses are usually set up in a similar way to field archery courses, but in locations with harsh winters, they are sometimes set up inside. Check out my full article about 3D Archery here.

3D archery is an attempt to simulate the hunting experience. Of course, it doesn’t come all that close, but in the off season or wintry weather, it can be a fun way to get some practice in.

A lot of the time 3D archery targets are set up as a fun way to get together with other archers, but there are 3D archery competitions. The scoring in these competitions works differently from other competitions because the target is different.

Instead of your typical bull’s eye target, 3D targets will have marking in a variety of locations on the animal. These circles align with where you would want to hit that animal to in order to bring it down quickly.

Each marking on the 3D target has its own number of points granted if you. The scoring system will vary depending on who is hosting the competition.

Here’s a video of one of my favorite archers, Chriss Bee, shooting the Sitka 3D course:

Flight Archery

Flight archery isn’t the most popular form of archery, but it has a decent following of dedicated and enthusiastic archers and fans. In-flight archery, the arrow is shot high because the goal in flight archery is to get your arrow to travel the furthest distance.

If you would like to see what a flight archery competition looks like, check out this video.

Generally speaking, in competition at least, flights must take place from a standing position, but occasionally you will see people using what is called a foot bow.

A foot bow works a lot like a cross bow. The archer is seated and uses his or her feet to push the bow forward and they use their hands to pull back on the bowstring. You can see it in action here.

Clout Archery

Clout archery is another form of archery that focuses on distance, but in clout archery, it isn’t necessarily about reaching the furthest distance. In clout archery competitions, the goal is to shoot your arrow as close to the clout, or flag, as possible.

The closer an archer gets to the clout the more points he or she will get. It is almost as if a large invisible target were on the ground with the flag being the bull’s eye.

A lot of space is required for clout archery because the flag must be placed at far distances, and there must be room allowed for overshooting the flag as well. In order to get your arrow near the flag, you need to shoot high, just as you would in flight archery, but since you aren’t just going for distance, you also need to judge the shot.

For a look clout archery, check out the video below:

Ski Archery

Ski archery was first practiced in Norway in the 16th century, but despite being a rather old sport, it was not officially recognized until 1991. Even today, it is not the most popular form of archery, but those who do it, love it.

Ski archery takes field archery to a whole new level. If you love to ski, and you are getting into archery, it could be the sport for you.

Archers carry their bow and arrows in a pack strapped to their backs and ski the course which is typically 5 to 7.5 miles long.


Along the way, they must stop at various points to shoot targets that are 18 meters away from the archer and about 7 inches in diameter. No points are awarded. You either hit or miss the target. If you miss, you must ski a 350 meter penalty circuit before continuing on.


The first archer to finish the course wins. If you’re interested in ski archery, check out this video with footage of the 2000 World Ski Archery Championships.

Run Archery

Similar to ski archery, run archery involves going through a course set up with targets and racing to the finish line.

Bows are held in the hand of the archer while running through the course. Arrows are sometimes left by the shooting line or they can be worn on the back.

Like ski archery, it doesn’t matter where you hit the target as long as you don’t miss it. If you miss it, you must compete a penalty loop. The first person to cross the finish line wins.

Run archery can be done on a flat open course or in the woods on trails suitable for running. It combines the complexity of field archery with physical requirements of a race.

Mounted Archery

Mounted archery, or horseback archery, is not very popular, especially in the United States, but it is becoming more so. It involves riding a horse and shooting at targets while the horse is moving. As you can imagine, this requires some serious riding and archery skills as well as highly trained mounts.

The video below gives a personal account of what it is like to be horseback archer.

Mounted archery competitions are set up with a clearly marked track that the horse and rider must follow. It is usually over flat land, and there are 3 to 5 targets that the archer must hit as they pass by on their horse.

The targets are generally only a few meters away from the archer, and the archer may need to shoot in front, from the side, behind himself or even overhead depending on the style of the track.

In mounted archery, archers are judged on the accuracy of their shot as well as how fast they complete the course. Check out this article I wrote all about Mounted Archery.

Kyudo

Kyudo is an ancient Japanese martial art that uses bows. The word Kyudo literally means “way of the bow.”

The technique, equipment, and philosophy are all unique and very different from the kind of archery you typically see practiced in other areas of the world. While it is not very common outside of Japan, it is frequently taught in Japanese high schools and universities.

The bows used to practice kyudo are called yumi and they are almost exclusively made of bamboo and have an asymmetrical shape. They are very long, even longer than most longbows.

The philosophy of kyudo focuses on the whole process of archery, not just getting the arrow in the center of the target.

To see kyudo in action here is a video of a historical demonstration.

Popinjay

Popinjay or popingo is not a widely practiced form for archery, but you’ll find a handful of annual events dedicated to this historic form of archery. It is more popular in Belgium than in other countries, although a popinjay event has been reportedly held in Scotland at Kilwinning Abbey since 1483 (source).

Traditionally, popinjay competitions involve attaching replicas of birds to tall poles or towers. Archers must shoot the birds with blunt arrows and knock them off their perch to get points. More challenging shots are awarded more points than easier to make shots.

Bowhunting

bowhunting tips

Bowhunting is exactly what it sounds like: hunting with a bow and arrow.

Bowhunting is a very different experience from all of the other types of archery.  Bowhunters typically use powerful compound bows and broadhead arrows.

Deer are the most common animal hunted by bowhunters, but other large game like elk, bears, boars, and moose are often hunted as well.

Small game can also be hunted with a bow and arrow set up. This includes rabbits, raccoons, turkeys, and other small animals. I’ve even heard of some people going duck hunting with bows.

Bowhunting seasons can be short depending on the kind of game you are hunting and the local regulations, so bow hunters often hunt in all weather conditions including wind, rain, and freezing temperatures.

Depending on the kind of bowhunting being practiced, a hunter might shoot from a tree stand, a hide, or a seated or crouching position.

All things considered bow hunters need to be capable of making several different kinds of shots and they need to execute them with stealth, precision, and speed.

Bow Fishing

Bow fishing is a subset of bowhunting, but it is really its own kind of thing that feels like a combination of archery and spearfishing. In bow fishing, a fishing reel is attached to the bow and special arrows are used that attach to the line in the reel.

Unlike regular fishing, you have to be able to see the fish to be able to shoot them when bow fishing. Typically, you aim a little low and spear the fish with the arrow.

Types of Bows

There are many different kinds of archery, but there are also many different styles of bows, and in most cases, you can use any kind of bow when doing any kind of archery.

This can get a little complicated when it comes to tournaments as typically, each kind of bow has its own division in tournament. Depending on the bow you’re using, you might not be sure which division you should be competing in.

Even though you can use any bow for any kind of archery, it is true that some bows are better for certain types of archery. For example, the strength behind the shot in a compound bow make them great for hunting.

Traditional Bows

Traditional bows are the kind of bows that have been used since the beginning of archery. They are made out of wood and do not have any extra equipment attached to them.

There are two varieties of traditional bows: the recurve and the longbow.

Longbows

Longbows are the oldest kind of bow still used today. It stands about as tall as the user and traditionally it is made of one solid piece of wood. Longbows have that classic D shape that you expect in a bow.

Traditional Recurve

Traditional recurves look a little more like a modern bow, but they are still made of wood, ideally one solid piece of wood. It is called a recurve because the bow curves significantly at the ends.

Recurve bows are capable of shooting an arrow with more energy and speed than a straight limbed bow because the curves in the limbs allow it to store more energy and deliver that energy more efficiently.

Modern Recurves

Modern recurve bows made use of the same shape as the traditional recurve, but they are not made of wood and they have multiple pieces. Recurves are made up of a riser and two limbs.


The riser is the central piece of the bow where you put your hand. In modern recurves, this is usually made out of metal, wood, or carbon. The limbs attach at the top and the bottom of the riser, and they are usually made out of wood, fiberglass, or carbon.

There are two main types of modern recurves: the barebow and the Olympic recurve.

Olympic Recurves

Olympic recurves are the kind of bows used in the Olympic archery events. The Olympic recurve bow is equipped with a sight, a clicker, and a stabilizer.

The sight allows the archer to aim with more accuracy, but it does not provide any magnification.


The clicker is a metal bar that sits above the bowstring. It is set to make a “click” when the archer has drawn their bowstring to a predetermined length. This allows an archer to pull their bowstring back to the same length every time.

The stabilizers are weighted bars that stick out from the front or sides of the bow. Stabilizers add stability to the bow and reduce the number of vibrations. Every archer sets up their stabilizers a little differently.

Barebows

A barebow is a recurve that does not have any of this extra equipment. The definition of barebow changes depending on the rules of the competition you are in, but generally, a barebow does not have a sight, a clicker, or stabilizers.

For stability, barebow archers will sometimes add weight to the bottom of their riser, but there is no other additions made to a barebow.

Compound Bows

Compound bows are some of the strongest, fastest, most accurate bows around. They employ a system of pulleys and cables that makes drawing the bow easier without sacrificing the strength of the shot.

Like recurve bows, compound bows are made up of a riser with two limbs. The difference is, at the end of these two limbs, there are two things that look like wheels connected to a system of cables. These wheels are called cams.

The riser on a compound bow is usually made of aluminum or carbon fiber and the limbs are made of a fiberglass composite material.

Crossbows

Crossbows are very different from the other bows on this list. The bow itself is positioned horizontally. It is mounted on a stock, which allows the bow to be loaded with bolts without the need to fire immediately.

The bolts used in crossbows are different from arrows. They are much shorter and heavier than arrows used with regular bows.

The advantage of a crossbow is that it offers a powerful shot without the need to hold a draw while you aim. With a crossbow, you can aim more freely and more precisely, and since you don’t need to hold the draw, crossbows don’t require as much physical strength from the archer.

When you first start out with archery, it is important to not only experiment with the different types of archery to see which one you like, but you must also experiment with the kind of bow you use.

Peter Sontrop

I live in Alberta, Canada where I enjoy field archery and target shooting with traditional bows and compound bows. On this site, I share everything I’ve learned about archery along the way.

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