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Ultimate Guide to Archery Terms

Those new to archery may assume the only important terms they need to know should be related to the bow and arrow. However, there are many more archery terms that go beyond these items that novice archers should learn. 

The following is our ultimate guide to archery terms. We will go over all of the various jargon you will need to know to sound like an archer and further understand the sport’s complexities. 

Bow Types

In archery, “bow” and “arrow” are the most important terms you will need to know as these are the components that make up the sport. 

More specifically, there are many types of bows people will use when hunting or in archery competitions. However, the only differences you will find between each are their features and modifications available.  

Four different types of bows are commonly used in archery:

  • Recurve
  • Compound
  • Crossbow
  • Longbow

Recurve Bow

The recurve bow is the most common of the bows that people will use. Across beginners and experts, the recurve bow is the easiest to handle from start to finish, with enough power and accuracy to help those just starting to shoot.

The recurve gets its name from the bows’ limbs, both of which curve away from the archer; this can confuse the archer when they first see the bow because this is a bit unusual. However, the design is this way to ensure the maximum amount of potential energy can be produced from the string. 

These bows are generally made out of a combination of fiberglass, carbon, and wood, with a wood or composite riser. They are manufactured by some of the biggest names in the archery business, like Hoyt, Bear Archery, PSE, and Samick (Galaxy).

If you are looking to enter into competitions or simply go hunting, the recurve bow is your best choice. Currently, it is the only bow allowed in Olympic-style competitions, and it is easy enough to use for just about every skill level of archer.

Compound Bow

The compound bow is a part of the most recent advancements in bow technology. The entire process of drawing the arrow back and releasing it on a target is made simpler with the compound bow, making it a favorite of bowhunters in modern times. 

Developed in the 1960s, the compound bow uses a series of pulleys, cams, and cables that allow the archer to draw back a larger load than a standard bow, allowing the bow to reach farther distances and potentially hit targets at a higher velocity. It can also help ease the strain on the archer, who has to exert less energy to draw the bow and, therefore, spend more energy focusing on the target.

The compound bow is almost exclusively made from composite materials. This is because composite materials are easier to bend and warp to allow for the system to operate fully. In temperatures outside the norm (32-68 degrees Fahrenheit), wood will warp and bend and make it harder to operate, which is why you will mostly see compound bows made out of composite materials.

Some archers will do modifications and have additional pieces added to help them when using the bow. Things like advanced sights and releases help the archer hit targets with more accuracy and at greater distances. 

Crossbow

Compound Crossbow

The newest of the bows, the crossbow is easily one of the more unique weapons on the market. It has a simple firing mechanism that allows for just about anyone to use it without issue, along with a simple reload mechanism, making it an excellent option for beginners who want to get into bow hunting with little practice.

The crossbow is a combination of a bow and a gun, with the arrow being drawn back into the crossbow and into place. The arrow is fired from a trigger that slings the arrow towards the target with extreme accuracy. 

There is a crank mechanism for reloading that allows for minimal effort in reloading the arrow into the bow. The arrow is notched into place at the end of the bow, with the crossbow holding the arrow in place until the archer is ready to fire.

For most states, the use of a crossbow is only available when it is rifle or shotgun season. Many hunting agencies consider the crossbow to be a relative of the rifle, which is why this is the case in most states. The crossbow is also great for those with disabilities because it has an easier reloading and firing mechanism, which requires less effort.

Longbow

The longbow is the oldest of the bows, with the longbow dating back to medieval times when kings would lead charges against other castles and countries. The longbow archers were extremely important because they allowed the armies to get close to the castle they were attacking; the archers kept the defending armies undercover.

These bows are almost exclusively made from wood. The design is so simple, with the string being strung across a long pole with a slight bend to allow the string to be drawn and create potential energy. 

Because the longbow is old technology, there are not many archers that use the longbow for hunting or competitions. For the most part, longbows are used by collectors or just for target practice. Some archers will modify the longbow and add sights to help with accuracy and such, but overall, they are kept about the same.

Parts of a Bow

The typical bow has four parts to its design. These four parts can be found on all types of bows, but with varying lengths and designs with each one: 

  • Riser
  • Limbs
  • String Nock
  • String

Riser

The riser is the central part of the bow and houses many essential pieces of the bow. This is because it lies in the bow’s center, where the bow’s two limbs connect to form the entire structure. Depending on the bow, the riser can be made out of composite materials or wood.

Three pieces reside in the riser area: the grip, the sight window, and the arrow rest. 

  • The grip is the spot where the archer grips the bow. It can be made out of rubberized material that allows for the best grip possible and varying sizes to fit the archer’s grip style. 
  • The sight window is generally right above the grip, allowing the archer to have a spot to aim from. There is generally one sight window on one side of the bow, but some designs put a sight window on either side of the bow to allow for maximum customization. 
  • The arrow rest is a piece that can be both built into the bow in the riser, or it can be an attached piece. The arrow rest allows the arrow to come to a place free of obstructions when the archer comes to rest from drawing back the bow.

Limbs

The bow’s limbs are not interchangeable and are formed in a specific manner, with an upper and lower section attached to the riser at the grip. 

The limbs must be attached properly for the bow to operate correctly, with each end of each limb having to be placed the right way for the bow to work. These pieces are generally made out of wood, plastic, or composite materials.

String Nock

The string nock is a little notch at the top of each limb used to attach the string. The string nock works by stringing and looping the string through and around it until the string is tight in the string nock.

String

The string is attached to the bow via loops in and around the string nock. To keep the string’s integrity intact after a lot of use, the strings can be rubbed down in a silicone-based wax. 

There are two components of the string: the center and the nocking point.

  • The string’s center is the area, generally around the middle of the string, that an extra piece of thread is wrapped around; this allows for an increase in the string’s durability where it is nocked. 
  • The nocking point is the point on the string where the arrow attaches to the string. It is generally made of brass or similar metallic material and crimpled onto the string. 

Other Bow Terms

The following are other terms related to bow anatomy:

  • Arrow Plate – An arrow plate is a shell-like object used to receive the arrow’s chaffing once it is released. It sits where the arrow usually crosses, along the lateral side of the bow above the handle. 
  • Arrow Shelf – The arrow shelf can be found above the bow’s grip and is where the arrow sits before firing. 
  • Back – The “back” of a bow is essentially the bow’s part that faces away from the archer drawing it. 
  • Backing – A bow’s backing is material used to strengthen the limbs. 
  • Belly – The belly, sometimes referred to as the “face,” is the side of the bowstring that faces the archer as the bow is drawn. 
  • Brace Height – Brace height is a term that describes the distance between the bowstring and the bow’s grip. 
  • Cast – This is a measure of the max distance a bow is capable of shooting an arrow. 
  • Tiller – The tiller is a measure of the length between the upper and lower limbs from the bowstring’s belly. 

Parts of an Arrow

The arrow is the second part of archery, and it can be customized to fit the archer’s desires and what they are doing. 

Some arrows are made of composite materials that allow for more re-usage and are great for target practice because they can be retrieved and used again. Those made with wood are more prone to be broken when they strike a hard surface. Metallic arrows are great for hunting because they pack a little more punch without too much concern for breaking.

Similar to the bow, there are four parts to the arrow as well: 

  • Point
  • Shaft
  • Fletching
  • Nock

Point

The arrow point—often referred to as the “arrowhead”—is the most dangerous part of the arrow. It is the first point that goes into the target and provides the damage. There are three different types of arrow points: bullet/field points, blunt points, and broadheads.

  • The bullet/field points are the most common points you can find at the end of an arrow. These are great for piercing your target, whether that is an animal or a stationary target like a block of wood, a Styrofoam block, or a paper target. They are typically made out of metal and can screw onto the shaft of the arrow.
  • Arrows with blunt points are unsharpened and usually used for target practice or to hunt smaller game where the goal is to stun the animal rather than penetrate it. Blunt points are usually made with metal or a type of hardened rubber. 
  • Broadheads have cutting edges, or sharp blades, and are primarily used for hunting large game. There are three types of broadhead points:
    • Fixed blades
    • Removable blades
    • Mechanical (expandable) blades

Shaft

The arrow’s shaft is the backbone; this is the central, cylindrical rod that holds the entire arrow together. It is typically made out of wood, aluminum, or carbon. 

Fletching

The three feather or feather-like pieces that are attached to the shaft are called the fletchings. They are designed to allow for optimal arrow flight, helping the arrow fly the correct way. 

The three fletchings are placed all around in different directions from where the point is pointing, with the feather that is different colored called the indicating fletch; this will point outward when the arrow is properly notched on the string.

Nock

The nock is a V-shaped groove attached to the arrow’s end via the shaft that allows for the arrow to be attached to the string. The nock can be made out of wood or plastic and is an attachable piece, which means you can remove it to be replaced and/or repaired.

Other Arrow Terms

The following are other terms related to other types of arrows and arrow anatomy:

  • Barreled Arrow – This is a specific arrow design where the ends are tapered while the center is heavy. 
  • BobTailed Arrow – This arrow is tapered towards the notch and bulky near or at the pile margin. 
  • Bolt – This term refers to the type of arrow used with a crossbow. 
  • Chested Arrow – This is an arrow design in which the arrow is bulky around the notch and tapered toward the pile. 
  • Compressed Shaft – This describes an arrow’s shaft that has been squeezed to the point that it becomes stronger and straighter.
  • Pile – This is an older term that describes the front end of an arrow (point). 
  • Safety Arrow – These are arrows often used for reenactment purposes. The tips are usually wider or padded compared to standard blunt arrows. 
  • Vane – This is another term used to describe the end of an arrow, specifically the piece that acts as a stabilizing fin for the object.

Other Archery Terms

Beyond the terms used to describe the different parts of a bow and arrow, it’s also worth knowing these other terms related to bow and arrow accessories as well as other vocabulary used in archery:

  • Anchor – Also known as the “anchor point,” the anchor is a spot along the bowstring’s arm used to aim the arrow before firing. 
  • Archer’s Paradox – This term is often used to describe the effect of an arrow bending after it leaves the bow. 
  • Arm Guard – The arm guard, also known as a “bracer,” is a strap worn on the bow arm to help protect the archer from the bowstring’s immense vibration after firing an arrow. 
  • Arrow Rest – This is a tool used to hold the arrow until it is ready to release. 
  • Barebow – This term refers to the act of shooting an arrow without using the sight or other targeting aids. 
  • Drawing – Drawing is the act of pulling the bowstring. 
  • Dry Firing – Dry firing, also known as “dry loosing,” is the act of firing a bow without an arrow. 
  • Hanging Arrow – A term used to describe an arrow that does not penetrate a target and instead droops from its placement. 
  • Home – This describes an arrow that is drawn and ready to be loosed. 
  • Kiss Button – This is where the archer’s lips meet the bowstring to ensure the anchor point’s stability and maintain consistency across shots. 
  • Let Down – To slowly release the tension of the bowstring to avoid releasing the arrow. 
  • Loose – This is a term used to describe the act of shooting or “firing” an arrow from a bow. 
  • Nocking – The act of placing the arrow on the bowstrings to prepare to shoot. 
  • Quiver – A quiver is used to store the archer’s arrows. It is usually equipped with a strap that can be worn over the shoulder so that archers can easily access more arrows as needed. 
  • String – This term is used as a verb to describe the action of putting the bow in tension, not as a reference to the bowstring.  
  • Tune – The act of adjusting with a bow to shoot arrows more quietly and with greater precision. 

Final Thoughts

Archery is an excellent sport for people to get into. It is a simple activity that does not require too much as far as training and muscle strength. Learning can be as simple as going to an archery shop and taking a short 30-60 minute lesson that can lead to a lifetime of fun.

Of course, beyond taking an introductory archery class, it is worth understanding many of the terms described above to improve your knowledge of the sport.