Modern competitive archery

The term competitive archery covers all archery where arrows are shot at a target from a set distance or distances and are scored for their accuracy.

There are different types practiced all over the world, with the main distinction being what the target is and how the rules are set.

The International Archery Federation (FITA) sets most rules for competitions and there are considered to be normative.

However, some non-FITA-affiliated archery organizations exist and they run their own competitions. Not sure how to start to become an archer?

Target archery

Target archery is the most common type of archery that is performed today and is often referred to as ‘Olympic style’, as it is the type used in the Olympics.

These games can be held either indoors, where distances range from 18m to 25m, or outdoors, where distances are slightly further, ranging from 30m to 90m.

It involves standing at a shooting line with other archers, and shooting at the target.

The target is a large, round area, marked with 10 evenly spaced concentric circles of carrying colours.

Each of these colours is given a value, which is awarded when the arrow lands in this circle.

The middle circle is called ‘the X ring’, or ‘the 10 ring’ in indoor compound competitions, and a 10 is awarded if the arrow lands in this circle.

Scores continue with nine for the next circle after this, falling to a single point for the outmost circle. If the target is missed altogether, a score of 0 is given.

In outdoor competitions, the X ring serves as a tiebreaker and the archer who scores the most X’s wins the competition.

If the arrow lands on a scoring boundary line, termed a line breaker, then the higher score of the two circles is awarded.

The games are divided into ends of three or six arrows and, after each end, the total score for the archer is calculated and the arrows are removed.

There is a time limit which each archer has to shoot their arrows.

  • Outdoor – The FITA rules state that thirty-six arrows are shot at each of four distances; 90m, 70m, 50m and 30m for men, and 70m, 60m, 50m and 30m for women. These arrows are usually shot in groups of six within a specified time. The scores are then totalled to decide what the seedlings are for the Olympic Round. This round is a direct elimination of all the competing members, who go head-to-head against each other, and is held at 70m. The Olympic Round is an eighteen-arrow game, whereas the other rounds are twelve-arrow ones. The targets used in FITA outdoor competitions are all 122cm in diameter.
  • Indoor – At 25m indoor target competitions, archers shoot sixty arrows at a 60cm diameter round target. At 18m competitions, sixty arrows are shot again, but a 40cm diameter target is used instead. Initially, there is a combined round, where archers have to shoot from 60m, 25m and 18m. The top sixteen archers are taken from this and further elimination rounds follow, which are fifteen-arrow games using a 20cm diameter target.

The equipment which is allowed in this type of archery varies greatly, with their being divisions for longbows, recurve bows, compounds bows and crossbows.

Stabilizers, clickers, adjustable front sights, specialized arrow rests, as well as bows and arrows made from engineered composite materials are also allowed.

However, there are divisions for beginners, which use basic and inexpensive equipment.

Field archery

Field archery again involves shooting arrows at targets, but this is usually on rough terrain and the targets are at varying distances (often unmarked) and of varying sizes.

This type of archery was initially developed to improve standards in bowhunting but has since become a very popular, arguably more so than target archery.

The course uses a natural setting, where there are marked stakes where the archers need to shoot from.

Archers move around the course in groups, taking turns at each target when they arrive at it.

In this way, it is similar to a golf course.

The typical course will have twenty-eight targets on it in two units of fourteen (some competitions will only use fourteen targets), and archers move around the course usually in groups of four.

A Field Captain moves around the course with the archers to ensure that the arrows are shot within a specified amount of time, and that all archers collect their arrows and record their scores together.

Archers are allowed to take breaks between shots, and sometimes courses will have shelters at certain positions which are also to guard against bad weather.

There are three main types of round; field, hunter and animal.

The targets in field rounds are all marked at even distances of up to 73m.

The targets used have a black bulls eye (five points), a white centre ring (four points), and a black outer ring (three points).

In hunter rounds, the targets are placed at an uneven distance of up to 64m, and they have an all-black face with a white bullseye, but the scoring is identical to hunter rounds.

Animal rounds are similar to hunter rounds, apart from the fact the targets are life-sized 2D animals.

The scoring is also different. In some rounds, all the arrows which hit the targets will be appointed a score.

However, in others, if the archer’s first arrow hits the target, he or she does not have to fire another arrow.

If the archer misses, they have to move to the second station and shoot the second arrow, and then the third station for the third arrow if necessary.

Scoring areas are determined by vital areas – twenty, sixteen or twelve – and non-vital areas – eighteen, fourteen, or ten.

Points are awarded according to which arrow scored first.

Sometimes, shots will be made more difficult by using intervening ground or an inclining tree, which hinder the archer.

The lighting conditions in woods can also influence the shot.

The environment, variety of terrain and rounds are what makes field archery more attractive to some people, and it could be seen as requiring a much higher level of concentration and skill than target archery.

3D archery

This is very similar to field archery but 3D animals are used instead, making it very popular with hunters.

Usually, unmarked distances for the targets are used in 3D archery and the aim is to recreate a hunting ground as accurately as possible.

These target animals usually have four rings on them which is molded on approximately where the “kill zone” would be on a live animal, although some shoots only use three.

The variable ring is the fourteen ring, which can only be used if you call it before you attempt the shot.

Even then it will sometimes not be allowed. After the fourteen ring lies the twelve rings, the ten ring and then the inner ring, which is the eight ring.

Any arrow which strikes outside of these rings is scored a five and, if the target is missed, nothing is scored.

Archers travel around the course in small groups, as with field archery, and take it in turns to shoot at the targets.

As the targets are at uneven, unmarked distances, much of the skill of 3D archery is trying to judge distances and this is, therefore, a competition mainly designed for capable archers.

The archers are not allowed to use measuring devices or mark their bows to aid in measuring the distances.

Fast compound bows are usually used, with some type of magnifying front sight, to assist with the practice.

The course is also set up in secret before the competition is held, so the archers are not allowed to see it before they take part making it even more challenging.

This type of archery is used for the hunting practice, but hunting tips are not used on the arrows, as they would cause too much damage to the targets.

Therefore, normal tips or field tips are used, as these have the same weight as the hunting tip and, as a result, still provide the archer with appropriate shooting practice.

It is also popular because the latest advances in bow technology can be used in this competition.

Clout archery

This is very similar to target archery, apart from the fact the targets are circles positioned on the ground, surrounding a marker flag which the archer has to drop the arrow into.

The marker flag is a 30mm square which is attached to a stick, placed as near to the ground as possible, and is at a much longer range than normal targets:

  • 180yds (165m) for men and
  • 140yds (128m) for women.

A clout round usually consists of six ends of arrows, meaning thirty-six arrows are shot in total.

A Double Clout round is usually used so that the arrows can be shot either only one way or in both directions, and all types of bows can be used to compete in this type of archery.

Due to the distance, the arrow is shot at, wind can greatly affect the performance of the arrows.

A rope with a loop is placed on the end of the flag pole, and this rope is divided into the different scoring zones:

  • gold (five points)
  • red (four points)
  • blue (three points)
  • black (two points)
  • and white (one point).

The place where the arrow enters the ground is taken as its score.

The rope is walked around the target area, and any arrows which fall in a scoring zone marked on the rope are removed and, when the full circle is complete, laid out on the rope on the corresponding scoring colors.

The scorer then calls out the archers’ names, they reply with their scores and collect their arrows.

Special clouts sights can be fitted to recurved bows.

The most common of these are mirror sights which act like periscopes, allowing the archer to aim at the clout flag whilst holding the bow in the air at an angle so that it is directed at the target.

Flight archery

The aim of flight archery is to shoot the arrow at the longest possible distance.

As such, it can only be performed in areas where space will permit this, e.g. an aerodrome.

Archers shoot six arrows at each end (four ends is typical), each one is marked with the archer’s name and number, and then the archers go and see where they have landed.

They are marked according to which one has been shot the furthest parallel to the datum line.

When the shoot is over, each archer stands by their furthest arrows and the judges come and measure the distances of each one.

The archer who has shot the furthest arrow is deemed the winner.

The competition will usually be held early in the morning to avoid windy conditions, as wind can greatly affect the arrows as they are travelling at such long distances.

There are various classes and weights included in this type of archery:

  • recurve
  • compound
  • freestyle

Bows can be used at varying weights.

Alternative bows can be used on different ends, but the arrows have to be marked with what type of bow was used and its weight.

Mechanical release aids are not allowed, but flipper, straps, hooks or thumb rings can be used.

Preparing for an archery competition

As all types of archery have different rules, one of the first things you must do is clue yourself up on the chosen set.

The main things you will need to know are what style or size targets are going to be used, how many arrows you are allowed to use in the competition, if there are any time limits for shooting, how many ends there are, and what equipment is deemed legal for each competition.

This last point is particularly important, and you may need to investigate and see if there is a division within the tournament for the type of equipment you own.

Check your equipment before the competition to make sure that it is in good condition.

It is usually advisable to bring back-up equipment with you, if you have it.

Sometimes the tournament organizers will provide you with any necessary equipment, but make sure you are adept with what you are offered.

Bring a toolkit with you as well, as screws and bolts may sometimes need adjusting or tightening.

Try and modify the environment you practice in for the competition so that it replicates the environment of the tournament as much as possible.

This not only includes terrain but also the same time of day, as wind conditions vary throughout the day and can greatly affect the performance of arrows.

If it is allowed and possible, practising on the actual range that will be used may prove extremely useful.

The whole point of simulating the event is to reduce the emotional effects that may come from competing.

As mentioned before, archery is as much about mental skill as physical skill and you will subsequently want to reduce any mental distractions as much as possible.

Archery competitions

Olympic Games

Since its inclusion in the tournament in 1900, the Summer Olympics have shaped the way that archery is played today.

Target or Olympic archery is obviously the type of archery used.

There are men and women divisions, which are held both individually and in team rounds, with the overall ranking ranging from one to sixty-four.


Archery was first played in the Paralympic Games in 1960, and has been involved in every tournament since.

Again, the rounds can be played in teams or individually, with male and female divisions, and the competitors have the choice of competing from a wheelchair or from a standing position.

There are three archery classifications:

  • ARST – Archery Standing – The competitors have no disability in the arms, but the legs have some form of muscle loss or loss of joint mobility or coordination.
  • ARW1 – Archery Wheelchair 1 – These competitors compete from a wheelchair, and can have disabilities in their arms, legs or both.
  • ARW2 – Archery Wheelchair 2 – These competitors are paralysed in the lower part of their body.

All British Field Championships

This competition is open to all members of the GNAS and any affiliated organizations/societies. It is a two-day event that is usually held in South Wales in late spring. The tournament follows the standards of typical field archery.

The British Target Championships

This is also a two-day event but usually takes place in late summer. It follows the typical rules for target archery, with men’s and women’s heats taking place both individually and in teams.

The UK Masters

This is an invitational target archery event, where the best archers in the UK come to compete for championship titles and seedings.

This event includes ladies and gents FITA single rounds in longbow, recurve and compound, and FITA 70m and Olympic head-to-head rounds in recurve and compound.

Teams from the Southern and Northern counties also compete.

The World Archery Indoor Championships

This target archery tournament includes the best teams from around the world. Both junior and senior (men’s, women’s and mixed) teams compete in recurve and compound indoor heats.

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