The bow seems to have been invented in the late Paleolithic or early Mesolithic. The oldest indication for its use in Europe comes from the Stellmoor in the Ahrensburg valley north of Hamburg, Germany and date from the late Paleolithic Hamburgian culture (9000-8000 BC). The arrows were made of pine and consisted of a mainshaft and a 15-20 centimetre (6-8 inches) long foreshaft with a flint point. There are no definite earlier bows; previous pointed shafts are known, but may have been launched by atlatls rather than bows. The oldest bows known so far come from the Holmegård swamp in Denmark. Bows eventually replaced the atlatl as the predominant means for launching shafted projectiles, on every continent except Australia.
Bows and arrows have been present in Egyptian culture since its predynastic origins. In the Levant, artifacts which may be arrow-shaft straighteners are known from the Natufian culture, (ca. 12.800-10.300 BP) onwards. The Khiamian and PPN A shouldered Khiam-points may well be arrowheads.
Classical civilizations, notably the Persians, Parthians, Indians, Koreans, Chinese, and Japanese fielded large numbers of archers in their armies. The Sanskrit term for archery, dhanurveda, came to refer to martial arts in general.
Archery was highly developed in Asia and in the Islamic world. In East Asia the ancient Korean civilizations were well-known for their archery skills. Central Asian and American Plains tribesmen were extremely adept at archery on horseback.
The advent of firearms eventually rendered bows obsolete in warfare. Despite the high social status, ongoing utility, and widespread pleasure of archery in England, Korea, China, Japan, Turkey, Armenia, America, Egypt, and elsewhere, almost every culture that gained access to even early firearms used them widely, to the relative neglect of archery. Early firearms were vastly inferior in rate-of-fire, and were very susceptible to wet weather. However, they had longer effective range and were tactically superior in the common situation of soldiers shooting at each other from behind obstructions. They also required significantly less training to use properly, in particular penetrating steel armour without any need to develop special musculature. Armies equipped with guns could thus provide superior firepower by sheer weight of numbers, and highly-trained archers became obsolete on the battlefield. However, archers are still effective and have seen action even in the 21st century. Traditional archery remained in minority use for sport and for hunting in many areas long after its military disuse.
In the United States, competition archery and bowhunting for many years used English-style longbows. The revival of modern primitive archery may be traced to Ishi, who came out of hiding in California in 1911. Ishi was the last of the Yahi Indian tribe. His doctor, Saxton Pope, learned many of Ishi's archery skills, and passed them on.
From the 1920s, professional engineers took an interest in archery, previously the exclusive field of traditional craft experts. They led the commercial development of new forms of bow including the modern recurve and compound bow. These modern forms are now dominant in modern Western archery; traditional bows are in a minority. In the 1980s, the skills of traditional archery were revived by American enthusiasts, and combined with the new scientific understanding. Much of this expertise is available in the Traditional Bowyer's Bibles (see Additional reading).
Directly drawn bows may be further divided based upon differences in the method of limb construction, notable examples being self bows, laminated bows and composite bows. Bows can also be classified by the bow shape of the limbs when unstrung; in contrast to simple straight bows, a recurve bow has tips that curve away from the archer when the bow is unstrung. The cross-section of the limb also varies; the classic longbow is a tall bow with narrow limbs that are D-shaped in cross section, and the flatbow has flat wide limbs that are approximately rectangular in cross-section.
A compound bow is a directly-drawn bow designed to reduce the force required at full draw to hold the string taut. Most compound designs use cams or elliptical wheels on the ends of the limbs. The cams on a compound bow are engineered in such a way that the archer can hold twice as much draw weight for an extended period of time. Although the archer starts the draw at full weight, there is a 65%-75% let-off at full draw. For example, a bow set at sixty pounds would allow the archer to draw for a short period but hold 65-75% less than that at full draw.
The unique Penobscot bows or double-bows of Wabenaki region (New England and the Canadian Maratimes) are sometimes suggested to be an ancient compound bow. They involved a small bow attached to the back of a larger main bow. This combination results in both substantially increased draw weight for a relatively small main bow, useful for hunting the moose and caribou of the region, and the ability to adjust the draw weight by tensioning the small bow.
The arrowhead is the primary functional part of the arrow, and plays the largest role in determining its purpose. Some arrows may simply use a sharpened tip of the solid shaft, but it is far more common for separate arrowheads to be made, usually from metal, stone, or some other hard material. The most commonly-used forms are target points, field points, and broadheads, although there are also other types, such as bodkin, judo, and blunt heads.
Fletching is traditionally made from bird feathers, but also solid plastic vanes and thin sheetlike spin vanes are used. They are attached near the nock (rear) end of the arrow with thin double sided tape, glue, or, traditionally, sinew. Three fletches is the most common configuration in all cultures, though more may be used. When three-fletched the fletches are equally spaced around the shaft with one placed such that it is perpendicular to the bow when nocked on the string (though with modern equipment, variations are seen especially when using the modern spin vanes). This fletch is called the "index fletch" or "cock feather" (also known as "the odd vane out" or "the nocking vane") and the others are sometimes called the "hen feathers". Commonly, the cock feather is of a different color, traditionally the hens are solid and the cock is barred. However, if archers are using fletching made of feather or similar material they may use same color vanes, as different dyes can give varying stiffness to vanes, resulting in less precision. Also, like colored fletching and nocks can assist in learning instinctive shooting (i.e. without sights), a technique often preferred by "traditional" archers (shooters of longbows and recurves). When four-fletched often two opposing fletches are cock-feathers and ocassionally the fletches are not evenly spaced.
The fletching may be either parabolic (short feathers in a smooth parabolic curve) or shield (generally shaped like one-half of a narrow shield) cut and is often attached at an angle, known as helical fletching, to introduce a stabilizing spin to the arrow while in flight. Whether helicial or straight fletched, when natural fletching (bird feathers) are used it is critical that all feathers come from the same side of the bird. Oversized fletchings can be used to accentuate drag and thus limit the range of the arrow significantly; these arrows are called flu-flus. Misplacement of fletchings can often change the arrow's flight path dramatically.
Most archers wear a bracer (also known as an arm-guard) to protect the inside of the bow arm and prevent clothing from catching the bow string. The Navajo people have developed highly-ornamented bracers as non-functional items of adornment. Some archers also wear protection on their chests, called chestguards. Chestguards are to prevent the bowstring from being obstructed by the archer's body or clothing as it is released. They also protect the archer. Roger Ascham mentions one archer, presumably with an unusual shooting style, who wore a leather guard for his face.
The drawing fingers, or thumb in the case of archers using the thumb or Mongolian draw, are normally protected by a leather tab, glove, or thumb ring. A simple tab of leather is commonly used, as is a skeleton glove. Medieval Europeans probably used a complete leather glove. Eurasiatic archers using the Mongolian draw protected their thumbs, usually with leather according to the author of "Arab Archery", but also with special rings of various hard materials. Many surviving Turkish and Chinese examples are works of considerable art; some are so highly ornamented that they could not have been used to loose an arrow. Presumably these were items of personal adornment. In traditional Japanese archery a special glove is used, provided with a ridge which is used to draw the string.
To load, the bow is pointed toward the ground and the shaft of the arrow is placed on an arrow rest which is attached in the bow window. The back of the arrow is attached to the bowstring with the 'nock' (a small plastic component which is typified by a 'v' groove for this purpose). This is called nocking the arrow. As said above, typical arrows with three vanes should be oriented such that a single vane is pointing away from the bow.
The bowstring and arrow are held with three fingers. When using a sight, the index finger is placed above the arrow and the next two fingers below. The string is usually placed in either the first or second joint of the fingers.
The bow is then raised and drawn. This is often one fluid motion which tends to vary from archer to archer. The string hand is drawn towards the face, where it should rest lightly at an anchor point. This point is consistent from shot to shot and is usually at the corner of the mouth or on the chin. The bow arm is held outwards toward the target. The elbow of this arm should be rotated so that the inner elbow is parallel to the ground though Archers with hyper extendable elbows tend to angle the inner elbow toward the ground as exemplified by the Korean archer Jang Yong Ho.
In proper form, the archer stands erect, forming a 'T'. The archer's lower trapezius muscles are used to pull the arrow to the anchor point. Some bows will be equipped with a mechanical device, called a clicker, which produces a clicking sound when the archer reaches the correct draw length.
The arrow is typically released by relaxing the fingers of the drawing hand (see Bow draw). Usually this type of release aims to keep the drawing arm rigid and move it back using the back muscles, as opposed to using arm motion. An archer should also pay attention to the recoil or follow through of his or her body, as it may indicate problems with form (technique).
The sight picture includes the target and the bow, as seen at the same time by the archer. With a fixed "anchor point" (where the string is brought to, or close to, the face), and a fully extended bow arm, successive shots taken with the sight picture in the same position will fall on the same point. This allows the archer to adjust aim with successive shots in order to achieve a good standard of accuracy. It cannot be used with short bows, which by definition do not allow a full draw. Modern archery equipment usually includes sights which mark the predicted impact point. Sight picture aiming is universally used with modern equipment and also by many archers who use traditional bows. It allows good accuracy to be achieved after a moderate amount of practice.
When using shortbows, or shooting from horseback, it is difficult to use the sight picture. The archer may look at the target but without including the weapon in the field of accurate view. Aiming involves the same sort of coordination between vision and motion that is used when throwing. With sufficient practice, such archers can normally achieve good practical accuracy for hunting or for war. Aiming without a sight picture may allow more rapid shooting.
Instinctive shooting is a term often used, but there is no agreed definition. Some use it to mean shooting with a sight picture but without giving it conscious attention. Others use it to mean shooting without a sight picture.
The straight flight of an arrow is dependent on its fletching. The arrow's manufacturer can arrange fletching to cause the arrow to rotate along its axis if desired. This improves accuracy by evening pressure buildups that would otherwise cause the arrow to slowly tilt in a random direction after shooting. If the fletching is not arranged to induce rotation, it will still improve accuracy by causing a restoring torque any time the arrow tilts away from its vector of travel.
Arrows themselves may be designed to spread or concentrate force, depending on their applications. Practice arrows, for instance, use a blunt tip that spreads the force over a wider area to reduce the risk of injury. Arrows designed to pierce armor in the Middle Ages would use a very narrow and sharp tip to concentrate the force. Arrows used for hunting would use a narrow tip that broadens further down the shaft to facilitate both penetration and a large wound.
Using archery to take game animals is known as bowhunting. Bowhunting differs markedly from hunting with firearms as the distances between the hunter and the game are much shorter in order to ensure a humane kill. The skills and practices of bowhunting therefore emphasize very close approach to the prey, whether by still hunting, stalking, or waiting in a blind or treestand. In many countries, including much of the United States, bowhunting for large and small game is legal. Bowhunters generally enjoy longer seasons than are allowed with other forms of hunting such as black powder, shotgun, or rifle. Usually, compound bows are used for large game hunting and may feature fiber optic sights and other enhancements. Using a bow and arrow to take fish is known as bowfishing.
Modern competitive target archery is often governed by the International Archery Federation, abbreviated FITA (Fédération Internationale de Tir à l'Arc). Olympic rules are derived from FITA rules. Target archery competitions may be held indoors or outdoors. Indoor distances are and . Outdoor distances range from to . Competition is divided into ends of 3 or 6 arrows. After each end, the competitors walk to the target to score and retrieve their arrows. Archers have a set time limit in which to shoot their arrows.
Targets are marked with 10 evenly spaced concentric rings, which have score values from 1 through 10 assigned to them. In addition, there is an inner 10 ring, sometimes called the X ring. This becomes the 10 ring at indoor compound competitions. Outdoors, it serves as a tiebreaker with the archer scoring the most X's winning. Archers score each end by summing the scores for their arrows. Line breakers, an arrow just touching a scoring boundary line, will be awarded the higher score.
Different rounds and distances use different size target faces. These range from (FITA Indoor) to (and FITA, used in Olympic competition).
Field archery involves shooting at targets of varying (and sometimes unmarked) distance, often in rough terrain.
Three common types of rounds (in the NFAA) are the field, hunter, and animal. A round consists of 28 targets in two units of 14. Field rounds are at 'even' distances up to 80 yards (some of the shortest are measured in feet instead), using targets with a black bullseye (5 points), a white center (4) ring, and black outer (3) ring. Hunter rounds use 'uneven' distances up to , and although scoring is identical to a field round, the target has an all-black face with a white bullseye. Children and youth positions for these two rounds are closer, no more than 30 and , respectively. Animal rounds use life-size 2D animal targets with 'uneven' distances reminiscent of the hunter round. The rules and scoring are also significantly different. The archer begins at the first station of the target and shoots his first arrow. If it hits, he does not have to shoot again. If it misses, he advances to station two and shoots a second arrow, then to station three for a third if needed. Scoring areas are vital (20, 16, or 12) and nonvital (18, 14, or 10) with points awarded depending on which arrow scored first. Again, children and youth shoot from reduced range.
One goal of field archery is to improve the technique required for bowhunting in a more realistic outdoor setting, but without introducing the complication and guesswork of unknown distances. As with golf, fatigue can be an issue as the athlete walks the distance between targets across sometimes rough terrain.
IFAA Field and International rounds are used in European Professional Archery competition.
On these animals there are 4 rings, only 3 of these are used in ASA shoots. The one that isn't used very often is the 14 ring. This can only be scored if you call it before you shoot, and even then it may not be allowed. Next is the 12 ring inside of the 10 ring, inside of the 8 ring. Anything on the target that is outside of the 8, 10, 12, or 14 rings is a 5. If you miss the target, you score a zero.
Though the goal is hunting practice, hunting tips (broadheads) are not used, as they would tear up the foam targets too much. Normal target or field tips, of the same weight as the intended broadhead, are used instead.
Similar to target archery, except that the archer attempts to drop arrows at long range (180 yards / for the men and 140 yards / for women; there are shorter distances for juniors depending on age) into a group of concentric circular scoring zones on the ground surrounding a marker flag. The flag is 12 inches square and is fixed to a stick. The flag should be as near to the ground as is practicable. Archers shoot 'ends' of six arrows then, when given the signal to do so, archers proceed to the target area. A Clout round usually consists of 36 arrows. Clout tournaments are usually a 'Double Clout' round (36 arrows shot twice). They can be shot in one direction (one way) or both directions (two way). All bow types may compete (longbows, recurve, barebow and compound).
Flight Archery can only take place where space permits usually in a protected area such as an aerodrome, subject to approval and access, since archers compete by shooting for maximum distances. Flight Archers shoot in various classes and weights and shoot six arrows at each "end" and then search for all of them marking the one which has been shot the furthest parallel to the datum line then marking this furthest one with an identifiable marker, the arrows can then be drawn from their landing sites. Alternative bows may be shot on subsequent "ends" and also marked as above with their bow types and weights. Only four ends are usual in one shoot (as per UK rules - in the US only one end is permitted). At the end of the shoot, archers stand or sit by their furthest arrows while judges and their assistants measure the distances they were shot. There are many bow classes and bow weights that one can shoot in. The archer who shoots the furthest in their class is the winner. Flight archery relies on the finest in performance equipment and the search for better flight archery equipment has led to many developments in archery equipment in general, such as the development of carbon arrows.
A form of archery originally derived from shooting birds on church steeples. Popinjay is popular in Belgium, and in Belgian Clubs internationally but little known elsewhere. Traditionally, archers stand within of the bottom of a mast and shoot almost vertically upwards with 'blunts' (arrows with rubber caps on the front instead of a pile), the object being to dislodge any one of a number of wooden 'birds'. These birds must be one Cock, four Hens, and a minimum of twenty-four Chicks. A Cock scores 5 points when hit and knocked off its perch; a Hen, 3; and a Chick, 1 point. A horizontal variation with Flemish origins also exists and is also practiced in Canada and the United States
A Papingo is also hosted during the summer in Scotland by the Ancient Society of Kilwinning Archers. The archers shoot at a wooden bird suspended from the steeple of Kilwinning Abbey. Here only one bird is the target, and the archers take it in turn to shoot with a longbow until the "bird" is shot down.
A Traditional English archery contest. Archers take turns shooting at a vertical strip of wood, the wand, usually about six feet high and three to six inches (152 mm) wide. Points are awarded for hitting the strip. As the target is a long vertical strip this competition allows for more errors in elevation, however since no points are awarded for near misses the archers windage accuracy becomes more important. The wand shoot is, in some respects, similar to the traditional Cherokee game of cornstalk shooting.
Archery is popularly used in historical reenactment events. This sort of event usually combines education of the audience of aspects of archery (such as the bow, arrows, and practice drill), combined with a demonstration or competition of archery in the style most favored by the period on display, generally in period costume.
Many sportsman's clubs and similar establishments throughout the US and other countries offer archery education programs for those under 18. These programs are commonly referred to as Junior Olympic Archery Development Programs, or simply JOAD. There are over 250 JOAD Clubs recognized by the National Archery Association.
It is important to note the strict separation between archery practised as a competitive sport and archery as an impalement art. For example, organising bodies for competitive archery prohibit activity that involves deliberate shooting in the general direction of a human being. The separation between the worlds of competition archery and the impalement arts is more marked than that between, for example, knife throwing as a sport and as an entertainment. While some competition knife throwers have also performed circus acts and there are official organisations that embrace both worlds, there is little or no evidence of such crossover in archery.
Archery involving a person in the vicinity of the target is a particularly dangerous practice and, even with very experienced performers, there have been cases of very serious injury.
Another situation where archery features as an entertainment is in its portrayal in movies. Howard Hill used his extraordinary accuracy for the archery in the movie The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) starring Errol Flynn. He used a heavy hunting bow to hit small reinforced target areas on the chests of actors in motion. Hill also performed stunts such as shooting an apple held by a volunteer and shooting a stone as it was thrown in the air. Some of his stunts can be seen in the short film Cavalcade of Archery (1946).