Types of Archery Competitions

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Ok, you have the bow that appeals to you the most. You've learned to shoot it with style, elan and (approximate) accuracy but you crave competition. What sorts of competitions and tournaments are out there for you to dominate? Well there's quite a few and most are nothing like the archery you've seen in the Olympics. Note: not all of these are possible, safe or indeed legal in the UK and are listed for completeness.

Competition Archery:

Target: Set ranges, face sizes and number of arrows to be shot in a formal manner on a flat field or indoors.

Field and 3D: Targets set up on rough ground/in woods at varying ranges.

Flight: Arrows shot simply for distance.

Clout: Arrows shot across several hundred yards to land near a flag set on the ground.

Papingo: Arrows shot vertically at a model bird/birds with the intention of knocking them off their perch.

Golf: Just like playing a round of golf except people loitering on the fairway are in for a BIG surprise

Non-competition Archery:

Roving or Rough: Wander in the woods/fields randomly picking targets and trying to hit them

Hunting: Killing small or indeed large animals with a bow


Competition Archery

Target Archery

Target Archery is probably the sort of archery that pops into your head when you think of competitions with a bow. The 2012 Olympics probably gave people in the UK their first real view of archery outside of movies and as the viewing and attendance at Lords Cricket ground was among some of the best received events ... people in the UK liked what they saw.

The vast majority of target archery competitions involves shooting a set number of arrows at each of one, two, three or even four distinct distances while aiming at a set sized for the distance face (or target). The field will be as flat as is possible. The arrows are shot in ends (your turn) of 3 or 6 arrows (3 at the shorter, 6 at the longer distances). These ends are shot in a very formal manner with a time limit which minimizes any possibility of injury and delay. A series of whistles or coloured lights (not dissimilar to traffic lights) are used to keep competitors appraised of how long they have left to shoot and when its safe to collect arrows respectively.

Competitors are split by type of bow type, gender and age group and in most competitions the winner of each sub group is the person with the largest score.This sort of competition does not make a good spectator sport.

Alternatively (as showcased in the Olympics) you can shoot in a knockout competition called a Head to Head where archers shoot directly against an assigned opponent usually determined in a ranking round. Each 3 arrow end constitutes a set worth 2 points if you have a higher score than your opponent (if tied 1 point each). First one to 6 points wins unless its all tied at 5 apiece when its a one arrow shoot off - nearest the spider (centre cross) wins. These can get very tense, makes for good spectator viewing as seen by the Olympics and is the format that World Archery is currently pushing as the future.


Field and 3D

Hunting with a bow is prohibited in the UK (currently by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981) however this doesn't stop archers simulating the fun of shooting in extremely rough terrain. These are Field Courses.

Field courses are often set up in woods ideally in quite rough terrain. A path will be created that leads around the 'range' ensuring that it never exposes archers ahead or behind to stray arrows. You and up to 3 others follow the path. As you come upon targets you shoot at them from a designated colour of peg. One for novices (closest), one for traditional (middle) and one for sighted bows (furthest). You only go ONE WAY along the path. Returning to a target you've shot will put you in danger as it will likely be in use by the next group following the path.

Distances vary although there will always be the same numbers of close, medium and far away targets making courses vaguely comparable. Face size will vary on the distance to the target. To add spice, the round can be marked (they tell you how far it is to the target) or unmarked ie they don't tell you how far it is from peg to target. Range finders are not allowed in FITA field but there are various ways to 'cheat' and calculate the distance quite legally. The targets will be placed in almost any other location than on flat ground. Half way up a hill, in a valley, across water (stream or small lake), at odd angles, across slopes, buried in shadow within a copse of trees or bushes ... the only limitation in the orientation of the target is in the imagination of the course designer. 

A 3D round is exactly the same as the above except life sized 3 dimensional model animals with 'kill zones' replace the targets. These models range in size from small (bunnies, large spiders and meerkats) though medium (deer and wolf) to large (bear, elk and giraffe). They can also get a bit bizarre with movie creatures like aliens and predators or even T-Rex's popping up. There's a huge range of animals available but while 3D models are extremely resilient, they are also very expensive.

There are several field archery sites in central Scotland although they are a bit trickier to find than normal target archery clubs. They tend to be tucked away in forestry commission or private land well away from the main population areas.

A guide to Field Archery produced by World Archery can be found here.

Flight Archery

Flight Archery is all about seeing how far you can shoot an arrow.

Flight is the home of the mad scientists of archery. The tinkerers, the experimenters, the dreamers. Bows for flight have been compared to Grand Prix racing cars. The dedicated Flight bow is not built for reliability or durability. Its built to throw an arrow as far as is physically possible with no consideration for the future! This bow will be tuned and refined right to the edge of catastrophic failure. The limbs will be stressed to the limit, strings with as few strands as possible for lightness and arrows hand-made and relentlessly fiddled with for aerodynamic perfection. Many of the wildly bizarre experiments especially limb shape and composition have found their way into mainstream target archery especially through companies like Border Bows whose Hex range of limbs are extremely efficient and use aerospace composite materials.

In competitions there is no need spending all day shooting 144 arrows as only one arrow is going to count - the furthest one. In the USA, only one end of six arrows is shot in any one Class. You dont get sighters. You walk to the line, shoot what is effectively one end and then go find your arrows. British Flight Archery Competition consists of four rounds of 6 arrows and an archer can shoot in up to four classes.  Although this doesn't sound much, by the time everyone has walked up to find their arrows and marked the furthest arrow, the competition can result in a very long day.

How far can you shoot an arrow? The furthest distance shot with any bow is 2,047 yards (1,871.84m). This was shot in 1988 using a crossbow. The furthest with a hand-held - and pulled - bow is 1,336 yds 1' 3" (1,222.01m) , shot by Don Brown with an unlimited conventional Flight bow in 1987.

Although any archer with a bow can shoot flight and there are categories for target archers rather than specialists, its pretty difficult to find a big enough area to allow flight archers to go wild. As a result competitions are not very numerous but here is a link to an article on AGB's website which should get you started with contacts: Introduction to Flight.


Now while Flight involves shooting as far as you can, Clout requires you to shoot your arrows to drop them as close to a specific spot on the field at distances up to 180 yards (Imperial Round). To score a clout (worth 5 points) you need to be no further than 18inches from the marker pole/flag. For the next additional 18 inches you drop a further point ie 18-36 inches = 4points, then its 3 - 6 feet = 3 points, 6 - 9 feet = 2 points and 9 - 12 feet = 1 point.

A single clout round consists of 36 arrows, shot in ends of 6 arrows. Tournaments typically consist of a double clout round, in which a total of six dozen arrows are shot.

World Archery has its own version of clout which for gents is shot at 165m for recurve and 185m for compound. The scoring bands are 1.5m wide with a clout still being worth 5.

Clout competitions are rare but there are some shot in central Scotland with Bannockburn Bowmen and Ayr Archery Club being the organizers. The National Clout Championships are usually shot in October at Bronte Archers Ground at Apperley Bridge, W.Yorks.


Sometimes medieval hunters would get bored with the red meat diet and fancy picking up a bird for dinner. The Papingo shoot simulates the shooting of birds out of trees from below.

The variety of Papingo shoots in enormous because there's no universally agreed formal or rules for this sort of competition and each club that runs one is usually following a local traditional format. Lets take one example as representative and examine that...

The Ancient Society of Kilwinning Archers (ASKA) has existed off and on since the end of the 15th century with the earliest recorded event being in 1483. The event held each year in June requires archers to shoot vertically from the foot of an Abbey tower to dislodge a wooden pigeon (or Doo in Scots) from its perch some 30m above them. While any bow can be used in the ranking round help to determine who gets to shoot first at the Doo, the bow used to ding doun the doo must be a longbow. For safeties sake the arrows are rubber tipped as skyward launched arrows seem to have a strange homing functionality for unprotected, unobservant and unaware archers.

Modern popinjay is another version of this vertical archery and is included in the GNAS rules. The GNAS Popinjay rules are based on a mast that was made by an enterprising archer from a surplus U.S. Army wireless aerial. This mast is no longer in existence so the rules are somewhat unique! Efforts to track down popinjay in Britain other than the ancient Scottish tradition have unearthed mention of one Club in England that include Popinjay in a 4 discipline Easter shoot each year.


An exceedingly rarely shot competition because golfers dont like giving up their fairways and greens to archers. How is this shot? Exactly like a round of golf except where the golfer whacks his little white ball, we shoot an arrow. Where he putts into a little hole, we shoot to hit a target (although in some variants getting within a couple of feet of the flag is sufficient).

In summary its a cross between flight (distance) and clout (drop arrow near to a flag).

The two sports are so similar that it is possible for golfers and archers to compete against each other directly although a lost arrow in the rough/water counts double the usual penalty. Its also vitally important that you make sure that the fairway is clear of other archers (and I suppose golfers as well) before you shoot your arrow.

Although possible apocryphal there is a story from the US where a ball thief got the shock of his life when he ran out to steal two balls on a fairway because making up the foursome and shooting together after the first pair of golfers had played were two archers with their bows!

Non Competition Archery

Roving or Rough Shooting

This is really an informal type of competition either with yourself or with a hiking buddy where you both happen to have packed your bows (traditional preferred). A simple wander over some rough ground and through some woods with your bud picking out a tree stump here, you picking a coke can there and you shoot at them. Winner of the end is the one that gets closest or hits the named target.

This is a sort of bloodless hunting and as such you'd think it would be good for the UK ... well, think again. Unless you have a friend with some land, you'll be doing this on private property without permission or on common ground with no control over the possible accidental wounding of a passer-by. Both likely to get you in a whole heap of trouble.


Bow ... arrow ... animal ... dead. Doesnt matter if you stalk your prey or sit up a tree or in a hide waiting for them to wander by, the 'competition' is always the same. Hunting is the use of a bow in an attempt to terminate an animals existence. Many people get worked up about this in both directions pro and con but not here in the UK. As I said earlier, hunting with a bow is prohibited by The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 which was itself a rationalization of earlier laws that had come into force during the 60's and 70's. Even archery fishing is a no-no inside the twelve mile limit around our shores so ab-so-lutely NO hunting with a bow at all in the UK. (for an anecdote about the accidental shooting down of a pigeon right out of the air at a target archery tourney ... ask Rona).


... not all countries feel the same way about small, medium and large animals being exempt from perforation by Easton's finest products. The hunting market in the US is huge. I mean HUGE! These figures are from the US Fish and Wildlife Service and while they are from 2006, they are an underestimate of the current situation...

in 2006 ... 12.5 million people 16 years old and older enjoyed hunting a variety of animals within the United States. They hunted 220 million days and took 185 million trips. Hunting expenditures totalled $22.9 billion. (admittedly not all of this will be bow related)

Let me put that into context, north sea oil is worth approximately £12 billion ($19 billion) a year to the UK economy. AGB is currently crowing about having 46,000 members ... and yet people still wonder why 'merkins get to call the shots in the design of archery equipment!

If you really want to feel like a pygmy in a land of giants, take a look at the Lancaster Archery catalogue (download version bottom left of page) for all the hunting gear ... or browse the Arrow Trade magazine.