What is traditional archery?

what is traditional archeryDefinition of what is a traditional bow, or what is a traditional shooting style, varies widely between cultures. Some of those most recently discovering tneir archery traditions use carbon or aluminium arrows -good quality bamboo shafts being expensive, while others include carbon/glass fibre versions of their ancient bows, horn and sinew composites being hard to obtain and requiring care in use.

Thanks to the resurgence of interest over the last decade, many cultures are rediscovering skills and crafts to pass on to future generations. Archaeological finds contribute to an understanding of the technolog

traditional archery

y of bowmaking, while increasing numbers of archers are searching for texts and references to their archery culture.

The bows which SPTA promotes are many and varied. Classifications for it’s events in the UK are based on recognised bow types within the UK, including composites and beginners bows -see the ‘Types of bow’ link, left, and arrows for SPTA events must be of natural materials (wood or bamboo/cane) with natural feather fletchings.

SPTA was the first Society to actively promote ‘Primitive’ bows at it’s events, and encourages these at its bowmaking workshops. It also began promoting competitive horseback archery in the UK in 1998.

Some traditional competitions are particular to individual cultures, the Mongolian ‘surs’ for example, and SPTA includes various types of competition.

Types of traditional archery shooting

Introducing the most popular types of archery in the world. These types of shooting refer only to the traditional bow.

Field Archery

This is a form of practice developed in the United States for out-of-season hunting practice.

Targets are laid out over a course, using the natural terrain and vegetation, and the archers shoot from pegs; various types of scoring ’round’ are used. Distances are usually unmarked.

Archers get the chance to see beautiful places, and the impact of archery on the countryside is minimal, in fact many archers help the landowners with maintenance and security. Helpers are always needed -if you join a Club or Society -it helps if you can offer assistance in running the shoots or helping lay courses (Often quite hard physical, but enjoyable work!)

There are training courses run by some organisations to ensure you can shoot safely, and most Clubs run these. Be warned however that not all trainers in the UK are well-versed in traditional shooting styles, however you should be given sound guidance on safe practice and basic etiquette, and passing the course will allow you to participate in competition.

Flight Shooting

The historic skill of competitive distance shooting still lives on today -wherever there is room to safely practice! While some archers today have special bows made for this pursuit, many are just happy to see how far they can get their bows to shoot. A flight longbow can achieve over 300yards with the right arrow -specialised composite bows can achieve twice that distance -but these bows are of the heavier draw weights.

Special competitions have been devised specifically for the ‘English’ longow in the UK, using a variety of arrows with different specifications. Turkish archers were famous for the distances they could achieve with their heavy draw weight bows.

Wand & Target Shooting

Modern target (Olympic) style shooting does not figure largely in SPTA activities, however the ‘two-way’ shooting unique to longbow shooting is regularly practiced by the British Long-Bow Society.

The modern FITA competition with the target face of coloured rings is a development from the ‘Prince’s Reckoning’; thePrince Regent in the 18th century championed the longbow and developed a form of competition based on a target with five coloured zones on a circular target -the central area being gilded -hance the term scoring a ‘gold’ (It is NOT a bulls-eye…). The rules were set in 1792 and consisted of then ‘Prince’s Lengths of 60, 80 and 100 yards, know as the Prince’s Lengths, shooting at 2ft., 3 ft., and 4ft. targets, 3 arrows at each end.

Wand Shooting

Originally the wand was a rod, usually of willow, 4 or 5ft high, planted into the ground. The archer had to split it -usually meaning a hit very close to dead centre. Other forms include a 2inch wide timber slat, or a face with vertical scoring zones as used in SPTA events.

Clout shooting

A long-established event which tests accuracy at long distance shooting, ‘clout’ (the word comes from the old term for a cloth as in “ne’er cast a clout ’til May is out”) has been regularly practiced for many decades, particularly by the British Long-Bow Society since it’s formation in the 1950’s, and most notably at the Woodmen of Arden ground where the marker has not only to march the length of the hall having drunk a tankard of porter, but also has to record a hit by falling on his back waving his legs and top hat in the air.

Interestingly the Mongolians choose to sing to record a scoring arrow- maybe the English are more shy about their musical heritage.

The clout is set out for modern ‘recreational’ longbows of weights lighter than the famous ‘warbow’-gentlemen at 180yards, ladies at 120 -although many ladies nowadays can easily reach the men’s distance. The central target is a white disk and 4 rings are marked around this at 36in intervals from the central spot on the clout, to score for near misses.


The olders known continuous practice in the Uk is in Kilwinning, Scotland, where it is known as “dinging doon the do”!

It isn’t necessary to have a mast -you can use a tower, steeple or any natural high point – a ‘bird’ or ‘roost’ of birds is fixed at the top, the archer toes the base of the tower and shoots a blunted arrow at this target.

Putting out a ‘roost’ is also possible by setting it out horizontally. (SPTA has a row of plastic ducks set out at 30yards for instance…)|In Europe, particularly Belgium, this is a popular pursuit, and masts can be transportable, being sections made up like pylons and carried on a low-loader. In the UK it is a rarer event, but one which hopefully will increase in popularity.

The recommended height it 90feet, anything less than this a fluflu arrow can reach and is best for safety.

Scoring varies according to target -a ‘roost’ of birds usually has one large bird and several ‘hens’, whereas Kilwinning archers have a single bird with different scores according to which part of the bird is hit.

Speed shooting

The competition: is for the greatest number of arrows shot into a target in one minute.

  1. There shall be no sight or mark on the bow limb Strings may be of natural fibre or “Dacron” Any form of arrow-nock, induding cross-nocks, may be used. Four-fletched arrows may be used.
  2. The bow shall have a minimum draw-weight at the Archer’s normal draw-length of 30 pounds for a man and 25 pounds for a woman. Special classes may be created for heavy bow weights at the discretion of the competition organiser. Juniors at the discretion of the event organiser. (see below).
  3.  At each shot the bow shall be drawn until the fingers touch the face.
  4. The arrows may be kept in a quiver or stuck vertically into the ground near the Archer.
  5. The Archer shall receive no assistance during the contest.
  6. Archers shall shoot for one minute.
  7. At the start of shooting (on a signal agreed in advance) the Archer may have an arrow nocked on to the string but the bow has to be undrawn. Shooting shall cease immediately upon an agreed signal.
  8. Arrows are to be shot singly.
  9. Archers shall shoot from a standing position (particular variations may be permitted in cases of physical disability)
  10. The target face shall be placed centrally on a boss or butt. It shall be circular, of a pale colour, the centre indicated by a clearly contrasting spot of 4 in. diameter. The diameter of the target in inches shall be equal to the number of complete yards in the shooting distance. The minimum shooting distance shall be 15 yards.
  11. Qualifying arrows: An arrow embedded into the scoring area will count towards the total and any arrow whose shaft touches the line demarking the scoring area will also be counted. Arrows already loosed at the time of the ‘stop’ signal shall count toward the score if they qualify.
  12. Arrows which are perceived to bounce back may be counted if positive evidence exists of their having bounced from the target face or from another countable arrow.