​Beginners Guide to Target Archery

Unleash your inner Katniss or Legolas, and have try something new with archery. Discover more about the sport and how you can get involved...

What is archery?

Archery is a sport in which the participants shoot arrows from a bow into a target. The face of the target is divided into scoring zones, usually by concentric circles of different colours.  The amount the arrow scores increases the closer it lands to the centre of the target. In archery competitions, the archers will shoot a set number of arrows at targets set out at a number of different distances. 

The winner is the one that has the highest score by the end. You don't have to compete to take part in archery - many archers shoot only for fun or to challenge themselves, get outside in the fresh air and have some gentle exercise. It is a very social sport, and most archery clubs will have a wide range of abilities, genders and ages in their membership.

Longbow arrow in flight - Image: Andy Sollars

Longbow arrow in flight - Image: Andy Sollars


The bow and arrow pre-date the written word, so it is impossible to know when the first archers decided to have a competition but it is easy to imagine archery competitions being part of the training for archers in the ancient armies of Persia, Egypt, Greece and Rome. Although the bow and arrow has never fallen totally out of use in Britain since it's medieval heyday, the modern sport as we know it was popularised by the Victorians as a suitable sporting pastime for both gentlemen and ladies to take part in. They set up the Grand National Archery Association (GNAS) in 1861 which devised the first rules of competition. Today, the Grand National Archery Association is still the governing body for target archery, under the name of Archery GB.

Archery GB provide support and advice to clubs, set standards for safety, offer training courses for coaches, promote the sport and also look after our Olympic, Para-Olympic and World Championship squads. At any one time there are an estimated 40,000 plus archers registered with Archery GB alone. Those early GNAS members shot a version of the famous 'longbow' and it is still very popular today, and is one of the four most commonly used types of bow. The most common is the recurve freestyle bow which is the modern version of the long bow and the type used in the Olympics and World Championships. 

Archers can use a sight and the strange rods that you can see sticking out all over the bows in the photograph below are stabilisers that help to keep the bow steady. The other two types are the recurve barebow – same as the freestyle but archers shooting these bows are not allowed to use a sight or stabilisers - and the final type is the compound bow. These have wheels, called cams, at either end that act as a pulley system to take the weight of the bow as the archer pulls back the string. These are capable of great accuracy and are shot in the Para-Olympics and World Championships.

Getting into archery

Archery is now a very common offering at activity centres, holiday parks and as corporate team building events. If you are thinking of taking up target archery as a more regular way to get outside, it is essential that you do a Beginners Course run by a club affiliated to Archery GB. Modern bows are every bit as powerful, if not more so, than their historic predecessors so learning to shoot safely, both for yourself and those around you, is imperative and that can only really be done on a proper archery range, under the supervision of suitably qualified coaches.

Longbow Archer - Image: Andy Sollars

Longbow Archer - Image: Andy Sollars

You can find clubs in your area through Archery GB's club finder tool . Clubs typically provide all the equipment as well as the instruction for the course. Some may let you continue to use the equipment for a short while after the course until you decide what type of bow you want to use, and will be able to offer advice on equipment suitable for you if and when you come to buy your own kit. Many clubs also offer access and facilities for the disabled or those with some kind of impairment or level of fitness that might restrict their ability to undertake other types of sport. You can find out more about wheelchair archery from the British Wheelchair Archery Association.