Types of Archery

A guide to the different types of archery you might try at your local Archery GB club. There are several disciplines within archery that are recognised and regulated by World Archery - the international federation for archery - including target archery, field archery, 3D archery, flight, clout, para archery and indoor archery.

A guide to the different types of archery you might try at your local Archery GB club

There are several disciplines within archery that are recognised and regulated by World Archery - the international federation for archery - including target archery, field archery, 3D archery, para archery and indoor archery. Your local archery club may practise some or all of these. Many clubs shoot indoor archery during the winter months, before moving outside for target and/or field archery as the weather gets warmer.

Some clubs will practise one specific kind of archery, and if you’re interested in a discipline which is less common you may have to travel further afield. You can even try horseback archery - shooting arrows at targets from horseback - although this is not an Olympic sport and is not regulated by World Archery.

Bowhunting - hunting animals using any kind of bow - is illegal in the UK.

Types of bows

There are four main types of bow that you’ll see in archery - the recurve bow, the compound bow, the longbow and the barebow - and all can be used in the various disciplines, although there are different rules for each.

Recurve bows

The recurve bow is the modern equivalent of the traditional bows that have been made and used for thousands of years, both in the UK and around the world. The recurve bow is the only kind of bow used in Olympic archery. 

Drawing the bow stores energy in the limbs which is transferred to the arrow on release. Arrows can be shot downrange at speeds of more than 200 kph. While historically these bows were handmade from wood, modern recurve bows are built using technically advanced materials such as laminated carbon fibre and carbon foam in the limbs, and aluminium or carbon fibre in the riser (handle).

Recurve bows are fitted with sights and stabilisers to improve your shooting.

Compound bows

Compound bows are designed for maximum efficiency and power. Using a system of pulleys and cables means that less physical strength is needed from the archer and it is easier to hold the bow at full draw. Archers can use magnifying sights and mechanical release aids, making the compound much more accurate from a greater distance than other types of bow.

Compound bow risers can be made of aluminium or carbon fibre and the limbs are usually made from fibreglass. 


Barebow shooting is archery done using a recurve bow, but without stabilisers, sights or any other accessories. Fans of barebow shooting say that starting with barebow is a great foundation for moving on to any other kind of bow, as barebow archers work on consistency of draw length and careful aim. 

Barebow is traditionally used in field archery, but is now recognised in target archery as well. 


The longbow is the most historically accurate and traditional kind of bow in the UK, having been made here by highly skilled bowyers for thousands of years. Nowadays longbows are still made from wood - traditionally they were made from yew but there are more sustainable options such as bamboo. You can even take workshops and classes to make your own bow.

If a bow corresponds to the traditional form of a longbow but is made from any other material it is called an American flatbow. The flatbow can even be made of carbon fibre making it incredibly lightweight.   

Other types of bows

Horse bows are based on the bows used by mounted archers in the Middle East and Asia. They are much shorter in length than the other kinds of bows and have highly recurved limbs. Their shorter length allows them to be used more easily on horseback. 

Crossbows are horizontal bows which use mechanisms to draw and release arrows. They cannot shoot against other bow types in the same competition but crossbowmen and women may compete against each other. 

Target archery

Target archery consists of shooting at stationary circular targets set at specific distances. Target archery uses the yellow, red, blue, black and white targets - the colours having different scores - and in competitions these are usually set at distances of up to 70 metres for recurve archers and 50 metres for compound archers although this can be shorter or longer depending on the round and category you have entered. Barebow and longbow archers also tend to shoot up to distances of 50m and 70m but longbow men can shoot up to 90m in some competitions.  

The earliest known target archery competition was held in Finsbury Park in London, in 1583.

The archery competitions at the Olympic Games, Paralympic Games and some at the World Games use the target archery discipline.

Find out more about target archery

Indoor archery

Indoor archery is target archery when practised indoors - many clubs in the UK will practise indoor archery over the colder months when poor weather conditions would make target archery difficult.

Competitions at international events use smaller versions of the yellow, red, blue, black and white targets, usually set at a distance of 18 metres or 20 yards for recurve, compound, longbow and barebow archers.

Field archery and 3D archery

3D archery consists of shooting at stationary foam targets in the shapes of different animals set at varying distances, heights and angles around a course. The course may be in a forest, or on rough terrain. Each foam animal has scoring rings which denote different scores and between one and three arrows may be shot at each target.

Since 2003, World Archery has organised the World Archery 3D Championships every two years. 

Field archery involves shooting at stationary circular targets of different sizes set at varying distances, heights and angles around a course.

The competition rounds used at international events use a yellow and black target set at distances of between 5 and 60 metres for recurve, compound, longbow and barebow archers.

Find out more about field archery

Disabled archery

Disabled archery is target archery for athletes classified with an impairment.

Competition rounds at international events are the same as the target archery discipline for recurve and compound archers. Para archery recognises open, W1 and visually impaired as competition categories. Para archers might make use of assistive devices, ranging from mouth tabs to custom-release aids or wheelchairs, to level the playing field. Visually impaired archers can use a spotter who assists with scoring, aiming and arrow collection. Classified archers may compete with non-disabled athletes in target archery events using these assistive devices.

Archery was used as a rehabilitation activity at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, which inspired the creation of the Paralympic Games, and has featured on the Paralympic programme since the first edition of the Games in 1960.

Find out more about para archery

Other disciplines in archery

Flight archery involves shooting arrows as far as possible using specialist lightweight arrows. There is no target and flight archery requires a very large, flat space. The all-time record for flight archery is 1222 metres, set by the USA’s Don Brown in 1987. Recurve, longbow and compound bows can all be used in flight archery. 

Ski archery combines cross-country skiing with archery. A recurve bow is used, and athletes ski between the targets. 

Run archery combines cross-country running with archery. A recurve bow is used, and athletes run between the targets. Archery GB recently ran (no pun intended) a run archery pilot consisting of a group of eight archers with shooting taking place over 18 metres. Archers carried their bows around a 400m course, shooting twice, while standing and kneeling. 

Clout archery consists of shooting at long distances towards a large target on the ground marked with flags. A rope is used for scoring and rings may be marked on the ground to assist with this. Clout was used as military training in the Middle Ages as a way to test an archer's accuracy. 

Archery competitions

In target archery, there are two basic types of round shot - metric and imperial. You can choose to shoot whichever round you prefer. It doesn’t matter if you shoot a round listed for a different age group or gender, and adults can shoot a junior round if they wish to (although they may not be eligible for any competition awards). 

What matters is that you’re shooting the round you want to, and that it’s one you’re comfortable with.

Types of competitions Competition Finder

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