Handicaps can be viewed as a measurement of precision which can indicate your consistency over time across different rounds.
At its most simple, a handicap can be viewed as a measure of precision (i.e. group size or consistency). The smaller the handicap, the smaller the group and the better the score.
A perfect archer can shoot an identical shot every time to hit the spider or ‘x’ at the centre of the target. In reality, however, no archer is perfect and our rounds have imperfections due to variation in technique from shot to shot, the point of release as the sight floats, etc. Each arrow follows a slightly different path to the target. The spread of the arrows as they leave the bow translates directly to the size of the group down range and hence the score. The more skilled an archer is, the smaller the variation from the perfect shot and the smaller the group.
We assign a number to measure the amount of variation as the arrows leave the bow - this is the handicap. By tracking where the arrows land on a particular target face at a given distance, we can then calculate the expected score.
The best-known use of handicaps is to compare performance across different rounds. As there are a variety of different rounds each requiring a different number of arrows shot, it can be difficult to know how a score on one distance compares to a score on another.
Since handicaps represent an absolute measure of precision, all the scores corresponding to a single handicap represent a consistent level of performance. The Archery GB classification scheme uses this approach. Each bowstyle and classification level is assigned a specific handicap, and qualifying scores for each round are calculated from this.
Handicaps can help you track your progress. Whilst the classifications and other badge schemes provide a number of milestones on your archery journey, it can take some time to progress between each one. Handicaps are closer together so you can continue seeing progress, even if you don’t get any new badges.
Using the approach we just described, tables have been produced that show the each handicap and corresponding score for many different rounds. If you shoot a certain score on a certain round you can look up the handicap that corresponds to that score. Once you have shot three scores your handicaps are averaged to provide a starting value.
Each time you shoots a better score, the corresponding handicap is calculated. The reason we don’t use scores that are worse is to maintain a true representation of your ability and avoid adverse effects such as bad weather impacting the value.
At the end of the seasons (31 December for outdoors, 31 June for indoors), your three best handicaps from scores made during that season are averaged together. This provides the starting handicap for you for the following season.
These days many clubs and archers use software tools to record and update their handicap. Full guidelines for Records Officers can be found in the Shooting and Administrative Procedures (SAP 9).
You can find the official handicap and classification tables and a tool to calculate handicap and classifications for a given score on our website. Many people also make use of third-party online tables, calculators or score tracking apps for calculating their handicaps and classifications. Whilst it may take some time for all of these to become up-to-date with the new schemes, these two online calculators already support the new tables: Archery Calculator and Archery Geekery.