Archery is descended from the use of the bow and arrow for military and hunting. It is known to be at least 5000 years old and possibly much older. Organized archery competitions date from no later than 1583 in England, not long before bows were superseded by firearms in war. Archery has been an Olympic sport since 1900 (with some interruptions).
There are two classical traditions in archery, the occidental, and oriental. They are not similar at all. The oriental tradition has a more powerful technique. Archery bows usually have two working limbs but compound bows have been made with only one limb (and eccentric pulleys on the opposite side of the riser (handle)). Symmetrical bows are easier to make and use but many cultures have nonetheless developed asymmetrical bows. The projectiles shot by bows are arrows.
A standard archery target has five colored rings each divided in two bands. Each band of the target has the same width. The central two bands (bullseye, 10 points) and the ring valued at 9 points are yellow. The next two bands from the center out (7, 8) are red. The 6 and 5 rings are blue; the 3 and the 4 are white and the lowest, outer bands are black. When counting points, an arrow shaft that breaks the line dividing two zones is counted as being in the higher zone.
Most archery competitions have the archers firing rounds of three arrows, collecting their arrows and summing points at the end of each round.
Occidental archery uses a wooden bow that resembles a straight staff. To prevent damage to the bow from shrinking bowstrings and to prevent "memory" in the wood, the bow is unstrung when not in use. The occidental bow is made from yew, but can also be made from willow or lemon wood. The ends of the bow are notched to hold a bowstring. A handle is wrapped around the center, usually leather or cord (classically, a spare bowstring). The occidental bowstring is linen, waxed with beeswax to keep it from absorbing water and changing length.
The occidental arrow is straight, constructed of beech or boxwood, relatively rigid, fletched with three fin-like feathers, and painted with colored rings to show its owner. Hunting is with knife-like broadheads. Archers in a war used chisel-points to penetrate armor. Soft brass-headed practice arrows were developed in England so yeomen could practice more innocuously, without any possibility of being thought highwaymen or insurgents (chisel points) or poachers (broadheads).
Occidental points are bronze, brass or steel. The occidental archer holds the bow extended with the weak hand. and holds the string with the index and middle finger of his strong hand. He protects the strong hand's fingers from the bowstring with a square of leather or a half-glove called a tab.
The bowstring can hit the extended weak arm quite painfully, so this arm is protected with leather strips or a partial gauntlet called a brace. The most powerful and effective occidental archers were probably the English and Welsh using longbows. They made a national sport of training.
Oriental (Asian) Archery There are many different types of bows that were used in Asia, though many have similar materials and characteristics. The bow most often associated with Asian archery is the horn bow. The hunting bow belonging to Odysseus described by Homer in book XXI of the Odyssey is a composite recurve bow. Such a bow has a core of some type of wood (usually bamboo), was backed with sinew, had a strip of horn on the belly, spliced ears of some type of wood, with everything held together with an animal glue, especially a fish air bladder type (from the brown croaker, predominantly).
The oriental arrow is long, slender, and flexible, usually made from bamboo (see http://www.bambooarrow.com ). It visibly ripples around the bow when shot. The arrows are identified by calligraphy on the fletching. One form of fletching is small, thin, and fluffy, and either trail behind the arrow or flatten when shot. Some traditions (notably Kyudo) fletch arrows from one wing or the other of a bird, so the arrows spin in particular directions. Such an archer will learn to shoot "handed" arrows (Ya) in a particular sequence. Traditional premium fletchings are made from warlike birds such as eagles and hawks. Modern fletchings are from non-endangered species such as turkeys and chickens.
Hunting points are traditionally broadheads chipped from flint or volcanic glass, to assure that they cannot be used by insurgents against armored soldiers. Practice is with hunting points. War arrows use iron chisel points, and iron was a state monopoly of China for most of Asia's history.
The most common oriental school of archers starts a bowshot by holding the bow clasped to the chest, arrow point slightly up. Both arms are extended, the weak up, and toward the target, the strong arm back and away from the target. The bow and arrow are drawn down into a line with both arms locked on opposite sides of the body, but the elbow of the strong arm is permitted to flex.
The bowstring and fletchings are held behind one's head. The arrow is held at the first joint of the strong-arm's thumb, and the string rests on a thumbring (mongol) or a slot at the base of a gauntlet's thumb (Japanese tsuri), so it does not hurt the thumb. A headband may be worn to keep the bowstring from hurting one's ear or head. Thick, loose clothing, usually a gi, protects the arms and chest from the bowstring at release.
The soft fletching and flexible shaft cause less damage if they hit. Professional soldiers wore leather gauntlets, chest armor and helmets with flared ridges to protect against the bowstring. The most powerful and effective oriental archers were probably the Mongols, who trained from childhood and shot from horseback.
The longbow was used in the Middle Ages both for hunting and as a weapon of war and reached its zenith of perfection as a weapon in the hands of English and Welsh archers. The longbow was first recorded as being used by the Welsh in 633 C.E., when Offrid, the son of Edwin, king of Northumbria, was killed by an arrow shot from a Welsh longbow during a battle between the Welsh and the Mercians -- more than five centuries before any record of its military use in England.
Longbows were difficult to master because the draw-weight often exceeded 50kg. Considerable practice was required to produce the swift and effective fire combat required. Skeletons of longbow archers are recognizably deformed, with enlarged left arms, and often bone spurs on left wrists, left shoulders and right fingers. The longbow decided a number of medieval battles fought by the English, the most significant of which being the Battle of Crecy and later the Battle of Agincourt during the Hundred Years' War.
A variant (bow-staves) was used by 14th century mercenary troops of Sir John Hawkwood. Longbows were used until around the 16th century, when gunpowder began to be used, and such units as arquebusiers and grenadiers began appearing. Because a longbow is a long-range weapon, the bowmen were rather defenseless at close ranges (where units such as knights were more effective). So, they usually put physical barricades, such as stakes and poles driven in the ground, to attempt to mire the enemy forces (namely, cavalry and infantry), so they could systematically destroy them. Also, because they had an advantage over the slower-shooting, closer-ranged crossbowmen and traditional archers, they were generally the main core of the long-range infantry troops of any military force that used them. The main formation used was generally this:
Light Infantry (such as swordsmen) were in the center forward, in rank formation. Heavy Infantry (such as pikemen) were in the center middle, in rank or square formation. Traditional Archers and Crossbowmen were in the center back, in rank formation. Cavalry were either on the flanks (to protect against attacks), or deployed in the center to counter any breakthroughs and such.
The longbowmen were usually on the side, in an enfilade formation, rather like this: ___ / , with the middle being occupied by melee troops. A skillful general would alternate flights of arrows with cavalry charges, sometimes alternating flank attacks to induce shock and fear in the enemy. The arrows were used as mass bombardment, not as sniper weapons until the enemy got quite close. To penetrate light armor, war arrows had "chisel" (or bodkin) heads, not hunting broad-heads.
In peace-time, in some regions, carrying chisel points was a hanging offense, because it was thought to threaten noblemen, or they were taken as evidence that one was a highwayman. The importance of the longbow in medieval English culture can be seen in the legends of Robin Hood and in the "Song of the Bow," a poem from The White Company by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Recurve bow A recurve bow is a bow that, in contrast to the simple bow longbow, has ends that curve away from the archer when the bow is held in shooting position. An unstrung recurve bow can have a confusing shape and many north American aboriginal (Indian) weapons were incorrectly strung and destroyed when attempts were made to fire them.
The recurve shape in effect can reduce loading at full draw (let-off) and will impart more energy to the arrow than a longbow of similar top draw weight. A recurve will permit a shorter bow than the simple bow for a given arrow energy and this form was preferred by archers who were forced into environments where long weapons could be cumbersome, brush and forest, on horseback, etc.
In medieval Europe, it was common for upper-class families to claim the sole rights to hunt in certain areas of territory. Game in these areas was certainly used as a source of food and furs, often provided via professional huntsmen; but it was also expected to provide a form of recreation for the aristocracy. The importance of this proprietary view of game can be seen in the Robin Hood legends, in which one of the primary charges against the outlaws is that they "hunt the King's deer".
In later times, this aristocratic type of hunting lost its roots as a source of food and supplies, while retaining its nature as a sport. The practice of English fox hunting is a case in point; the fox is not eaten, and the skin is rarely preserved in any usable form. Fox hunting originally developed as a means of vermin control to protect livestock. In Victorian times it also became a popular sport of the upper classes. It now attracts followers from all walks of life.
In the 1800s European hunters often pursued game only for a trophy, usually the head or pelt of an animal, to be displayed as a sign of prowess. The rest of the animal was often wasted. Hunting in North America in the 1800s was was done primarily as a way to supplement food supplies. The safari method of hunting was a development of sport hunting that saw elaborate travel in Africa, India and other places in pursuit of trophies. In modern times, trophy hunting persists, but is frowned upon when it involves rare or endangered species of animal. Other people also object to trophy hunting in general because it is seen as a senseless act of killing another living being for fun.