Arrows have come a long way
Posted In Arrows on Sunday, November 18th 2018

Northeast Outdoor Experience Staff


The most common form of arrow consists of a shaft with an arrowhead attached to the front end and with fletching and a nock attached to the other end. Shafts are typically composed of solid wood, fiberglass, aluminum alloy, carbon fiber, or composite materials. Wooden arrows are prone to warping. Fiberglass arrows are brittle, but can be produced to uniform specifications easily. Aluminum shafts were a very popular high-performance choice in the latter half of the 20th century due to their straightness, lighter weight, and subsequently higher speed and flatter trajectories. Carbon fiber arrows became popular in the 1990s and are very light, flying even faster and flatter than aluminum arrows. Today, arrows made up of composite materials are the most popular tournament arrows at Olympic Events, especially the Easton X10 and A/C/E.

The arrowhead is the primary functional component of the arrow. Some arrows may simply use a sharpened tip of the solid shaft, but it is far more common for separate arrowheads to be made, usually from metal, stone, or other hard materials. The most commonly used forms are target points, field points, and broadheads, although there are also other types, such as bodkin, judo, and blunt heads.


Shield cut straight fletching – here the hen feathers are barred red

Fletching is traditionally made from bird feathers. Also solid plastic vanes and thin sheet like spin vanes are used. They are attached near the nock (rear) end of the arrow with thin double sided tape, glue, or, traditionally, sinew. Three fletches is the most common configuration in all cultures, though as many as six have been used. Two will result in unstable arrow flight. When three-fletched the fletches are equally spaced around the shaft with one placed such that it is perpendicular to the bow when nocked on the string (though with modern equipment, variations are seen especially when using the modern spin vanes). This fletch is called the "index fletch" or "cock feather" (also known as "the odd vane out" or "the nocking vane") and the others are sometimes called the "hen feathers". Commonly, the cock feather is of a different color. Traditionally, the hens are solid and the cock is barred. However, if archers are using fletching made of feather or similar material, they may use same color vanes, as different dyes can give varying stiffness to vanes, resulting in less precision. When four-fletched, often two opposing fletches are cock feathers and occasionally the fletches are not evenly spaced.

The fletching may be either parabolic (short feathers in a smooth parabolic curve) or shield (generally shaped like half of a narrow shield) cut and is often attached at an angle, known as helical fletching, to introduce a stabilizing spin to the arrow while in flight. Whether helicial or straight fletched, when natural fletching (bird feathers) are used it is critical that all feathers come from the same side of the bird. Oversized fletching can be used to accentuate drag and thus limit the range of the arrow significantly; these arrows are called flu-flus. Misplacement of fletching can often change the arrow's flight path dramatically.

Bow string

Dacron and other modern materials offer high strength for their weight and are used on most modern bows. Linen and other traditional materials are still used on traditional bows. Almost any fiber can be made into a bow string. The author of "Arab Archery" suggests the hide of a young, emaciated camel. Njál's saga describes the refusal of a wife, Hallgerður, to cut her hair in order to make an emergency bowstring for her husband, Gunnar Hámundarson, who is then killed.

Protective equipment

Finger tab


The traditional bonnet of the Kilwinning Archers of Scotland.

Most archers wear a bracer (also known as an arm-guard) to protect the inside of the bow arm from being hit by the string and prevent clothing from catching the bow string. The bracer does not brace the arm; the word comes from the armory term "brassard", meaning an armored sleeve or badge. The Navajo people have developed highly-ornamented bracers as non-functional items of adornment. Some archers (mostly women) also wear protection on their chests, called chest guards or plastrons. The Amazon myth is that they had one breast removed to solve this problem. Roger Ascham mentions one archer, presumably with an unusual shooting style, who wore a leather guard for his face.

The drawing digits are normally protected by a leather tab, glove, or thumb ring. A simple tab of leather is commonly used, as is a skeleton glove. Medieval Europeans probably used a complete leather glove.

Eurasiatic archers who used the thumb or Mongolian draw protected their thumbs, usually with leather according to the author of Arab Archery, but also with special rings of various hard materials. Many surviving Turkish and Chinese examples are works of considerable art. Some are so highly ornamented that the users could not have used them to loose an arrow. Possibly these were items of personal adornment, and hence value, remaining extant whilst leather had virtually no intrinsic value and would also deteriorate with time. In traditional Japanese archery a special glove is used, provided with a ridge which is used to draw the string.

Release aids

Archers using compound bows usually use a release aid to hold the string and release it precisely. This attaches to the bowstring just below the nocking point or at the D loop and permits the archer to release the string by the use of some form of trigger. When such a device was first invented (patent filed in USA, 1879) it was known as a "clutch". The trigger may be an actual trigger lever which is depressed by a finger or thumb (positive),or held then released (negative) but there are numerous types. Hydraulic and mechanical time delay triggers have been used, as have "back tension" triggers which are operated by either a change in the position of the release or "true back tension"; that is to say the release triggers when a pre-determined draw weight is reached.

A mechanical release (the use of the word "aid" can be omitted when context is appropriate) permits a single point of contact on the string instead of three fingers. This allows less deformity in the string at full draw, as well as providing a more consistent release. This is primarily because the most successful types operate with positive pressure, whereas the conventional 'fingers' release is negative. The mental process of applying positive pressure tends to assist the archer to hold positive form overall, negative can lead to further negative effects.

The mechanical release holds the string by retaining it by some form of gate or loop of cord. The gate or cord is released by operation of the trigger, allowing the string to push open the gate or cord. Consequently, any sideways movement of the string, and hence arrow nock, is likely to be less than if fingers were used. It therefore follows that flexing of the arrow shaft during acceleration is going to be different from a finger release. Therefore "arrow / bow / archer" matching will be different.

In Central Asia and the Middle East, thumb rings were used for string retention and release. The correct use of a thumbing potentially makes the release more "clean" compared to the three finger method. The arrow must be positioned on the other side of the bow, to properly use a thumbing, to allow the "archers’ paradox" to work, since the thumb opens in the opposite direction to the fingers



This is a general term for various types of weights, usually on rods, mounted on the bow to increase stability i.e. lessen movement on release, thereby increasing accuracy. A typical assortment may be seen in the picture of a tournament in West Germany, at the head of this article. [Note that if the shooting technique of the archer were perfect, then, with everything else remaining constant, no stabilizers would be required] It is the inconsistencies of the archer that stabilizers can help to reduce.] All bodies have inertia, and it is static inertia that bow-weights "use", which means that they resist movement. Consequently, on the application of any force on the bow, e.g. 1) muscular force, whether voluntary or involuntary: 2) the reaction of the bow to the acceleration of the bow limbs, string and arrow: 3) the further reaction of the bow as the string becomes taut and the arrow flies free: the actual physical movement of the bow centre section will be less with the addition of weights than it would have been without. Clearly, the forces acting on the centre section are potentially the same on any shot, and by increasing the static inertia, movement will be reduced. Accuracy comes from repeatability. The reduction of inadvertent movements enhances repeatability. The various types of stabilizers are each designed to minimize a particular direction of movement. It should be noted that these "movements" are those that may occur between the instant of true aim/string release, and the arrow flying free: not "follow-through" and similar activities, these merely indicate what went before. All weight added to the centre section will reduce trembling or shake during the aim, but energy to hold the bow against gravity will obviously increase. Also, the addition of weight will change the shooting characteristics and matching of the arrows to the bow. The successful addition of stabilizers can only be achieved by actual testing and accuracy grouping.

Long-Rod or Poker Stabilizer

Usually fitted into the centre section in-line with the bow arm, or just below the hand position. The addition of this weight projects the centre of gravity (C of G) of the bow forwards, with the result that, firstly, "torque" effect (sideways twisting of the bow-hand) movement is reduced. Since, at full draw, the bow cannot twist, as the string is (in theory) preventing such action, the effect is only apparent on string release. Hence, the bow centre section turns to some degree on release, the arrow being directed to either the left or right. But, with the forward C of G, the effect is reduced. Similarly, "topping" (upwards) or "heeling" (downwards) inconsistences of the bow-hand are reduced. Secondly, with actual movement of the bow-hand sideways, up, down, or any combination, because the C of G is in front of the hand, the bow will turn in the opposite direction, to correct, to some degree, the archer's error. Further, an effect that does not actually give enhanced accuracy, except in the mind of the archer, is the pleasing "forward roll" of the bow, as part of the follow-through, with a relaxed bow-hand and forward C of G.

Twin or Limb Stabilizers

Fitted above and below the bow-hand, normally close to where the limbs meet the centre section, these have similar effects to the single long-rod, but also have a third effect. Because of their positioning, the twin weights also resist rotation instigated by a bow-hand error. If this error were not reduced, left or right shots would occur, because the aiming of the arrow takes gravity into account to gauge the trajectory. Consequently, with perfect aim, if the bow rotates on release, the effect will be the same as not holding the bow vertically, i.e. left or right. Similarly to the long-rod, a "forward roll" will be induced on release and, in addition, because the twin stabilizers are positioned at the base of the limbs, depending on the rigidity of the mounts, some vibration may be damped, giving a smoother feel to the shot.


Reverse or Counterbalance Stabilizers

Fitted usually below the bow-hand on the centre section, because they point back towards the archer, they bring the C of G backwards. Consequently, they are typically used in conjunction with a long-rod stabilizer, the long-rod having sufficient turning moment to exceed the negative effect of the reverse weights, and so keep the forward roll of the bow on release, this being generally accepted as a desirable feature. Hence, the forward C of G effect will not be as great, but, because the reverse weight or weights are extended horizontally from the vertical centre section, their effect is to reduce vertical turning caused by bow-hand torque. This is, of course, in addition to any long-rod stabilizer anti-torque effect.

Use and Summary

Consider the bow as being potentially on a pivot at the pressure point of the bow-hand. If the archer applies inadvertent pressure off centre of the pressure point, then inadvertent movement of the bow will result, with loss of accuracy. By careful study of the bow's movement, the appropriate positioning and addition of weight(s) may be tried, to reduce errors, although prevention is better than cure.

Further, various types of mount have been used, to allow some degree of flexure between the bow and the stabilizer weight. Similarly, the weight may be on an extension rod that may flex in itself. The object of the exercise should be kept in mind, and that object is to reduce bow inadvertent movement. Any flexure will allow some movement of the bow, without similar movement of the weight, hence lessening the weight inertia. However, many archers have found an apparent improvement in their accuracy with the use of flex / mounts. The weight in hand remains unchanged, and so may contribute to steadiness of aim. Also, the flexing gives a "rubbery" feeling, as though the bow wants to remain steady on aim. Consequently, it may be that such effect helps the archer's feeling of confidence on the shot, thereby contributing to accuracy.


Shooting technique and form

The bow is held in the hand opposite to the archer's dominant eye, though holding the bow in the dominant hand side is advocated by some. This hand is referred to as the bow hand and its arm the bow arm. The opposite hand is called the drawing hand or string hand. Terms such as bow shoulder or string elbow follow the same convention. Right-eye-dominant archers hold the bow with their left hand, have their left side facing the target, sight towards the target with their right eye and handle the arrow and string with their right hand.



Modern form

To shoot an arrow, an archer first assumes the correct stance. The body should be perpendicular to the target and the shooting line, with the feet placed shoulder-width apart. As an archer progresses from beginner to a more advanced level an "open stance" is used/developed. Each archer will have a particular preference but mostly this term indicates that the leg furthest from the shooting line will be a half to a whole foot-length in front of the other, on the ground.

To load, the bow is pointed toward the ground and the shaft of the arrow is placed on an arrow rest which is attached in the bow window. The back of the arrow is attached to the bowstring with the nock (a small plastic component which is typified by a "v" groove for this purpose). This is called "nocking the arrow". As said above, typical arrows with three vanes should be oriented such that a single vane, the "cock feather" is pointing away from the bow.

The bowstring and arrow are held with three fingers. When using a sight, the index finger is placed above the arrow and the next two fingers below. Instinctive shooting is a technique eschewing sights and is often preferred by traditional archers (shooters of longbows and recurves). In either case the string is usually placed in either the first or second joint of the fingers.

The bow is then raised and drawn. This is often one fluid motion which tends to vary from archer to archer. The string hand is drawn towards the face, where it should rest lightly at an anchor point. This point is consistent from shot to shot and is usually at the corner of the mouth or on the chin. The bow arm is held outwards toward the target. The elbow of this arm should be rotated so that the inner elbow is perpendicular to the ground, though archers with hyper extendable elbows tend to angle the inner elbow toward the ground as exemplified by the Korean archer Jang Yong-Ho.

In proper form, the archer stands erect, forming a "T". The archer's lower trapezius muscles are used to pull the arrow to the anchor point. Some bows will be equipped with a mechanical device, called a clicker, which produces a clicking sound when the archer reaches the correct draw length.

The arrow is typically released by relaxing the fingers of the drawing hand (see Bow draw). Usually this type of release aims to keep the drawing arm rigid and move it back using the back muscles, as opposed to using arm motion. An archer should also pay attention to the recoil or follow through of his or her body, as it may indicate problems with form (technique).




Aiming methods

There are two main forms of aiming in archery: using a mechanical or fixed sight or barebow. Barebow aiming methods include Gap, Split Vision, Point of Aim, String Walking, Face Walking and Instinctive Aiming.

Mechanical sights can be affixed to the bow to aid in aiming. They can be as simple as a pin or optical with magnification. They usually also have a peep sight (rear sight) built into the string which aids in a consistent anchor point. Modern compound bows automatically limit the draw length which gives a consistent arrow velocity while traditional bows allow great variation in draw length. Mechanical methods to make a traditional bow's draw length consistent are sometimes used. Instinctive archers use a sight picture which includes the target, the bow, the hand, the arrow shaft and the arrow tip, as seen at the same time by the archer. With a fixed "anchor point" (where the string is brought to, or close to, the face), and a fully extended bow arm, successive shots taken with the sight picture in the same position will fall on the same point. This allows the archer to adjust aim with successive shots in order to achieve accuracy. A fixed anchor point cannot be used with short bows, which by definition do not allow a full draw. Modern archery equipment usually includes sights. Instinctive aiming is used by many archers who use traditional bows. The two most common forms of a non-mechanical release are split-finger and three-under. Split-finger aiming requires the archer to place the index finger above the nocked arrow, while the middle and ring fingers are both placed below. Three-under aiming places the index, middle, and ring fingers under the nocked arrow. This technique allows the archer to better look down the arrow since the back of the arrow is closer to the dominant eye, and is commonly called "gun barreling" (referring to common aiming techniques used with firearms).

When using shortbows, or shooting from horseback, it is difficult to use the sight picture. The archer may look at the target but without including the weapon in the field of accurate view. Aiming involves a similar sort of hand/eye coordination which includes proprioception and motor/muscle memory between the mind/body connection that is used when throwing a baseball or shooting a basketball. With sufficient practice, such archers can normally achieve good practical accuracy for hunting or for war.  Aiming without a sight picture may allow more rapid shooting.

Currently Instinctive shooting is a term used to describe a style of shooting that includes the barebow aiming method that relies heavily upon the subconscious mind, proprioception and motor/muscle memory to make aiming adjustments while years ago the term was used to generalize and/or categorize those archers who did not use a mechanical or fixed sight.




When a projectile is thrown by hand, the speed of the projectile is determined by the kinetic energy imparted by the thrower's muscles performing work. However, the energy must be imparted over a limited distance (determined by arm length) and therefore (because the projectile is accelerating) over a limited time, so the limiting factor is not work but rather power, which determined how much energy can be added in the limited time available. Power generated by muscles, however, is limited by Force-velocity relationship, and even at the optimal contraction speed for power production, total work done by the muscle will be less than half of what could be done if the muscle were contracting over the same distance at very slow speeds, resulting in less than 1/4 the projectile launch velocity possible without the limitations of the Force-velocity relationship.

When a bow is used, the muscles are able to perform work much more slowly, resulting in greater force and greater work done. This work is stored in the bow as elastic potential energy, and when the bowstring is released, this stored energy is imparted to the arrow much more quickly than can be delivered by the muscles, resulting in much higher velocity and, hence, greater distance. This same process is employed by frogs which use elastic tendons to increase jumping distance. In archery, some energy is dissipated through elastic hysteresis, reducing the overall amount released when the bow is shot. Of the energy remaining, some is dampened both by the limbs of the bow and the bowstring. Depending on the elasticity of the arrow, some of the energy is also absorbed by compressing the arrow, primarily because the release of the bowstring is rarely in line with the arrow shaft, causing it to 'flex out' to one side.

This is because the bowstring accelerates faster than the archer's fingers can open, and consequently some sideways motion is imparted to the string, and hence arrow nock, as the power and speed of the bow pulls the string off the opening fingers. Even with a release aid mechanism some of this effect will usually be experienced, since the string always accelerates faster than the retaining part of the mechanism. This results in an in-flight oscillation of the arrow in which its center flexes out to one side and then the other repeatedly, gradually reducing as the arrow's flight proceeds; this can be clearly seen in high-speed photography of an arrow at discharge.

Modern arrows are made to a specified 'spine', or stiffness rating, to maintain matched flexing and hence accuracy of aim. This flexing can be a desirable feature, since, when the spine of the shaft is matched to the acceleration of the bow(string), the arrow bends or flexes around the bow and any arrow-rest, and consequently the arrow, and fletching, have an un-impeded flight. This feature is known as the archer's paradox. It maintains accuracy, for if part of the arrow struck a glancing blow on discharge, some inconsistency would be present, and the excellent accuracy of modern equipment would not be achieved.

The accurate flight of an arrow is dependent on its fletching. The arrow's manufacturer (a "fletcher") can arrange fletching to cause the arrow to rotate along its axis. This improves accuracy by evening pressure buildups that would otherwise cause the arrow to "plane" on the air in a random direction after shooting. Even though the arrow is made with extreme care, the slightest imperfection, or air movement, will cause some unbalanced turbulence in air flow. Consequently, rotation creates an equaling of such turbulence, which, overall, maintains the intended direction of flight i.e. accuracy. This rotation is not to be confused with the rapid gyroscopic rotation of a rifle bullet. If the fletching is not arranged to induce rotation, it will still improve accuracy by causing a restoring drag any time the arrow tilts away from its intended direction of travel.

The innovative aspect of the invention of the bow and arrow was the amount of power delivered to an extremely small area by the arrow. The huge ratio of length vs. cross sectional area coupled with velocity made the arrow orders of magnitude more powerful than any other hand held weapon until firearms were invented. Arrows may be designed to spread or concentrate force, depending on their applications. Practice arrows, for instance, can use a blunt tip that spreads the force over a wider area to reduce the risk of injury or limit penetration. Arrows designed to pierce armor in the Middle Ages would use a very narrow and sharp tip ("bodkinhead") to concentrate the force. Arrows used for hunting would use a narrow tip ("broadhead") that widens further, to facilitate both penetration and a large wound.


Using archery to take game animals is known as bowhunting. Bowhunting differs markedly from hunting with firearms as the distances between the hunter and the game are much shorter in order to ensure a humane kill. The skills and practices of bowhunting therefore emphasize very close approach to the prey, whether by still hunting, stalking, or waiting in a blind or tree stand. In many countries, including much of the United States, bowhunting for large and small game is legal. Bowhunters generally enjoy longer seasons than are allowed with other forms of hunting such as black powder, shotgun, or rifle. Usually, compound bows are used for large game hunting and may feature fiber optic sights and other enhancements. Using a bow and arrow to take fish is known as bowfishing.

Modern competitive archery

Competitive archery involves shooting arrows at a target for accuracy from a set distance or distances. This is the most popular form of competitive archery worldwide and is called target archery. A form particularly popular in Europe and America is field archery, shot at targets generally set at various distances in a wooded setting. Para-Archery is an adaptation of archery for athletes with a disability. It is governed by the International Archery Federation (FITA), and is one of the sports in the Summer Paralympic Games. There are also several other lesser-known and historical forms of archery, as well as archery novelty games.

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