Field Archery

Getting outside to practice our skills can often be a challenge for many of us, as all land in England is owned by someone, the places we want to access require us to have the landowners permission and there are often restrictions on the activities we can practice, this is especially relevant for any projectile based tool. In this post I’ll be looking at an option for practicing archery, a passion of mine that began after I made my own bow as part of the Woodland Wayer course. Most landowners (and the law) will take a very dim view of roaming around loosing arrows on their land. For those wanting to practice as close to hunting as legally possible in the UK (bow hunting is illegal in the UK) field archery could be your answer. The title is misleading as it really has very little to do with fields and a lot to do with woodland. Shooting arrows at fixed distant targets (usually in a field) is actually called target archery, whereas field archery actually involves shooting at 2D and 3D targets over a variety of distances, often in woodlands. This means that each shot is a different distance and there are tree’s, bushes, ponds and banks to negotiate in getting that perfect shot. 2D targets are foam boards with pictures attached to them, whereas 3D targets are representations of realistic animals.

A 3D target Image: Andy Wetherell

I stumbled on field archery after I went to a traditional archery shop to buy some wooden arrows for my bow and was invited along to a club shoot to see what it was all about. I caught the bug for it pretty quickly, as field archers tend to be a friendly bunch and often have a good supply of cake and tea available. I now belong to two clubs, as once you have your bow and arrows the costs are pretty low. Longbow Heritage (I mainly shoot an English longbow) costs just £15 a year to be a member and club shoots are £4 a time. As most shoots last all day (you can go round several times) it’s a good value day out. My other club, Company of Sixty costs £50 a year but is open 365 days so I can shoot whenever I want and being close to home means I can get regular practice in. There are events and cubs all over the country, and once you are a full NFAS member (the governing body, which cost £20 a year and provides your insurance) you can shoot at any open, friendly or competition. Clubs also run club shoots which are the same rules but with no pressure to score and allow provisional NFAS members to get experience of field archery (provisional members can only shoot at club events).

So, how does it work? To start with you need to decide on the class you want to shoot in. Having a few lessons with a coach will give you the opportunity to try different bow styles, and work out your draw weight (how heavy a bow you should start with) is well worth doing before buying a bow. There are currently 12 shooting styles in the NFAS, covering everything from primitive bows, modern compound bows and also crossbows. There are specific rules for each class and again the NFAS website has all those details ( The rules also extend to the arrows, as a primitive bow and arrow is not going to have the same performance as a modern compound bow with sights and carbon arrows.   I’d advise having a few lessons with a coach as a club will not let you loose on their course until they know you are competent. Most clubs should have their own coaches and archery shops often offer beginner courses or can point you somewhere that does. The journey to full NFAS membership can take a while; start by joining the NFAS as a provisional member, this will allow you to shoot at a club shoot under supervision. Full membership is not too onerous but in addition to being able to shoot, you need to demonstrate an understanding of the rules for your class, know the NFAS rules and any club rules that apply, which normally means shooting a few friendlies with an experienced archer. Clubs may have their own rules for joining as well.

First arrow inner kill on a 3D target. Image: Andy Wetherell

What’s a shoot like? Well, there are different types of courses but my clubs shoot ‘big game’ (See the NFAS site for more details) in short, there are three pegs for adults, a red, white and blue peg (there are also yellow and orange pegs for younger archers). You get to take one shot from each peg until you hit the target, so if you shoot from the red peg and hit the target on your first shot that’s it and the next person takes their shot. If you miss you move to the next peg and try again until your final shot at the blue peg (there is a different peg order for cubs and juniors). Scoring is done once everyone in your group has shot and depends on where you hit the target. There are several zones on a target, with a kill and inner kill area designated by lines (bases, hooves and horns don’t count) Based on where you hit and with which arrow you will score either 16, 10, 4 (for non-kill area) or 20, 14 or 8 (for kill shots). There is an inner kill of 24 on some targets which you must hit on your first arrow to score (not all clubs use this). There are also more complicated shots like ‘predator & prey’ where you need to shoot the predator first before taking a shot at the prey.  The clubs that I belong to have courses of twenty targets, so shooting a course takes over an hour depending on the size of your group, how many arrows you need to look for and how much talking your group does. Targets do have a backstop to catch missed shots but often you can miss these as well and it takes a bit of time to find that wayward arrow. Longbow Heritage lays a new course for most events and Company of sixty has four permanent courses (targets are changed regularly by dedicated course layers) to keep things interesting.

If all that sounds like your thing, then why not make your own bow at one of our bow making courses and have a go at field archery; field archers love to talk about bows and who doesn’t like a hot brew and some cake in the woods.

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