Glossary of Archery Terminology

Anchor Point

The point you bring your hand to when you draw the bow string. For most archers this is somewhere near the corner of their mouth or on their chin. It may also be the nose. By always drawing the arrow and bowstring until your hand touches your anchor point, you can keep your shots consistent. Additionally, it lets you hold the string drawn while you aim without accidentally relaxing the draw. As long as your hand is touching your anchor point, you know you’re still at full draw.

Arbalest

A type of French crossbow used for battle in Western Europe in the 12th Century. Its steel limbs provided a lot of power, nearly 5,000 pounds of force. This meant they had to be drawn with a kind of crank known as a windlass.

Archer

Someone who practices archery. This may refer to a regular hobbyist or professional of the sport, or it could simply refer to someone who is using a bow and arrow in the moment. See also, bowman.

Archer’s Paradox

The Archer’s paradox lies in the fact that an arrow will usually fly in the direction the bow is pointed despite the fact that the bow itself is actually in the way. In other words, if an arrow rests to the left of the riser, the arrow should logically move to the left rather than straight relative to the bow and bowstring. However, this is not the case.

The Archer’s paradox is explained by the flexing of an arrow. As the arrow leaves the bow, it will bend inward toward the bow. Then it will snap back and bend the other way causing it to move back towards the orientation of the bow.  

Archery

The practice of shooting arrows using a bow. Humans have practiced archery for tens of thousands of years in many capacities including hunting, warfare and sport. While the various specialized activities using bows and arrows may have different specific names, archery is an umbrella term that covers them all. Archery may be practiced by professionals, amateurs or even one-time archers.

The Archery Trade Association (ATA)

Formed in Wisconsin in 1953, the Archery Trade Association, once known as the Archery Manufacturers and Merchants Association, is an organization that represents retailers, distributors, sellers, manufacturers or anyone else working in the archery and bowhunting industry. As of 2,000, over 600 companies have membership. The ATA runs the famous ATA Trade Show, the largest archery trade show in the world. They also help fund and organize efforts to promote the sport of archery by working with other national and local organizations.

ATA’s biggest influence on the industry, though, is probably their set of published industry standards and guidelines. These provide rules for bow proportions and how manufacturers must measure and list certain bow specs for consumers. The most common of these is arrow speed. When a manufacturer lists an ATA speed rating, it’s the arrow speed for a 350-grain arrow shot at 70 pounds of draw weight and 30 inches of draw length. Without these standards, arrow speeds and other specs would be impossible to compare.

Since the ATA used to be the AMO, you may still find bows listed with ratings referred to as AMO. For example, “AMO length.”

Arm Guard

A device that protects the forearm from injury or discomfort due to slap from the bowstring. Due to the position of the forward, outstretched arm when holding the bow, the bowstring is likely to hit the archer’s wrist. The string stores a lot of energy, so this can be quite painful. Repeated slaps can seriously irritate or even break the skin. Arm guards come in many shapes from straps over one side of the wrist to sheaths that wrap around the whole arm. They are made from different materials including plastic, leather or synthetic fibers. You may also see arm guards referred to as bracers.

Arrow

The projectile launched from a bow when practicing archery. Arrows come in different shapes and sizes, but most are long and thin with a point that allows the arrow to penetrate whatever your target is. To learn about the parts of the arrow, see arrowhead, fletching, nock, and shaft.

Arrowhead

Arrows end in a point known as an arrowhead. These are almost always separable from the arrow shaft and made of metal or historically stone. This allows them to be sharpened to points that easily puncture targets or game.

While most ancient arrowheads were stone triangles sharpened on every edge, modern arrowheads come in a wide variety of shapes depending on their use. See field point, practice tip, bodkin point, grabbing point, safety point, and broadhead.

Arrow Rest

On a bow, the arrow rest supports the arrow before it’s fired. This keeps the arrow straight as it is drawn and leaves the bow. Basic bows usually have a simple groove or platform carved into the riser or grip of the bow. More complex bows may have drop-away arrow rests that drop away when the arrow is released so that they don’t interfere with the arrow’s flight path.

Arrowsmith

Someone who makes arrows or arrowheads.

Ascham

Where an archer stores their bows and arrows, usually a wooden or metal cabinet.

ATA (Axle-to-Axle)

ATA is a spec you are likely to see on compound bows. It stands for “axle-to-axle” and refers to the length between the axles of the cams at the ends of the limbs. It’s important not to confuse an ATA length rating with the abbreviation for the Archery Trade Association.

Ballista

An ancient Greek weapon, basically a giant crossbow. Multiple men had to operate the weapon to draw the bowstring with a crank. Ballistas were primarily used for siege warfare.

Bodkin Point

Though rarely used in modern times, bodkin points were arrowheads used frequently during Medieval warfare. Unlike standard broadheads, which flared out significantly at the base, bodkin points were much narrower and very long compared to the width. This allowed them to penetrate chainmail much more easily.

Bolt

The projectile fired by a crossbow. They are similar to arrows and consist of the same parts. However, they are usually shorter and heavier. They are sometimes referred to as quarrels. 

Bow

The tool used to launch an arrow when practicing archery. At its simplest, a bow functions like a spring. You pull back a flexible bowstring which simultaneously pulls back the flexible limbs of the bow. These hold tension and store the energy you used to pull it back. When you release the string, this energy is also released. If an arrow is attached to the bowstring, it will launch it at high speeds. 

There are several different kinds of bows. See compound bow, decurve bow, flatbow, longbow, recurve bow, reflex bow, and shortbow. Depending on the type, bows are formed of many different parts. See arrow rest, cam, cable, bowstring, grip, limb, riser, and stave.

Bowfishing

The practice of using a bow and arrow to shoot and catch fish. This often involves a string attached to the arrow so you can pull up the fish.

Bowhunter

Someone who practices bowhunting.

Bowhunting

The practice of using a bow and arrow to hunt some kind of game. This usually involves specialized equipment.  

Bowman

Another term for archer. Though mostly interchangeable, bowman is an older word and can imply combat.

Bowstring

The part of the bow which launches the arrow. It’s a string that connects the end of one limb to the other. Bowstrings must be flexible and capable of holding considerable force and tension. As a result, they were traditionally made of animal sinew or natural fibers like hemp or linen. Today, they’re often made from synthetic fibers.

Bowyer

Someone who makes bows. 

Brace Height

The distance between the bow’s riser or handle and the bowstring. It’s also called the fistmele.

Bracer

See arm guard.

Bracing

The practice of stringing a bow. Because bows hold a lot of tension, it can be difficult to attach the string to both limbs. Specific techniques and tools must be used.

Broadhead

A type of arrowhead that consists of sharpened blades that flare out wider than the shaft of the arrow. They may consist of two blades in the shape of a triangle, three or four blades. 

Because the blades cause considerable damage and do not come out of the target easily, they were historically used in combat and are now primarily for bowhunting. Modern broadheads can also be mechanical. Mechanical broadheads feature blades that retract into the arrowhead itself and only release when the arrow enters a target. This maximizes aerodynamics and speed while still being lethal.

Bullseye

The circle in the very center of an archery target. Hitting the bullseye with an arrow is normally the most difficult shot and gets the archer the maximum number of points.

Butt

A specific kind of range for practicing archery. It features raised mounds of dirt where archers can place their targets.

Button

See plunger.

Cable

Cables are important parts of compound bows. The cam systems on these bows use pulleys to maximize force and energy while minimizing draw weight thereby making the bow easier to draw. The cables may store energy themselves or simply work to keep the cams timed correctly.

Cam

Wheels, usually oval shaped, attached to the limbs of compound bows. These use the mechanical advantage of a pulley system to produce let-off, making a bow easier to draw while still achieving high speeds and power.

Cams normally consist of a small wheel inside a larger wheel. When the bowstring pulls the larger wheel, it transfers the energy to the smaller wheel, which then doesn’t have to move as far. The most basic compound bows have just one cam while the other limb features a simple wheel for timing. More complex bows come in other configurations.

Cast

How far a bow can shoot an arrow.

Clicker

A device that tells the archer when the arrow is at full draw. It attaches to the arrow, but when you draw the arrow, it releases and makes a clicking sound. This lets you know you can now release the arrow.

Clout Archery

A way to practice archery accuracy by shooting at flags called “clouts.” Scoring is determined by how close the arrow lands to the clout.

Cock Feather

The piece of fletching that signals which way to align the arrow with respect to the bowstring. The cock feather is usually a different color than the hen feathers and should be oriented perpendicularly to the bowstring. It’s also called the index feather. 

Composite Bow

A composite bow is a bow made of different materials fused together, such as animal horn and wood. It can also be called a laminated bow.

Compound Bow

A modern type of bow invented in 1966. They take advantage of a pulley system called a cam to store more energy in the bow while needing less effort to draw it. Compound bows tend to have higher arrow speeds and more power than conventional bows.

Crossbow

A weapon similar to a standard bow. The difference is it’s horizontally oriented with a space between the limbs that allows the bolt to be launched. The bowstring is also held in place by a cocking mechanism instead of the archer themselves. The archer then releases the bolt with a trigger. Crossbows are usually much more powerful than vertical bows, but they are also more difficult to draw.

Dampener

An accessory made of rubber that an archer can attach to the limbs of a bow. It absorbs vibration. This reduces noise, which is important for bowhunters, and can increase accuracy. 

Decurve Bow

A bow that features limbs that curve inwards towards the archer. This makes them similar to longbows, though the curve is usually more pronounced and sudden. Decurve bows are no longer common.

Draw

The act of pulling back a bowstring.

Draw Length

The distance from the bowstring’s position at rest to its position when fully drawn. Longer draw lengths give the bowstring more time to accelerate the arrow.

Draw Weight

The amount of force required to pull a bowstring back to full draw. For example, a bow rated for 50 pounds of draw weight is as difficult to draw as it is to lift a 50-pound dumbbell off the ground. Higher draw weights usually translate to more power and higher arrow speeds since the bow stores more energy from the draw.

Dry Firing

Drawing and releasing a bowstring without an arrow. This can damage the bow because too much of the stored energy goes back into the bow itself. This is also called dry shooting or dry loosing.

Dry Loosing

See dry firing.

Dry Shooting

See dry firing.

End

In target archery, the competition is divided into rounds called ends. This consists of each archer shooting a specified number of arrows, usually three or six. After shooting all their arrows, the end finishes, and each archer goes to collect their arrows.

English Longbow

A specific type of longbow utilized and popularized by the English army during the Hundred Years War. Before that, crossbows were the primary range weapon. The English longbow, however, had a higher rate of fire making it a formidable weapon in open combat. It is also called the Welsh longbow.

Feet Per Second

Commonly abbreviated as FPS, feet per second is the standard way to measure arrow speed. If an arrow’s speed is 350 FPS, for example, that means it’s literally moving 350 feet every second. Bows are usually rated for an FPS based on a certain standard, but the actual FPS may change based on outside factors.

Field Archery

A form of target archery where archers shoot at targets of unspecified distance on an open field. 

Field Tip

A type of arrowhead designed for practicing. They have no flared heads but are rather conical and sharpened to a single point. This allows them to penetrate targets while doing minimal damage. More importantly, it allows them to be pulled out of the target easily for repeated shooting.

Finger Tab

When you release a bowstring, it scrapes against the fingers you were holding it with. A finger tab, usually made of leather or synthetic material, prevents the bowstring from damaging the fingertips in this way. These normally consist of a few sheaths that slide on the two or three fingers you use for drawing. In warm weather, this is more comfortable than wearing gloves.

Fistmele

See brace height.

Flatbow

Bows that become straight or flat when not drawn. These were used in ancient and prehistoric times because the design distributed force evenly about the limbs, so weaker materials could be used.

Fletcher

A specialized arrowsmith who attaches fletching to the shaft of an arrow.

Fletching

The wings or vanes attached to the back end of an arrow. These cause the arrow to rotate and therefore fly in a straight line. Most commonly, fletching comes in a set of three wings. These were traditionally made of feathers but these days are often made of synthetic fibers. They can be solid wings called vanes or consist of multiple individual fibers like a feather. See cock feather and hen feather.

Flex

The relative ability of an arrow to bend. See spine.

Flu-Flu Arrow

A flu-flu fletching is different from a standard fletching in that it consists of long sections sof feathers often spiraling around the shaft. These create drag and prevent the arrow from moving too quickly. As a result, flu-flu arrows are used to shoot targets close to the archer. If the archer misses, the arrow will not have traveled too far and can be easily found.

Footed Arrow

An arrow whose shaft is made of multiple types of wood. Before modern manufacturing techniques, these were common in both Europe and North America. Usually the part of the arrow near the arrowhead was made of hardwood while the rest of the shaft was a softer, lighter wood. This kept the arrow lightweight while reinforcing the area most likely to break on impact.

Gakgung

A traditional bow used by the Korean military from ancient times until the 19th Century. It was a type of reflex bow and short bow and made of animal horn and wood. Korean archers were skilled at using this bow from horseback, which led to many military successes for the nation. Traditional Gakgung competitions are still common in South Korea. See gungdo. 

Game

Any wild animal hunted for sport is referred to as game. Common game animals for bowhunting in the US are white-tailed deer, mule deer, elk, and turkey. See quarry. 

Glove

There are many gloves specifically for archery. These protect the fingers from damage when a drawn bowstring scrapes the skin. See finger tab.

Grabbing Points

Arrowheads that feature springed wires that protrude from the base. These are used for hunting small game or for field archery because the wires prevent the arrow from getting lost in brush or undergrowth. They are also known as Judo points.

Grain

A unit of measurement used to rate the weight of an arrow. One grain is equivalent to roughly 65 milligrams. 

Grip

Usually a feature of the riser and in the center of the bow’s stave, a bow’s grip is where you hold it.

Gungdo

Traditional Korean archery, which uses the gakgung bow. It’s also called gungul.

Gungsul

See gungdo.

Head

See arrowhead.

Hen Feather

As opposed to the cock feather, the hen feathers are the two similarly colored fletches on an arrow. These are the fletches the archer should line up parallel to the bowstring. Hen feathers may also be called shaft feathers.

Horse Archer

See mounted archer.

Horse Archery

See mounted archery.

Hybrid Bow

A hybrid bow combines the designs of multiple bows, usually recurve and longbows.

Index Feather

See cock feather.

International Bowhunting Organization

Often abbreviated as IBO, the International Bowhunting Organization was founded in 1984 to promote the sport of bowhunting as well as wildlife conservation. Like the Archery Trade Association, the IBO publishes sets of standards for manufacturers. You may see specs based on these standards listed on various bow models.

Judo Point

See grabbing point.

Kisser

See plunger.

Kyūdō

The practice of traditional Japanese archery which came to popularity during the Samurai era. Modern competitions are organized by the Zen Nihon Kyūdō Renmei or All Japanese Kyūdō Federation and use the yumi.

Laminated Bow

See composite bow.

Let-off

Compound bows decrease the amount of draw weight the archer actually has to draw. This is called let-off and is measured in percent. For example, if a compound bow is rated for 60 pounds of draw weight but has a 75% let-off, the archer will only have to draw 15 pounds. However, the bow will still store 60 pounds’ worth of force.

Limb

The two long pieces of a bow stave that stretch above and below from the riser. In the case of a crossbow, they flare out horizontally. The bowstring attaches to the end of each limb thereby pulling them back when the bow is drawn. As a result, the limbs are responsible for storing much of the bow’s energy and transferring it to the arrow.

Loosing

See releasing.

Longbow

One of the most common and storied types of bow. As the name suggests, they are extremely long, often over six feet, making them frequently longer than the archer using them. They resemble a D in shape and curve slightly toward the archer. The large size makes them difficult to master, but an archer with significant practice can take advantage of the high power and accuracy. They have been used historically for both warfare and subsistence hunting. These days, bowhunters use longbows for their simple construction and the enjoyment of mastering such a skill-intensive weapon.

Longrod

See stabilizer.

Mongolian Draw

A method of drawing a bow using the thumb rather than multiple fingers as in the standard European style.

Mounted Archer

Someone who practices mounted archery.

Mounted Archery

The practice of shooting a bow and arrow from horseback, usually with a shortbow. Historically, this was an important military speciality, especially in East Asia. Now it’s a popular sport within the larger field of archery.

Nock

The rear part of an arrow. It normally features a groove or catch that allows it to attach to the bowstring but still leave it when released. Modern nocks are often separate pieces that can be changed or replaced. 

Nock can also refer to the action of attaching the nock of the arrow to the bowstring.

Nocking Point

Many bowstrings feature a colored spot or small bead that indicates where the arrow should be nocked. By nocking the arrow at this nocking point, you assure that your arrow is oriented in a straight line.

Overdrawing

The practice of drawing a bow until the arrow is behind the grip or riser. This can be accidental or purposeful. When done on purpose, an archer must use a special arrow rest or other device that still supports and orients the arrow. The advantage of the overdraw is that it maximizes draw length and therefore power while still using a smaller arrow that is lighter and flies straighter.

Plunger

A plunger is a device inserted into the riser of a bow just above the arrow rest. As the arrow leaves the bow, the plunger absorbs deviations in the arrow’s flight path and keeps its centered. It does this by acting as a small spring. Plungers are also referred to as buttons or kissers.

Point

See arrowhead.

Practice Tip

See field tip.

Quarrel

See bolt.

Quiver

An archer uses a quiver to hold their arrows for convenient access. Traditionally, quivers were long, narrow sacks that you could sling over your back or where at the hip. For competitions, historical archers also used ground quivers that could place on the ground, freeing up their bodies. 

While modern archers still use traditional quivers, bow quivers have also become popular. These are accessories that attach to the bow themselves and hold a certain amount of arrows in clips. This makes the arrows easy to access without interfering with body movements. 

Recurve Bow

One of the most popular types of traditional bows. The limbs first curve in toward the archer but then curve back away so that the ends of the limbs point away from the archer. This means each limb forms a kind of S shape. This allows recurve bows to be shorter and more manageable while still featuring high draw weights and power.

Reflex Bow

The limbs of a reflex bow curve entirely away from the archer when the bow is unstrung. As a result, it forms a C shape, though when strung, it resembles a recurve bow. This helps maximize the power of the limbs on a relatively short bow. Though not common in modern times, the traditional Korean gakgung bow was a shortbow and reflex bow.

Release

A device that attaches to the bowstring allowing the archer to more easily draw the arrow. When fully drawn, the archer can then engage a mechanism on the release that releases the bowstring and arrow. This is more consistent than using the fingers.

Releasing

The action of letting go a drawn bowstring. The bowstring springs forward and launches any arrow nocked on it. In other words, the term release often refers to the act of shooting an arrow with a bow.

Rest

See arrow rest. 

Riser

The part in the center of a bow stave that joins the two limbs. It is usually where the archer holds the bow and often features a grip.

Run Archery

A specialized sport that combines running with archery. It’s similar to a biathlon where archers run with a bow and stop at predetermined intervals to shoot ends of three arrows.

Safety Point

A soft, blunted, usually rubber arrowhead that doesn’t penetrate or puncture its target. These points are usually used for reenactments or theater.

Scope

See sight.

Self Bow

As compared to a composite bow, a bow whose stave is made of a single piece of material, usually wood. 

Serving

Thread or fabric wrapped around the bowstring at the nocking point. This protects the main material of the bowstring from wear and tear and can be replaced.

Shaft 

The long, main body of an arrow. All other parts of the arrow attach to the shaft.

Shaft Feather

See hen feather.

Shedao

The ancient art of Chinese archery. Archery played a major role in China’s history until the 20th Century when it fell out of practice. It was recently revived in the late 90s and is seeing growing popularity in China and Taiwan.

Shortbow

Shortbows are defined as being shorter than other traditional bows, usually less than five feet. They may feature aspects of other designs like longbows or recurve bows. Shortbows have historically been used in mounted archery because their small size allows them to be shot from horseback.

Sight

Archers may attach sights to their bows to help with aiming. Basic sights feature a single magnifying lens with a point the archer can line up with their target. However, since arrows drop quickly, sights with multiple pins are preferred. You then line up one of the pins with your target depending on the distance of the target. Lower pins will be used for more distant targets. The pins may be physical or optical depending on the sight and can be adjusted. Sights are also called scopes.

Sighting In

The process of tuning the sight until the pins or points accurately align with the target.

Siper

A device used by Ottoman archers to facilitate overdraw. It was essentially a shelf worn on the archer’s bow hand. They placed the arrow on the shelf, and it slid back along it when they drew the bowstring.

Spine

A spine rating indicates how stiff an arrow is. A low spine rating means the arrow bends less when released. Spine is measured by determining the bend when an 880-gram weight is attached to the center of the shaft of the arrow, using a standard 29-inch arrow supported so that 28 inches of the shaft lie between the supports. The measurement of the bend is then multiplied by 1,000 to get the spine rating. For example, an arrow with a spine rating of 300 bends .3 inches when put through the spine test. See flex.

Stabilizer

Stabilizers are rods you can attach to a bow to provide balance. Bows are very lightweight, so the high amount of force produced by releasing an arrow can cause them to wobble. Because stabilizers stick out from the bow, they change the center of gravity and decrease that wobble. 

Target archers usually create elaborate stabilizer setups with different rods protruding at different angles to provide balance exactly where they need it. Bowhunters usually use shorter stabilizers to allow for more maneuverability in the woods.

Stave

A bow’s main body, consisting of the limbs and riser. A bowstring is then attached to either end of the stave to form the complete bow.

Stringing

See bracing.

Stringer

A device for bracing a bow. Usually it features a cord that pulls the limbs inward using leverage provided by your foot. You can then attach the bowstring.

Target

Anything you try to hit with an arrow when practicing archery. For competitions, a target usually features specific designs like nested rings, each of which provides a specified number of points when hit. 

Target Archery

The practice of competitively shooting arrows at predesignated targets to gain points. This is often contrasted with bowhunting.

Target Panic

Archers may experience target panic when competing in target archery. Symptoms include a feeling of heaviness in the bow, difficulty aiming, and premature releasing. Studies have discovered this condition is due to neurological phenomena in the learning pathways of the brain.

Target Point

See field tip.

Tip

See arrowhead.

Upshot

Historically, the final shot in an archery competition. This is the origin of the common definition of “result” or “conclusion.”

Vane

A type of fletching consisting of a single solid wing as opposed to feathers made of numerous fibers. Some arrows feature a single vane with two feathers. The vane then guides and stabilizes the flight path.

Wand Archery

Medieval military archers used to practice by shooting a vertical piece of wood about six inches wide and six feet tall called a wand. This was supposed to represent an enemy on the battlefield while being slightly more difficult to hit. This helped horizontal aiming.

Window

Though uncommon on wooden bows, the risers of metal or fiberglass bows may feature a thin area, or window, that allows the archer to see the target much better, providing for better accuracy.

Welsh Longbow

See English longbow.

Yumi

The traditional Japanese bow used by the Samurai. It can be further classified into daikyu, a longer version, and hankyu a shorter version better suited for yabusame, Japanese mounted archery.