Getting started in UK field archery

Alex Tyler offers some valuable advice on getting started – or getting back into field archery – in the UK.

Britain is staying at home and finding new ways to pass the time. While not able to shoot, I decided I would challenge myself to watch serious, epic films (along with daily exercise, learning the piano and studying a language) and it’s fair to say, my plans haven’t lasted long. Instead, I’m taking comfort in the more, how shall I say, accessible films like the Lord Of The Rings trilogy and, each time, marvel that an elf archer can shoot multiple orcs whilst sliding down a stone staircase on a shield (I’m also jealous of his inexhaustible supply of arrows). 

If scenes like this have inspired you to try field archery, here’s what you can do to be prepared for when we can get back out to the woods. For an absolute beginner, the easiest place to start is a have-a-go or beginners’ class, to give you a chance to try out the different approaches and types of equipment before spending money.

To identify your nearest club, the major archery societies operating in the UK have maps on their websites. For your first taste of archery the experience is likely to be similar, regardless of whether the club is affiliated to Archery GB (primarily target archery) or one of the dedicated field archery societies (National Field Archery Society or English Field Archery Association). You will get the chance to shoot some arrows, a look at the types of bow available and an introduction to a typical shoot. 

If you decide to continue with archery, then here are some factors you may want to consider. The first step is join society as this means you will be covered by the society’s insurance and can enter shoots.

Joining a club then gives you access to both the club’s facilities and the experience of member, which can be invaluable when starting out.

UK field archery: what are the options? 

There are three societies promoting field archery in the UK. All allow you to use a wide range of equipment. Archery GB’s field shoots are likely to be less frequent and may require significant travel.

To help you decide which society to join, try asking yourself some questions.

UK field archery: How much do you want to spend?   

The initial expenditure required to take up archery can seem daunting but this can be managed depending on your preferences. 

The initial expenditure required 
to take up archery can seem daunting

To this, you will have to add the cost of getting to shoots, so consider how many clubs are in a reasonable travelling distance. If you join a club with its own grounds, membership is likely to be more expensive but you will have a place to shoot.

A club is also a good source of second-hand equipment which can reduce the initial expenditure.

Even the most experienced archers lose and break arrows in the woods: consider a cheaper set than you might typically buy for the first few months, so that replacements don’t break the bank. 

UK field archery: will you be shooting as a family? 

Field archery is a fantastic sport for families to do together, offering a a good balance between the necessary discipline of following the course but with less rigidity in maintaining silence during the shoot than target shooting.

While a child can start from any age, the child needs to be able to walk a reasonable distance as it may not be possible to leave the course at any point. Non-shooting parents or guardians must also be associate members of the archery society, to ensure they are aware of the rules. 

Lisa Unruh, one of Europe’s most accomplished field archers

To maintain interest, there is plenty of movement as you will be following a course through the woods, giving greater variety of scenery. All the family can shoot the same targets with closer shooting pegs for children. This makes for a genuine competition across the generations.

Unfortunately, it can lead to much smugness if the child comes in with a higher score – at this point, the parent can point out that they have the car keys. 

UK field archery: how important is it to see yourself progress? 

A key skill of archery is the ability to be consistent, and this is easier to measure with certain styles of shooting than others. With target archery, the shooting rounds are designed to give you a completely comparable experience (the same targets at the same distances, shooting the same number of arrows) reducing the number of variables and allowing you to track personal bests over time. 

Within field archery, the EFAA offers the most similar experience via fixed courses, with rounds of a set number of arrows at marked distances. The Society publishes thresholds for scores achieved with particular bow styles to achieve a class rating.

For example, to go from C class to A class using using a Freestyle Unlimited setup requires scores of up to 399, up to 499 and +500, compared to up to 149, up to 249 or >250 using an American Flat Bow. Scores can also be submitted for Society records which are published.

Archery GB does not typically have fixed courses but targets will be within defined ranges, based on size. 

At the other end of the range, NFAS shoots offer the greatest variety, with courses set each time. There is no guidance about distance which you will have to judge at each shot and targets may be set to deceive using natural features.

This makes each shoot experience unique but means that tracking your progress as a beginner is likely to be more subjective. When I first started as an NFAS archer, I was told that I should first concentrate on completing a course without losing or breaking an arrow.

When I could do that, I should focus on not blanking any target with my three arrows and only when I could do that should I start to worry about my score. It’s good advice.

What type of archery can I do?What do I have to
do to join?
Archery GB
Field archery at roundel or animal targets (plus target archery, clout and flight shooting).A beginners’ course at a club
National Field
Archery Society:
Field archery, shooting animal targets at unmarked distances onlyRecommended to attend a beginners’ course then sign off by an NFAS coach/ club official to show a basic level of competence and understanding of the rules
English Field
Archery Association: 
Field archery, shooting roundels and animal targets at marked and unmarked distancesRecommended to attend a beginners course before attending open shoots

UK field archery: what equipment should I get?

Given the range of equipment on offer, try to take the opportunity to try out a number of bows during your beginner’s course, to understand what works for you.

Whatever you choose, the societies offer a large range of kit options (NFAS shoots eleven bow styles and the EFAA thirteen, not including crossbows) and you will be shooting against archers in the same style.

If you have no preference for a style, consider what type of set up you are looking for when thinking about which style may work for you. 

UK field archery: what’s the simplest set up?

The simplest bows are just a piece of wood and a piece of string. This includes Longbows, American Flat Bows and single piece recurve hunting bows.

Without sights or stabilisers, you will have minimal set up and can focus on developing your instincts. In NFAS, there is an additional distinction for shooting wooden arrows as Hunting Tackle or metal arrows under Traditional Bowhunter. 

UK field archery: how can I make my kit as flexible as possible? 

Remember the first time you drew a bow and how awkward it felt? As you progress, you are likely to become stronger and more familiar with the movements and feel confident in trying a bow with a higher draw weight or adding a sight or stabiliser.

Choosing a recurve bow with removable limbs will allow you to adjust the poundage by replacing only the limbs and many offer points to attach stabilisers or sights, which allows you to shoot across a range of classes, as you prefer.

“I like choosing gear – what’s the most technical class?” If you are confident that your shooting technique is settled, you may feel ready for a compound bow, where the bow will be set up to your specific draw length and you can use a range of accessories like adjustable sights and release aids.

Before shooting, you will need to practice and test to set up accurate sight marks. It is worth noting that changing any aspect of your set up will mean re-doing this process to set sight marks. 

How much is it to join (2020 adult cost)How much does it cost to attend a shoot (adult)?
Archery GB
£55Open shoots ~ £10
National Field
Archery Society:
£20Open shoots, typically 36–40 targets lasting 10:00 –16:00, £6 – £8
English Field
Archery Association: 
£25Open shoots, typically 28 targets lasting 10:00 –14:00, £3 – £5

UK field archery: how can I find out more?

While there are plenty of films featuring archery prowess of varying degrees of feasibility, there are also some good videos available which will give you a good impression of field archery.

(Please note, while in the UK, bowhunting animals is illegal, some of the other videos shown as on these pages may feature bowhunting or use of guns.)

If this is still not adventurous enough, there is also horse archery. There are a number of distinct styles but all involve shooting a bow while controlling a horse without reins while cantering or galloping.

The governing body states that while no experience in archery or riding is necessary to start, their suggestion is that a good grounding in both skills is helpful before attempting to put the two together.

The British Horseback Archery Society has a network of coaches around the country who can introduce you to the sport: 

Whatever you do and whatever equipment you choose, there is a lot of fun to be had.  Welcome to field.

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2 comments on “Getting started in UK field archery
  1. Dave Holland says:

    Very informative information and easy to follow in a lighthearted feel

  2. Edwin Deady says:

    Open shoots used to be open to any archer but now are closed to those not members of one of those national bodies through club membership. I fail to see why. Check someone out for safety, charge a day rate for insurance perhaps. One reason that when I moved to Cornwall we bought a bit of woodland, the rigmarole of joining a club was absurd. Having been an archer for fifty years the idea of being mentored for three months etc! You should, in fairness .add the private route to field archery as an additional option as myself and friends have done. Yes we are insured.

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