Spring is here and summer is fast approaching, which means one thing: It’s field archery season!
Field archery is arguably the most technically and physically demanding archery game. In a nutshell, you shoot lots of arrows at distances ranging from 20 feet to 80 yards, outdoors in the elements, on ground that can be flat or slope up, down or sideways. Successful field archers are fit, and they know how their equipment performs in all relevant circumstances.
Let’s dive into a discussion about how to shoot field archery. And for purposes of this discussion, we’re talking about the field round as regulated by the National Field Archery Association. There are other rounds — and other organizations that offer archery games — technically covered by the term “field archery,” but we will go with the basic NFAA field round. Other field archery games are similar to this one, with slight variations.
The NFAA field round requires shooting once through a 28-target course, or twice through a 14-target course. Archers shoot four arrows at each target, so a complete round requires shooting 112 arrows.
Maximum shooting distances vary depending on the age class. We’ll discuss adult distances here, since they are the longest. Younger archers won’t have to shoot the longest distances.
Shots will be taken from 20, 25, 30 and 35 feet, and then every 5 yards from 15 to 80 yards, except 75 yards. Targets vary in size depending on the shooting distance. All target measurements refer to the outermost scoring rings. You’ll shoot 20 cm faces from 20 to 35 feet; 35 cm faces from 15 to 30 yards; 50 cm faces from 35 to 50 yards; and 65 cm faces from 55 to 80 yards. All shooting distances in an NFAA field round are marked and rangefinders are allowed.
All field targets look the same, with a black center, surrounded by a white ring, which is surrounded by a black ring. The only variation is the size. Arrows hitting the black center score 5 points each. Arrows in the innermost X ring score 5 points, but the X is also recorded to break ties. (In professional classes only, the X ring is worth 6 points.) The white area surrounding the center scores 4 points, and the outermost black ring scores 3 points.
There are three types of shooting stations throughout a course. Most common is shooting all four arrows from the same position. There are also “fan” stations, where four shooting positions are lined up side by side, and each archer shoots one arrow from each position. Last are the walk-ups, where four shooting distances are assigned, and each archer shoots one arrow at each distance as they walk up to the target. There’s the 80-70-60-50-yard walk-up, the 45-40-35-30-yard walk-up and the 35-30-25-20-foot walk-up.
As far as equipment goes, the rules vary depending on the division. In Freestyle, you can use any compound bow with a draw weight no heavier than 80 pounds, or that produces an arrow speed no faster than 300 feet per second. Any stabilizer setup is allowed, as well as any sight. Mechanical release aids can be used in this class. In Freestyle Limited, mechanical release aids are not allowed. NFAA Barebow is actually a compound-bow class, where a full stabilizer set is allowed, but there can be no sight and mechanical release aids are not allowed.
Freestyle Bowhunter is a class where the equipment mimics that commonly used for hunting. Compound bows are allowed, and they can carry sights with five fixed pins that cannot be adjusted during the round. One stabilizer measuring no more than 12 inches is allowed.
The Traditional class is limited to recurves and longbows without sights. One stabilizer measuring no more than 12 inches is allowed.
Freestyle Limited Recurve is what most would consider to be associated with Olympic recurve setups. Recurves and longbows are allowed, as are sights — without magnification — and any stabilizer setup.
So those are the rules of the game. But what do you need to know to play it successfully?
For starters, there is a maximum arrow diameter of .422 inches for this game. But forget shooting big arrows, regardless of your other gear or competition class. You want micro-diameter arrows to shoot long distances in the wind. That’s what field archery is all about.
Bowhunters will need to figure out how best to assign their five sight pins. You can’t cover everything from 20 feet to 80 yards. So figure out what distances you want pins for, and then learn to “gap shoot.” That’s shooting at distances in between those for which your pins are set. You have to learn how to hold sight pins high and low on various targets to be accurate.
For Freestyle archers who can have movable sights, it’s imperative that you find an accurate sight tape that will indicate exactly where you need to set your sight for every shooting distance. Most target sights come with pre-printed sight tapes, which might work for your setup. Or you can build your own tape using programs such as Archer’s Advantage.
Traditional and Barebow archers have the toughest task, learning how to aim at different distances using only the point of the arrow for reference. This is a skill that will take many hours of practice.
All archers need to learn how shooting uphill and downhill affects their aim. Both equate to aiming as if the target is a few yards closer than the rangefinder says, which is called “cutting yards.”
As we mentioned, you’re going to have to deal with Mother Nature. So how does your bow perform in the rain? How much off the center dot do you have to hold to account for wind that can push your arrow? What happens to your shot when you have to stand with one foot higher or lower than the other? These are all factors you must account for, and the only way to do it is to practice in these conditions.
During practice, take lots of notes on how different conditions — rain, wind, uphill, downhill — affect your shooting and/or your aim. You can refer to those notes during competition.
If you want to be the best archer you can be, give field archery a try. It will test you in every way imaginable. But master it, and you’ll be a highly skilled archer.