Monday, February 26, 2024

A question for archers and bowhunters


I was doing some research for a writing project when I came across what seems to me to be an anomaly.  I'd appreciate input from those who use bows for target shooting and/or hunting, please.

Back in the bad old days (for example, the Hundred Years' War battles of Crécy, Poitiers and Agincourt), archers dominated the battlefield.  The English longbow was reportedly used over ranges up to 250-300 yards against area targets (e.g. troops massed on a battlefield), and up to 100 yards or occasionally further against an individual target such as a person, a deer, etc.  The shoulder-fired crossbow is said to have had a similar effective range against the same targets.  Both weapons used broadhead arrows against unarmored targets and for hunting, and specialized bodkin point arrows or bolts to penetrate chain mail armor at short to medium range, and at close range even the plate armor worn by knights.

Shooting modern reproductions of those medieval weapons seems to confirm their reported maximum range.  For example, here's an English longbow being shot at a target 250 yards away.  (I've excerpted this segment from a longer video comparing shooting on the level to shooting from a castle tower.  The same people did another very interesting video comparing the longbow to a medieval crossbow - recommended.)

That video appears to confirm medieval claims about the range and effectiveness of a longbow.  It would certainly be able to strike a large target (e.g. a formation of troops on a battlefield) at distances of 250 yards or even further.  Of course, the archer wouldn't be able to guarantee hitting a particular soldier at that range;  he'd be shooting into the mass of men and hoping to hit any one of them.  To target an individual, he'd have to be much closer;  according to contemporary reports, not much further than 100 yards.

However, when I read modern articles and training materials about bowhunting, they all seem to stress that one shouldn't shoot over ranges longer than about 30 to 50 yards.  They caution that accuracy and killing power both fall to unacceptably low levels at greater ranges.

Why is this?  If our distant forefathers could routinely deploy bows as serious battlefield weapons over hundreds of yards, and take deer at up to 100 yards or even further (if reports from those times are true), why can't our more modern, technologically advanced bows do at least as well?  Or are we simply too safety-conscious, and trying to limit bow shots by people who don't practice nearly as often as a medieval bowman would?  Is there any reason why a modern bow or crossbow should not be just as capable, and just as deadly, as their medieval counterparts over similar ranges?

I'd appreciate input from those who know more about the subject than I do.  Thanks!



Anonymous said...

I think modern ranges are more a concession to "humane hunting" to avoid wounding prey without causing a mortal wound.
I doubt our ancestors were concerned about that in wartime.

Plus, our ancestors probably practiced a lot more, and were therefore more accurate than most modern day hunters.

1chota said...

those old time archers did what modern archers don't do real regularly, practice. it was the only arm they had and they used it often.

Anonymous said...

I think the difference is draw weight.

Most bow hunters in America use bows from 40–70 lbs. For target, field, and 3D tournaments about 40–50 lbs.

Traditional English longbows had a draw weight of 130-150 lbs and archers had a lifetime of practice beginning in childhood.

Don in Oregon

Eaton Rapids Joe said...

Deer "jump at the string" or the sound of the release.

They drop down and the archer typically shoots over them.

Unfortunately, there too many articles and youtube videos of people shooting decoys and deer sized targets at 60+ yards and say that they can kill deer at that range and beyond.

The problem is the deer's response during the time-in-flight and the issue of wounding.

audeojude said...

both rifle and archery hunting ranges that are recommended are not based on max effective range but on the range that the average hunter can take a controlled shot and hit an animal and kill it not wound it.

My father once shot a deer at one mile with a 30-06 and dropped it where it stood. This was in the Nevada desert/scrub brush shooting from a supported position (over the hood of the truck stopped on the highway) shooting out over desert that went to the horizon.

Any reputable hunting course or hunter would teach a new hunter and recommend to experienced hunters to never do such a thing. The slightest thing off on that shot would have left a wounded deer, just the most minuscule gust or breeze between my dad and that deer would have been enough over that distance much less his ability to actually make that shot or the quality of the rifle to shoot that accurately.

He was known as a insanely good shot but even so he was pushing it.

audeojude said...

should have put this in my first comment.

Something that isn't really mentioned by people is that standards for hunting and war or shooting the bad guy are very different. Your not worried so much about a clean kill shooting someone shooting back at you. You just want to hit them and wound them so that they can't keep coming at you. Max effective range and beyond is very much fair game.

Hunting has a totally different set of ethics normally followed in it's practice that change the metric on range and distance from weapon to weapon and even caliber used.

while military use of weapons is much different. It still has a minimal set of ethics mostly practiced base on the hauge convention. The US is not a signatory but mostly follows that. With exceptions here and there. Mostly for firearms it involves not deliberately targeting humans with hollow points and not using very large calibers for targeting humans as cruel and unusual etc.. however we just call them anti-material weapons and use them anyway same as everyone else. large topic that is pretty meaningless in the real world as in the heat of battle no one cares and is just trying to keep themselves and the guy beside them alive.

Gerry said...

+1 Anon 9:10 It's about ethics

We want a quick humane kill, not wounding and having our prey expire after a long period of time. My limit was 30 yards but I do know people who can accomplish this at 70 yards. The deer or elk have done us no harm.

In warfare I would not care if I wounded or maimed my human enemy. A gut shot enemy that had ravaged my village or family would be perfectly acceptable.

I think most hunters practice as much as the old archers who shot on the village commons once a week and the English longbowman certainly shot less than tournament competitors today do.

I think the Turkish composite recurve archers could out range even the English longbow. Their range was reported to be over 900 yards.

Rick T said...

A period arrow had a wooden shaft and an iron head putting a lot more mass behind the impact point. That means a high arching flight but if that is all you have you adjust your point of aim as required.

A modern arrow and razor broadhead are much lighter giving a flatter trajectory but that means less energy behind the shot.

Sounds a lot like the 'big slow bullet' vs. 'small fast bullet' debates.

lpdbw said...

I'm not a hunter or archer, but I've done this research.

Check out the pull weight of historical war longbows and crossbows vs. modern hunting bows.

My quick searches say a longbow is about 150 pounds, and a modern bow is 70 or so.

I've seen videos where modern archers can't pull a longbow.

There is evidence that English archers actually had stressed their arms enough that you can see it when they study old bones.

Magson said...

Honestly, I noticed something similar even with firearms a few years back. There was some shooting competition show that had its folks attempting "the mad minute" shooting drill. As I recall it, the drill was shooting a 48-inch metal plate at a distance of 300 yards. 100-ish years ago the average Brisitsh soldier was expected to get a minimum of 15 hits in that minute.

The best competitive shooter in their show got something like 12, which is obviously well below "minimum acceptable standard of your typical army rifleman 100 years ago" -- and these were supposedly the best of the best competitive shooters who had to audition to be on the show.

Now take that loss of skill with firearms, and scroll that back to longbows and crossbows which are NOT commonly used anymore, and well..... I think we just don't practice like was done back then anymore.

Tregonsee said...

Probably a bunch of issues. Modern hunting bow is usually about 75/55Lb draw weight (i.e. 75 to start and drops to 55 when the cam flips over). The short arrow is because you're meant to hunt platform so the bow is small and there just isn't room for a longer draw. English Longbows were 100-150 lb draw weight (non of these cam tricks) and used the classic cloth yard arrow probably 34-38" long. Thus the initial velocity on the English longbow will be MUCH higher. Actually got to pull/shoot reproduction Longbows of ~75 and 100Lb draw when in college working on a project with Higgins Armory (and we studied a bit on Robin Hood legends and reality). I was a stout powerful young man (think a Tolkien dwarf) I could pull and shoot both (with a heavy glove thank you) but only just barely in the 100Lb case. And holding the aim with either longbow was hard, arms shuddered horribly very quickly. I suspect that if you didn't practice this constantly to strengthen your grip you had no hope of aiming a shot slowly. Also I'm 5' 6" the bow was 6'+. I had to have it at an angle and would have needed a fair bit of space either side.

Anonymous said...

In England at various times, citizens were required by law to practice archery on Sunday afternoons. The longbows of the time took pretty impressive strength to draw, it is possible to tell from the skeleton of the time if they were right or left handed by the thickening of the bones of the arm. Draw weights ranged from one twenty five to one seventy five, much heavier than almost all modern archers. The medieval archer also shot a much heavier arrow, modern arrows are made light for higher velocity and flatter trajectory, think45-70 as opposed to a seven mm Magnum. The old cartridge is still pretty dangerous even when slowed way down by long range.
Lastly there is a big difference between trying for a humane kill and the harvesting of a deer, as opposed to trying to keep people wth swords and spears from getting close enough to perform amateur dissection.

Dakota Viking said...

Fishermen lie 'bout size, hunters lie about range.(even back then) Yards are often measured actually as "paces", my modern 6'2" pace would count out as many "yards" less than a 5'2" bowman.
How much was hero worship? "My Grandfather was a bowman for Henry V, and he told us he made those long shots all the time"

Human Nature, not saying its the truth or all lies... History must sometimes acknowledge to meet in the middle.
I'd like to know the answer too.

Tree Mike said...

In 1981 The small ship repair company I worked for had a short Friday. They provided a great steak lunch with all the fixin's. One of the activities was bow shooting. Our project manager was a younger guy that was a back up shooter for the US Olympic team. I watched him put a half dozen arrows into either a 6" or 12" group at 100 yards (can't remember which), obviously, that left an impression on me. So yeah, how many tens or hundreds of thousands of shots did he send down range?

GuardDuck said...

I'd concur with the above.

More practice combined with a more modern sense of acceptable hunting accuracy.

Comfortably Numb said...

As noted above, the ranges you quoted for bow/crossbow hunting come down to humanely hunting your game. Yes, the effective ranges are out to 100 yards – but the chances of a non-fatal wound are much higher.

I would rather sit in my tree stand and watch the deer playing at 75 to 100 yards than take a bow/crossbow shot that might leave a wounded animal or one that dies past my ability to retrieve it.

Besides, rifle season usually starts within weeks and the same deer I enjoyed watching will now be well within my range for a clean kill shot.

Anonymous said...

Practice is important. The bones of medieval archers were distorted by their constant use of the bow. Another thing is the bow in the vid is 148 lbs. pull and the crossbow is 600+ lbs. pull. Modern equivalents are 70 and 380. Something tells me that the pull weights are a large part of it.

ViulfR said...

As touched on, the long bowmen of England practiced (as required by law) much more than we do. Further, the average hunting bow today is between 50 and 60 pounds draw weight ( the Mary Rose bows ranged from 120 pounds to an estimate of 190 pounds in draw weight ( The higher poundage bows (with the same grain weights in points) should be able to reach out to those longer distances. There are many other articles that talk to the effectiveness of draw weights both for recurve, compound and long bows ( I don't have much experience with crossbows so provide some links here: and somewhere in the presentation (evidently the 100 year war mark) is a good discussion of the effectiveness of long bow.

Hope this helps, have long enjoyed your page. Essentially, we don't shoot what our ancestors did.

Eaton Rapids Joe said...

One more thought occurred to me.

Broadhead arrows that missed their target and flew hither-and-yon are absolute hell on tractor tires. Tractor tires are huge and can run $1000 each. Lobbing arrows in hopes of hitting a deer will quickly get you (and all of your buddies) banned from hunting agricultural areas. Those farmers drink coffee together and have "OK" and "NEVER" lists.

Thos. said...

Inflation. Those historic accounts were using ~1400s-era yards, which were massively inflated, due to excessive use of fiat-measurements by the various monarchies that needed to bulk up their bragging rights.

Once the metric system was introduced and most people had changed over (measuring your country in km vs miles - or yourself in cm vs inches - was even more of an ego boost!), the demand for yards gradually fell until we have the yard we know and use today.

dug said...

A very high mass arrow with a long draw and 120 lb. bow(or more)against a large target . These days the target is a small area and accuracy is mandatory for hunting. Draw weights are less and arrows are very light so you get high speed (from technology in the bow ) initially that slows down rapidly, too.

mobius said...

Second all that! Also heavy arrows on a high trajectory have regained a lot of velocity by the time they fall on your head.

Borepatch said...

We have a number of military manuals from the Roman Empire, notably the Strategikon of the emperor Maurice and the Praecepta Militaria of the emperor Nikephoros Phokas. I mention both because there is a passage in one of them (I can't remember off the top of my head and I'm too lazy to look it up) about archery.

The gist is that this should be employed against an enemy formation en masse - large numbers of archers shooting repeatedly and quickly to put a lot of arrows in the air. It says that individual archers shooting single arrows are useless.

So Medieval English military practice wasn't really any different from Roman, at least as far as archery was concerned.

Anonymous said...

The draw weight comments are on point, especially as between war and hunting bows, and war tactics vs modern hunting targets. Also, from the Mary Rose, it is possible that the high weight bows (175+) were used for much heavier fire arrows, rather than for antipersonnell use.
Modern hunting is done solo, at a single target, for a clean kill. This equals a 6" target, which usually limits range to 70 yds for acceptable accuracy.
War longbow tactics at Crecy were massed archers shooting at area / group targets. The best French armor (plate) could turn an arrow at 100 yards, but few knights had such armor, and their horses had less armor. The French had trampled the field to mud keeping their horses exercised overnight, and many drowned in it when their horses died from arrowshots. An English company of 100 archers would address a target area of about 20 yards diameter at 100+ yards from behind their stakes (6-8' spikes, sharpened, tied or linked with rings at the middle, and driven into the ground ahead of them to stop charges) They would shoot at individual targets at close range, and when out of attows, they would fight with their stake hammers or knives.
The records from Henry V at Crecy note that his archers were paid a 1.5 x ration of food as compared to his footsoldiers, though the same money.
Henry VIII had a law requiring men of fighting age to do archery practice after church each week at 210 yards.
Useful books are: The Mary Rose, and books developed from that research, The Crossbow, Ralph Payne Gallwey;The Medieval Archer, Jim Bradbury; and Longbow, by Robert Hardy.
John in Indy

Anonymous said...

Don't confuse the peak draw weights of straight long bows (or crossbows) with those of modern compound bows that use pulleys, or even the very severe recurve bows of the Parthians. The energy that gets put into the arrow is the total stored as the bow is drawn, and the compound and sophisticated recurve bows like the Parthians used have draw weight curves that store *much* more energy for their peak draw weight than straight bows. A 100 lb peak compound bow is as powerful as a 170 lb longbow. In addition the simple wood used in longbows were very inefficient at releasing the energy stored, unlike the sophisticated composite materials in the Parthian bows, and several percent was lost due to that inefficiency.

bobby said...

Global warming slows the arrows.

Will said...

S. M. Stirling's series: "Dies the Fire" really got into longbows for warriors and soldiers. Heavy stress on Yew wood, which was supposed to be the original best wood for them.

The early books were focused on the details of recreating the world without any sort of high tech, which was eliminated by changes to the laws of physics. Something like 18 books in two series. Think I read them all. Hmm, need to check and see if I missed any of the later ones.

Beans said...

A combination of all.

And, yes, like musketry or rifle-muskets, archers when shooting at military targets are aiming for bigger targets. Like formations and mounted enemies. Far easier to hit an area or a horse than a single dude at mid-to-max range.

Construction of the bow, materials used, also affects the draw and RELEASE of the bow. Energy stored is useless unless the release is smooth and quick, the smoother and quicker the better.

Trust me, being hit by a 30lb fiberglass semi-recurve (typical light weight boy scout bow) firing a 1 1/4" padded or rubber blunt hurts a lot less than one fired by a composite material heavy recurve bow built in the Korean style. The Korean bow has a much better ability to transfer the stored energy much much quicker.

Same with crossbows. Watch a video of Todd's Workshop where he's firing a windlass-cocked heavy arbalest and you can easily follow the bolt as it flies to the target. Watch a video of a modern much more easily cocked heavy crossbow and the bolt flies much faster. Similar long range capability, but the end-target is a tad different.

Tom Bridgeland said...

Compared to your friend's lives, arrows are cheap.

If you have plenty of arrows, shoot from as far away as you have a chance of hitting, and keep shooting as you get closer. Wound as many of the enemy as possible before you close. Plus, you might scare them. Morale.

Howard Brewi said...

From what I have read archeologist raised a sunken ship from the era described and they could identify the archers because of the skeletal deformity’s caused by practicing regularly. Also any serious wounds on any part of the bodies of the opponent would take them out of the fight. Hunting any wound on deer sized game would slow them down so the hunting dogs could find and finish them while currently most places don’t allow pursuit dogs for big game and wounding hits that might result in the suffering or loss of an animal are to be avoided.

Xoph said...

I have a recurve bow where I can change the arms to have 30 lb, 40 lb or 50 lb draw. I have to be practicing at least 3 times a week with a mindset of doing weights to work with the 50. I think 45lbs is supposed to be sufficient to hunt all large North American Animals, but not sure if a bear would agree.

Different bows impart energy in different manners, that's part of it.

If I recall, one youtube video said the smallest warbow was 80lb draw.

Taking an animal at 100 yards is believable. Requires some luck. Probabbly have to track a wounded animal, but if you're hungry you can do it.

Watch some of the stuff Jackie Chan does in his movies. The human body is an incredible machine. Most people don't know what they can achieve on a regular basis with practice. When I practice enough I shoot when the shot feels right. There is a book on the speed of learning physical skills, the more we push the more we learn until we have skill levels others believe are superhuman. Practice and high expectations.

Anonymous said...

Consider the Ashby broadhead lethality study: