Glossary Of Archery Terms


Like any sport, you're going to hear jargon from time to time, so here's a brief glossary of terms...

Armguard A protection against the bowstring's strike, worn on the inside of the left forearm. It is usually of heavy leather padded with felt
Arms The two limbs of a bow
Arrow Plate A piece of horn, shell or leather just above the handle on the left side of a bow, where the arrow passes as it leaves the bow
Arrowshaft The wooden shaft or steel of an arrow
Back The outer or flat side of a bow, held away from you when shooting
Backed Bow A bow which has been backed with rawhide, wood, fibre or sinew
Backing Any substance which is used for backing bows
Barrelled A barrelled arrow is wider in the middle and tapers toward each end
Belly The belly of a bow is the rounded side, held towards you when shooting
Bow Stave The stick, stave or piece of wood from which a bow is made
Bowyer A maker of bows
Brace To string a bow
Bracer Another name for an armguard
Broadhead A large flat hunting head
Butt A hillock or mound of earth or sod on which target faces are attached to be shot at
Cast The ability of a bow to throw or cast an arrow
Chrysal or Crisal A crushed line of fibres running across the grain, usually on the belly of a bow
Clout A small, white-faced target with a black bull's eye laid flat on the ground, used in archery golf and clout shooting
Cock Feather The feather placed at right angles to the nock. Usually of a different colour from the others
Draw Pulling an arrow the proper distance
Eye The loop at one or both ends of a bowstring
Fistmele The distance between handle and string when the bow is strung. It is an old Saxon measurement: the distance from the base of the hand when clenched to the tip of the extended thumb
Fletch To put feathers on an arrow
Fletcher An arrowmaker
Flight Arrow An arrow used for distance shooting. It is long and light, has very small feathers and is often barrelled.
Flight Shooting Distance shooting; to see how far you can send an arrow
Flirt An arrow flirts when it jumps out of its steady line of flight
Follow the String When a bow takes a set or bend in the drawing direction, it is said to have a set or to follow the string
Foot The piece of hardwood spliced to an arrowshaft
Footed Arrow An arrow which has been footed with a piece of hardwood at the pointy end
Grip The same as a handle of a bow
Handle Where the bow is held when being shot
Horns The tips of a bow made of cow, steer or stag horns in which the notches for the string are cut
Loose To let go the string with the shooting fingers; to shoot the arrow
Nocking Point That point on a bowstring where the arrow is nocked or placed when you are ready to shoot
Nocks The grooves cut in the wood of the bow itself or in horn, fibre or metal tips, in which the loop of the bowstring fits. The notch in arrows
Overbowed A bow too strong for its user
Overshoot To shoot beyond your mark
Overstrung When the string is too short for the bow
Pile The head of an arrow (its point)
Quiver A receptacle for holding arrows. They are of various shapes, sizes and materials.
Release To let the arrow and string go; to shoot an arrow
Round The number of shots at given distances, as in the Windsor or York Rounds
Roving The act of shooting over fields and woodland with no particular target stumps, trees, bunches of leaves, etc, being the marks
Sap Wood The wood under the bark. It is white in yew, about the same colour as the heartwood in both osage and lemonwood
Self Bow A bow made of one piece of wood; a single stave
Serving Whipping or winding with thread
Shaft The arrow
Shaftment The portion of the arrow to which the feathers are glued
Spine The quality of an arrow that allows it to bend around the bow and straighten itself efficiently.
Tiller A device that holds the bow and string at various stages of draw, in order to determine the evenness of the arc in the two limbs of the bow
Underbowed A bow too weak for its user
Weight i. In grains, the weight of an arrow
ii. The number of pounds required to draw a bow

A lot of common phrases come from archery. We're not sure about all of them, so we've marked the dubious entries with an asterisk...

A bolt from the blue The phrase refers to a crossbow bolt or arrow falling out of the sky. Due to the quiet with which a bow operates, such an event would be a surprise
Bolt upright If an arrow was bolt upright, that meant it was true enough to fly straight
Brace yourself The phrase brace yourself comes from bracing a bow, which means to put the string on and get ready for action
Braced for action Someone who is always braced for action might be considered highly strung
Butt of a joke Medieval archery targets were called butts, so to be the butt of a joke is to be the target of ridicule
*Cock up The cock feather must face away from the bow; if it doesn't the arrow won't fly straight - a cock-up
Drawing the longbow Bragging
*Flirting As when the tail of an arrow flicks from side to side as it heads for the target
Gadding about The term for erratic arrow flight
Having another string to your bow  Fairly self-evident!
Highly strung  Fairly self-evident!
Keep it under your hat Medieval archers used to keep a spare, dry hemp bowstring under their hats
*Matched up Matched arrows are easier to shoot accurately
*Ne'er cast a clout 'til May be out Cast = flight of the arrow;
Clout = a long-distance shoot (180yds)
Parting shot The origins lie in horse archery: as mounted Parthian archers rode past their enemies, the last shot, almost behind them, was called the Parthian shot
Playing fast and loose When something is on or off, depending on the mood
Quarrel In the 1200s a quarrel was a four-fletched crossbow arrow
*Rule of thumb Various definitions, but the way fistmele is measured on a longbow - clenched fist with thumb raised
Second string This derives from medieval archers who carried a second string in the event that their "first string" snapped
Straight as an arrow  Fairly self-evident!
Underhand Underhand means "surreptitious" or on the sly, but also "with the hand below the elbow or shoulder". Roger Ascham (c1515-1568) wrote: "Thus the underhande [shaft] must have a small breste, to go cleane awaye oute of the bowe." To shoot underhand was, and is, a common archery term
Wide of the mark Alongside butts, medieval archers would aim at a tall, thin board - a mark - as a target, with the highest score a vertical strip at the centre. If you missed, your arrow was wide of the mark


Know any more? Tell us!