European Medieval and Renaissance Archery Contests And Targets By Sir Jon Fitz-Rauf ol, op, rmc baron of the Court of the West

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Range to and size of the wreath are directly related, the longer the range, the larger the wreath. And this can be determined by the general ability of the archers shooting the competition. In the Luttrell psalter, the archers seem to carry only two arrows each. The archer pointing to his center hit, has only one arrow left in his belt. And the archer that is shooting has one on the string and one in his belt. Shooting only two arrows was a fairly common practice.


This is based upon early Italian crossbow competitions where the target was the hub of a solid wagon wheel. It is recorded that it was shot at one hundred and twenty paces for the heavy crossbows which were shot with the support of a shooting bench and 60 paces for the lighter hand held crossbows. However, most of the plazas in the towns where this was shot were not long enough to provide that distance for shooting. So, it is believed that the correct translation should be steps instead of paces. This would come out to about forty yards for the crossbow shot from the bench and twenty for the handheld crossbows. There is documentation for these crossbow competitions in Italy since the early 1400’s.

There were major Palios between the different cities that included crossbow competitions as well as horse races. The districts of each city provided the teams for the competitions. The winners were well rewarded with money, gold or silver plate, bolts of expensive cloth and other valuable gifts. The local nobleman, who would make the first shot, often opened the competition.

The competition as it is currently shot in many cities in Italy by the Italian Crossbow Federation uses the forty and twenty yard distances. The wooden target is of two parts. The base of the target is flat, round and twenty inches in diameter. At the center of this is a cone with a base of about three inches, a length of about seventeen inches and a top target face of about five inches.

I have to yet learn the reason for the cone as the center of the target instead of just a flat target face.

The scoring for the modern version of this uses a maximum of thirty points for the center and descends by one point for each of ten rings on the face of the cone, then by two points for the next nine rings on the bottom face. This provides the points to determine which team wins. And the overall wining crossbow shooter (King of the Crossbow) is the one that has the bolt closest to the center of the target.

An easy way to use this competition in the SCA is to utilize the roundel for the target. You would draw multiple scoring rings on the roundel. Use a contrasting center for the aiming point.

A bolt striking a line counts as the higher score.

If a bolt either falls out of the target or is knocked out by another bolt, it counts as zero.

If the shaft of a bolt is broken off by another bolt, but the point remains in the target it still counts.

In the medieval version of the competition the winner was the bolt closest to the center. In determining which bolt is the closest to the center, you should measure from the side of the bolt closest to the center, to the center of the “X” in the middle. In modern use, in the case of two bolts being at equal distance from the center, the bolt closest to the “12:00” line is the winner. The “12:00” line is a line from 12:00 (viewing the target as a clock face) at the top of the target to 6:00. If both bolts are equal distant from the “12:00” line. e.g., 11:00 and 1:00, then the bolt closest to the 1:00 side is the winner.


The wand shoot also goes back to at least the Robin Hood legends.

Thryse (three times) Robin shot aboute

And alway he slist the wand.
The wand can be made of a straight branch. There are references to it being peeled of its bark. This would make it lighter in color and easier to see at a distance. The width of the branch should be about two inches, but can be smaller if shot at close distances. The distance to place the wand may vary depending upon the skill level of the archers. The arrow need not stick in the wand to score. A hit counts as one point.

For SCA use the wand can be made from a two-inch wide quarter inch thick lath or one by two inch pine boards. You will need replacements for the wand for when it is struck and broken.


This was an annual competition in medieval Ferrara, Italy. It was held on June 24th, Saint John’s day. Some detail is found in the frescoes in the Schifanoia Palace. The target was a series of wooden rings, similar in appearance to embroidery hoops, of decreasing diameter. The distance to the target is not known.

The painting to the left shows an archer holding one of the rings.

Each archer would loose three arrows at the ring. If at least one arrow did not strike within the ring, the archer was eliminated from the competition. When all the archers had shot, the ring was removed and replaced by a smaller ring. This continued until only the winner remained. The second painting shows an archer from the competition with his three arrows. Note the recurve bow.

To use this for a SCA competition the target can be set up between twenty and twenty five yards, or further, without announcing the actual distance to the archers. The rings, which can be found at craft stores, can be approximately 4, 6, 8, 10, 12 etc. inches in diameter. The rings should be of a color to be easily visible against their background.

You start shooting at the largest ring. Depending upon the number of archers shooting, they may shoot all at once or in groups. After all have shot, the scores are recorded and those archers that did not have any arrows within the ring are eliminated. Only arrows within the ring count as a hit. That ring is now removed and the next smaller ring hung in its place. This continues until all remaining archers have shot at the smallest ring. If several archers remain after the smallest ring has been shot, they will shoot once more and the archer that strikes closest to the center of the ring wins. If needed, the next closest archers may take second, third, etc. place. If points are needed as part of an overall competition, you may give one or more points for each arrow within the ring. The number of rings used can vary depending upon how long you want the competition to last. For example, for a stand-alone competition you might use six rings and for one that is part of a larger competition you could use three.

Target shoot

By the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the targets were often round boards, thick enough to stop the arrow or bolt and either painted white or covered with white cloth with a black circle in the center. The black circle was the scoring area and was often about one quarter or a fifth the width of the board. Hits to the black would count as one point. Sometimes there was a smaller white circle in the center of the shown in the period illustrations. It may have just been an aiming point or perhaps in some competitions counted for a higher score. It was often used to help determine the arrow or bolt closest to the center of the target. In some cases there was a wooden peg holding the target face to the backstop. “Targets were simply paper disks, small ones for crossbow contests and larger ones (at a much greater distance) for harquebus competitions. The disks were commonly attached to a post or a butt by a large wooden nail (hence: “to hit the nail on the head”). Spotters waved flags to signal a hit or a miss. The number of hits determined who qualified for a second round. At Augsburg in 1509, for instance, three of the forty-two archers had eleven hits each. Those three shot again, and the arrow closest to the central nail took the prize. .” (From SPORTS by Allen Guttmann, page 61)

Shakespeare refers to striking the pin in the center of the target in “Romeo and Juliet”. “Shot through the ear with a love song; the very pin of his heart cleft with the blind bow-boy’s butt-shaft,” And in “Love’s Labor’s Lost”. “Then she will get the upshot by cleaving the pin.” The “upshot” was the best shot up to that point in an archery contest.

The below illustrations of crossbow shooters show what appears to be the wooden peg.

In some areas near the coast oyster shells were used as the target.

Thies longbowmen, they use a pretty feat,

In myddes of the butte thei set an oyster shell,

They care not if the white be little or grete.

The cause whereof forsooth I shal you telle,

Like as the fisher will tak on hym to sell,

An Ele in Themys by prodding with his spear,

So sure be they the prick for to come near.

Secrets of the English War Bow”. Hugh D. H. Soar.

For SCA use the simplest method to make a period looking target is just to cut either a white or black roundel of the appropriate size out of a stiff material, foam-core works well. Then hold it in place with a wooden peg. I have used sections of old arrow shafts for this purpose. The color of the roundel should contrast with its background. And the peg should contrast with the roundel.

This can be scored on total points with each arrow or bolt striking within the black circle counting as one point. Or only hits closest to the center of the target, where in each end only the single arrow or bolt nearest to dead center counts for the point. The distances and number of ends may vary as appropriate. Two arrows per end was a fairly common practice.

In London in 1583 there was a great archery meeting where 3,000 archers shot at a single butt placed at 148 yards. They shot only one arrow each and the winner was the archer whose arrow was most central in the target. The winner’s prize was fifty-three shillings. This may have been scored by removing all but the most central arrow after each group had shot.

It is possible that there were concentric ring targets with multi point scoring by the end of the 16th century. There is one illustration of English archers shooting, about 1580, at what appears to be a three-ring target mounted about ten feet high on a wall or butt. But, the scoring system is not known. In the original the three concentric rings can be clearly seen. (See “A history of Target Archery” by E G Heath. 1973. Page 52) This is the only example of a period concentric ring target I have been able to find so far.

The target seems to have some thickness as indicated by the thick line on the right. The center ring also seems to have thickness as well. It also has a thick line on the right. There is what seems to be a peg holding it to the wall or butt. The placement of it so high on the wall is unusual because it would make it hard to retrieve arrows, a ladder would be needed. This might represent a tall sod butt rather than a wall, since one arrow is sticking deeply in it.

The “Hit/Miss” target with a hit scoring one point is still in use today. To the left is the modern hit or miss target or Academic Target for World University Archery. The target is 122 cm in diameter. The center yellow is the size of the 9 and 10 ring on FITA targets. A hit tothe gold is one point. A hit to the red is a miss for zero points

The typical letter announced the date of the meet, the number of matches, the dimensions of the target, the distance from the line of archers to the targets, and the many valuable prizes to be awarded. Since medieval units of measurements were not standardized, it was customary for the letter of invitation to indicate the size of the target with a circle and the length of the local “foot” with a line printed on the letters margin or with an attached piece of cord.“Sports” by Allen Guttmann, page 61

There is an existing copy from 1478 of a challenge to an archery contest between Freemen of the Staple (Center of the wool trade in Calais).
If it would please you for your sport and pleasure to

meet with us next Thursday on the east side of this

town in the place called the Pane, you shall find a pair

of butts (a pere of prykys), the length between one and

the other being 260 tailor’s yards, measured out with a line.

There we, the underwritten, shall meet with as many of

your order and shoot with you at the same butts for a

dinner or supper, price 12d a man. And we pray you for

your goodly answer within twenty-four hours. Written at

Calis on 8 August, in the year of Jesus, ‘78”

From “The Great Warbow”. Strickland and Hardy. Page 381

Sometimes blunts were used for shooting at the targets and since they would not stick in the target, they would fall to the ground and could be retrieved by dogs.

Practice of the Children 1. “A History of the Peoples’ of the North”. Olaus Magnus. 16th century.

Practice of the Children 2. “A History of the Peoples’ of the North”. Olaus Magnus. 16th century.

The dog has an arrow in its mouth. But, it is not clear if it is a blunt or a sharp arrow.


The Balestro del Girifalco was shot in the Tuscany area of Italy and is still shot today in Massa Marittima, Italy. The falcon was the emblem of neighboring area with which they were at war, so they used it as a target.

The target area was the center of the falcon, a circle approximately six inches in diameter. This was shot from a distance of about forty yards. The competition was shot by teams, eight archers from each of the three districts of the city. The overall winner was the archer that struck closest to the center. This winner was sometimes referred to as “King of the Crossbow” for the occasion. And each district would also have a winner whose arrow struck closest to the center. A symbolic arrow of gold was given to the winner and a painted silk banner given to the winner’s district.

This could work well for SCA competitions between different areas, like the Antir/West war. For example the populace badge of the Kingdom of Antir, a lion’s head could be used with a centered six-inch circle. And a similar circle centered on the populace badge of the vert demi-sun against a full field of Or could be used with a centered six-inch circle. Or more general historical targets such as a heraldic white rose and red rose could be used. The centered six-inch circle would count as the scoring area.

There would be one point given for each arrow or bolt in the scoring area. The winning team would be the one with the highest point score. In case of a tie, the team with the arrow or bolt closest to the center would be the winner.

In later period, competitions with elaborate painted targets were sometimes used. Often there were two copies made. One, on wood, for use as the target and the other was given to the winner with the most central hit.

Along with the prizes of money, gold and silver plate, bolts of cloth and other items, banners were often given to the winners. This was a common practice both in the Italian and German kingdoms and cities. For inter-area SCA competitions a banner could be given to the winning team. For example at Pennsic, a banner could be given to the winning side one year and the next year, the new winner, which sometimes might be last years winner, would get the banner. There could be space left in the design of the banner to place the badge of each winner either on the face of the banner or as small pennons around the edge.

Banners could also be given to the individual winners, which they would keep. These could be for overall high score as well as for high score in separate competitions. Since silk banner painting has now become common, it should be easy to have such banners made. The archers could be encouraged to bring their banners to the range and display them there. This could be a source of individual pride and would also help to add a touch of color and pageantry to the archery range.


Roving is a form of competition useful in training for warfare and hunting as it develops skill in judging distances as it was called in period “Keeping the length”. It is shot at unknown distances at impromptu targets in the fields such as tree trunks or shrubs, etc. picked by the roving archers. You “rove” from mark to mark. The archer striking nearest the mark with one of his two arrows is allowed to chose the next mark. At more distant marks, the mark was often not hit. In the “English Bowman” by T Roberts the marks are defined as: “These marks are of three sorts; namely, 1st Ground marks; as land marks or stones. 2nd High marks; as trees, tall bushes. 3rd Butts and prick marks.” A “prick” was piece of paper or cloth pinned to the butt. Roving was often done by archers going to and from church on Sundays. A variation of this was “hoyles”. In hoyles the marks were smaller such as a molehill, or weed and at shorter distances.

This sort of shooting is (strictly speaking) roving, as the marks shot at are at varied and uncertain distances. Indeed it differs from roving only in this: that these distances are always short, sometimes not more than fifteen or twenty yards, at the fancy of the leader. This shooting is used by way of variation to conclude and determine butt-shooting when the games at the latter are equal on both sides.” T Roberts, “The English Bowman”. 1973

This takes a fair amount of space to shoot safely. However, it can be done on a smaller scale on an archery range. See “Winner’s Choice” in the appendix.


In London and some other towns, marks were set up in fields outside the city for the use of the archers. Some of these were Finsbury Fields, Mile End, Hoxton Fields, Moorfields and Saint George’s Fields outside of London. Here permanent marks were set at known distances from each other. The distances at the eleven-acre Finsbury Fields ranged from180 to 380 yards. The bases of the marks were usually wood, but sometimes of stone. The marks were all named, some after those that put them up, some fantastical names and some after nearby inns. The marks were laid out so that the winner of the current mark could pick one of several marks for the next shot. Left is an archer shooting in Finsbury Fields. Note the two marks with figures on top of posts in the background. There were 194 marks in Finsbury Fields in 1594.

Above on the left is the stone “Scarlet” mark. These bases were about three to four feet in height. The drawing of a mark on the right shows a hole on the top for the insertion of a wooden post, which would have supported a figure showing the name of the mark.

Below are the rules for roving at Finsbury Fields, “Ayme for Finsburie Archers “dated 1628 by James Partridge. It was also published in 1594, 1601 and 1604.

1. First, for finding your mark it must be within every man’s reach. Also the precise notion of the mark proveth which is shot.

2. Secondly, for whites you may have as many as you will, so they be all forwards: and if you shoot at any white - if it is stricken out of sight, it is no mark. 3. Thirdly, for the highest of stakes, although the wood be above the pin, you are to measure at the pin if there be any, because it is put in for the same purpose.

4. Fourthly, if you find a bush or a black, whatsoever you find highest in it, being within the compass of the mark, you are to take it for the height.

5. Fifthly, for the trees you are to measure at foot and pole, excepting the naming of it you say, at the nail in such a tree or hole in such a tree, or being a tree of so small a height, that you may reach the top of it with half your bow, then you may take the highest.

In the above map of Finsbury Fields, the marks are located at the intersection of the lines

6. Sixthly, if in measuring of a shot, by haste the mark is stirred, he is to lose the shot that measureth it.

7. Seventhly, when you come to the mark and claim two, and the contrary sides draw their arrows, and when your mate cometh he saith, his would win too, you are to win no more than you claimed.

8. Eighthly, if you aim one mark and shoot another, you are to lose your shoot, and they are to follow at the mark named.

9. Lastly, if your arrow breaks you may measure to the nearest piece that hath wood and head, or wood and feather.
The story in the early 1300’s of the Swiss crossbowman William Tell, at the order of Vogt Hermann Gessler, shooting an apple off the head of his son is well known. However, there are several such stories that predate it.

William Tell shooting at the apple, woodcut from Ein Schönes Spiel . . . von Wilhelm Thellen, by O. Schweitzer, 1698

First, in the 900’s there was the story of a Danish archer by the name of Toko, who was forced by his king to shoot an apple off his son’s head. He succeeded and later shot the king.

Then in Norway In the 1000’s the skilled archer Eindridi at the order of his king, was to shoot a writing tablet off the head of his son. The king shot first and hit the tablet, but also cut the boys head. Eindridi declined to take his shot.

In the 1100’s in England, William of Cloudesdley, in order to display his skill to the king, tied his son to a stake and placed an apple on his head. He then paced off one hundred and twenty paces, then turned and shot the spilt the apple.

An apple upon his [son’s] head he set,

And then his bowe he bent;

Syxe score paces they were outmet,

And therefore Cloudeslé went...
Thus Cloudeslé clefte the apple in two,

That many a man it se;

Over Goddes forbode,’ sayd the kynge,

That thou sholdest shote at me!’”
The SCA version of this uses Styrofoam wig heads on which to set the apple. It is often shot with each archer taking one to three shots at the starting distance. Then those that have hit the apple move back and shoot again, until only the winner remains. Those that miss or hit the head, leave the competition. You should place the backstop far enough behind the head that the archers cannot easily tell in which direction their arrows missed.

Just the opposite from the William Tell apple shot is the Turk’s head or Saracen’s head shoot. It is rumored that numbers of preserved heads were brought back to Europe by crusaders. Some of these heads seem to have been used as archery targets. An SCA version would be a Styrofoam wig head with appropriate make-up and hat. If the heads are lightly attached so they can be knocked off, it makes it more interesting to watch for the audience.


In the Near East, there were two basic types of competitions. They were target shooting and flight shooting. Of these the target shooting was believed to be the most significant to the Arabs.

In target shooting the target was often a pear shaped leather bag or “puta” filled with sawdust or cottonseeds. This was usually hung from a tree or mounted on a wicker column. The puta had bells on it so that they would ring when the target was hit. This was important because the distances shot often were out to 350 yards. Sometimes the target was a sheet of leather. The distance was not a set distance, but was chosen by the archers in advance, as well as the number of rounds. The ends usually consisted of three arrows. The order in which the archers shot was agreed to in advance or chosen by lot. Either pairs, or teams of archers could shoot

the contests. Scoring, as in Europe, was “hit or miss”, one point for hitting the target and nothing if you miss. The shooting was often done from a sitting or kneeling position. In some cases there were two targets at opposite ends of the range. This allowed the archers to shoot at one target, walk to it and score their hits. Then they could turn and shoot at the other target, thus saving half the walking. Unlike most European contests, betting was forbidden.

There were three main contests. 1: “El Mobadarah”. Here the winner was the one that first scored a predetermined number of hits to the target. 2: “El Mofadalah”. Here the winner was the one that first had a lead of a predetermined number of hits.

3: “El Mahatdah”. Here each hit by one archer or team cancelled one of the other archer’s or team’s arrows. If when the round was complete, one team had twelve

Note the wicker column with the target in the upper left

corner and the kneeling archers on the lower right.
hits and the other had nine, all of the nine hits team’s arrows would be pulled and nine of the team with twelve hits would be pulled, leaving only their three arrows as the score for that end. If there were a tie in number of arrows, then the one with the most central arrow would be the winner.
In flight shooting there were two basic forms of shooting for greatest distance. In one all the archers used the same bow and arrow, this was more a contest of just the skill of the archer. In the other, the archers used their own gear, but the bows had all to be the same draw weight. In distance shooting, the winner was the one that shot the longest distance. But, the distance was not measured. In flight shooting, the distance was measured.
In this 'flight shootings', the longest distance that an arrow could reach was taken as a new record under specified rules and conditions. A marble column, 'range stone' that bears the name of the archer, his profession, the date of the shot and the distance on the shooting face was erected. Those writings were in poetry and penned by a famous poet of the time, written by a calligrapher and finally engraved by masons. Each of these columns was an art object and those that could survive today are astonishing.”

From the web site “TurkishArchery.Info”

A common target for crossbow shooting was the popinjay. This was a representation of a bird, placed on top of a pole. The word derives from papegai , the French for parrot. This target has a long history going back to at least the thirteenth century. In the fifteenth century Bertrand du Guesclin, the great French commander, was the popinjay champion at Rennes.From The Medieval Archer by Jim Bradbury pg 16

The winner of the competition would often win a valuable prize and the title of “King”. If he were to win the competition three times in succession, he would be given the title of “Emperor”.

In the “AEneid” there is mention of what may have been the first popinjay competition.

For the archery contest, Achilles ordered a ships mast planted in the sandy soil with a pigeon tied to its upright end by one of its feet. For sheer drama, the ensuing contest surpassed all. There were two entrants: Teucrus and Meriones, Teucrus shot first. His arrow was near the mark; in fact, it severed the cord that secured the pigeon. As the freed pigeon flew away, Meriones snatched the bow from his fellow competitor, hastily strung an arrow, and shot the flying target through the chest. The mortally wounded bird landed at the slayer’s feet. “

Popinjay shooting was popular in Central Europe. The target was sometimes placed on a church steeple or the uppermost arm of a windmill. In the drawing to the left, the arrows are falling back down upon the archers. However, the arrows or bolts usually had blunt heads rather than target heads.

Popinjay mounted to pole on windmill arm. (Detail from “The Fair of Saint George’s Day”)
When placed upon a pole, it was sometimes ninety feet high. When shot vertically, the archer stood near the base of the pole or structure. There is mention of a horizontal version of it as well, which was shot at around fifty feet.
There seem to have been several versions of the target, depending upon time and place: 1) A single piece bird. 2) A multiple target consisting of one cock, four hens and two-dozen or more chicks. The highest value was for the cock and the lowest for the chicks. 3) A single bird body consisting of several parts: Head. Wings. Legs. Body. Etc., There were different values for different body parts.
The Tartars, as reported in “A Narrative of Italian Travels in Persia, in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries” would place golden or silver apples on the top of a high mast. The archer that knocked down the apple was allowed to keep it. For less expensive competitions a wooden apple was used.
The tradition of the Popinjay shoot continued into recent times in Scotland. The “Ancient Society of Kilwinning Archers” had a competition where a one-piece wood bird was mounted on the steeple of Kilwinning Abbey and shot at with longbows.


Above we have not only the popinjay, but also other prizes hung upon the tree.

Note the short recurved bows.

The winner of some of the Popinjay shoots was sometimes given the title of “King” and a valuable collar, often with a silver popinjay attached. In one case the winner upon winning for the second consecutive time and hitting the popinjay “firmly, cleanly and beautifully” was given a nineteen hundred and twelve pound ox as well.

The Great Gentleman who was lucky enough to hit the bird was often given a special kind of cap or helmet, or perhaps a cloak, decorated with silver.” From “Archery guilds in the North-Eastern Netherlands.”

The Flemish Blazon or Lucky Target was a square target consisting of 25, 36 or 49 smaller squares with one point of the square target pointing upward. The 49 square style had point values of one to twenty-six. The highest value (26) was in the center square inside a circle, which fitted within the square without touching the edges. The area of that square around the high score circle scored only one point. The next higher

One example of a Lucky Target where all the squares have numbers.

values 25, 24, 23 and 22 were in each corner of the large square. The squares next to each of the remaining numbers contained zeros.

In 1535 the Royal Guild of Archers of St. Sebastien of Bruges held a competition where “The target was square and fixed one angle upwards. It was divided into smaller squares marked with a flower: a rose, a lily, a columbine, a marigold: there was also a central circle. The distance was 60 meters (about 60 yards). Twelve arrows were shot, silver prizes being given to the archers shooting the greatest number of same flowers.” (“The Mystery of the Flemish Blazon” by Willard E Bishop)


King Louis IX in 1320 commanded his people to practice the noble game of the bow instead of other dishonest money games.

The Tir au Beursault first began in France in the early 1500’s as a practice for the companies of Francs-archers.

The same basic competition was also shot in Flanders at shorter distances. The range was often set up next to the town inn, perhaps for the convenience of the archers and the profit of the innkeeper.

Shooting the Beursault is done at about fifty yards. There are two targets, one at either end of the shooting alley. There is a roof over the targets to protect them from the weather. When the range was set up inside the town, there were vertical boards set up on either side of the shooting alley, which served to stop any stray arrows or bolts. This is also a good description of the archery ranges inside some Flemish and German towns.

Two shooting ranges (Dooles) in Amsterdam in 1544. Note the baffles on the sides to stop stray arrows.

Pas de tir: Shooting line. Allee des Chevaliers: Path of the knights. Allee du roy: Path of the king. Gardes: Vertical boards (arrow stops). Butte d’attaque: Attack target. Butte maltresse: Mistress target. Logis: Loge/clubhouse

The target is circular and about eighteen inches in diameter with four scoring areas. The width of the target is said to represent the width of a man’s chest. The outer-most ring is one point. The next ring is two points; the inner ring is three points. Sometimes the black center was four points. Lines counted as the lower value.

The archers shot in groups of five or six. They started in front of one of the targets and each archer shot one arrow at the opposite target. The same arrow is used for all shots, unless it is damaged. When all had shot, they walk to the target and score and retrieve their arrows. They then shoot at the opposite target. This continues until each archer has shot forty arrows. The above information is from “Beursault Shooting, A French Tradition” by Raphael Rambur.


Jesu, Jesu, dead! a' drew a good bow; and dead! a' shot a fine shoot: John a Gaunt loved him well, and betted much money on his head. Dead! a' would have clapped i' the clout at twelve score; and carried you a forehand shaft a fourteen and fourteen and a half, that it would have done a man's heart good to see. How a score of ewes now?”

Henry IV part 2, iii, 2
Clout shooting was a popular form of competition and practice for handbows. This practice in “keeping a length” was very important for military archery. The target or “clout” was shot at distances from 160 to 240 yards. The clout was a piece of cloth held to the ground by a wooden peg or pin. In earlier practice it may have been a man-sized post, set in the ground. To hit near the clout the archer had to aim high to reach the distance. In period competition the winner was the archer whose arrow struck nearest to the peg.
For SCA competition you need to have an archery range long enough to shoot long distances safely. The “Castle shoot” at Pennsic is a type of clout shoot. To provide an aiming point for the archers, you need a flag on a pole, since the clout usually cannot be seen from the shooting line. The flag also helps judge wind direction and speed. Ends of at least six arrows give the archers a chance to find their aim. You could also score three points for the closest, two points for the second closest and one for the third closest. Or you could use the more modern method and draw rings around the clout and give all arrows in each ring a set score.


Flight or distance shooting was usually using done with longbows. The purpose is simple, to shoot your arrow the furthest. This was often done using arrows that were made to have reduced drag and lighter weight. In the 1500s flight shooting on Finsbury Fields offered prize money of: Eight pence for shots between 400 and 440 yards. Twelve pence for shots between 440 and 480 yards. And twenty pence for shots over 480 yards. These distances were often shot using arrows heavier than a flight arrow. The broad and pound arrows were often shot for distance.

Below is the 1521 proclamation for prize tournaments to be held at Finsbury Fields.

And who will come thether and take a longe bowe in his hand, havying the Standard (arrow) therein therfor appointed and ffyrest draweth, clenlyest delyvereth, and fardest of ground shoteth shall have for hys best game a Crowne of Golde of the value of xxs, or xxs in money therefore…”
xxs or 20 shillings are 1 Pound

Archery, the People’s Heritage Hugh Soar 1998 page 13
There are records of flight shooting being done by the Vikings as well. Like the Turks, the Vikings also send up memorial stones to mark exceptional distances shot by important archers. The translation of one remaining stone, which bore an inscription in runes, is “King Olav shot between these stones”. Since only one of the pair remains, the distance shot is unknown.


Archery played an important part in the life of Medieval and Renaissance Europe. It was not used just for the hunt or battle. There were shooting competitions all over Europe. In Germany the Schutenfests or Shooting Festivals were attended by thousands of people and the archers came from many different cites to compete. In Italy the Palios included archery and horse racing. In England the fairs brought competitors from all over the area. One competition at Finsbury Fields had over 3000 archers.

In Germany the competitions were opened with processions and feasting. One of the major budget items was for the supply of beer and wine. In the German festivals the competitors would march into the city with musicians, banner bearers and on horseback. Prizes were given for the best processions as well as to those that had traveled the longest distance. The Italian competitions also included processions and ceremony. In London major competitions would include a procession to the archery field. Within a city the competition was usually between different quarters or sections of the city or between different guilds.

The local and regional nobles were often present at the competitions and sometimes took part in the shooting. Often the local noble would lead off the competition by shooting first.

Good prizes were given to the winners. Often prizes of money, silver plates and goblets, jewels, fine cloth, new archery equipment, special privileges, etc. were given to the top archers. In some of the major Schutenfests, the top winner was given a valuable chain of office and the title King of the Crossbows till next year’s competition. The top winner was sometimes exempt from various taxes and duties.

Archery was not done just at special events. Practice and local competitions were frequent. Going to and from church archers would often shoot at roving marks. Practice was usually every Sunday and Holy Day. Betting was common. Archery ranges existed in most all cities and towns. Some were out side the main part of town, like Finsbury Fields and others were set up inside like those used for the Tir au Beursault in France. At one range in Germany, the archers would shoot over a river crossing the city and their bolts were brought back by a bucket and cable system over the river.

In some areas archery practice was required by statue and seen as a civic duty. There were fines for those that missed a practice.



It seems that the number of arrows shot was often only two. The Luthell Psalter shows the archers with only two arrows each. The archer pointing toward his arrow in the target has only one arrow left. The archer behind him has one on his bow and one in his belt. And the archer behind him has one in his hand and one in his belt. Enough of the remaining archers can’t be seen to determine the number of arrows they are holding.

The archers in the painting of the “Faire at Hoboken” by Brueghel also have only two arrows each.

The Beausalt competition also only uses two arrows for each archer, one to shoot and one as a spare.

Records of the Finsbury archers in the 1500’s indicate that they each shot only two arrows at each mark.

However, in the Farrara ring shoot, the archers shot three arrows.


The following gives an idea of what archery competition was like in Germany in late period.

The Germans have a Commendable exercise of shooting at a butt with Crosbowes and Harquebuzes. For which sport the better sorte and their very Princes with them, (if they lived not in free Cittyes) vsed to meete vpon sett dayes once or twise in the weeke, in a publike house for that purpose, where they have plenty of wyne and beere to sell, for they cannot endure thirst either in worke or sporte. Besydes private men make matches of shooting at this publike house, for mony, or more commonly for suppers and drinckings in the same house. The place where they shoote is an open Terras covered over the head, the Butt lying open vncovered. Also the cheefe Cittizens make many private meetings to this purpose of Feasting vpon Sondayes, and holy dayes, And howsoever the Butt at which they shoote be large, with much earth cast vp behynde it, yet my selfe at Heydelberg [saw] divers wounded with shaftes and Bulletts sometymes missing the Butt, and then by Casualty hitting them. Likewise there have I seene the Prince Electour Pallatine, some tymes to vse this recreation with the Cittizens his Subiects vpon some sett matches made for wagers. …. Likewise the Germans vse like exercise of shooting with Musketts and Crosbowes, out of the Cittyes, and in the open feildes at an Image of some birde sett on the topes of maypolles, where he that hitts the head hath the greatest prise, he that hitts the winge hath the next, and he that hitts the Foote hath the third, these being the parts of most vse, and the hitting of any other part hath a seuerall but lesse reward. But this kynde of shooting they generally vse only once or twise in the yeare, yet vpon priuate matches they vse it oftner in some places. And in some places the rewardes are the parts of an oxe diuided for that purpose, with different portions of mony which Custome (they say) was of old taken from the Greekes. And in these places of shooting they hang vp Banners for memory of Victoryes. For the rewardes being deuided and the number of shotts allowed to each man, they haue the most stately banner, who winne the cheefe prises and the greatest number of them.”

The flowing describes archery in the Netherlands.

They haue in all Cittyes publike houses, with a larg yeard and garden, vulgarly called Dooles, (whereof Amsterodam had three) in which houses the Cittizens meete both men and wemen to drincke and eate, and in the large yardes the men exercise shooting with the long bowe and Crosse bowe. For these very sportes the Cittisens are devided into brotherhoods, and putt vnder ensignes, and many of the cheefe brothers haue their Pictures in these houses. They shoote at a Parratt of wood, and he that wins the Prise, is called the king of the Parratt.”

“ Shakespeare’s Europpe. An Itinerary written by Fynes Moryson Gent.”, Charles Hughes 1903. Pgs 352-353

A Period Archery Target for the SCA


Sir Jon Fitz-Rauf OL, OP

The idea of finding a more period target to use for archery in the Society for Creative Anachronism has been much discussed lately. The sixty cm five ring colored target that is in common use, is not at all in period and detracts from the medieval look for which our archery events should strive. I say this even though I am the one that first introduced its use for the Royal Round And IKAC. If I had known more about medieval archery back then, I would have used a different target. To try to now change the target used for the Royal Round would require the Kingdom Archery Marshals of all the kingdoms to discuss this and agree upon a

1: Polish target range, 1527. From “Kruze

Kaalog Zbiorow” by Jan Krucek

The five-color target is used in many other competitions than the Royal Round or IKAC. It is in these competitions that you could easily replace this modern target with a more period target. The IKAC does have a period face for its Period division.

In “A History of Target Archery” by E G Heath we find:” “Shooting at the Butts, as we have seen, had been practiced for hundreds of years, and was the forerunner of Target Shooting as we know it today. It consisted of shooting an agreed number of arrows at a fixed target from specified distance. “ And “Little is known, at least up to the seventeenth century, of the detailed shooting procedure, which was probably arranged arbitrarily according to local custom or the whim of the shooters.”

In “Historical Targets” by Anne Baum we find “The English butts were grass covered walls of earth. Up to a range of 140 yards (128 meters) one shot at a round white disc.”

2: Fifteenth century German practice range
From Sensfelder, “Crossbows”, p. 370. "Basically, there are two shooting disciplines: shooting at archery targets and the shooting of birds. It appeared from the invitations to the tournament in Munich [1468] that the circle (target) had a diameter between 121 and 181 mm and the distance to the target was 115 to 126 paces...” “Competitions held at various locations in Southern Germany in the 15th century prescribed shooting ranges of 110 to 135 paces, shooting at targets with diameters starting at 12 inches and gradually becoming smaller. In 1504, the target used in Zurich was only 12 cm."
The Roundel target
By the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the targets were usually round boards, though sometimes square (#8), thick enough to stop the arrow or bolt and either painted white or covered with white cloth with a black circle in the center. (# 2, 3, 6, 7, 9) Sometimes a white circle on a dark background was also used (#4, 5). There is one example of a red background with a
3: Swiss target range in Zurich, 1532.

From “A History of

Marksmanship” by Charles C Trench
roundel in Piete Brueghel’s “The “Piece of George Fair.” In some areas, near the coast, oyster shells were sometimes used as a target. In order to give this type of medieval target a more specific name, I am calling it a “roundel” target because of the circular scoring area.

The roundel was the scoring area and was often about one quarter or a fifth the width of the target face. Hits to the roundel would count as one point. Sometimes in the period illustrations there was a smaller white circle in the center of the roundel. I have not found a reference to the exact nature of this

6: Great shooting tournament at Zurich in

  1. From “A history of Marksmanship”

  2. by Charles C Trench

smaller circle. It may have just been an aiming point or perhaps in some competitions counted for a higher score. Or it may have been used to help determine the arrow or bolt closest to the center of the target. And may have just been a small peg holding the scoring circle to the backstop.

Three conditions that a target should meet for general SCA use:
1. It should have a period appearance.

2. It should be suitable for both novice and master archers.

3. It should be easy to build and to make identical copies.
There is no question that the roundel target is medieval in appearance. And it is easy to make circles of set sizes. The only drawback with a target that is scored as only one point for a hit and zero for a miss is that if it is too hard to score a hit for the beginning archer, they could become discouraged. But, if it were easy for all archers to hit, then the more advanced archers have no challenge and would often lead to tie scores between them.
There is a way to solve this and still maintain the authentic period appearance for the target. This is to increase the number of scoring areas while not changing its appearance.
7: Round archery target with roundel. From Prayer to ward off the threat

of plague” by Martin Schaffner. Close up of cover of Journal of Archer

Antiquaries #37.

In the following illustrations you will notice that most of the roundels are mounted on a round or square face. We can give the face of the target a scoring area and give it a value of one point. The

roundel then becomes two points. Then within the roundel a small circle or peg, which

can be seen in

some of the drawings (#1, 2, 8, 9) is added in the center for a value of three points.

8: German target range using square target with

roundel, 1520
We now have a target that still looks just like the period drawings but also provides an improved range of scoring for both novices and

masters. Or when desired it may be still used with either, only the roundel as a scoring area, or the face and roundel as a scoring area, or the roundel and peg as scoring areas with appropriate point values.

9: Target practice in Saxony at the court of Maximilian I in 1512.

From “A History of Target Archery” by E G Heath
The outer ring of the circle could be drawn on the face of the target. Or if a round or square matt of an agreed upon size, e.g. 24” or 30”, etc. is used then the face of the matt counts as one point and there is no need for anything other than the roundel of a contrasting color. If an area smaller than the face of the matt or hay bales is desired then a string of an agreed upon length can be used and any arrows within its radius, but outside the roundel, from the center of the roundel count as one point.
The use of a string allows the use of the roundel by its self, without the need for a large sheet of paper or cardboard since it can be directly attached to the matt.
The ring in the center of the roundel should be colored a contrasting color, which also helps as an aiming point.
The person running the competition can determine how the target is to be scored, either multiple value or hit/miss.
There are references to the roundels being shot and scored at the butts in several ways. The three basic methods were:

GAME -- This was shooting ends of one arrow. The first archer to reach a predetermined score was the winner.

TOTAL -- This was shooting a predetermined number of arrows, with any number of arrows per end. The archer with the highest score was the winner.

CLOSEST -- This was shooting a predetermined number of arrows, usually three or less. The archer with the arrow closest to the center wins.
You may make the competition easy or difficult by just adjusting the range, size of target or scoring.
More elaborate versions of the roundel or circle were used. They were often combined with a drawing of a bird or other animal. In Braun’s “Historical Targets” we find “A bird, whether eagle or parrot, swan, goose, mallard or pigeon was one of the most popular subjects, representing the original aiming mark used at the very beginnings of target shooting “
For SCA use you can create something more eye catching than the plain roundel by creating a similar target using an animal from the arms of your favorite rival kingdom or local group.
The roundel can be placed in the center of the target animal. It should be visible enough for aiming and scoring. But need not stand out too obviously.
It can be scored hit/miss on the roundel. Or it could be one point for the target face, two for the roundel and three for the peg. Or scored one for the animal body, two for the roundel and three for the peg.
In Massa Marittima, Italy, a target that is a direct descendent of one that was shot in the Middle Ages is still used. The annual crossbow competition, The Balestro del Girifalco, uses a diving falcon that represents the city arms of a nearby city, which was their medieval rival (# 11). This is shot at forty yards at a target about four and three quarter inches in diameter.

11: Falcon target from “Balestro del Girifalco”


I was able to zoom in on the on-line version of the drawing so that it was possible to make some estimates of size.

4: Flemish fair with archery range, 1559. “Fair at Hoboken”

by Brueghel
The Flemish Hoboken competition is presented as an example of what information can be found on period competitions with a bit of researching and work.

This is just one possible competition that can be shot with the roundel target and it can be modified as necessary. Others can be found with some research or by just replacing the modern five-color face with the period roundel.

4A: Detail showing archers at Hoboken Fair

It is possible to fairly accurately approximate one late period archery competition for SCA archery use. Given the detailed drawing of the Hoboken Fair, 1559, it is possible to estimate the distance between the targets, using the height of an archer as 5’-6”. The distance measures out to approximately fifty feet. Just viewing the illustration, given the perspective, it looks like about twenty yards. The size of the roundel is based on the height of a nearby human head is approximately six inches. The post the target is mounted on is about one foot wide with the roundel at the center.

There are five archers with only one shooting at this time. And there are four arrows shot so far. There is one in the roundel, one in the post and two in the butt. This could seem to support the idea of each archer shooting one arrow at a time before removing the arrows and scoring.

All this information gives us a competition using a six-inch roundel as a target at twenty yards with scoring of one point per hit to the roundel. All that is still needed is the total number of arrows to be shot per archer. Now since medieval competitions often shot one arrow per

archer per end, more time would be spent walking back and forth to draw and score each end than it is in our current method of ends of six. Trying to keep it as period as possible would require ends of one. This method will take much longer to shoot than the same number of arrows in ends of six. But, if the number of arrows shot is too few, to save time, then there will be very many sets of tied scores set in by the better archers.

If twenty-four arrows, in ends of one, are shot the time to shoot should not be excessive. There should be fewer arrows missing the target back stop at the twenty-five yard range. The archers should be lined up at
5: Detail showing roundel target
their targets and ready to shoot immediately when then turn comes up. If it is possible to have two targets at opposite ends, it would reduce the walking back and forth by half.
This can be shot with the hit/miss system or the method described above. If you are using the peg in the roundel for high score, then when recording the total score for each end, the number of hits to the peg are to be recorded as well.
For example:
* Robin Hood... first end 3 points. 1 peg.

* Little John... first end 2 points. 0 peg

If there are ties in total score the archers with the higher number of pegs have the higher value score.
Looking at many period sources it seems the archers often only shoot one at a time. The archers at each target would shoot in sequence, not simultaneously. E.G. With four archers at a target, Archer #1 shoots one arrow. Archer #2 shoots one arrow. Archer #3 shoots one arrow. Archer #4 shoots one arrow. etc. When all the archers have shot, they score and draw their arrows.
You can help make our SCA archery look more medieval by just using a period style target instead of the modern five-color face.
We have been using the modern five-color face since AS I. It is well past the time that it went the way of Freon drum helms, motorcycle helmets and fuzzy carpet armor.
Originally published on 1/27/08

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