How Do Archery Competitions Work? (A Guide With Pictures)

archery competitions top image

If you’re going to watch an archery tournament or attend one yourself – it’s a good idea to prepare yourself and learn the rules. It can definitely be a bit intimidating if you’ve never seen archery competitions before. This guide is a good place to start.

In this article, we’re going to cover the main 3 types of archery tournaments – target archery, field archery, and 3D archery. We’re going to fully explain the course of a typical competition, the rules, and the scoring system. After going through this post, you’re going to understand everything that is happening around you and will be able to participate in a tournament or support a buddy.

If you’re thinking about attending your first archery tournament, I would suggest going to one that’s hosted by a small club and avoiding big events. Smaller competitions tend to be a lot more laid back and chill, so you’ll have a much more pleasant experience. When you’ve practiced and already attended a few events, you can go to a big one, that usually offers a larger winning price.

Target archery

When you imagine an archery competition, you probably think of this one. Archers standing on a distance marker in front of a target, trying to achieve maximal precision. This is the type of tournament that was popularized by the Olympics since it is the one that is shot there.

No matter what skill level you are on, usually, if you have the basic ability to consistently hit the target, you can join a target archery competition. Don’t feel intimidated – even if you don’t hit “bullseye” on every shot, most archery events encourage newer archers to join and compete. They usually have only a small fee to join and are a really good experience.

Target archery competition course and rules

A target archery competition is split into rounds, each having its own distances and rules. Each of these rounds is then divided into “ends”, which are short shooting phases. Each archer shoots between 3 to 6 arrows per end, depending on the round’s rules. After each end, the competitors will approach their targets to check their scores and retrieve their arrows.

The names and rules of the rounds vary, depending on your country and competition operator. If you want to be prepared, try and check the online with the organization that oversees your competition for the exact details.

In target archery, there are both outside and inside tournaments. Indoor rounds are usually shot at a constant distance (typically at 25 meters), whereas outside competitions are usually shot at multiple different distances (usually at 30-90 meters for men, and 30-70 meters for women). Intuitively, inside competitions are more common in the winter, while outdoors rounds are more common in the summertime.

Common target face sizes for a tournament are between 40 cm to 122 cm in diameter, where each round and distance will come with a different target face size. Typically compound archers will use smaller face sizes than recurve archers, and outdoor rounds will use a larger face size than inside rounds.

Whistles and commands

In target archery competitions whistles are used to signal commands to the competitors, mainly for safety reasons. It’s really important before you attend a tournament, you make sure to know what each whistle means, and to pay full attention to the while the shoot is going. 

A two whistle command is used to signal to the competitors to approach the shooting line. When they are ready, the one whistle command will mark that they can start shooting. For their safety, they may not pass the shooting line until the three whistle command, which signals that they can approach the target, retrieve their arrows and check their score. 

In most tournaments, archers who finished shooting before the three whistle command is signaled may step back from the shooting line and set their bow on the rack. 

There are some commands that are not necessarily signaled by a whistle. The command “fast” means to stop shooting arrows immediately and to return any unshot arrow back to the quiver. It’s only used in dangerous situations, for example, if someone passes the shooting line. In some tournaments, this is signaled by four or more whistles.

To avoid any unnecessary dangerous or uncomfortable situations, make sure to always pay attention to the commands and to the other archer and what they are doing. If you have any doubts about what you should do, look at people around you and act accordingly. 

How are target archery tournaments scored?

A target used in a target archery tournament is made of rings with different color sections. In most competitions, the circles get assigned values through 1 to 10. The inner ring commonly referred to as “bullseye” is named “the X ring”, and assigned the value 10. In AGB rules (UK) the values are assigned to the colored sections and are 1,3,5,7,9 points accordingly.

archery scoring image

The score of each round is the sum of all arrow scores, where an arrow touching a boundary will be scored as the higher value. At the end of the competition, the scores of all ends will be added up to a final score – the archer with the highest score wins.

But what happens in case of a tie? In the center of the X ring, there is a small X sign – that’s how it got its name. If a case of a tie occurs, some competitions rule that the archer who scored the most X’s wins. In others, the archer who shot closest to the X wins.

What types of bows and equipment can you use?

Most target archery competition allows shooting a compound or a recurve bow. Some dedicated tournaments open other shooting groups. The shooting group you compete in determines what equipment you can use. In Olympic tournaments, they only allow for recurve archers to compete.

Compound shoots usually allow for all kinds of advanced equipment – release aids, stabilizers and the compound bow itself, for example. Recurve archer usually can’t choose to use such a large variety of assistance – typically the can shoot the recurve bow with a sight and finger tabs, but not much more. A recurve archer that wishes to use more equipment can sometimes join the compound shooting group, even when using a recurve bow.

How long does a competition typically last?

A typical target archery competition will last between three to four hours, but some may take longer. A typical end can last around 2-4 minutes, depending on the number of arrows shot, and typical tournament will have around 20 ends. This means a large bulk of the competition is meant for scoring, waiting between rounds and waiting for the judges. Some competitions will have a short break halfway through the day.

Field archery

Field archery competitions usually consist of a set of challenges, in which the competitors walk between targets in rough terrain and shoot from different positions, distances, and angles, while the distances are typically unmarked. They are somewhat of a middle ground between 3D archery and target archery competitions and require an additional skill set to the usage of the bow, such as distance judging, physical abilities and more.

The challenges in field archery vary; In many cases, the distance to the target will not be marked, so the archery needs to judge the yardage to the target. They will also have to shoot targets uphill or downhill in some cases and even have to deal with objects partially blocking or obscuring the targets. This is what makes field archery challenging, but incredibly fun.

If you’re not sure what learning yardage judging involves and how to get about it, I have a detailed post that’ll teach you everything you need to know. Make sure to give it a read if you’re interested in field archery.

The competitions themselves consist of three different types of rounds – field rounds, hunter rounds, and animal rounds; each has its own challenges, scoring, and rules. Some competitions are for individual archers, while others divide them into teams, and we’re going to discuss both options in this section.

What are the different rounds in field archery?

There are 3 types of rounds in field archery: Field rounds, hunter rounds, and animal rounds. The main differences between them are the distance measurements, target shape and size, and the scoring. Each round consists of 28 targets, that are divided into 2 sets of 14 targets. 

Field roundHunter roundAnimal round
Target typeSingle standard target4 small standard targets2D animal target
Number of shots4 at each target4 at each targetup to 3 at each target
Shooting lineConstant distanceConstant distanceChanging distance
Scoring3-5 points for each hit 3-5 points for each hit Total of 12/16/20 for a single hit

Field rounds are usually at higher distances than other rounds, where the yardage always go in 5-yard increments. Each archer shoots 4 arrows, at distances that go up to 80 yards. The idea is that the 5-yard increments make the yardage judging easier, but the higher distances make the shoots harder.

The targets in field rounds are made of a black ring that is surrounded by 2 white rings, that are surrounded by 2 more black rings. Archers are awarded 5 points for each arrow that hits the inner back section, 4 points for arrows in the white section, and 3 points for the outer black section. ‘Line breakers’ are awarded the higher score.

Hunter rounds are a bit more beginner-friendly, with target distances that go up to 70 yards. Unlike field rounds, hunter rounds don’t go in incremented yardage. Hunter rounds are more challenging with yardage judging though. Some tournaments hold child rounds, that go up to 30 yards. Each archer shoots 4 arrows at every target.

Usually, hunter rounds targets are 4 smaller versions of the field round target, were the archer shoot a single arrow to each target.  The scoring is similar to the field scoring, where the inner black section is awarded 5 points, the white part is awarded 4 points and the outer back rings are awarded 3 points. 

Animal rounds use different, 2D animal-shaped targets. In these rounds, the archers have 3 chances to shoot every target. For each target, the archers approach the first distance marker and shoot a single arrow. If they hit the target, they can move on to the next one. If they miss, they can approach the next station and shoot the second arrow, and then to station three. 

The scoring in the animal rounds are a bit more complex and are determined by the number of arrows shot, and the zone the shot hit. Most competitions divide the zones to vital (20, 16, 12) and nonvital (18, 14, 10), where the highest value is awarded for hitting with the first arrow, the middle go for the second arrow and the smallest for the third arrow. Some tournaments mark “bonus areas” in the vital zone, that award the archer with one more point.

Field Archery Individual tournaments

Individual field archery tournaments consist of archers shooting in head-to-head elimination rounds, typically over course of multiple days.  Usually, on the first round, the archers will shoot ar marked distances, while on the other rounds the remaining competitors will shoot at unmarked distances.

The competitors are split into two or three divisions, each has its own shooting lines.  Recurve and compound archers will form the first group, which will shoot from the farthest distances, usually marked by red pegs. Longbow and barebow archers will shoot from a lower distance,  to account for their disadvantage, which will usually be marked by a blue peg. Sometimes a third category will be added for Cadet archers. They will shoot from the shortest distances, which will usually be marked by a yellow peg.

The way the competition works is that after the first round, the archers with the top 16 scores will advance to the next round. This will be the first elimination round, after which the top 8 archers will be chosen to advance to the semi-finals. The semi-finals will usually consist of a half-round (which means The Archers will shoot that’s only 12 targets) after which the archers with the top 4 scores will advance to the finals. There, they will compete head-to-head for the first place.

Field Archery Team competitions

In team tournaments, archers are being split into groups, usually of three, where each consists of an archer from a different division. Meaning, each group has a compound archer, a recurve archer and a longbow archer. In each target, every archer from the team will shoot one arrow, and their scores will be combined. 

Just like an individual competition, the team tournament will begin with a head-to-head round.  The elimination rounds will begin in the semi-finals, which means that the eight teams with the highest scores will be picked for another round. After that, the top four teams will compete in the finals. 

What types of bows and equipment can you use?

Most field archery competitors choose to use a compound bow, recurve bows, and longbows.  Usually, different distance markers are used for each archer division, while compound and recurve archers shoot from a higher distance than longbow archers. Each division has its own standard equipment allowed.

Before you go on the shoot, make sure to bring all your personal archery equipment that you need with you – you bow and arrows, quiver, binoculars, etc.  You don’t need a lot of arrows since you’re only going to shoot up to 4 arrows at each target. Remember to also bring your release aid or shooting gloves if you use any.

It will be a good idea to wear comfortable clothes since you’re going to be walking a lot, and an extra small back with other things you might need – like water, snacks, sunscreen, bug spray, etc. Try to make things comfortable for yourself, so you can focus on the shooting itself.

3D archery

In 3D archery competitions, archers shoot at 3D life-sized animal-shaped targets.  These types of tournaments require a lot of modern bowhunting skills, and also good bow control and precision.  These tournaments basically take field archery to the next level, requiring archers to shoot uphill or downhill, spot partially hidden targets and deal with the elements.

There are a lot of 3D competitions that take place all over the world,  but most are organized or at least base their rules on the ASA or the IBO. Most competitions take place outdoors, but there are also some indoors, mainly in the colder months. Most tournaments are group-based. A typical 3D shoot will take about 2-4 hours, so make sure to plan that in your schedule.

How do 3D archery shoots work?

In 3D archery shoot, competitors walk from target to target to pegs in the ground. The pegs mark the shooting line, where different divisions have different colored pegs. Typically the classes also divide men, women and cadet archers. On a standard tournament, the distances will be unmarked, but in some beginner shoots, they are marked. 

An indoor 3D tournament may look pretty similar to a normal range (differentiated by the real sized animal-shaped targets, and the obstacles between the shooters to the targets). An outdoors range will be much more similar to a field archery range, where its environment will be highly dependent on the area you live in – wooded areas or rough hills are common for a 3D competition.

A standard competition place targets at ranges of 30-50 yards. One of the hardest skills to master in bowhunting is distance judging, and it comes to play in these scenarios. In some competitions, usually held for inexperienced archers, the distances are written – these are usually referred to as “known distance tournaments”. 

The number of targets in a competition varies but is usually between 20 to 40 targets across the whole tournament. The current ASA standard number of targets is 20 but it does vary on a yearly basis. This is a good rule of thumb, but you should check with the specific local club that holds the tournament and make sure. 

How are 3D archery competitions scored

The scoring system is a bit different and depends on which club hosts the tournament. Most clubs either use the ASA or IBO rules, which have a different scoring system for each hit. In both, though, the total score of a competitor is the sum of each arrow hit score, which is dependent on where it hit the target.

Since the targets in 3D archery tournaments are different from other forms of archery, they have a specific set of rules for scoring. The animal-shaped target will have multiple scoring rings, usually located on the vital areas, where each has a different value.

In the ASA rules system, any hit in a nonvital area will be awarded 5 points. A hit within the large vital area, meaning the first ring, is worth 8 points. A hit inside the large circle within the vital area is worth 10 points. Within the 10 points area, there will be 2 small circles, each worth 12 points.

In case of a tie the higher, smaller, off-center circle will be awarded 2 more points (to a total of 14 points). Any miss will be awarded 0 points, where hitting the animals horns counts as a miss.

The IBO rules are a bit different since they don’t have 12/14 small circles – instead they have one central ring worth 11 points. They might have the smaller 14 points circle on the target, but ignore it and count it as a part of the 10 points section. 

The universal rules are somewhat of a combination of these: they have both the central 11 points circle, and the off-centered 12 points circles.

3D archery scoring systems image

In both cases, any “Line breaker”, meaning arrows that exactly hit the line between 2 sections, will be awarded the higher point value. 

What types of bows and equipment can you use?

Most archers in 3D tournaments use either a compound or a recurve bow. In most competitions, longbows are also allowed, but it would be wise to check the rules with the specific club that holds the tournament. 

In a standard competition, a fixed pin sight and binoculars are allowed, while laser sights and rangefinders are prohibited. They give an unfair advantage to their users since a big part of bowhunting is estimating the range to the target. In some clubs, they open a separate division for rangefinder users, but that’s somewhat rare.

Remember to bring your arrows, quiver and other gear. You will only need a few arrows  – six arrows will be enough since you probably won’t shoot more than a couple at each target. Compound archers should bring their release aid and other gear, same goes for recurve archers and their gloves if you use any. If you use binoculars to make sure to bring them along as well.

It will be a good idea to bring comfortable clothes with you, and maybe a small back with water and snacks. Consider bringing sunscreen and bug repellent as well, since you’re going to be outside for a while. 

It’s important to note that broadhead arrows are strictly prohibited in almost all 3D tournaments. They can cause a lot of damage to the targets, which are definitely not cheap. If you’re planning to join a competition, make sure to use standard arrows.


Archery tournaments can be a really fun activity, and a way to motivate yourself to practice archery. They are also an incredible place to meet practice buddies and hang out with other local archers.

If you’re traveling for your archery tournament, you might find my post about flying with archery gear useful. I really recommend reading it.

I really hope that after reading this guide you feel confident going to a shoot and that you understand everything you need to know about archery competitions.

Archery Tournaments FAQ

What are the different types of archery tournaments?

The main 3 types of archery tournaments are target archery, field archery, and 3D archery tournaments. They require a completely different skillset and have different rules and scoring systems.

How long does a typical archery competition last?

A standard competition takes between 3 and 4 hours but may take up to a complete day. Though the shooting itself is the most exciting part of the tournament, a lot of the time is dedicated to scoring, resting and waiting for the judges.

What’s the difference between field and 3D archery?

Though both are forms of mobile archery, they’re very different. 3D archery is a lot like bowhunting – you’re shooting at life-sized animal targets, in harsh environments. Field archery has 2D targets in different shapes, depending on the round. It’s sort of a middle ground between target and 3D archery.

Can you win prizes at archery tournaments?

If you’re a good shot, it’s possible to win prizes in competitions. Big competitions can have large prize pools of thousands of dollars and high-end archery equipment, but usually attracts better competitors and have a higher entrance fee. Some hobbyists make good money off archery.