Shooting at the butts or target shooting

This is an age-old shooting tradition used to improve the aim of the longbow men over a variety of distances. The butt was originally a wooden cask, later a wedge-shaped mound of earth covered with grass. Height at the target front was some 7 feet (2.1m) high and 4 feet wide (1.2m) at the bottom and 1 foot 4” at the top (0.4m), with a length of 9 feet (2.7m) behind the front, tapering off into the ground. The target face used to be a small piece of cloth or a disk made out of pasteboard about 4 inches (10cm) in diameter.

Shooting at the butts included a type of shooting known as “Wand shooting.” A stave of wood usually made of willow, was placed vertically against the butt. The purpose of the longbow men was to split the wand. Splitting the wand is difficult.

It is a small object and modern arrow-points do not always split the wood. A real war arrow is heavier and with a forged bodkin or barb the wand is easily split by a practised archer.

A more grizzly form of target practise was that of “Turks-head” shooting. Returning crusaders brought back barrels of Turks or Saracens heads preserved in vinegar. On special occasions these would be brought out to shoot at. The names of many pubs in England are a reminder of how popular this form of shooting was. Nowadays it is more usual to place a turban and a spray of feathers over a wig stand.

Today, butts are rarely used. Although they look the real thing, butts are fairly laborious to make and the grass on top of them needs regular cutting if they are to look nice. It is therefore much more usual to find targets made out of trussed and coiled straw on wooden tripod stands. Either butts or straw are covered with the familiar target face of yellow, red, blue and black and white. The scoring of these is respectively 9, 7, 5, 3, 1 and is unchanged since the English King George IV defined it.

It is as well to remember that the aim of a reasonably well practised medieval longbow men was good enough that he could pierce an opened hand at 100 yards (91m) and prick an oyster at 80 (73m).

Distance target shooting

Here the target is the same, i.e. a round target generally made out of a tightly packed straw boss, but the longbows shoot over greater distances of up to 100 yards (91m) for men and up to 80 yards (73m) for women. Targets are placed on tripod wooden stands.

Distance target shooting includes rounds known as York, Hereford, Western and Albion rounds. Each round is a dozen arrows. The arrows have a flatter trajectory than they do in the type of shot known as Clout shooting.

In the York round men shoot 72 arrows at 100 yards (91m); 48 arrows at 80 yards (73m); 24 arrows at 60 yards (55m).

Women shoot the same number of arrows at 80 yards (73m), 60 yards (55m) and 40 yards (37m).

The interesting feature of this combination of distances is the opportunity it gives to the archer who deems himself or herself a good shot at one particular distance, to distinguish him/herself, and perhaps gain the prize at his or her favourite range, while they  would have little chance to accomplish such a feat at the combined ranges. One archer will attend a meeting because he is a good shot at 60 yards (55m) and will be satisfied with an achievement at that range, while others will prefer the longer ranges and will win honours at 100 yards (91m).