Projects: Archery / A Period Archery Target for the SCA

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 should require the Kingdom Archery Marshals of all the kingdoms to discuss this and agree upon a change. For the IKAC, the Keeper of the IKAC is planning on running a documented period competition in conjunction with the regular IKAC this year.

The five-color target is used in many other competitions than the Royal Round or IKAC. It is in these others that you could easily replace this modern target with a more period target.

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;”

From Sensfelder, “Crossbows”, p. 370f. "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 roundel in Piete Brueghel’s “The Hoboken Fair or Piece of Georg Fair (#10). 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 as to the exact nature of this 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. 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. 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: Only the roundel as a scoring area. The face and roundel as a scoring area. The roundel and peg as scoring areas with appropriate point values.

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.

How the target is to be scored, the person running the competition can determine 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 less than three. The archer the 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.

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 which 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 which 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.


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. See illustration number four.

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.

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 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 and five and one half high 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 backstop at the twenty-five yard range. The archers should be lined up at their targets and ready to shoot immediately when then turn comes up.

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 peg are to be recorded as well.

For example:

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 and motorcycle helmets.