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The range of the medieval weapon is not accurately known, with estimates from 165 to 228 m (180 to 249 yds)

So says Wikipedia. I did read, however, in a semi-fictional, semi-historical work of Bernard Cornwell that bows could fire (and hit targets!) over a further distance. Now, unfortunately I cannot find this quote, but I am looking for other quotes and/or experiments that show better proof than Wiki.

Another thing that bothers me is that most sources say "an archer could shoot this far", but does that mean that he could shoot that far effectively, or just that the arrow would land there? In other words: are the ranges that are mentioned the distance over which an average archer could hit a target, or not?

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Much more relevant than simple range is the distances at which various materials can be penetrated. An arrow shot near the range limit of 340m likely has less penetration than one shot only 1/2 or 2/3 that distance, so it might have been a waste of valuable and limited ammunition to fire at anything armoured at more than 250m or even 200 m. –  Pieter Geerkens Jan 29 at 23:01

6 Answers 6

up vote 11 down vote accepted

For completeness, all wikipedia has to say:

The range of the medieval weapon is not accurately known, with estimates from 165 to 228 m (180 to 249 yds). Modern longbows have a useful range up to 180 m (200 yd). A 667 N (150 lbf) Mary Rose replica longbow was able to shoot a 53.6 g (1.9 oz) arrow 328 m (360 yd) and a 95.9 g (3.3 oz) a distance of 249.9 m (272 yd). A flight arrow of a professional archer of Edward III's time would reach 400 yds. It is also well known that no practice range was allowed to be less than 220 yds by order of Henry VIII.

Reference for this: From Hastings to the ‘Mary Rose’: The Great Warbow, behind a paywall unfortunately

Also The Hundred Years War: Different Vistas. p76 and p74 backs up wikipedia and page 242 has some interesting comment on arrow weight and range (which suggests a up to 200 yard useful range)

The furtherest anyone has ever shot a longbow is 340m, achieved in 1910 with a 157 lb (700N) draw weight. Is apparently a fact but I can't find an online source that isn't a dervivate of wikipedia, it might be in "Invention and Evolution" by M. J. French (1988, Cambridge Univ. Press) (chapter 3.4.2)"

Bernard Cornwell's answer to these queries is on his website, but he doesn't link anything in particular. He certainly has specific sources in mind, are they in any of his book's appendixes?

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This is a harder question than I thought. There was one interesting line of enquiry I didn't find much on but I will mention it nonetheless: can castle design tell us about effective range of longbows and crossbows at the time? –  Nathan Cooper Mar 17 '13 at 21:28
    
I'm not sure about that. I doubt that the possible range of bows was taken into account for castle design in a scientific- or physical-meaningful way that allows to infer ranges of bows but clearly there had to be guesses about this question of life and death. But then castles were not only built to defend from ranged attacks so entangling this matter will be difficult. Very interesting thought though. –  Stockfisch Mar 17 '13 at 23:23
    
I will look into his books when I have the time. Thank you for your input! Another thing that bothers me is that most sources say "an archer could shoot this far", but does that mean that he could shoot that far effectively, or just that the arrow would land there? In other words: are the ranges that are mentioned the distance over which an average archer could hit a target, or not? –  Bram Vanroy Mar 18 '13 at 8:03
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@BramVanroy at long range the archers weren't trying to hit a target. They were fired up in volleys to rain down on men, and more importantly horses, although at that range they wouldn't penetrate armour –  none Mar 19 '13 at 5:09
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@BramVanroy hitting a specific target at range is the purpose of a sniper rifle, not a barrage weapon which the longbow was (modern bows fitted with rifle scopes and built out of computer cut components for consistency didn't exist at the time of course). An average archer could hit his target over the published ranges, given that the target was an area of ground rather than a point in space. Might be interesting to try and find out how large that area would be, but that would no doubt depend in large part on the individual weapon and weather conditions, as with current artillery. –  jwenting May 15 '13 at 9:51

Modern day warbow archers, who uses replicas of medieval (tudor) bows, and shoots replica arrows (from finds) shoots from 292-315 yards with war arrows.

See records on http://www.theenglishwarbowsociety.com/

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Too many factors at work to really say 'a bow has a range of X'. How strong a man is drawing the bow, is the wind for or against the direction of the arrow, how strong is it blowing? How well made is the bow? Is it in good repair?

Also what kind of firing are you doing? Are you simply trying to shoot an arrow far regardless of it hitting anything? Or are you aiming at a set target? I'm not into shooting so I've no idea about these distances. How far away could someone accurately expect to shoot with a standard rifle? Add in the extra difficulty of a bow and it won't be too far.

I don't think 165-228m is too broad a range of estimates given all the different factors that can be at play.

Firing and hitting a target at a greater range does not necessarily mean that they were aiming for a small bulls-eye at that distance. More likely, it meant just firing into a cluster of men and happening to hit one random unlucky chap.

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Agree with Craig. We can say "an average English longbow's range is..." but we can't say what was the maximum. Depends on construction. I have a 40 pounds Hungarian bow, it easily shoots to 150 meters. But if you add more force with lighter arrows, you can push the limits. BTW the long range record is held by József Mónus which is 653 meters. And to enforce Craig further: it matters if you want to target or just shoot randomly for a distance. The effective range is shorter than maximum. So +1. –  CsBalazsHungary May 16 '13 at 7:29

I have an 80lb draw weight english war bow and can manage 245m with a "standard" medieval type arrow and 220m with a heavy war arrow. The last flight shoot I attended was won by an archer who shot the heavy war arrows over 300m. When shooting at the marks we have to guess the distance to a series of targets (think golf) and most decent archers get on or two out of three arrows within 10m of the mark, easily accurate enough to hit a group of men on a battlefield. The marks are any distance from about 140m to 220m

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there are a lot of factors for an answer to this question. English warbows were not all the same draw weight, arrows were not all the same weight either, some bows were faster than others.A heavy (draw), and faster shooting bow with a light arrow will shoot further than a light slow bow with a heavy arrow. Sorry if that has muddied the water. In the days of yore the yeomans and peasants who were the guys that used the warbow, shot at a distance of about 200 yards. they were accurate at that distance to a degree. In war, at that distance they were only expected to be able to get an arrow within a few feet, once the distance got to around 100 yards they would then be picking targets. There are more variables to take into account. i would say that average shooting distance to be 240-300 yards.

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Are there any citations for these assertions? I don't question them, but they'd be much more valuable if I could point to evidence. –  Mark C. Wallace Feb 23 at 18:51

There is evidence of English longbows shooting farther than 250 yards, particularly at Crecy, where the longer bowshots were around 300 yards.

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Do you have sources for this answer? –  American Luke May 8 '13 at 22:05

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