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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 '14 at 23:01

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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
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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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    @mgb A hail of arrows, forcing people to put their visors down, lift their heavy shields up, walk slower, lose morale, leave horses behind etc etc would have been good force multiplication. – Nathan Cooper Mar 29 '13 at 15:12
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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
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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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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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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
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The new distance record for the war bow is 412 meters set by Josef Monus of Hungary shooting a 100# Elb built by Stephen Gardner ( Me)

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    Congratulations! Were you able to penetrate mail armour at that distance? – Pieter Geerkens Dec 9 '17 at 19:47
  • I'd be interested to see video from this action! – Bram Vanroy Dec 10 '17 at 19:51
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I am not a archer but would make this point. From a military point of view the use of a few arrows at extreme ranges would seem to be very useful.

Think about it for a minute. Would you, as a defender, want the enemy setting up for an attack at 250 yards or setting up at 350-400 yards? From a military point of view I would have a few of my archers move out in front of my line and launch a broadside at the assembly "area" to move the enemy as far back as possible before he could started his attack. Any problems, confusion or damage you can do to the enemy before the real fight begins is all to the good.

Therefore the issue of extreme range and useful range might have different meanings/answers at times during different stages of an engagement.

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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 '14 at 18:51
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There is no good answer to the question asked. Depends on what kind of bow, culture and other factors like professional soldier archer verses conscript. How tall and strong the person is.

Many people look at English Long Bow which according to historic records found in several museums suggest 200 to 300 yards is the effective range for targeted shooting. Accuracy as in hitting a bulls eye type of target (8-10 inch circle) is generally around 150 to 200 yards. Wartime targeting is within 18 to 24 inches which was effective up to 250 yards.

Barrage shooting where you are not trying to hit a specific target can have ranges between 300 to as much as 650 yards. There is references during the Crusades of archers sitting where they draw with 2 arms against legs and feet for maximum distance. This was especially the case during the second battle of Acre which decimated the Christian army as the muslims were firing volleys well out of range. That type of bow had a draw weight of about 150lbs or so. I remember reading in the British national museum that a person could not draw that type of bow without sitting and using two arms.

So, how far can a person shoot an arrow? Depends on person and type of bow. The answer is anywhere from 100 to 650 yards. Accuracy of shooting is roughly under 250 yards. Pin point shooting is less than 150 yards. However, there is statements in the historical record that pin point shooting was available up to 250 yards. As another poster pointed out that Henry III required Archery fields to be at least 220 yards. However, Henry III was best noted in use of Crossbows as part of his archery force as crossbows and hand cannons were the preferred used weapons of his time though long bows were also still deployed. Henry V used crossbows over long bow in lopsided defeat of French at Agincourt as an example.

  • Welcome to History:SE. For answers to do well here, sources showing the historical accuracy of the statements made are often requested. You make, for instance, allegations of a maximum range of 650 yards. Is this for an English longbow, the topic of the question, and can you provide the source of this information?. This seems extreme compared to all the other answers here. Also did you perhaps get your information in the last line reversed? – justCal Dec 30 '17 at 13:11
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    Henry V used crossbows over long bow...at Agincourt, I'd like to see a source for that information. – KillingTime Dec 30 '17 at 15:24
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I took my 75 lb compound bow with wooden limbs to a gun range and the furthest shot I was able to make was 335 yards. That was just firing at the high angle and letting it land somewhere far out of sight, then go find it.

There is no way you could aim at a target at that range though. I could barely see a person at that distance, and the variations between shots are way too much. You really can't even see the arrow after just two seconds of flight, and can only guess where it landed. The arrow was stuck in the ground at 335 yards, but not very firmly. I don't know how fast it was going, but I think it would have broken if I shot the arrow directly at the ground without all that distance to lose speed.

Compound bows shoot further than traditional bows granted the same arrow and draw weight/length.

I know this is not the same thing as a longbow, but I think it relates to the question.

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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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