Movies, TV shows and comic books make archery look awesome. Heroes like Katniss Everdeen, Hawkeye, and the Green Arrow elevate the sport to superhero-like status, but unless you understand what’s going on, watching competitive archery isn’t nearly as exciting as watching Oliver Queen pin a bunch of falling tennis balls to a wall with arrows. Why is that? Can archery really be as awesome as it looks onscreen?

The answer is yes, dude. Archery is completely awesome! It just happens to look better close up. Let’s investigate.

Olympic archers stand 70 meters away (that’s over 229 feet) and aim at a target that’s 48 inches in diameter. Hitting the target at all is a feat — hitting the center of the target and scoring 10 points is something else altogether. There’s no doubt that competitive archers are insanely skilled, but the reason archery in films doesn’t typically look like competitive archery is because the scale of competitive archery is difficult to convey onscreen.

What we see from hero archers is a lot of shooting at moving objects or foes, hitting impossibly small targets or “threading the needle” with an arrow, so to speak. Is all of it realistic? No. Does it all look cool? Hell yeah. You might be surprised by just how dead cool archery is, even without the help of heavy editing and movie magic. But before we get into the fancy stuff, let’s look at some of the specifics of hero archery.

Equipment

There are a lot of different kinds of bows and every bow has a slightly different shooting style. In films and television, we’ve seen Katniss Everdeen use a longbow, Clint Barton use a recurve bow and Oliver Queen use…well, a lot of different bows, actually. Recurve bows and longbows are traditional styles and the compound is a modern design.

Longbows are a very traditional style. They’re simple, attractive and allow archers to get a full, powerful draw. Recurve bows look something like longbows, but came later and include a significant advancement. The tops of recurve bows are curved away from the archer and the design allows archers to put more energy behind their shots with less effort.

Compound bows are much more complex looking and include very sophisticated sights for aiming, along with cables and pulleys that help archers get more leverage (and, thus, more speed and accuracy) behind shots more easily.

In a conversation with Patricia Gonsalves, Arrow’s Archery Technician and Consultant, Archery 360 discussed the types of bows used (spoiler: there are a bunch) and the extensive training that goes into making the archery in the show as realistic as possible.

Arrows

There are different types of arrows, too. In the real world, we have different types of points, different shaft materials and different fletchings. These variables affect the way that arrows fly and impact targets.

Superheroes have more, um, specialized rounds, though. Hawkeye uses things like Tear Gas arrows and acid arrows, and in the comics, the Green Arrow makes use of truly bizarre gadget-y arrows like the handcuff arrow and the boxing glove. Obviously trick arrows like these are the stuff of fiction, considering the many problems they present in terms of aerodynamics, but the idea of the arrow as a delivery system rather than simply a projectile meant to kill with a direct hit is plenty real — flaming arrows, anyone?

Trick Shots

So can archery look cool? Absolutely.

Archery is more than just aiming at stationary targets at varying distances. While trick shots may not have a whole lot of practical application unless you’re looking to break into the hero business, they’re awesome. They still depend on proper technique, accuracy and some serious aiming ability. And sure, it’s probably going to take a try or 30 to get it right, but that doesn’t change the fact that splitting a moving baby aspirin with an arrow without the help of a complex aiming apparatus is super impressive.

Creative editing sure helps a guy look heroic, but not all of superhero archery is cut-and-dry fiction. Archery is a powerful tool and it looks awesome. What’s more, technicians and consultants on shows like Arrow help keep things accurate where form and technique are concerned. Do some aspects of Arrow, The Avengers and The Hunger Games occasionally toe the line of reality? Sure, particularly with regards to how fast these heroes nock, draw, aim and shoot. It’s Hollywood, after all — if they didn’t do anything to make it look totally awesome, we’d all watch a lot more competitive archery.

Even so, archery is plenty badass all on its own, so it’s no surprise that some of our favorite heroes have turned their skill with a bow into a bonafide superpower.

Photos via JSquared Photography / The CW

Megan is a freelance writer whose work has appeared on WIRED, Slate, Travel + Leisure and GigaOm. When she’s not writing, she’s hiking, brewing beer, and extolling the virtues of The Cranberries.

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