Archery is the art, practice, or skill of using bows to shoot arrows. A person who shoots arrows with a bow is called a bowman or an archer. Someone who makes bows is known as a bowyer, one who makes arrows is a fletcher, and one who manufactures metal arrowheads is an arrowsmith.
Humans used bows and arrows for hunting and violence long before recorded history, and the practice was common to many prehistoric cultures. They were important weapons of war from ancient history until the early modern period, where they were rendered increasingly obsolete by the development of the more powerful and accurate firearms, and were eventually dropped from warfare. Today, bows and arrows are mostly used for hunting and sports.
Bowstrings may have a nocking point marked on them, which serves to mark where the arrow is fitted to the bowstring before shooting. The area around the nocking point is usually bound with thread to protect the area around the nocking point from wear by the archer's hands. This section is called the serving. At one end of the bowstring a loop is formed, which is permanent. The other end of the bowstring also has a loop, but this is not permanently formed into the bowstring but is constructed by tying a knot into the string to form a loop. Traditionally this knot is known as the archer's knot, but is a form of the timber hitch. The knot can be adjusted to lengthen or shorten the bowstring. The adjustable loop is known as the "tail". The string is often twisted (this being called the "flemish twist").
Bowstrings have been constructed of many materials throughout history, including fibres such as flax, silk, and hemp. Other materials used were animal guts, animal flax, silk, and hemp. Other materials used were animal guts, animal sinews, and rawhide. Modern fibres such as Dacron or Kevlar are now used in commercial bowstring construction, as well as steel wires in some compound bows. Compound bows have a mechanical system of pulley cams over which the bowstring is wound. Nylon is useful only in emergency situations, as it stretches too much.
There is no one accepted system of classification of bows. Bows may be described by various characteristics including the materials used, the length of the draw that they permit, the shape of the bow in sideways view, and the shape of the limb in cross-section.
Commonly-used descriptors for bows include: