Field Archery was likely invented by people fond of Roving - the traditional act of getting drunk with friends and wandering the countryside with a wineskin and a bow, shooting at things for fun. There are even songs on the topic "A Roving Will We Go" and so forth.
Field Archery is very similar, but without the drunkenness. Field archery combines shooting a bow with a hike in the woods, enjoying a wide variety of outdoor terrain, weather conditions, and shooting in varying lighting conditions. Field Archers usually shoot in groups of four, and then hike a course to shoot targets at varying distances. It is a bit like playing golf as you have to wait until the next target is clear of the previous archer(s) before you can go out there and start shooting.
In World Archery field tournaments, the course is "unmarked" on the first day of competition. Archers are expected to judge the distance and take their shots in three-arrow ends; that is, each archer shoots three times before walking to the target to score their shots. During FITA Field events archers often develop a system for estimating distances and practice it while honing their form on different types of terrain to prepare for tournaments. In comparison the National Field Archery Association tournaments the distances are marked.
Some Field Archers feel that field archery is special because archers connect with each other while they are waiting for a target to open up, and that's when they talk, share snacks and discuss how they felt about that last target, thus building new friendships amongst competitors.
In contrast Field Archery is never the same twice. Always a different course to run, different spots to stand, etc. The big trick is learning how to gauge distances, control your form on rough uneven terrain and learning how to adjust shots on upwards or downward angles. Thus if you have never done any of those things before it helps to have an archery instructor.
The other good news is that Field Archery is a sport that is friendly to all kinds of bows - longbows, compounds, recurves, shortbows. Everyone is welcome. Some competitions may be limited to only one kind of bow, but it is a sport that can be done with any kind of bow.
#2. Flight Archery Competitions
Flight Archery is all about seeing who is shooting the further, often using the most powerful / fastest bow you can shoot (within your chosen weight category) and using the lightest weight arrows you can find. The goal essentially is to shoot a super light weight arrow using a very fast bow and aim it at the correct height in order to maximize the distance the arrow will travel - possibly paying attention to wind conditions so you can have the wind in your favour.
A big factor in Flight Archery is the weight categories. It is arguably easier to win a competition (or even set a new record) using a lighter bow than it is to win a competition or set a new world record using a really heavy bow. According to legend the world record for the world's longest shot with a longbow was about 1500 yards, however it was likely done with a 200+ lb longbow, which makes it far out of the reach of normal archers.
In contrast the current male recurve flight archery champion for the under 18 kg (39.7 lbs) category boasts only approx. 650 yards. Thus someone wishing to set a new record doesn't necessarily need to be super strong to do it.
Below I have included an Arrow Trajectory Chart so you get an idea of the importance of aiming at the correct height when doing Flight Archery. Aiming too high or too low will hurt the overall distance traveled. As you can see below the correct height to aim is approximately 40 to 45 degrees.
#3. Longbow Competitions
I decided to list Longbow separately because there are many different kinds of Longbow Competitions, which include:
Clout Archery - shooting at a flag at either 180 or 140 yards away. Points are awarded by how close you get to the flag.
Beuersault - shooting at two 50 yard targets in two different directions with different wind conditions.
Cherokee Cornstalk Shooting - See Wand Shoot below, the two are very similar.
Popinjay - shooting at a wooden bird on top of a pole that is 30 yards almost straight up. Archers stand within 12 feet of the pole and try to shoot the wooden bird with a blunt tipped arrow.
Wand Shoot - trying to hit a tiny strip of wood or a ribbon at a random distance. Points are awarded for arrows landing near or hitting the strip of wood or ribbon. This is very similar to Cherokee Cornstalk shooting, except that in that sport you only score points by hitting the cornstalk.
#4. Target Archery Competitions
There are many types of target archery competitions, for all types of bows. Ignoring the types of bows used one major difference is whether they are shot indoor or outdoor. A common competitive distance for teenagers to shoot during high-school for example is to shoot at 18 meters, indoors, usually in a gymnasium.
Note - I personally enjoy shooting in my garage when the weather is really cold. It isn't a long distance, but it is a lot of fun with friends, music and drinks.
The Olympic and Paralympic Games are probably the best-known example of outdoor target archery, but archers compete outdoors at everything from local to national events using every kind of equipment you can think of: Compounds, crossbows, longbows, shortbows, horsebows, traditional recurves, Olympic recurves, footbows, and a large variety of ethnic styles of archery.
Olympic archery, the kind you are most likely familiar with, involves shooting at a 122 cm FITA target at a distance of 70 meters and using every gadget you can think of - stabilizers, sights, clickers, etc.
Compound competition distances vary, but are commonly between 50 meters and 150 meters. Some competitors are so good at this they could probably shoot bulls-eyes further than that, but there are a shortage of competitions that bother to go for really long distances. Targets for compounds are usually 80 cm, and again they use lots of gadgets to help their accuracy.
Ontario hosts over 200 outdoor target competitions every year, for a wide variety of different bows, and many of these competitions are within a short drive of Toronto. So there is no excuse not to try it if that is what you are interested in.
#5. 3D Competitions
Like field archery, 3D archery involves wooded ranges and challenging terrain, but this sport also features three-dimensional animal targets on marked and unmarked courses. You don't know the distance to the target and the target might be as small as a rabbit or as big as a moose, it really depends on who designed the course and what they had handy for targets.
3D archers hike to shooting stations, where they then estimate distances to the animal target. However, most 3D tournaments only allow one shot per target. Even if you are not into hunting, 3D archery provides a fun, challenging test. 3D competition distances are much shorter than those for target or field archery, so it's accessible to beginners, with ranges typically being less than 30 yards.
To practice for 3D archery, you must practice judging distances, develop stamina to carry your equipment, and learn the scoring rings for different animal targets. Carrying binoculars is handy if you need to verify where you want to aim.
Like Field Archery above, 3D archery feels special because you're shooting in a natural setting at an animal target, even if it is a fake animal. The varied terrain adds an extra challenge and you will often make new friends while doing it. Tip - Hang out with the veterans and old archers who know what they are doing, you will learn lots from them.
BONUS - Archery Tag League Play
Archery Tag is such a new sport, but it already has evolved into a team sport with leagues where teams can compete against one another. Toronto has over half a dozen archery tag locations now and several of them offer the option of League events (eg. Battle Sports). So if you are in favour of shooting at moving human targets, that is certainly an option.