The Archer’s Paradox: you can't hit a target by aiming exactly for it

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We imagine that real-life archers are constantly frustrated by the inaccuracies of movies and comic books. Namely, the fact that no one realizes you can only hit a target if you're aiming somewhat away from it.

Let's consider two typical action movie shots. The first is a zoom out from a target, maybe a bad guy's eye, across a wide stretch of distance, up into a building and ending on the tip of an arrow, pointed right at him. The other is the arrow-cam shot, following its straight path to its target.


Neither of those would work, at least not with long bows. The Archer's Paradox is the idea that to shoot directly at the center of a target, you have to aim away from it — the string doesn't snap straight at the target, and the arrow doesn't stay straight.

The string pushes the arrow. Some of that push is translated into forward motion on the part of the arrow. The rest causes the arrow to bend sideways, into an arch. As it flies, the arrow keeps bending one way and another around the center line of its flight. It's practically a slinky.

So why does it hit the target? Practice on the part of the archer helps, of course, but a lot of it is the work of the engineer designing the arrows. They have to have the correct strength along their spine. Too much, and they shoot out to the left. Too little, and they hit to the right of their targets.


Which also finishes off the myth of someone trapped in a room full of debris and making a bow out of scrap. They could make it, but they'd have a hard time shooting with it. No wonder no one's in a rush to make the Green Arrow movie.

[Via Meta-Synthesis, Texas Archery and Wikipedia]