Arrow split still image from The movie "The Adventures of Robin Hood" from 1938

Robin Hooding: Can you split an arrow with another arrow?

Probably the most common archery trick seen in movies is that made by Robin Hood. But, is it possible to shot an arrow and hit another one in the target?

If you are wondering if it’s possible to split an arrow with another arrow, like Robin Hood, then YES! It doesn’t matter if you are a beginner or a senior archer, it’s perfectly possible to do it. But, it’s not as amazing as you may think, and I encourage you not to try it. Continue reading this post and I’ll show you why.

I can bet my underpants that if I ask someone to name a famous archer, probably more than 90% will say Robin Hood. Some people, more aged, will probably say William Tell, and some other, younger, will say Legolas, or Katniss Everdeen. But the majority, surely, will claim that Robin Hood is the most famous archer. Particularly for me, Robin was the one that drove me to start archery.

Among his numerous virtues and feats, we can all agree that his legendary trick is splitting an arrow with another arrow, beautifully immortalized by Kevin Kostner (some call me cheesy, but I love that movie). Well, is it possible for us to do it? I’ve been researching and learned a lot about it. Let me share that you but, first, let me explain to you a couple of things about it.

What means “Robin Hooding” (or doing a Robin Hood)?

Among archery amateurs and people that love to see archery, there’s a common jargon. One of these terms is a Robin Hood, or doing a Robin Hood. What does it mean? By definition, a Robin Hood is when you (by chance or in purpose) hit an arrow with a second one, sticking in the first or breaking it in half. This might seem amazing to see, and even more to do. Regrettably, if someone manages to do it is not a sign that he/she is a good archer.

What are the odds? (I did the math)

Image by Szabolcs Molnar from Pixabay

Here I’ll take out the scientist in me, and try to do some calculations about the probability for this to happen. Don’t worry, I won’t turn it into a statistics course. If you want it, you can e-mail me. Here I’ll show you some simple numbers with the intention to reflect how easy/difficult it is. We can divide this phenomenon into two very distinct cases. 

The most challenging case

Imagine that we only have two arrows, and one of them is already in the target (let’s say, in the center of the golden ring, a perfect 10). Then, we will want to hit it with the second arrow. First of all, if we want to do it, we must have a good aim. If not, the chances are dramatically reduced. For the sake of simplicity, I’ll assume that we can land all shots in a 5cm radius circle. Then, the area where we hit the shots is about 78.5cm2, which I’ll round it to 80 for simpler math. Then, looking at the arrow from behind, we see the nock, with a typical diameter of 0.5cm.

When the arrow is stuck in the target, from the shooting line we’ll see the back of the nock, with an area of about 0.2cm2, covering 0.25% of the target’s surface (less than 1%!!). So, as you can see, it’s a very small number, and that was being optimistic about our aim. But there’s more. That percentage is to hit any part of the nock. Sadly, if we hit the nock on the edge, we’ll just touch it and the arrow will hit the target, and not the arrow. So, the chances drop even more. I’ll be bold to say (to not put more math into it) that 1 out of 10 arrows that hit the first arrow’s nock will hit more or less in the center. So, the mathematical chances of doing a Robin Hood are 0.025%, which is 1 out of 4000 hits!!! And that being super optimistic!

So, doing a Robin Hood is a feat indeed, if we count that we did the math with very optimistic assumptions. But, probably, you may have heard about more people than these numbers that managed to split an arrow. Well, this might be true, but it’s a little deceiving, and that has to do with the second case I mentioned before. Let me explain myself.

Let’s make things easier

If you are shooting at a target, alone or sharing it with other people, at a given time you might have a lot of arrows stuck on the target. Then, as you keep shooting, the arrow density on target rises, and the chances of hitting one of them are considerably higher. So, if you keep filling the target with arrows, you’ll eventually hit another arrow. Well, people may be happy that they finally Robin Hood-ed an arrow, but that’s not as much a feat as when there’re fewer arrows on the target. So, if someone tells you that they did a Robin Hood, remember this, as it might not have been by pure skill.

Most important of all, if the splitting was true, they probably never can repeat it again. And, as we know in archery, if you can do a very difficult shot, like a Robin Hood, or score a 10 from 70 meters, only one time, that’s no skill, that’s just luck. 

Is it good? (Pay attention to this)

Despite all the boring, nerdy math I did to compute this (I only showed you a very simplified summary of the results), being able to do it must be fun, at least once. Well, for amateurs and non-archers it’ll probably will but, for professional archers, it’s a pain in the butt, and they discourage any beginner archer to pursue that goal.

There are many reasons why they discourage this kind of feats. First of all, if you were able to Robin Hood an arrow, the arrow that was hit by the second one will break, and you’ll lose it, and probably the second one too. Arrows are not as expensive as a bow, but it will cost you money, anyway. Or even worse, if you are using the club’s arrows, you’ll be breaking their equipment, and that’s not cool at all. 

One thing to be clear about actually splitting an arrow. Modern arrows are made of fiberglass, aluminum, carbon fiber or a combination of them. Thus, if someone manages to hit the other arrow, they’ll probably break the plastic nock, but the arrow will stick at the back of the first one. This phenomenon is called telescoping. If this happens, stop continue using that arrow and repair it. In this post, I show you, among other things, the dangers of using an arrow with a broken nock. In order to split an arrow, it must be surely made of wood. In that case, it’s perfectly possible to split it in half using another arrow.

Second, if you focus too much on succeeding in this, you’ll forget to pay attention to your forms and techniques, and you’ll start to shoot poorly. Then it will be more difficult to hit the arrow, losing more focus to the technique, and so on. You’ll enter a loop that will waste whatever you learned, ruining your archery.

So, if by chance, you manage to split an arrow, that’s fine. Take a quick picture of it, and move on. Don’t lose all that you learned for some fancy trick. 

Nevertheless, before you continue surfing this blog, I want to hear from you if anytime you did an archery trick, either by chance or on purpose. So, post a comment below. If you are starting archery (or planning to), go to this awesome guide. It’s a very complete, two-parts guide, where you can learn the basics and start shooting in no time. Then, after commenting, you might probably want to check these other cool posts, where I can show you some mistakes done by beginners and how to correct them, or some cool tips about archery that I’d love to knew when I started. See you around!


8 responses to “Robin Hooding: Can you split an arrow with another arrow?”

  1. […] it doesn’t take long to see improvement. Just three weeks after I got my bow, I “Robin Hood” an arrow. I heard the crack of the carbon splitting in half from twenty yards away. I […]

    1. Luciano Darriba Avatar
      Luciano Darriba

      First of all, thanks for commenting.

      Second, ouch. That must have hurt. So new into archery and already Robin-Hooding. As I also mentioned in the article, it’s probabilities. You can be months without happening and, surely, there’s someone in the world that suffered from that his/her first week after starting.

      As a side note, nice blog you have. It’s a great idea, and neatly implemented.

  2. Tim Avatar

    I just got my 4th Robin Hood today, so I’m guessing your math may be a little off, or I shoot more arrows than I realize. The first two times were kind of cool, but on the second one I realized that a robin hood costs me about $30.00 in arrows. I’m now out about $120.00 in arrows. I should have known better but I had changed up my release and was shooting for groups instead of individual dots at 20 yds…

    1. Luciano Darriba Avatar
      Luciano Darriba

      Wow, Tim! That’s against all odds. If I were you I would be in Las Vegas right now!

      About the math, it’s all probabilities. It’s not deterministic. I mean, that probability (or frequency) is true if the number of arrows is increasingly large (theoretically in the limit to infinity).
      Imagine you toss a coin two times, and both times fall heads. That doesn’t mean that the probability of obtaining heads is 100%. As you got more Robin Hood’s than the average, that must be someone close to you that has a below-the-average count.

      Hope your luck changes in the future. And yes, you are right, perhaps it’s better to aim at different spots on the target, to avoid arrows clustering and, hence, increase the chances of getting your fifth!

      Good arrows!!!!!!!

  3. Jake Avatar

    Only having done archery once in my life, technique was the only important consideration and never I was never actually trying to split an arrow (nor did I). I have played darts for a long time, both at the “standard” distance (“hockey”, or “oche” line) and extended distance for custom challenges. It is very common to “Robin Hood”, or as you more appropriately termed “telescoping” a dart into the flight of another (I’ve never seen 3 darts “telescoped”); certainly no splitting going on here. Unfortunately, in darts it must be in the board to count for points in an official match (is archery the same?), and if you throw tight shot groups (and depending on the dart style used) it can often cause the dart thrown right at another to be deflected off enough to miss your mark and/or cause the dart to fall to the ground; at times even knocking your other dart off the board if not sunk in deep enough.

    1. Luciano Darriba Avatar
      Luciano Darriba

      Hi Jake. Thanks for your contribution. I’ve never played darts in my life. I didn’t know that telescoping an arrow (or, in this case, a flight) happened in darts, too. Now you mention it, it makes sense.
      In archery, as in darts, the arrow must pierce the target to count so, a telescoped arrow doesn’t count points.

      Have a nice day.
      Good arrows !!!!!!!

  4. Steve Avatar

    I shoot groups of 5 arrows.
    I quit shooting at the same bullseye with more than one arrow because of two or three Ribin Hoods per 50 shots. They cost too much.
    BTW: IMHO, I am not a good enuf shot (yet) to join a archery league or shoot in competition.

    1. Luciano Darriba Avatar
      Luciano Darriba

      That´s really very common. Moreover, a lot of beginner archers feel they are getting pro because they Robin Hooded an arrow. And for us which are in archery from some time, a Robin Hood is a pain in the a… since they are costly.

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