The origin of shooting at the marks is in the same as that of clout shooting. On the way into the villages and towns of England for the Sunday Church service and mandatory longbow practise afterwards, the longbow men amused themselves by shooting at a variety of ad-hoc marks on the way.
Distinct from the original roving clout shooting, the marks are no longer clumps of grass, nor sticks, nor round “spots.” Moreover, unlike clout-shooting, the marks are not set up two-way, but are set apart at various distances and in various directions (very similar to today's Golf).
A group of archers up to a hundred strong walks from one mark where arrows are retrieved and then aims towards the next and so on. The length of the shot varies from 80 to 280 yards (70 to 255m). The angle of the bow and trajectory of the arrow varies considerably from a 45 degree elevation flight shot in the Cloth of Gold (240 yards, 220m), to elevations of up to 80 degrees over a line of trees for a mark at only 80 yards (70m) on the other side. No artificial measurement devices are allowed, nor any sight marks on the bow.
This type of shooting was essential practise for the longbow man. He had to be able to accurately judge and shoot over various distances and do so over undulating terrain with all its optical effects on estimating distances. To be able to maintain the range of his arrows in all conditions.
Just as the medieval longbow man was expert at accurate aim over a flat trajectory, so too was he adept at plunging shot in order to reach the adversary sheltering behind the walls of fortifications or other obstacles.
This type of shot refines the all-round use of the longbow and needs regular practise to gain proficiency. Even before the disbandment of the longbow armies this type of shooting was routinely practised in the fields of Finsbury and Southwark in London and the fields in and about the major cities and towns of England.
There are a small number of longbow companies that have revived this type of shooting. Most prominent among these is the Fraternity of Saint George, the Finsbury Mark and the Fraternity of Prince Arthur, whose origins go back to the shooters in the aforementioned Finsbury fields in London in the 1490’s.
A shoot the the (roving) marks shoot usually takes a full day. These are held on undulating pastures or on the estates of country houses. The scoring is done by shooting three arrows at each mark, with the highest score for those nearest the mark
The St George score at 1/2 a bowlength 12 points, the next ¾ bowlength 7 points, a further 1¾ bowlengths 3 points. A different type of scoring is to count only the nearest men’s, women’s and junior arrows.
In order to be fair and safe it is common that at longer distances the heavier bows shoot first, then the lighter bows move forward and the ultra-lights (usually only juniors) move further forward.
As an alternative a steward can take the lighter bows forwards at an angle of at least 40 degrees and another steward the juniors forwards at an angle of 40 degrees to the lighter bows.
On an agreed signal all can shoot. Equally all must stop at a different agreed signal.
The sport of golf is a direct descendant of shooting at the (roving) marks. The distances and angles shot are very similar. It is a shooting style that most closely emulates that of the longbow man of old. It makes for a wonderful day out and it makes for good all-round archers.