Before we get started, if you’re an archery enthusiast, we highly recommend you check out our page on the best recurve bows, or if you’re more interested in compound bows, you can check out our best compound bows guide.
Anyways, without further ado, here’s our list of the top ten most Badass Archers.
Whether you’re a hunter or a target shooter, the process of learning to be a successful marksman can be a long and arduous process. When your body is weary and your arms are heavy from drawing your bow, you can think back to this list and remember this one, unassailable fact – being able to shoot a bow automatically makes you a badass. This fact alone will help you get through the dead arms and missed targets. If you’re a more mature, experienced archer who doesn’t care about any of this – well, this list may not be for you, but maybe you can read it anyways and see the historical and fictional figures that are inspiring and whole new generation to get involved in archery community.
Anyways, let’s not waste any more time. Here is our list of top ten most badass archers in history and fiction.
10. Hou Yi
We start off our list with Hou Yi, a mythical figure of Chinese origin. He is the Chinese deity of archery. Here’s some quick back story. According to ancient Chinese lore, the sun was a type of bird, and originally there were ten sun birds living in a tree, each taking turns on a different day to travel round the world. One day, all these pesky birds decided to do their little routine on the same day – meaning ten suns in the sky which lead to intense heat on earth. The emperor, seeing his crops fail and his people suffering, appealed to the heavens to help resolve this issue. Hou Yi was sent to answer his appeal – and being pretty nifty with the bow, he decided that he’d help the earth out by shooting down nine of the ten suns. Not only was he good with his bow – he was also smart enough to know that if he shot down the tenth sun, the world would be shrouded in darkness, so he wisely left one alive.
That’s only one of the many stories about the various exploits of this badass Chinese god-archer – in his adventures, he also fought off a wind-monster, shot a water spirit straight through the eye, and get this – ended up marrying that water spirit’s daughter (how’s that for dealing with in laws). Unfortunately his wife ended up stranded on the moon, but that’s a whole other story.
So, what’s the moral of the story – well, firstly, anyone (even a fictional character) who can shoot suns down from the sky is pretty much a badass in our book. The more relevant lesson would be that an archer should always shows restraint – just because you can take a shot doesn’t mean you should take a shot. If you ever find yourself in a position where you have a marginal shot on a deer and you’re not sure whether you’ll be able to take it down humanely, remember that Hou Yi didn’t shoot the sun from the sky.
9. Princess Merida
OK, we understand if you’re skeptical. A Pixar family film character in a list of most badass archers? Seems dubious. Nevertheless, we feel that Merida was a great character (albeit in a merely solid film) – and her marksmanship is unquestionable. If you think we’re wrong, go back and watch that first sequence where she’s shooting all kinds of stuff from horseback – horseback archery is no joke, and if you don’t believe us go try it (but be sure to do it somewhere really safe please…)
She’s also only 16, and yet she’s pretty much already one of the best archers in her kingdom. Granted, she does a bunch of dumb things that (SPOILER ALERT) lead to her mom becoming a bear, but hey, what teenager hasn’t been through that situation. I’m sure many of our younger readers can relate. Merida is undeniably a great archer (archeress?), and above and beyond that, she’s a great example of a character in popular culture that is reviving the sport and practice of archery all over the world. She’s also consistently true to herself while still being receptive to the opinions of others (at least at the end of the film), which makes her a great role model for young boys and girls all over. We can learn two important things from Merida – firstly, you should always try to be true to yourself, and secondly, archery is pretty awesome.
Hawkeye is a longtime comic book character and member of the Avengers who has gained a lot of fame in recent years due to his being a part of the Avengers film franchise (played by Jeremy Renner). OK, lets face it – Hawkeye has never been the most popular nor the most powerful character in the Marvel universes. He’s never been a real well known character, and if it weren’t for the huge success of the Avengers and its accompanying films, it’s likely that nobody except for the real die-hard comic books fans would have heard of him.
Nevertheless, Hawkeye is a certified badass archer – not only is he a member of the Avengers – he maintains he membership status despite having no powers. After his parents died, he escaped an orphanage in favor of joining a travelling carnival troupe and acquired most of his skill with the bow under tutelage from two guys named Swordsman and Trickshot. He discovers Swordsman is actually a crook, and before he can report it, gets beaten up by his teacher. After that he essentially goes from being the star attraction of a carnival act to being a superhero – with only a brief stint as a villain in between. More specific to us archery enthusiasts – he uses a bow with a ridiculous draw weight of 250lbs (don’t try this at home kids). Oh, we also forgot to mention that he rides around on flying snowmobile.
So, what can what lessons can we glean from knowing about Hawkeye? There’s no moral here, except maybe that you shouldn’t trust carnies.
7. The horseback archers of Genghis Khan
Before we launch into talking about Genghis Khan and his armies being badass, we want readers to know that we do not encourage nor d we endorse the conquering and wanton slaughter of millions of people – which was something that Genghis Khan was very good at. War mongering and world domination aside, we do feel like Genghis Khan and his horse archers deserve recognition for their badassery. While many cultures had practiced horse archery successfully, Genghis Khan and his mongols were the first to use it to such devastating effect on a large scale. By combining the use of the powerful but compact composite Mongol Bow and superb horsemanship, Genghis and his hordes created a style of warfare that was almost insurmountable for their more stationary foes. They also vastly improved military tactics and strategies in many areas, including but not limited to the areas of supply logistics, communications, and training.
Genghis Khan himself was also undeniably badass – after his father, the tribe leader, was poisoned and died, his family was cast out from the tribe to survive by themselves. Genghis Khan and his brothers essentially grew up in total poverty. From that, he essentially took over a tribe, then a few tribes, then the Mongols as a whole. In that same period, he also escaped slavery and rescued his wife from slavery. That pretty much only describes the first portion of his life – he then went on to conquer a bunch of other peoples and lands and eventually ended up being the leader of one of the largest empires in history.
So most of the stuff we’ve mentioned already is basically related to how good Genghis Khan was at waging war, which was good for him but not necessarily good for everybody else. However, whether they were intentional or not, there were some good things that came about from his empire building. Genghis’s empire was tolerant of all religions, and even the mongols who served under him became somewhat diverse religiously. He also created one of the first recognizable (to us today) international postal systems – there were way stations across the Mongol empire, with fresh horses and men ready to carry a message to the next way-station at a moment’s notice. Pretty badass if you ask me.
6. Katniss Everdeen
Main character in the huge ‘Hunger Games’ book series and the even huger film franchise, Katniss Everdeen (played by Jennifer Lawrence) is your standard girl meets boy story if the meeting involves a to-the-death version of Survivor, many dead adolescents and rebellion against a dictatorial president played charmingly by Donald Sutherland. Oh, she also wields a bow very well, has little interest in boys (at least in the movies – we haven’t read the books) because she reckons she’s too busy fighting for her life all the time, and can track and hunt with the very best. While Merida might set a good example for younger children, Katniss Everdeen is a great role model for angsty teens- she’s good at sports, she’s close to her family, and she can hit an apple at 100 yards – who wouldn’t want their daughter or son to be able to do all of those things.
Katniss is definitely quite a badass – and refreshingly, she’s rarely the damsel in distress – more often than not, shes the one rescuing the male lead from danger, which is definitely something we don’t see enough of in pop culture. While we’re not necessarily sure about the cultural staying power of the Hunger Games movies and books, and while it’s definitely possible that in 10 years nobody remembers anything about any of it, for the moment, Katniss Everdeen is in our mind and as such she’s on our list of the top 10 most badass archers.
5. William Tell
William Tell is a Swiss folk hero who may or may not have existed but certainly historically did not do all of the things that he was known for in legends. William Tell was a crossbowman rather than a traditional archer. Legend has it that he once passed through a town where a dictatorial leader named Gessler had laid down a (rather moronic) rule where the townspeople had to bow to his hat (which rested on a pole in the center of town) everytime they passed by it.
William Tell was visiting this village with his son and naturally ignored this rule, and the offended Gessler was irate. Gessler then had Tell and his son arrested, and had them scheduled for execution unless Tell could shoot an apple from his son’s head at 100 yards. Naturally Tell was right on the mark – but after the shot, Gessler saw that Tell had pulled not one but two bolts from his quiver. He asked why, and the famed crossbowman replied that if he had accidentally killed his son, he wanted to have a second bolt ready for Gessler. Long story short, this pisses Gessler off, and he tries to throw Tell in a dungeon somewhere far away – Tell escapes midway, runs back across the country and shoots Gessler with that same second bolt. Supposedly, his killing of Gessler helped spark a rebellion that eventually lead to the formation of the country that is now known as Switzerland.
William Tell is the classic folktale of a guy who’s good with a weapon and bad with authority, and the fact that he saved that second bolt for Gessler increases his badass quotient by quite a bit. Despite not necessarily being real, he also gets bonus points for being a central figure in Swiss mythology/legend and for being the most well known and famous example of the whole apple on the head thing.
Legolas (played by Orlando Bloom) is probably one of the most skilled archers on this list. In both the books and the movies (OK, really more in the movies) he consistently makes what in basketball are known as ‘circus shots’ – where it seems like only luck would allow for a shot to hit its target.
He’s one of the main characters in both the Lord of the Rings book and the movie franchise. His lengthy resume includes a stint as a member of the Fellowship of the Ring, a well earned reputation as an elf-dwarf friendship ambassador, and most importantly Legolas is a pretty badass archer despite the long hair and weird ears. On the other hand, Legolas fails to achieve a higher ranking on this list because he’s an elf – meaning that he essentially lives forever, which in turn means that he had much more time to practice with his bow than the others on the list.
3. Jack Churchill
Jack Churchill may have been the second most famous Churchill involved in World War 2, but in sheer badassdom he definitely takes the cake. That’s quite a feat to be more of a badass than Winston Churchill, but Jack Churchill managed to do it. He’s also the first definitively historical figure on the list.
Jack Churchill was a soldier in World War 2 who fought for the British. Now, you’re probably thinking – “Sure, WW2 vets are heroes, but what makes this guy so special?”. Well. For starters, he fought in WW2 armed with a longbow and a Scottish broadsword. He was also known for carrying bagpipes around – mainly because he was good at playing them. He’s also the only British soldier that is known for a fact to have taken out enemy soldiers with a longbow. While not strictly archery related, on one occasion he reportedly captured 42 enemies and took them prisoner with only his sword. He also escaped a few POW camps, including on one occasion where he escaped, then proceeded to travel 100 miles on foot, all the while surviving on vegetables which he stole from the surrounding German controlled land. Given all this, Churchill was appropriately known as ‘Mad Jack’ or ‘Fighting Jack Churchill’.
In his later life, Churchill lead a much more lazy and sedentary life style where he merely trained to become a parachutist, became an accomplished surfer, and sailed steamboats on the river Thames. Jack Churchill is probably one of the most badass people in history – and he only loses out to those ranked above him because he’s less famous and has the disadvantage of having had to live life in the real world rather than in fiction.
The Green Arrow is probably the most high profile bow-and-arrow-wielding superhero. He’s also one of the oldest superheroes that uses a bow as a weapon to fight evil. The Green Arrow AKA Oliver Queen has a classic comic book back story – the heir to a huge fortune, Oliver Queen saw his parents die when he was young. Through his life he acquires great combat prowess (he specifically becomes a master archer whilst he’s trapped on an inhospitable island). As he matures, he sees the city around him crumbling, and decides to put his money and time towards making it a better place (by dressing up in bright green and shooting criminal with a bow). Yup – he’s Batman with a bow -and as we all know, since being able to use a bow is by default better than not being able to use a bow, the Green Arrow is naturally better than Batman (we don’t actually believe this…)
So, what makes the Green Arrow a badass? He has a beautiful girlfriend/wife in Black Canary and even more beautiful facial hair. He shoots arrows that have boxing gloves for heads at people (you might think this is silly – but think about how hard it would be to aim something like that accurately). He is also the star of his own TV show (played by Stephen Amell), in which he frequently exercises by doing this absolutely ridiculous pull up variation known as the salmon ladder.
So, what is there to learn from the Green Arrow. We think the moral of the story is the following: If you rock facial hair for long enough, at some point it will come back into fashion and you won’t have wasted the decade where people think you look like a goof.
1. Robin Hood
That’s right. You all saw it coming. You can call us predictable – we like to think that we just have a healthy respect for the classics. While it is unclear to historians whether Robin Hood was one man or the combination of many, or indeed whether anyone resembling the folk legend ever existed at all, the idea of Robin Hood is so ingrained in the collective culture that pretty much every bow-wielding character in fiction of any kind in the modern era is probably somewhat derivative of the legendary archer.
Robin Hood is such an influential figure in the culture that his story has been adapted countless times into books, movies, and television shows (seriously – try to count the number of entries in the Wikipedia – there are loads of them). He’s also been the inspiration of a huge variety of fictional characters – some particularly good examples include the aforementioned Green Arrow, the TV show Firefly, and the classic character ‘Omar Little’ from one of the best TV shows of all time, ‘The Wire’.
Robin Hood may not be the best archer on the list, nor does he have the most original back story. But he is undoubtedly one of the original examples of the ‘heroic archer’ archetypal character that permeates pop culture – practically ever single character that uses a bow (and a whole bunch of characters that don’t) draw some kind of inspiration from the classic story. For that, we have to name him the number 1 most badass historical, fictional, or mythological archer.