The use of bows and arrows stems from the earliest recorded periods of human history. Throughout history, civilized cultures all over the world have practiced archery for hunting, warfare and recreational competition with varying degrees of popularity over time. In Europe, for instance, its use had waned to a degree that it was rarely employed in battle, used only to make up numbers cheaply and easily. However, during the course of the Hundred Years War, the use of longbows enjoyed a massive resurgence in England, often being the turning point in battle. As such, the times of Robin Hood saw the height of the popularity of archery.
Because of the need for many skilled archers for use in the war, regular competitions were arranged by the reigning monarchs to encourage the public to take up and practice archery, the best of which would be recruited for the war in France. So popular was the longbow at this time that the number of archers would often outnumber the number of foot soldiers by a long way. The advantages that the longbow gave the English army often meant that English casualties would be at a fraction of those suffered by the French, being as low as around 50 after the Battle of Crecy. It is safe to say that the era of Robin Hood saw archery at its most successful.
Since then, numerous factors saw the decline of archery. A shortage of suitable materials for the construction of bow shafts and the excessive training required to ensure archers were able to even fire the longbows intended for warfare meant it was difficult to produce enough bowmen. With the advent of the musket, the use of the longbow fell dramatically and by the English Civil War, the longbow had fallen completely out of use, despite being quicker to fire and more accurate. Archery has fallen to being a minority interest only in the use of hunting, especially in North America, as well as a recreational sport, which is its most popular form today.
One of the most obvious changes in archery throughout history has been in the construction of equipment. During the days of Robin Hood, both bows and arrows were made from wood, typically yew. The bow could be over 6 feet high and would often require a great deal of strength to draw. After the decline of archery in warfare there was little that changed with bow design until the revival of archery for hunting in North America in the early 20th century. As this grew more successful, engineers looked to develop improved bows out of modern materials. This resurgence also led to the creation of the compound bow, which consists of a series of pulleys that allow higher draw weights to be achieved with a fraction of the force. Bows can, therefore, be much shorter and lighter, which has led to the compound bow being the most popular bow used in archery today.
Though not as strongly encouraged as in the days of Robin Hood, archery still enjoys a great deal of popularity today as it did then. It is practiced around the world for both recreational and hunting purposes and is now an Olympic event, meaning that despite the advancement in equipment and materials used, archery still retains an element of the sport that was so prominent in the era of Robin Hood.