Normally the Orcs are represented as physically stronger and bigger than the other races. Wouldn't that automatically make the Orcs very good archers? The English longbows against the French were already strong, but the Orcs could use even stronger bows.
The answer lies in what they cherish the most - brute strength and living the moment
Orcs are generally portrayed as savage wild beasts with humanoid features that excel at physical melee combat. Their nature dictates that they prefer melee combat to look into the eyes of their enemies and see their fear while showing pure strength themselves to intimidate their enemies into submission. They want to crush their enemies bones, they want to see the blood splatter around them, they want to rage through the enemy frontlines.
Tactics are not something they cherish. They want pure physical strength above all else.
Therefore they could theoretically be among the best, but they are specifically bred to be strong and wild, short-tempered and savage, brutal and blood-thirsty.
If you valued other things, like tactics and subtly taking over control you would have the traditional elves - politically scheming and taking out enemies from afar with their bows. They want control and look at the result - Orcs look at the process. They are living the moment and cherish every moment of bloody war in their short lives, while elves look at the horizon and think about their long, nearly endless, lives and choose the path that will give them more power in the long run - a very, very long run.
In some settings you have something in-between. For example in DnD you sometimes find Half-Orcs that show near-equal strength when compared to Orcs and near-equal intelligence and cunning when compared to their other parent race, most of the time humans. These might be the best archers - powerful and yet able to restrain themselves to carefully take aim at a target in the distance.
If the ability of an archer were just about throwing an arrow as far as possible, then trolls would be even better, not to mention Tolkien's Ents, or more classical stone giants1.
However, if the ability of an archer also includes precision, then there are other factors beside size and strength:
- steadiness of hand
- fine control of the arm muscles
Eyesight. As far as orcs go, referring to the Tolkien-verse orcs, they do have good eyesight at night,
It was dark, but not too dark for the night-eyes of Orcs.
- The Fellowship of the Ring, II, 9: "The Great River"
but perhaps not so good eyesight during the day, as many creatures from Mordor.
Steadiness of hand. This is hard to judge. I can't recall any hold-and-wait type of strategies in orcs' armies and I also can't recall any memorable standoff in which an orc would be holding a weapon still. For the benefit of doubt, we will give them steadiness of hand.
Fine motor control. This is an entirely different story. If we accept the lore that orcs are a monkeyed-version of elves, turned into physically strong savage brutes, then we can wonder whether there are other non-magical explanations for the increased strength. Looking at our world, there are explanations for the difference in strength between monkeys and humans, which rely on a tradeoff between strength and fine motor control. It is thus entirely possible that orcs have lost some of the fine motor control in favor of increased muscular strength. It would make sense provided that their armies are large assemblies of infantrymen and that they seem rely greatly on hand-to-hand combat rather than strategical ranged warfare.
In conclusion, the lack of fine motor control would make orcs worse at aiming compared to other races. In addition, the possibility of poor daytime eyesight would make them even less useful as archers. No wonder that in the traditional lore, the bigger and stronger creatures resolve to throw stones2 rather than using more advanced weapons like slings or bows.
1 All this ignoring the square-cube law.
2 For examples: Polyphemus and the Cyclops throwing boulders at Ulysses, the giant in the Brave Little Taylor throwing a rock as a feat of strength.
It depends on your meta
Bows have essentially two uses:
- Aimed shots
If your scenario primarily requries accurate direct shots then orcs may very well be prevented from using bows by their rough nature
If your scenario involves enough cases of using a lots of archers to fire lots of arrows at lots of enemies, then the ability to use stronger bows with a longer range would absolutely make them not only viable but extremely potent.
The simple answer is: YES. The orcs should be able to use bigger bows, or one that need much force to tension the string. Maybe even mobile ballista.
So why they are not? The truth is that in fantasy setting the bow don't match orc social profile. Bows are usually in the service of assasins, thief's and loveable scoundrels. Orcs are brute, big and not finesse enough to become Super Secret Shadow Assassin.
Orcs are usually given the "dumb" perk. Orcs smash, orcs destroy, orcs go straight to battle.
Some autors like to balance it by giving Orcs love for personal battle and beliefs and motives that grant fighting with enemy face to face and punish when you attack and kill from secret.
But orcs that are hunters should be one of the best hunters in the world.
Normally the Orcs are represented as physically stronger and bigger...
...the Orcs could use even stronger bows.
Seems logic, and this makes their bows stronger and thus, more powerful. But to be a good archer you need more traits the usual representation of orcs don't have:
The position you must take to fire a bow is not a position an over-muscled body such as an orc's can take.
The Orcs are usually presented as simply stronger and bigger, their eyesight is not better as other races.
Good eye-hand coordination
Orcs are often presented as dumb, slow and maybe even a bit clumsy. This in itself should rule them out as archers.
Capacity to concentrate on the task at hand
Orcs are also usually raging brutes, which makes them incapable of concentrating to wait for a good shot.
This greatly depends on the concrete representation of Orc, but the usual rules them out as archers because of the other traits needed apart from physical strength.
Orcs don't like the sun
Tolkein's Orcs (the OG Orcs, as far as I can tell) did not like the sun. Even the Uruk-hai, who could hang out in daylight didn't like it much.
In order to aim a bow, you have to see. You can't see very far at night, and no one fights battles in the night anyways. And orcs can't see very well in the day. Therefore, Orcs are mediocre archers at best, despite their strength
I would also point out that the muscles used in archery are quite different from every day use. Go take a look at some top archers. Most look in decent enough shape but rarely incredible shape muscle wise but could use a far heavier bow than the weightlifters. For instance https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sjef_van_den_Berg came 4th in the Rio Olympics. He is tall and has long arms but I would not put him as a weightlifter. He does pull a bow beyond the majority of archers. It is not a question of all around power but of the power of the specific muscles that are being used.
Power in archery comes from the core and back muscles (long draw helps too). This fits in with most mythologies which tend not to have elves as well built but could well have powerful core muscles. Orcs, unless they put a lot of time into it, would not build up the relevant muscles at much even with enhanced strength. They would fit more of the large man who could lift large objects or punch with a lot of power but don't have a massive edge for the muscles used while pulling a bow.
This is as an aside to the probably more relevant points about technique and the like.
The longbow takes years of practice.
Here is a related question from the History stack. There are lots of good answers. https://history.stackexchange.com/questions/35769/why-did-only-the-english-adopt-evolve-and-use-the-longbow-en-masse-in-war
The main thrust: if it was pretty clear to all involved that the longbow offered tactical superiority (anyone interested in this has probably read about Agincourt but maybe not about Crecy), why did every medieval army not organize contingents of longbow archers like the English did?
My understanding is that
1: peasants in Europe were crushed completely by poverty. There was a yeoman class of men in England who were not so totally crushed; they could afford bows and they could afford to take some time off of work to practice.
2: These people were compelled to (with their own equipment) practice archery every sunday by government decree, which shows a degree of foresightedness and long term preparation. But I understand there was also societal solidarity involved in this practice and class pride - a sword and armor were weapons for the nobility but a common man could be a deadly warrior with a bow.
3: They practiced a lot over the years, and so there accrued in England a mass of skilled archers.
4: Nobility outside of England were more wary about giving the peasantry the power to kill a knight.
Your orcs would need to be more like the English than the Italians. They would need to have free time and equipment to practice archery and they would need to be compelled to practice which becomes more difficult with individuals who are disinclined to practice. D&D orcs sometimes live in association with more powerful creatures - in analogy to continental nobles these creatures may be wary about giving the orcs this kind of power. With a hill giant vs 20 orcs at close quarters I bet on the giant. But 100 yards in between and the orcs all expert archers it is a different story.
I take away from Crecy and other reading that when Medievals wanted powerful bowmen on short notice they hired crossbowmen. Crossbows are easier to use than longbows and do not require long training. Maybe the orc analogy would be javelins?
I’m not sure where your question falls between “I’m writing a fanfic and the premise is that Tolkien’s books are Elf propaganda!” and “I’m inventing a new species in a new setting, but since their relevant characteristic at the moment is their physical strength, for simplicity I’m going to ask about ‘Orcs.’”
Yes, it should be the case that an army whose soldiers are all stronger could be issued bows with more pull, allowing them to either fire with more kinetic energy at short range or to shoot arrows of similar weight at long range. This would be a big advantage when the army fires volleys at each other rather than aiming at individual targets. If their range advantage were substantial, their tactics might be based around constant maneuvering to keep the enemy at the range where only the orcs could effectively engage. But recall that humans’ most pronounced physical advantage over other animals is our endurance.
One disadvantage they would have relative to humans is that, historically, this tactic was perfected by horse archers and orcs, who are bigger and heavier, might find it harder to field large forces of cavalry. The carnivores Tolkien had them riding would, if we hold the setting to the laws of biology on Earth, needed the orcs to grow ten times the crops to feed them as it would take to feed herbivores sch as horses, since feeding the crops to farm animals for giant wolves to eat wastes 90% of the calories. No society as close to subsistence level as any pre-modern nation on Earth could have fielded them in large numbers. And the orcs might also find that archery maximizes their advantages more than pike warfare or infantry charges.
The idea that orcs have inferior weapons to their opponents seems to come from Dungeons & Dragons, rather than Tolkien. Saruman’s armies were the most technologically-advanced in Middle-Earth (which Tolkien saw as a bad thing) and Sauron’s had the most innovative tactics. That said, I honestly don’t think the concept of Tolkien’s Orcs has aged well, but you’ll write what you want to write.
Orc culture is often portrayed as being rather focused on gaining glory through one-on-one fights and showing of personal strength (at least if the Orcs are a physically strong race), and archery is not exactly the most glorious of trades. After all its rather hard to show personal skill in a battle situation: Who shot whom, can it really be called a feat of strength if you kill someone with a bow and stuff like that- to sum it up:
It often just doesn't fit into Orc society, as portrayed by the author.
Another reason orcs may be worse archers is an inherent lack of visual coordination. If I remember correctly the use of bows strains a similar part of the brain as reading, meaning that the ability to read means more developed coordination. Of course Huns for example were superior (horseback) archers and most (if not all) were illiterate, but what counts is the theoretical structure of the brain, allowing them to learn how to read. The huns also trained with bows excessivly, as it was the most useful weapon to them, which brings me to my final point:
Why should Orcs use bows? Depending on their terrain bows might be next to useless. What if they live underground, were cover is, well, rather plentiful, or in regions with next to no wood? And no suitable animals to make bows out of their bones, of course...
So the possible reasons are:
- Cultural aversion: Can be anything from considering to be dishonourable to... I don't know, reserved to some kind of god?
- Physical: They lack an important feature to use bows, for example hand-eye-coordination.
- Technological/Material: They have no way to produce effective bows and subsequently never developed archery culture.
- Useless: Bows are useless to them, due to terrain, no viable foes or something like that.
Bow Quality: The effectiveness of archers depends as much on the quality of their bows as it does on the strength or aim of the bowman. In a world where ignorant orcs don't craft weapons or only craft simple, inelegant weapons it would follow that their bows would lack range and reliability.
Cooperation: The effectiveness of archers on a battlefield has a lot to do with concentrating fire and delivering arrows in volleys. It's important to know when to shoot, to be able to shoot as a group on command, and to be able to fall back in good order if needed. Big dumb orcs filled with bloodlust might be very bad at that.
Darren beat me to it but I would like to elaborate on his point, crafting a longbow is a long complicated process from selecting what kind of wood to use, harvesting it, drying it, carving it, shaping it, finishing it, and then the bowstring has to be woven from tendon or horse hair which each have their own preparation processes and we still haven't even started fletching!
An orc may be entirely capable of using a bow but due to their barbaric nature it's unlikely that they would have the patience to put up with a weapon that could be rendered inoperable if a bit of string got wet.