Compound Bows VS Recurve Bows

Depending on what kind of archery you are interested in, you may decide to use a different type of bow for your craft. In case you were not aware, there are three different types of bows that archers tend to use: longbows, recurve bows, and compound bows. This article will discuss the differences between compound and recurve bows, what they are used for, some pros and cons to recurve bows and compound bows, and then what comparisons you can draw between them.  If you are looking for an article to learn more about the differences and what might be right for you, your experience level, and your particular type of archery, this article is for you.

There are three types of bows that are most often discussed in archery circles: longbows, recurve bows, and compound bows. The most common types of archery include target archery, field archery, hunting, and 3D archery, and any kind of bow can be used in any of these circumstances. However, depending on your experience, skill level, and intention for the sport, any one of these factors can change which type of bow may be right for you.

Basic Anatomy of a Bow

There are four basic parts to a bow: the riser, the limbs, the string nock, and the string. These are the essential elements of a recurve bow and a longbow, whereas a compound bow will feature a cam and pulley leveraging system – we’ll explain more about that later. It is important to note that each of those individual pieces can change in size, shape, length, and weight based on the preference of the archer, so trying out bows in store and seeing how they suit you as an archer is key to selecting the right bow for you. In addition, you can add attachments and accessories to your bow, like laser scopes or quivers based on your needs – the options really are endless.

Longbows

The longbow is the most traditional, most classical, and most historical form of an archery bow. When the string is stretched, its limbs most resemble a “D” shape. It can range from lengths of 4 to 6 feet, and is the simplest in terms of construction. It can be quite large, however, almost as large as the archer, which makes it more difficult to maneuver, especially if you are looking to move to and fro quickly.

Longbows are limited on their power and therefore how speedily an arrow can fly, but longbows hold the monopoly on precision, accuracy, and teaching correct form.

Recurve Bows

The recurve bow is often compared to the longbow. In comparison to the last statement, recurve bows are harder to use and require a more expert touch, but easily outrun the longbow when it comes to power and speed. Another huge benefit is the ease of mobility and portability. Several recurve bows are takedown bows, which means you can break them down into three or more pieces for transportation purposes. On the other hand, longbows are usually constructed of one piece, which means you cannot take them apart.

Recurve bows differ from longbows in their limbs. Longbows resemble a “D” shape when the string is stretched, and is generally made in one singular piece. Recurve bows resemble a shape closer to a “3” when the string is stretched, because the tips of the limb curve away from the user (hence the name, recurve.) These curved tips help store power and energy, and therefore help arrow fly faster than they would from a similar longbow.

Recurve bows are best for portability and accessibility, and because they can be significantly smaller, they are more ideal for densely packed situations, or even something mobile like horseback riding.

Compound Bows

Compound bows have taken archery to a whole new level in modern times. Compound bows use a pulley system that helps both relieve strain on the bow, and provide assistance to the archer. The cam and pulley system help offset the draw weight, which means the archer doesn’t have to provide all of the power, and therefore make it much easier to shoot with accuracy.

How does a compound bow work?

A compound bow has wheels on the end of the limbs called cams. The cams help “compound” the force, meaning that the archer doesn’t have to do all of the heavy lifting. Even if the bow isn’t fully drawn, when the string is let go, the cams will accelerate the string, which reduces force and also perpetuates the speed of the arrow. Clearly, the technology of a compound bow is significantly more complex than a longbow or a recurve bow, but the payoff is noticeable. Leveraging the pulley system helps an arrow fly with more energy and more speed for a longer amount of time. This requires more attention on behalf of the user when it comes to precision, but compound bows will naturally not require as much strength or endurance of a user than a recurve bow will.

Can I customize my compound bow?

Compound bows are much more versatile to customization than a recurve bow is. Recurve bows can have a few accessories, but they are much harder to change sizes or features. Compound bows can be customized in several ways, including adding accessories that don’t affect how you shoot. For example, you can add storage systems to your bow to hold tools, add the perfect scope or laser pointer, or a variety of other options to trick out your bow for your specific needs.

Comparing a Recurve and a Compound Bow

Size

Compound bows will tend to be bigger and take up more space than a recurve bow. A recurve bow, on average, will be about 40 to 75 inches long, and will be a simpler set up than a compound bow. A compound bow, in general, will be much more elaborate, not to mention bigger, thicker, and longer than the average recurve bow.

Efficiency of Use vs. Effectiveness of Use

There are two ways to consider size: efficiency of use, and effectiveness of use. Sure, a recurve bow will be much more mobile and portable, but the benefits of a compound bow with some of its added features may help you actually accomplish your purposes better. So, a compound bow may be harder to maneuver in the woods, but the added technology may be beneficial to help your aim in the moment. A recurve bow with excellent aim will be better suited to a closer environment or one where you can’t maneuver such a big instrument.

Power

Recurve bows will require more power on the part of the archer, to be able to pull and hold that much weight in the draw. Compound bows help ease that weight with the cam and pulley system, meaning that an archer has to put in significantly less work to get the same results. The extra power offered with a compound bow means that the arrow will generally fly further and faster than with a recurve bow (and certainly more so than a longbow.)

Strength

Recurve bows will require more strength and endurance on the part of the archer, while compound bows will not. However, if you are looking to build up strength and endurance, than a recurve bow is a great way to gain that strength. Compound bows will not tire you out as easily, but they also will not help you build up any strength, either.

Ease of Shooting

Recurve bows will be generally, much easier and smoother to draw because there is no “let-off” like there is with a compound bow. Even though the draw may be heavier, it will be a smoother motion because there is not technology getting in the way.

Noise

Recurve bows will be quieter than compound bows, again, because of the technology involved. Although you can use string silencers on either bow, recurve bows, because of their simpler construction, will be quieter in the moment in comparison to a compound bow.

Endurance

As far as the comparison goes, any recurve bow archer will lose to a compound bow, generally speaking. Because a compound bow requires significantly less effort, it can mean that you can shoot with greater accuracy for longer amounts of time. Especially as you become more skilled with a compound bow, the effectiveness of your shot and the efficiency of your effort will become honed variables that you can count on.


In other words, recurve bows will always require the same force to hold the same draw to get the same amount of power every time. A compound bow is not nearly as sensitive to human error, and can deliver a lot more with a lot less, and can compensate for human error to some extent. (For example, shaky hands after lots of use will significantly impact the precision of a show from a recurve bow – the same is not necessarily true when it comes to a compound bow.)

Accuracy

One of the main benefits of a compound bow is the reduction of fatigue on the part of the archer. The less tired the operator of an instrument is, the more cleanly and accurately they will operate the instrument. For recurve archers, they must use excellent technique to ensure a precise shot. Once again, this shows a slight difference in intention when it comes to why the archer is looking for a bow.

Maintenance

Based on the amount of parts alone, a compound bow will be harder to care for because the technology is more complicated than what is built into a recurve bow. Even the length of string based on the draw length may be more complicated and require a special trip for fixing. If you are budget conscious or not exactly sure what you want, keeping track of pieces and costs is an important fact to consider.

What do you actually want out of your Bow?

Recurve bows will be quieter than compound bows, again, because of the technology involved. Although you can use string silencers on either bow, recurve bows, because of their simpler construction, will be quieter in the moment in comparison to a compound bow.

Is One Better Than The Other?

At the end of the day, one type of bow is not particularly better than the other, although some are more preferable depending on the situation. Ultimately, it is up to the archer to determine what they want out of a bow, what kind of experience they would like to have, and even what kind of archery they want to participate in. Any of these various factors may change how one bow is appealing over another.

Determine Your Priorities

If you are a beginner and you are interested in understanding how a bow works, developing skill and strength, and enjoying the process, then a recurve bow is probably a better fit for you – not to mention more affordable.

However, if you are looking for an instrument that will last a long time, not require a massive amount of strength on your part, and provide an experience that won’t tire you out but still deliver on results, a compound bow is right up your alley. Although compound bows are generally more expensive, if you care for them well, they will last a long time.

Both types of bows are precise and accurate, and are versatile based on their environment. If you want technology on your side to enhance your performance and longevity, a compound bow will provide a seamless user experience. On the other hand, if you want a simple instrument that is small, portable, and easy to take with you wherever you go, a recurve bow fits the bill. 

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