Longbow VS Recurve Bows

Archery is a sport that has stood the test of time. It is simple yet challenging, and has been used throughout history as a test of skill, strength, and often, one’s ability to not only survive, but thrive as well. The most common types of archery are target archery, field archery, hunting, and 3D archery.

When considering a bow for archery purposes, there are two main varieties that most people are familiar with: recurves and longbows. But what makes them different, and what is the benefit of one in comparison to the other? In this article we will consider how they are different, what makes each specimen unique, and what you can use them for as you compare and consider the difference between longbow and recurve bows. 

First of all, let’s cover some basic anatomy of a bow. This will be helpful in understanding some of the nuances between longbow and recurve bows, and help you spot the difference more clearly. There are four basic parts of a bow: the riser, the limbs, the string nock, and the string.

The Riser

The first piece is the riser, which is at the center of the bow and holds the upper and lower “limbs.” The riser usually includes a grip, a sight window, and arrow rest. Different bows may feature different sizes of grips, more than one sight window (the cutout that you look through when aiming at something,) or an arrow rest that can be attached or removed. Understanding each of those different pieces and how they may fluctuate is helpful when making a purchase. For example, grips can come in different sizes, so making sure you have a grip that fits comfortably in your hand is important when choosing a bow.

The Limbs

The limbs of the bow are specific and not exactly the same – they must be attached correctly to the riser to function as they should. They can be laminated, or can be made of different types of materials, depending on why you are using the bow.

The String Nock

The third part of a bow is the string nock, which is a groove cut into the limb to allow each bow string to attach to the bow.

The String

Finally, the string itself loops around the ends of the limb, and has two main parts: the nocking point and the center serving. The former is where the arrow should sit, and is usually a piece made of brass and crimped to the string, while the latter is a type of thread that wraps around the middle point of a bow string to help increase its endurance for repeated nocking.

Longbows vs. Recurve Bows

If you are curious as to where the bows got their name, a recurve bow is named for the bow’s swept tips, which sweep away from the archer, hence the curve in the name. Longbows do not have tips that bend away, and the bowstring does not touch the limb. On the other hand, if the bowstring does touch the limb, it is a recurve how.

Longbows

Longbows are the most traditional form of bows and are the most simple in terms of shape and structure. Other bows increase in power based on pulley systems, or even curved tips, but longbows increase in power based on the length of the limb. The longer the “D” shaped limb is, the more powerful it will be. What size certain archers choose should vary based on the height of the archer, but they can be between 4 and 6 feet long.

Longbows are quieter in nature than recurve bows, but are significantly less portable, which may make them harder to travel with or use easily.

Recurve Bows

This bow is slightly different than longbows in several ways. First, the limbs have ends, or tips, at the end that curve away from the archer. These ends specifically help store energy to increase the power with which an arrow can fly. This bow is more compact and easier to travel with and wield than a longbow. In comparison to the size of the longbow, recurve bows are generally between 48 and 70 inches long, which makes them significantly more compact and perfect to use in smaller quarters or in dense woods.

Speed and Power

Longbows can’t store as much energy, so recurve bows take the cake when it comes to the speed an arrow can fly. Recurve bows will be more powerful, but are less forgiving when it comes to precision. If your form is off when you draw back the string, your accuracy will be less precise. When used by someone who knows what they are doing, a recurve bow is powerful and the speed is well controlled. But if you are a beginner, a longbow might suit your needs better, especially as you learn to control the instrument.

Quietness

When it comes to noise levels, longbows are quieter because there is less contact of the string with the limbs. This may be a better option when hunting to cut down of the slap of the string against the limbs. Recurve bows are naturally louder, and even with the use of string silencers can be louder than preferred.

Smoothness

When we speak of smoothness, we do not mean of the instrument itself, but of the process of the drawing of the string. This is a huge factor when it comes to using different types of bows, and the ease (or lack thereof) can be telling. Generally speaking, a recurve bow will be a more smooth drawing bow. However, considering the height and draw length of an archer is an important variable to consider, too. Archers of the taller variety may find that a longbow is more suited to their draw length, and therefore offer a smoother drawing process than a recurve bow.

Ease of Use

If you are learning to use a bow and arrow for the first time or looking for something most accurate to traditional and classical archery, a longbow is the best option for you. They are more precise, generally more forgiving, and will help you perfect your technique. Generally speaking, they are much easier to use.

On the other hand, if you need something more portable, you are already experienced, and need an instrument that can provide you with speed, than a recurve bow is the obvious choice. However, it is admittedly harder to use and less precise, especially if the archer is less experienced.

Portability

Recurve bows win the day when it comes to being the most mobile and transportable. Most of them are takedown, which means you can break the bow down into three or more pieces, making it significantly more portable than a longbow. Although you can find them on the market, the best longbows are made of only one piece, which means you can not take them down.

Adjustability

You may be thinking, “well, what if I need to adjust my bow in some way? Is that even possible?” You can find both longbows and recurve bows in different sizes, widths, thicknesses and lengths, to begin with. But, as far as changing or adapting for power, some takedown recurve bows offer the possibility of interchanging different types of limbs. Longbows, again, are generally made of one piece, which means there is no way to manipulate the level of power possible.

In the same strain, the same goes with bow repairs. The ability to change the string is the same on both a longbow and a recurve bow. But if you break a limb on a longbow, you probably need a new bow, whereas a limb on a recurve bow can be replaced. 

Intention for Use

So, now that you know all of these things about bows, what is the best way to use them? Do different activities require different bows? Yes!

If you’re looking for the most classical and/or historical styling of a bow, a longbow is the right choice for you. 

Target Archery

If you are involved in target archery, you are in good company. You can experience target archery at summer camp, in your backyard, or even watch it at the Olympics. The best target archers use a recurve bow, and it is the only kind of bow that is allowed for the Olympics. Because you are standing still, shooting at still targets, and shooting from various distances, the power of the bow is the primary goal, while precision is provided by the archer.

Field Archery

As far as field archery goes, it is similar to target archery, but features a more complex terrain. It can be indoors or out, but isn’t straight on like target archery is. Instead, the course may include walking, uphill and down hill shooting, and more. Therefore, the type of bow isn’t as regulated, and depends more on the ease and preference on behalf of the archer. As long as there aren’t any local jurisdictions or rules where you are practicing, there isn’t one specific type of bow that suits field archery the best.

Bow Hunting

When it comes to hunting with a bow and arrow, there also isn’t one standout option. Most hunters use compound bows, which doesn’t really help in our discussion about longbows and recurve bows. But to recap, if you’re looking for speed and portability, a recurve bow is better, while a longbow may be smoother to draw and more precise but harder to bring around with you.

3D Archery

3D archery is a sport of its own, and combines a lot of elements of other types of archery. It is normally shot on a walking course with different targets available at different spots. Instead of being round bullseyes, the targets are life-sized 3D representations of animals, which makes it a great way to practice hunting, navigating an unfamiliar terrain, and adjusting to your circumstances.

Either recurve bows or longbows are excellent choices for 3D archery, so depending on your preferences, either option is great. However, if you are looking to compete in tournaments or competitions, recurve bows are the most accepted and most often used. 

Making your Final Decision

No matter the style of archery you are interested, it is a great sport to be involved in. Recurve bows and longbows are great instruments of sport and of skill, and feature different benefits based on your needs or wants when it comes to archery. If you are looking for a bow to learn proper technique on, and learn excellent precision, a longbow is a great fit. However, a recurve bow will bring speed, mobility, and portability in ways that a longbow could not compete with, so knowing what exactly you want will help make sure you select a bow that is the right fit.

Prioritize your Needs

You may start by deciding what kind of archery you’d like to try, or by long term expectations. Or, you may need to go to a local store and try a few bows out in your hand for yourself. Better yet, go to an archery club or range and talk with someone who may be able to answer specific questions or highlight specific features that may be important to you and your situation.

If You Had To Pick One….

At the end of the day, recurves used well will always beat out a longbow when it comes to speed, distance and accuracy. In the same breath, longbows will be easier to use and teach form more correctly – plus, they look really cool and are the most classically and historically correct forms of a bow today.

Either way, recurve bows and longbows are excellent bows with a lot of versatility and offer a lot when it comes to mastery of the instrument. Whether you pick one specific bow, or get one of each, they are excellent tools and a great sport to be involved in. No matter whether you are new to the world of archery, or you are a tried and true master, archery is here to stay. Happy Trails!

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