Are you a beginner just starting out in archery? Are you trying to decide between buying a recurve or a compound bow to use in the sport?
If so, you have come to the right place. In this article we will discuss both the recurve and compound bow in great detail, including the pros and cons associated with each type. In the end, we hope this information will help you select the best bow for your particular needs and preferences.
The Recurve and the Compound Bow: A Closer Look
Both the recurve bow and the compound bow have strings, and both use arrows as the projectiles. Unfortunately, that is where the similarities end between these two bow types. Archers and bow hunters have long argued about which bow type was actually the BEST for given tasks and functions, but since that argument has been waged for decades with no genuine resolution I doubt this article will go a long way in terms of changing anyone’s mind. Still, here we intend to describe each bow type—the recurve and compound bow—to the best of our ability, highlighting the pros and cons of each type and the tasks for which each one is preferred.
It goes without saying that the recurve bow and compound bow are the two most popular and well-loved options in today’s world of archery. Both of these types of bows have their own advantages and drawbacks, so each should be considered carefully when making a purchasing decision.
On the one hand you have the recurve bow—the first type of bow to ever be invented. This bow type has deep roots in our history and culture, especially in the field of Native American history. The recurve bow is also used by archers who compete in most sanctioned archery events, including the World Olympic Games.
The compound bow is surely more modern than its recurve counterpart and its invention is recent by comparison. The compound bow utilizes things like the physics behind pulleys and has a much more modern design.
To get a clearer picture of each bow type—the recurve bow and the compound bow—let’s take a minute to look at each one individually and list the pros and cons that are associated with each type.
The Recurve Bow
The history of the recurve bow can be traced back to the third century in ancient China when warriors used them to fight off their enemies. Prior to the emergence of the recurve bow, all the bows in existence were straight-limbed bows—bows in which both ends curved toward the archer. With the recurve bow, the limbs or ends of the bow face away from the archer, a design which adds energy and power to the shot.
From the time of its invention, the recurve bow essentially became the standard for archery. Even today, with the comparatively recent arrival of the compound bow, the recurve bow is the only type of bow that is allowed to be used for many important archery tournaments, up to and including the Olympic Games.
Let’s look at the Pros and Cons of the Recurve Bow –
- Historic. The recurve bow, although it has changed subtlety throughout the years due to new technology, has essentially held the same design for millenniums.
- Small. The recurve bow is smaller and more lightweight than its compound counterpart.
- Fast. The recurve bow is fast and easy to shoot.
- Basic. The classic, simple curved design of the recurve bow, coupled with its very basic operation, can be a major selling point for some customers.
- Compact. Due to its compact size the recurve bow is very easy to travel with.
- Great for Tournaments. Those who wish to take their archery skills to the competitive level will need to be familiar with the recurve bow.
- Power. Because you cannot pull back the string of a recurve bow as far as other types of bows, you might be sacrificing some power in your shots.
- Limited accuracy. Recurve bows’ accuracy are wholly dependent on the aim of the shooter.
- Thinner depth. The thinner depth of a recurve bow can often translate to less forgiving shots.
Although the recurve bow may seem overly simple and quite basic, this simplistic design actually adds some value to it. The recurve bow is actually designed purposefully for ease of use, and because it is lightweight and requires no extra tools to operate it the recurve bow is actually a great starter bow for beginners just starting to learn the sport.
The Recurve Bow is good for:
- Beginners. Small and lightweight, easy to operate and fast to learn—these are all qualities that make the recurve bow a great starting bow for beginners.
- Short to Medium Distance. Although the recurve bow does not have the power of the compound bow, it is actually quite accurate for short and medium distance targets.
- Hunters. For hunting and other activities that require movement, the recurve bow’s lightweight and compact design makes it easy to carry. Waiting for long periods of time in uncomfortable hunting positions requires a light, simple bow—and one that can shoot fast when a target presents itself. A large, complicated bow will not only be tiring to lug around, but it will most likely make more noise than the recurve bow and take longer to prepare for a shot.
The Compound Bow
While the recurve bow can trace its roots back thousands of years, the compound bow was actually invented rather recently—in the 1960s. The bow was invented by a man named Holless Wilbur Allen, who manipulated a traditional recurve design and added modern engineering techniques to create the world’s first compound bow—a bow that even at first glance demonstrates its modernity and technical nature.
The compound bow was and continues to be manufactured with an emphasis on engineering and physics. By placing pulleys on the restructured ends of the bow, Allen discovered that more tension and energy could be preserved in the shot. The pulleys also created the “let-off” effect, which would turn out to be the compound bow’s most adored feature.
The let-off effect on the compound bow transformed how and how far a bow could be drawn back by the archer. The string on a traditional recurve bow would get tenser as the bow was pulled back, and the archer would feel more and more strain. This led to fatigue and lowered accuracy. With the addition of pulleys, this problem was solved. With a compound bow, when an archer pulls back, the pulleys activate and the tension actually goes away once the bow is pulled to a certain point. With minimal tension, archers can pull back as far as they want without the overwhelming tension that can lead to strain and a bad shot.
Now let’s look at the Pros and Cons of the Compound Bow
- Greater Distance. A quality compound bow has more power and can shoot much greater distances than any recurve bow.
- Aiming apparatus. On the compound bow, archers can take advantage of aiming apparatus, such as the viewfinder and pin sight that are integrated into the bow itself.
- Less strain. Thanks to the pulleys on a compound bow and the aforementioned “let off effect,” archers will feel less strain than they would with a recurve bow, as the string is actually easy to pull back.
- Accurate. Precision is the key in archery, and strain can be an enemy of that precision. Therefore, the less strain associated with the compound bow, coupled with the aiming apparatus, leads to more accurate shooting.
- Complicated. The complicated design of the compound bow makes it unsuitable for most beginners.
- Bulky. The heavy, bulky design of the compound bow makes it harder to travel with and carry.
- Distracting. Archers will need to use tools to operate the compound bow—tools which can be distracting and make the archery experience less personal.
The compound bow may look intimidating to some given all of its pulleys, viewfinders and spider-like design, but it actually makes shooting the bow easier and causes less strain to the archer. For this reason, many people have fallen head over heels for this bow in certain situations.
The compound bow is the bow of choice for many situations, including:
- Long distance shooting. Without any strain, long distance shooting is easy with a compound bow, which also includes a viewfinder and pin sights.
- Competitions. In competitions that allow both recurve and compound bows, the compound bow truly gives the archer a sizable advantage.
As you can see both the recurve and the compound bow have advantages and disadvantages to ponder. Perfect for beginners, the recurve bow is small, lightweight and easy to shoot, which also makes it great for hunting when time is of the essence. Compound bows have more power and accuracy than their recurve counterparts, and are great for shooting long distances, making them great for competitions in which these types of bows are permitted.
image: US Marines