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Among the oldest sports, invented well over 3000 years ago, bowhunting and archery are seeing a resurgence in popularity. From hit shows like The Hunger Games and Duck Dynasty to animated heroines, like Merida in the Disney film Brave, bows and arrows aren’t just for Greek mythology.
Whether you’re hunting wild pheasant or playing a competitive match, archery requires concentrated skill, precision, and practice. Additionally, bowhunting is especially appealing to hunters due to its virtually silent nature when firing a shot.
Whether you’ve recently been bitten by the bow-slinging bug or you’re an experienced archer, having a sturdy bow that caters to your skill level and what you’re using it for are most important. All bows are not created equally, though. You’ll want to find one that achieves what you’re looking for, whether it’s long distance shooting, accuracy, or time spent practicing. Finding the right one may lead you to some confusion in the store asking yourself, “What really is the difference between compound bow and regular bow structure?” Or “what’s better: compound bow or recurve bow?” Don’t worry. We’re here to help.
Common Types of Bows
Typically, there are two major bows that you’ll hear about: recurve or compound bow. A recurve bow looks like how you’d imagine bows developed early in history — simple yet effective — whereas a compound bow looks more high-tech and complex. They have wheels, gears, and room for other add-ons and accessories.
There are benefits to choosing a recurve bow vs compound bow and vice versa. It doesn’t make one “better” than the other — they are just designed to better accommodate different scenarios. In bowhunting and archery, compound bow vs recurve bow debates center around topics like target distance, speed, and archer strength. Let’s talk about what the compound bow and recurve bow difference is to decide which bow is best for you.
What Is a Recurve Bow?
A recurve bow is a traditional bow. When you think of Hawkeye from The Avengers, the Greek goddess Artemis, or medieval warfare, you’re likely envisioning a recurve bow.
The riser, where you grip the bow, is usually made of wood, aluminum, or another lighter material. The bow itself has a classic curved shape resembling a number 3. Its frame arches toward you at the riser but away from you at both ends – hence the “recurve” name. This shape gives you more freedom over how far back you can pull, potentially increasing your range.
Your own strength pulls the string all the way back and fires the recurve bow. This is where pull weight is important. The pull weight equals how much weight an archer must hold when the string is pulled and held. So, it can feel difficult as you get to a full pull with a recurve bow, especially if you don’t have the upper body strength.
It’s not just the pulling that requires strength and skill, though. You also have to be able to hold the string in place at its full pull to aim and make the shot. This means that you must be able to hold the full pull weight for quite a bit. If you’re just starting out, look for a recurve bow with a lower pull weight to gauge how much weight you can handle.
On top of requiring a great deal of force to operate, you must be in close proximity to your target when shooting a recurve bow. Accuracy and mastery comes with lots of practice, especially as you get used to the bow and develop your technique.
Pros and Cons of a Recurve Bow
Pros of Using a Recurve Bow:
- Easy to carry
- Less mechanical parts to maintain
Cons of Using a Recurve Bow:
- Requires upper body strength to effectively hold and pull
- Must be in close proximity to target
- May need a glove or tab to shoot
- Accuracy is dependent on skill
What Is a Compound Bow?
A compound bow appears to have quite a few bells and whistles. The riser piece has bracketed limbs attached. Cams, or what looks like little wheels, are at the ends of these limbs, turning and pulling the string to help you draw. This process helps relieve you of pulling all the weight, in contrast to the recurve which is powered by your strength alone.
The weight distribution is called “let off.” When you draw back to the full pull, the cams store some of that force. But when you release, the full force is activated. This makes it much easier to fire a compound bow if upper body strength isn’t one of your biggest assets. You only have to hold a percentage of the weight when you pull.
To shoot a compound bow, you will typically use a mechanical release. It attaches to the string and helps archers draw, anchor, and let go of the string to fire the arrow. This makes firing a compound bow much easier and allows for more accuracy without the intense mastery and practice.
Pros and Cons of a Compound Bow
Pros of Using a Compound Bow:
- Faster, more accurate shots
- Uses less upper body strength
- Great for long distance targets
- Accommodates accessories like a bow sight or vibration dampening device
Cons of Using a Compound Bow:
- Heavier apparatus
- Requires more maintenance than a traditional bow
- May need a bow press to adjust, unless you find an adjustable compound bow
What's the Difference Between a Compound Bow and a Recurve Bow?
There’s a lot to consider when deciding between a more traditional bow vs compound bows. To summarize, here are the main compound bow and recurve bow difference points by key features:
A compound bow fires faster than a recurve bow.
Recurve and compound archery achieve different levels of accuracy. Recurve accuracy is dependent upon how skilled and comfortable you are with the bow. So, at first, it may not feel accurate at all while you get used to shooting and nailing your targets. Whereas with a compound bow, the cams, mechanical release, and other additional accessories enhance accuracy and make it much easier to master.
A compound bow reaches long distance targets while a recurve bow is better for targets in close range.
Recurve bows are simple and traditional while compound bows are more complex.
Recurve bows are significantly lighter than compound bows. Hunting with a recurve bow vs compound is a lot easier when you consider how long you might have to carry your bow and other hunting accessories around in the woods!
Are compound bows more powerful than recurve?
Compound bows definitely zip through the air faster than recurve bows. But don’t rule out the recurve – it has quite a bit of kick. By design, the recurve has extra arcs where the limbs curve out at the ends. This construction increases range and power when you pull and shoot, more so than what you’d get from a compound bow.
Should I Start With a Compound or Recurve Bow?
Recurve vs compound bow: Which is best if you’ve never picked up a bow before? Realistically, you can begin your archery or hunting practice with either option. The winner of your compound bow versus recurve bow debate truly depends upon your own physical strength, how close to the target you’ll be, and how much practice and maintenance you’re willing to put into your new bow.
If you’re debating a compound vs recurve bow for beginners, a recurve bow definitely has the most simple design. For someone who’s never handled a bow before, simplicity is key. Here are some other benefits to starting with a recurve bow:
- Easier to maneuver
- No extra mechanisms to learn
- No additional accessories needed to start
While selecting a recurve bow for the first time, you may need to select a pull weight range for your bow. Aim for 35-40 pounds as a good pull weight range to start off with. Especially if you plan on using your bow for hunting, larger animals like deer would require a minimum of at least 40 pounds to be effective.
If 35-40 pounds for a pull weight intimidates you, it’s not a bad idea to start off with a compound bow. You may have an easier time drawing and shooting since it doesn’t require as much pull back strength as a recurve bow does. Additionally, a compound bow requires less practice to get the accuracy and precision on point.
When it comes to bows, choosing recurve vs compound comes down to personal preference, level of comfort, and commitment to mastering the skill. Compound bows and crossbows look cool and high-tech but require a lot of maintenance, while recurve bows appear simple but require a great deal of upper strength. Both recurve and compound archery demand a lot of practice and patience. It’s all about what’s most important to you and what will develop your practice into a skillful and fulfilling activity.
Whichever way you choose to participate in the sport, now you can make an informed decision to hit the bullseye on the best bow for you. Stay safe, stay focused, and have fun.
Contributing Writer: Charlotte Seley