Types of Bows

Compare the different types of bows to decide which is best for you

If you are interested in archery but unsure on the different types of bows then this article is for you. It has been written to explain what each bow type is and its pros and cons. Allowing you to find the type that is most suitable for you.

There are several different types of bows, which can make it hard for someone just getting into archery. The 4 bow types in modern archery are recurve bow, compound bow, longbow and finally the crossbow.

The aim of this article is to teach you more about the different bows, you will then hopefully find the type that is most suitable for you and for your needs. For example if you are interested in traditional archery then you are not going to want to get a crossbow.

Below you will find more detail on the different types of bows, along with the pros and cons of each bow. Once you know about the bows, you can then continue to read on to learn more about terminology, what they are made from and also some tips on working out which is the best bow for you.

Recurve Bow

Many people mistake recurve bows with long bows, as they are very similar. The difference however is the limbs on the bow are curved. These bows are designed to store more energy and shoot the arrows further and with more force because of the curves. As the bow is drawn the limbs curve away from you.Recurve Bow

It is also common to get a recurve confused with a compound bow, due to all of the additional things that can be attached such as sights, arrow rests, stabilizers etc.

There are two types of recurve bow, the modern recurve and the traditional recurve. Traditional recurve bows are made from a single piece of wood, every much what you would see in medieval films. A modern recurve bow is the same shape, however the limbs of the bow are detachable and thus it can be packed away for ease. These bows are often called takedown recurves. The riser on a recurve bow (which is what the arrow rests on and the limbs attach to) is often made ut of some form of metal such as aluminum and carbon fiber

  • Cheaper Price
  • Easy To Maintain
  • Simple To Use
  • Easy To Shoot
  • Require Little Adjusting
  • More Skill needed for accurate shots
  • Less powerful than a compound bow

Compound Bow

Have you seen someone shooting a bow that looks like something from a sci fi film? They were probably shooting a compound bow. They are a lot more complex in their design and also tend to offer more accurate and more powerful shots. It uses cams or wheels at the top of each limb, a pulley connects the two.Compound Bow

With a compound bow, when you draw the string you will experience the “let off” at roughly 70% draw. This is when the cams take over and the weight of holding the string drawn is taken away. This is a big advantage when bow hunting as it means you can aim at your target or move with the bow fully drawn.

  • Very well constructed
  • Increased force
  • More accurate
  • Lightweight
  • Quieter
  • More advanced
  • Less skill needed
  • Increased risk of breaking
  • Harder to maintain
  • Requires adjustment
  • More Expensive
  • Harder to repair


Whenever you see a medieval film, such as Robin Hood you will probably be looking at them using a Longbow. They were the go to bow for the English soldiers, this was up until the discovering of firearms.

They are more like traditional recurve bows in that they are one piece of wood and don’t have separate limbs. The wood they are made from is normally yew or elm, although modern ones are normally laminated as this helps to strengthen them.

Longbows also have the typical bow look in that they are the well-known D shape. Interestingly they are much bigger than standard recurve bows, they are often the same size as a 5 foot archer!


crossbow is a combination of a bow and a gun as it uses a trigger to shoot the arrows and doesn’t require you to hold the string back. Unlike bows they use smaller arrows that are often called bolts

To use you simply need to pull back the string and latch it into place, position the bolt and then pull the trigger to shoot the bolt at your target. Many crossbows do require you to hold it with both hands, with one on the trigger and the other on the shaft. There are some smaller ones that only require you to hold them with one hand.

Like your typical bows, crossbows come as both recurve and compound. They use the same function in that the recurve crossbows have curved limbs and the compound ones use a similar cam system.

  • Accurate
  • Nock the bolt & Keep it nocked
  • Safety trigger to prevent misfire
  • Powerful
  • Expensive
  • Some laws on using crossbows
  • Louder than shooting a bow

Compound Bows Vs Recurve Bows

Torn between the compound bow and the recurve? Which one is the best one to go for? Below are a number of things to consider, these will help you decide on which is better for you and for the use of the bow.

Experience/Learning Curve

When comparing the two bows, the compound bow tends to be much easier to shoot due to the mechanics of it. You do still need to understand the basics of archery to use both bows, the recurve bow will need more time on the range to become more skilled.

Many will recommend the compound bow for beginners because of this, however that can cause you to not fully master the skill of archery. I would always recommend people to start off with a recurve bow. It’s better to get the skills required to shoot a recurve and then move onto a compound bow that requires less learning – that way you can shoot all kinds of bows.


Accuracy is essential when it comes to archery, you pick a target and you need to hit it. Out of the two bows, compound bows do tend to be more accurate. You can hold the bow drawn and therefore aim better due to the let off.

Compound bows also come with more detailed sights, allowing you to target better. Using a pin system, means you can shoot at specific ranges, whereas recurve bows don’t tend to have this.


Power like accuracy is very important in archery, and the use does often impact on the power needed. The compound bow tends to shoot the arrows with more power than recurve bows, which is why it is often the choice of many big game hunters. Recurve bows provide enough power for target archery and shooting small game, compound bows are essential for larger creatures.

​The Use Of The Bow

As mentioned above, the use of the bow is naturally going to make your choice a little easier. If you are looking to do target archery or your goal is to get into professional/sport archery then the recurve is the way forward. Looking to get into game hunting then you might want to consider the compound bow.

Many hunters do us recurve bows for hunting but normally for smaller game such as rabbits. Bigger game like deer/elk would require a quieter, light weight and more powerful bow (which is why the compound is chosen)


If the most important factor is price, you are going to want to go for a recurve bow. A decent recurve bow for beginner would cost anywhere from $120-$200, which is a decent price. For a good compound bow for beginners, you would be looking to spend around $400-$500.

Therefore if you don’t have the funds, you might want to think about starting off with the recurve bow.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which is better the compound or recurve?

Ultimately there is no best option, it’s all down to person choice and preference. I have spoken to many that feel a compound is ideal for beginners but not learning with a recurve could impact what you can shoot with in the future.

Recurve bows are harder to use and therefore more skill is needed, resulting in more practice. If you can shoot a recurve bow then you can shoot a compound bow, just because you can shoot a compound does not mean you can shoot a recurve.

What Type Of Bow Is Best For You?

So you now know the different types of bows, the pros and cons of each but which one is actually best for you. Below are a couple of points to consider when looking for a bow.

​What Will You Be Using The Bow For?

As mentioned before you need to think about what you are actually going to be using the bow. If you are just going to be hunting, you might want to consider a compound bow or a crossbow. Although at the same time if you are wanting to do more traditional archery that focuses on shooting targets, getting a  longbow or a recurve bow would be the way forward.

I personally use both, however there is something really satisfying with learning and shooting a recurve bow. I like not having all of the accessories and simply having a bow and arrow.

​What is Your Budget?

Have a smaller budget or wanting to learn without spending a fortune? If so a recurve bow is what you need. A decent beginners recurve would normally cost no more than $200. For this you will actually be able to get a very good bow, such as the Spyder recurve bow.

For a decent beginner compound bow you will be looking at spending no less than $350. For  a crossbow you can easily be spending $600+. Therefore if budget is something to consider then a recurve bow is going to be the best value for money.

​Experience/Beginner Archer

As I mentioned before, if you are new many people do recommend compounds as they are more accurate and easier to shoot. They are however harder to maintain and because of the complex mechanics, they can break more often. Even though they are easier tro shoot, they are harder to look after.

A recurve bow is very simple to maintain and requires very little to none adjustments. I did also mentioned above that its often better to learn to shoot a recurve. It might take longer and more practice but by doing so, you will master a skill that will allow you to shoot all types of bows.

Bow Terminology

When learning about the different types of bows, it’s important to have an understanding of the different terminology.


Takedown is just as it sounds, its the ability of being able to takedown a recurve bow. A bow whether longbow, recurve bow, compound bow or crossbow can take up a lot of space. More modern recurve bows allow you to take them down and store them better. You are able to unstring them and remove the limbs very easily, many without any required tools.


There are so many additional accessories that people can use on their bow, these include sights, arrow rests and even stabilizers. A Barebow is basically a bow that uses none of these accessories and is simply the bow and arrow on its own. I personally prefer to shoot barebow as I do fine it’s more about my skill and ability, than using accessories to improve my shot.

​Self bow

A self bow is what is known as a single piece of wood to form a bow. These are more than often traditional bows, as they are made from a single piece of wood that has been shaped, and not from different sections joined together.

​Dry firing

Dry firing is when you draw the string back on the bow without there being a arrow nocked. This can be very damaging on the bow and many manufactures do claim that dry firing can void their warranty. Do NOT dry fire a bow!


I hope this guide has been useful in teaching you about the different types of bows. I have written it not to tell you what bow type to get but instead to help you decide on which one is best for you. All of the different bows do have their place and understanding which one you need will take you one step closer to getting started in the great sport/activity that is archery!

If you do have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me!