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Longbow vs. Recurve: Here’s The Difference

Sep 13, 2021Archery Basics, Bows

Many new archers are unsure about the difference between a longbow vs recurve. This is why you must learn about longbows and recurves before purchasing your first bow. Many new archers decide to take the traditional archery route as it offers a simple yet challenging way to engage in the fun sport of archery. Archers who choose to participate in traditional archery generally use wooden bows, arrows, and real feathers, but can use more modern materials as well.

There are two types of traditional bows to choose from, each offering its own unique advantages. This means you’ll need to learn what makes each bow distinct so you’re sure to make the right choice for you.

The two traditional options are a longbow and recurve. You should know what a longbow is, what a recurve is, and the subtle differences between the two bow types. Only once you understand the differences between these two bows can you make an educated decision.

What Is A Longbow?

A longbow is the longest bow type available. Its classic look appeals to traditional archers who want to focus on the simplicity of shooting a bow. Longbows are lightweight, smooth pulling, and generally quiet to shoot. The bow is made using a single piece of wood and bends elegantly throughout the entire length of the bow. The simple design of this bow is its most alluring feature and is what you see in many of today’s historical movies.

Longbows are ideal for casual shooting, target shooting, field shooting, 3D archery, and even hunting in some circumstances.

At A Glance:

  • Longbows are more forgiving because of their length & reduced string torque
  • Longbows are simple and easy-to-use
  • Longbows shoot quietly
  • Longbows can be easier on the fingers and joints

What Is A Recurve?

A recurve bow is designed with limbs that curve away from the archer and towards the target, hence the name. To identify a recurve more easily, look to see if the bowstring touches the bow’s limbs at rest. If so, it’s considered a recurve bow.

Recurve bows are easy to use and adjust, making them a popular bow choice for new archers. This design stores a lot of energy/power, making it most popular for archers interested in target shooting. If you’re interested in Olympic competition, this is currently the only bow type allowed in the Olympic games.

At A Glance:

  • Recurves offer great power, speed, and accuracy over longbows.
  • Recurve bows retain speed/power at lighter draw weights, which can be increased by purchasing new limbs (if using ILF bows/limbs).
  • Recurves can be broken down, making them easy to store and transport.
  • Recurve bows are very versatile as they’re an accepted bow type in many different archery disciplines.
  • Recurves can be used for hunting because of the increased speed/power.

Longbow vs Recurve Differences

Before learning about the differences between these two bows, let’s cover some similarities. Both recurves and longbows utilize the same manufacturing techniques, meaning they both are made using quality construction methods. Both bow types also cost about the same to purchase and operate, giving you the option to buy a budget or a top-of-the-line bow. Lastly, both bow options are easy to restring and maintain.

Now, let’s cover some of the differences so you can find out which one is right for you!

Accuracy

When it comes to longbow vs recurve accuracy, recurves are generally more accurate but only when an archer uses proper form. Today’s modern recurve bows are specifically engineered to be highly accurate, making them a popular bow choice. Recurves provide the option to use modern technology like an arrow rest, stabilizers, and sights. These advances have made recurves the best traditional option in target competitions.

Arrow Speed/Power

When it comes to recurve vs longbow speed, recurves are generally faster. This is because of the recurve design of the limbs that store more energy. This energy is transferred into the arrow for more speed. Fast shooting bows tend to be more popular because they shoot flatter and further.

Bow Noise

A bow that shoots quietly is a top feature for many of today’s archers. When it comes to generating bow noise, vibrations and the twang of the bowstring are responsible. Longbows are quieter than recurves because the string doesn’t hit the limbs as much, in turn resulting in less string slap. This makes longbows much quieter. However, you can purchase string silencers to help reduce the noise of a recurve.

Forgiveness

The fact that longbows are longer and have thicker limbs makes it so a longbow is more forgiving than a recurve. This means user error won’t affect your shot as much as it would with a recurve. Even though longbows are bigger and heavier, archers should expect less torque or sideways movement when shooting a longbow. This means overall, a longbow is less susceptible to user error, helping you stay on target.

Smoothness

Recurves generally have a smoother draw when compared to longbows. However, a longbow can also be smooth if the length of the bow matches the archer’s draw length. Most archers want a smooth drawing bow. Experiencing a smooth draw is often ideal, even though draw weight quickly increases when nearing full draw. A bow with a smooth draw helps evenly distributes the weight, making the shooting process feel that much more natural.

Size & Mobility

Recurves are generally smaller than longbows. They easily break into smaller pieces in order to transport it from one place to another. Takedown bows are very popular because they’re so easy to transport. Longbows range in size from 5 ½ feet to 6 feet or more. While there are a few takedown longbow options available, the majority of longbows don’t offer this option. Archers who need a bow that is more portable should consider shooting a recurve bow.

Adjustability

Recurves have more tuning options, making them much more versatile. Recurve bows allow the use of an arrow rest, sights, stabilizers, and some bows (ILF bows) allow you to swap out different limbs. This versatility allows for plenty of adjustment to fine tune your setup. While most takedown bows are recurves, there are a few takedown longbows to help increase or decrease draw weight.

Hunting Performance

Even though both bow types work well for hunting, recurves tend to generate more power. Speed and power is important in hunting situations for accuracy and humane reasons. A recurve bow is also more portable, making it easier for hunters to travel with.

Nostalgia

Longbows have a long history and were the original bow design. This is the bow type for archers who enjoy the historical appeal of medieval archery. While longbows may have been the original bow design, there’s no need to rule out recurve bows. Recurves have a long history back to Asia in the early 1200s.

Availability

Recurves are now considered to be the modern standard as this bow type provides archers with many options. This means you can expect to see a much larger selection of recurve bows available for purchase vs longbows. If you’re a competitive archer who wants to participate in tournaments, clubs, and/or the Olympics, choosing a recurve is the right bow choice for you. Since longbows are less popular than recurves there simply aren’t as many choices available.

Longbow vs Recurve – Which Is Right For You?

When deciding between a recurve or longbow, it really comes down to personal preference. While the differences listed above should help you make the right decision, you can always try shooting both bow types to see which one you like the most.

Also, keep in mind the accessories that come with each style. How many archery accessories do you plan on using? Depending on which bow you choose, you could be using quivers, arrow rests, peep sights, string silencers, stabilizers and more.

As a new archer, it’s important to first focus on choosing a less powerful bow. Your first bow should be easy to handle, as well as easy to shoot. Since recurve bows are more modern and more compatible with multiple accessories, this bow type is often the best choice for an archer who’s just starting out.

When choosing a new bow ask yourself – What are my shooting goals? How often will I shoot? What features are most important? Are power and accuracy a goal? Is nostalgia a factor? How important is the feel of my bow? Do I have a preferred archery discipline? Target archery, traditional archery, field archery, 3D archery, and hunting are the most common archery disciplines.

When it comes to choosing a bow type specifically for target shooting, know that there are shooting competitions that allow both bow types. Archers who plan on playing at a competitive level should choose a recurve as the majority of competitions require recurve bows.

Conclusion

Now that we’ve covered the similarities and differences between recurves and longbows, you should have a better idea of what is right for you. Since each bow type comes with its own unique benefits, you must decide which one will best support your style of shooting. The lightweight and quiet longbows make for a basic, fun way to try archery. While the high performance, small size, and large availability of recurve bows helps provide more accuracy and precision. Once you make your decision, stick with it and you’ll quickly be on your way to becoming a good shot!

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