Recurve vs Compound Bow: Which Is Best For You

Jul 26, 2021Archery Basics, Bows

Many new archers are uncertain about which type of bow is right for them. First, you must understand the difference between a recurve vs compound bow before making a final decision. The distinctions between these two bow types will help you find out which type of bow is best for your intended use. When it comes to compound vs recurve bows, know these are the two most popular bow types.

Since each bow type comes with its own pros and cons, you’ll need to ask yourself some questions. What are you trying to accomplish? What are your goals, interests? Do you have a personal preference between traditional archery and modern archery?

Ultimately, your decision comes down to comfort, as well as whether you plan on shooting for fun, competition, or hunting. Only once you understand the details between these two bow types can you then make an educated decision on which option is right for you.

What Is A Recurve Bow?

Recurve bows are fairly simple. They have limbs that curve towards the archer from the riser but begin to curve away as you get closer to the tip. This limb design increases arrow speed compared to a longbow, making it a great option for those shooting a lower draw weight.

One crucial difference between a recurve and compound bow is the use of a draw stop. A draw stop is a consistent point where compound shooters have pulled to full draw. Recurve archers don’t have this functionality and requires them to draw consistently to the same position, every single time. If your anchor point is not consistent, you’ll have a really hard time shooting with accuracy.

While most compound shooters use a mechanical release aid, recurve archers shoot strictly fingers. This means you’ll be using your index, middle, and ring finger to pull back your bow to full draw. Now, at full draw, you’ll be holding the bow’s full draw weight. For example, if your recurve bow is 40 lbs at 28in, you’ll be holding 40 lbs (assuming a 28in draw) until you release the arrow. This can be very challenging, so starting with lighter weight is always encouraged.

The Benefits Of A Recurve Bow

Recurve bows tend to be more powerful than longbows, meaning they shoot faster. The shape of this bow is what supports the extra shooting power as it resembles the shape of the number 3 and includes a distinctive hook at the end of each limb. Many new archers choose to learn how to shoot using a recurve bow because of its simplicity.

  • Lightweight
  • Easy to maintain
  • Less technical
  • Traditional sportsmanship
  • Affordable

The Disadvantages Of A Recurve Bow

The main disadvantage of recurve bows is their lack of modern technology. Compound bows allow for greater ease and accuracy for the average archer. This means you must rely on your natural strength and ability in order to shoot a recurve well. This is why many recurve archers shoot closer distances because it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain accuracy at further distances.

  • Requires a lot of strength to draw and hold
  • There’s little room for error
  • Accuracy is difficult at distance

Is A Recurve Bow Right For Me?

That’s the question, right?…How do you know if a recurve bow is right for you? Well, there are a number of reasons to choose a recurve bow, so here are a few questions to ask yourself.

1. Do you enjoy the traditional aspects of archery?

Archery has been around for centuries while modern archery has only been here a few decades. If you’re drawn to a more traditional style of archery, then recurve archery may be a great fit.

2. Looking for something affordable?

While there are plenty of affordable compound bows available, recurve bows can be even cheaper. If you’re just looking to throw a few arrows and unsure if you’re really interested in picking up the sport, then a recurve may be a good place to start. This helps you ease into the sport without breaking the bank.

3. Looking for something simple?

Archery can get very technical, especially with compound bows. If you’re looking for a quick and easy way to get started, recurve bows provide an easy introduction to the sport without getting lost in all the technical details.

4. Looking for a challenge?

While recurve bows may be simple in design, this does not make them easy to shoot accurately. To excel as a recurve archer, you need strength, excellent form, and correct technique to shoot well. If you’re up for the challenge, recurve archery may be a great way to test the limits of your ability.

What Is A Compound Bow?

Archers who choose compound bows understand how consistency is crucial for higher levels of accuracy. The fact that compounds have preset draw stops makes it easier to shoot consistently, ensuring that every shot uses the same amount of drawing power.

Compound archers also have the choice to shoot any release style they choose. While most compound archers use a mechanical release aid, fingers are an option! Mechanical releases include a caliper release, thumb release, hinge release, and tension release. Each have their pros and cons but increase consistency and help reduce the possibility of human error upon release.

The Advantages Of A Compound Bow.

Compound bows are modern, fast, and powerful. The additional speed and power is achieved through a system of cables and pulleys. This levering system allows you to shoot high poundage bows while only holding a small percentage of the actual weight. This is known as “let-off” and can provide anywhere from 65% to 90% off of the total draw weight. For instance, if you were shooting 60 lbs with a 90% let-off, you’re only holding 6lbs at full draw. This gives you the ability to take your time and release when you’re ready.

  • Let-Off reduces holding weight at full draw
  • Improved accuracy
  • More power
  • Supports long-distance accuracy
  • Ability to customize your equipment

The Disadvantages Of A Compound Bow.

Compound bows are of modern design so it may not be a great choice for archers who enjoy the traditional aspects of archery. Learning how to properly use and maintain a compound bow takes some time. Learning to shoot the bow itself takes time and the additional accessories you decide to use have their own learning curve as well. Another disadvantage is that you can’t simply buy a compound bow and start shooting right away. You need the bow adjusted to fit your draw length, a proper arrow rest, a release aid, a bow sight & peep sight, a bow stabilizer, and more.

  • Bulkier than a recurve bow
  • Heavier than a recurve bow
  • More maintenance is required
  • Bow must be tuned to fit your needs
  • More expensive

Is A Compound Bow Right For Me?

Is a compound bow right for you? This question can be difficult to answer because while compound bows are more technical, they provide a number of great benefits. Here are a few questions to ask yourself when making a decision.

1. Do you enjoy a technical challenge?

Compound archer is not simple…it’s quite technical. There’s draw length adjustment, peep sight placement, rest setup, tiller adjustments, D-loop placement, sight setup, let-off adjustment, release-aid adjustments, and on and on. This is why many archers prefer going to a bow shop in order to get help tuning their bow. While you can get help with the technical aspects of archery, you must be willing to tolerate these technical details.

2. Do you need more power & speed?

Compound bows are fast. Many bows today shoot over 300 feet per second. This is great for competition and hunting situations because you shoot flatter over longer distance. This means if you guess the wrong distance to your target, you’ll still be close. This also provides more cutting power in hunting situations, because you don’t want an underpowered bow.

3. Do you need higher accuracy?

Yes, compound bows are more technical than a recurve, but they are for a reason….accuracy. Compound bows are very precise and often shoot better than the person using it. The only real limitation is you, the archer. If you shoot with great form and technique, you will be extremely accurate. So if you’re up for the challenge and want to shoot as accurately as possible, a compound bow may be for you.

4. Do you enjoy modern technology?

If the old, traditional style of archery doesn’t appeal and you enjoy modern technology, then a compound may be the right fit. The system of cables and pulleys on a bow is only a few decades old and the technology keeps getting better and better. Let-off adjustments, lighter/stronger materials, radical designs, simple adjustments, everything keeps getting faster and easier to use. There are also a number of release aid options and styles to choose from, so there’s always something new to try. If you’re looking for a modern take on archery, compounds are the only way to go.

5. Do you like having a let-off?

Some people choose to shoot a compound bow simply because of the let-off. The ability to shoot a 60 lb bow while only holding 6 lbs is a complete game changer. This lowers the amount of fatigue you’ll experience while still shooting a high poundage bow. You’ll also be able to hold longer, giving you time to settle in and make the perfect shot.

Recurve Vs Compound Bow Materials

The material your choice of bow is made from directly impacts its durability and overall performance. Popular recurve bow materials include wood, fiberglass, and carbon, of which all are used to add strength and stability to increase overall performance. Laminated recurve bows tend to be a common material choice.

While compound bows are also made using the above materials, recent advances have made it so this bow type now uses newer, more modern materials. For example, many compound risers are now made using aluminum or carbon fiber. Both of these modern material advancements allow archers the ability to shoot using lower weight, higher strength material options.

Deciding Between A Recurve Vs Compound Bow

A recurve bow is a classic traditional bow choice. Whether you want a classic wooden recurve bow or a modern recurve bow using metals, fiberglass, and/or carbon, choosing this bow type supports classic shooting. Recurve bows are often seen in Hollywood movies, making them a popular choice amongst archers who want a simple bow that still offers them options.

A compound bow is a modern bow choice. Whether you use a number of bow accessories or very few, this bow type supports powerful, accurate, long-distance shooting. Compound bows are also seen in Hollywood movies and are a popular bow choice for archers who want a technical bow that offers them more accuracy and power when shooting at distance.

If you’re choosing a bow for competition reasons, know there are many different categories of archery tournaments that support both recurve and compound bows. If you’re an archer who has a goal of competing in the Olympics, know that your only option is a recurve bow. The Olympics don’t support the use of compound bows at this time, but that may change in the future.

If you’re considering a bow for hunting reasons, be sure to check your state’s minimum draw weight. Draw weight minimums tend to be at least 35 pounds. Recurve bow hunters often use draw weights somewhere between 40 and 50 pounds. Compound bow hunters often use draw weight somewhere between 50 and 70 pounds. These laws are in place so you have a successful hunt as opposed to wounding an animal.

My Personal Choice

When I began shooting archery as a kid, I started with a basic recurve bow. I learned the basics of proper form and technique, eventually graduating to a compound bow. While recurve is fun and I enjoy it depending on the situation, I do prefer a compound bow. I enjoy the increased speed, accuracy, and high-tech nature of modern archery. However, nothing is more fun than a recurve, flu-flu arrows, and aerial targets. So while you may prefer one style over another, always be open to something outside your comfort zone to grow as an archer.


Now that you have a recurve bow vs compound bow comparison, you have the knowledge you need to make a decision that’s right for you. While most beginners start with a recurve bow due to its simplicity, know that a compound bow is still a great option! Follow your instincts and choose a bow that best supports your shooting style.

Since each bow type comes with its own advantages and disadvantages you must determine your goals and shooting preferences in order to make the best bow determination. Once you make your decision, you’ll be ready to begin the fun and challenging sport of archery.


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