Comparing Recurve Bows to Compound Bows

Dark Wolf - Comparing Compound and Recurve Bows

For new archers, the array of archery equipment can become complex quickly, especially when first purchasing a bow. The more research done, the more intricacies uncovered – specific models, draw lengths/weights, rests, sights, arrows etc. It can feel overwhelming. However, a key early decision is the bow style – compound or traditional recurve. We’ll compare the compound vs recurve bow in detail.

Recurve Bow Basics

Traditional recurve bows are the simplest design – a single string between two flexible limbs. Recurves are shot without sights by pulling the string with fingers directly. This style has been used for thousands of years since ancient civilizations. The two main traditional bows are longbows and recurves.

Longbows vs Recurves

The primary difference between longbows and recurves is limb design. Longbow limbs are relatively straight, forming a “D” shape. Recurve limbs curve away from the archer at the ends in a distinctive hooked shape – giving them their name. Additionally, the string contacts the recurve limb belly, not just the tips.

Both longbows and recurves function by storing energy in the flexed limb, which propels the arrow upon release. The farther they are drawn, the more energy stored and greater the draw weight. How smooth the draw feels depends on factors like length and limb design.

Compound Bow Attributes

Compound bows differ from traditional recurves primarily due to extra strings, cables, and cams – the wheel-shaped components on the limb ends. The cams make compound bows function as they do. While recurves are often long, compounds are relatively short and compact.

Like recurves, compounds utilize limb energy to propel the arrow when released. However, the cams and efficient designs provide a mechanical advantage, allowing more draw weight capacity than recurves. The archer still must pull the substantial weight, but gets more power for the effort.

The cams also provide a “let-off” effect at full draw, reducing holding weight after hitting peak draw. This enables easier holding at full draw for precise aiming. For example, a 70 lb compound may drop to a 15 lb holding weight versus holding the full 70 lbs on a recurve.

And, equally important, compounds have a maximum draw length needing adjustment for each archer. The efficient mechanics transfer more energy into the arrow upon release. Compounds also commonly utilize sights and release aids for enhanced accuracy.

Construction Materials

Recurve bow materials vary widely in styles, shapes, and designs. Accordingly, construction materials also span a broad range. Many recurve shooters gravitate to a particular configuration matching their interests and style. These can range from all-wood self bows to laminated bows with wood, fiberglass, carbon fiber or synthetics like G10. Most modern recurves are laminated for performance, strength, and durability. The most advanced risers utilize machined aluminum or carbon fiber construction. Most commonly, ILF standard risers and limbs allow mixing and matching components across brands.

While early compounds also used wood and fiberglass laminates, modern compounds use advanced materials for optimal strength, weight and durability:

  • Most compound risers are CNC machined aluminum, sometimes with cutouts to reduce weight
  • Carbon fiber risers are also popular for ultra lightweight bows
  • Compounds avoid wood altogether but use similar carbon, fiberglass, and composites for limbs

Speed and Performance

Compound bows truly excel in performance from their efficient cams, limb designs, and mechanics – providing substantial increases in energy transfer and arrow speeds compared to equivalent traditional recurves. There are a few ways to quantify this:

  • The arrow mass weight and velocity it’s launched
  • The same arrow will shoot significantly faster from a compound versus a recurve
  • Many compounds can exceed 300+ fps with lightweight arrows while over 200 fps is very fast for a recurve

With heavier hunting arrows, a realistic comparison might be 280 fps compound and 170-180 fps recurve. Compounds excel at harnessing and transferring energy into velocity and speed. However, modern recurve limbs continue improving speed and power every year. But for pure performance metrics like energy and speed, compounds maintain a clear advantage.

That said, recurves can provide practical benefits depending on context:

  • Can shoot arrows more quickly than compounds at shorter distances
  • Simpler mechanical design means less can go wrong in the field

So compounds achieve much higher speeds, but simplicity can be a recurve advantage in certain scenarios.

Shooting Style Variances

Core shooting principles of consistent form and repeatability apply equally to compounds and recurves. Stance, posture, bow hand position, release, and follow through fundamentals are very similar. However, some technique variations arise from the compound’s specialized features:

  • Let-off effect
  • Sights
  • Release aids

On average, compound shooters exhibit a smoother draw motion as they pull through let-off and settle into their anchor point. Compound sights allow very precise aiming through alignment. Most recurve archers use more varied gap shooting or instinctive aiming methods instead.

Furthermore, release aids are a major compound advantage for accuracy by eliminating finger-induced inconsistencies and enabling a clean mechanical release. This grants significant precision. In contrast, recurve archers must expertly release the arrow from their fingers consistently.

Some Final Words

While compounds exceed recurves in harnessing and transferring energy into arrow velocity, traditional recurve archery maintains strong popularity. The simplicity, intuitive aiming, and classic shooting style resonates with many. At moderate distances, recurves can absolutely be effective and efficient. Both styles have pros and cons, so new archers should experiment to see which they prefer naturally. Regardless of bow type, proper form and fundamentals are necessary.

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