Recurve Bows vs Compound Bows: Which One Reigns Supreme?

Categorized as Archery Tips
Recurve Bows vs Compound Bows

As an archer, you constantly seek ways to improve your skills. Regardless of your experience level, you’ve probably encountered two popular bow types: the recurve and compound bows.

Recurve bows are traditional bows with a simple design that relies on the archer’s strength and skill, while compound bows use a system of pulleys and cams to provide mechanical advantage and accuracy. The choice between the two largely depends on your preferences, intended use, and skill level.

Having given a short introduction, let’s now explore in detail the design, performance, and applications of these two bow types.

FeatureRecurve BowCompound Bow
DesignSimple, traditionalComplex, modern
AccuracyRelies on archer skillMechanically enhanced
Draw WeightFull weight throughoutReduced at full draw
Arrow SpeedGenerally slowerFaster
Intended UseTarget archery, huntingTarget archery, hunting
MaintenanceSimple, lower costMore complex, higher cost

Design Differences

The recurve bow is named for its distinctive shape, with the limbs curving away from the archer when unstrung. This design creates tension and energy storage, allowing for a more powerful shot.

Typically made of a single wood piece, recurve bows can also incorporate materials like carbon and fiberglass for increased strength and durability.

Compound bows are a modern invention, featuring a complex design that includes a system of cables, cams, and pulleys. This setup allows the bow to provide mechanical advantage, making it easier to draw and hold at full draw.

The limbs of a compound bow are typically made of composite materials, making them lightweight and resistant to bending and breaking.

Performance Comparison

Recurve bows and compound bows, while both being popular choices for archery enthusiasts, have distinct characteristics that set them apart in terms of performance. The differences between these two types of bows can be observed in various aspects, such as accuracy, draw weight and let-off, and arrow speed.

Accuracy and Mastery

Recurve bows demand a significant amount of skill, strength, and experience from the archer to achieve consistent accuracy.

The absence of mechanical aids means that the archer must rely solely on their physical abilities and practice to maintain precision in their shots.

This can make recurve bows more challenging to master, particularly for those who are new to the sport.

In contrast, compound bows are designed to improve accuracy by incorporating several features that assist archers in maintaining consistency throughout their shots.

One such feature is the let-off, which reduces the draw weight when the bow is fully drawn. Another is the back wall, a stopping point at full draw that helps archers establish a stable and consistent anchor point.

These features, combined with the mechanical advantage of the compound bow, enable archers to achieve better accuracy with less effort.

Draw Weight and Let-Off: A Comparison

Recurve bows necessitate that the archer pulls the full draw weight throughout the entire draw process.

This can be physically demanding, particularly for beginners who may struggle to maintain the required strength and stamina.

Over time, this can lead to fatigue and affect the consistency of their shots.

Compound bows, however, are designed with a let-off feature that significantly reduces the draw weight at full draw by 65-80%.

This allows the archer to hold their aim with considerably less effort, making it easier to maintain focus on their target and achieve consistent accuracy.

The reduced draw weight also helps prevent fatigue, enabling archers to shoot for longer periods without compromising their performance.

Arrow Speed and Trajectory

Recurve bows generally have a slower arrow speed compared to compound bows due to their lower energy storage capacity.

Skilled archers, however, can still achieve remarkable arrow speeds with a recurve bow by honing their technique and physical prowess.

Compound bows, benefiting from their mechanical advantage, typically produce faster arrow speeds.

This results in a flatter trajectory, which can improve accuracy at longer distances. The increased arrow speed also allows for greater penetration power, making compound bows a popular choice among hunters.

Intended Use

Depending on the archer’s goals and preferences, both recurve and compound bows can be suitable for various purposes, such as target archery and hunting. Unique features of each bow type can influence an archer’s choice depending on the intended use.

Target Archery

Recurve and compound bows are both utilized in different target archery disciplines, with each bow type having its own set of advantages.

Recurve bows are widely used in Olympic and traditional archery competitions, where the focus is on the archer’s technique and skill.

The recurve bow’s simplicity and reliance on the archer’s abilities make it an ideal choice for these types of events.

On the other hand, compound bows are prevalent in 3D archery and other modern target shooting events, where precision and accuracy are highly valued.

The mechanical advantages of compound bows, such as let-off and faster arrow speeds, make them well-suited for these competitive formats.

When choosing between a recurve and compound bow for target archery, personal preferences play a significant role.

Additionally, the specific rules and regulations of the competition you’re participating in may dictate which type of bow is permissible or more advantageous.


In the realm of hunting, compound bows generally enjoy greater popularity due to their increased accuracy, faster arrow speeds, and reduced draw weight at full draw.

These factors contribute to a higher likelihood of taking down game with a single, well-placed shot, which is crucial when hunting to ensure a quick and humane kill.

The compound bow’s overall performance also makes it a more effective and reliable choice for hunting in various conditions, such as when dealing with wind or when shooting from an elevated position.

Nonetheless, some hunters are drawn to the challenge and traditional feel of using a recurve bow.

These archers often appreciate the sense of connection to the sport’s roots and the satisfaction of mastering the more demanding recurve bow.

While using a recurve bow for hunting may require more skill and patience, it can be a rewarding experience for those who value the traditional approach.

Maintenance and Cost

Recurve bow maintenance is simple. Regularly inspect the bow for damage or wear, wax the bowstring, and replace the string when necessary.

The cost of a recurve bow can vary widely, from budget-friendly options for beginners to high-end models for competitive archers.

Compound bows require more maintenance due to their complex design. You’ll need to check the bowstring, cables, and cams for wear, and you may need to periodically visit a professional bow technician for tuning and adjustments.

Compound bows usually cost more than recurve bows, considering both initial purchase and ongoing maintenance.

Beginner vs. Experienced Archer

As a beginner, you might find the recurve bow more accessible due to its simpler design and lower cost. However, the learning curve may be steep since developing strength and technique is crucial for consistent accuracy.

On the other hand, while compound bows may initially be more expensive and complex, they can offer a more forgiving experience for beginners, thanks to their mechanical advantages and built-in accuracy features.

For experienced archers, the choice between a recurve and compound bow may come down to personal preference and intended use.

If you enjoy the traditional feel and challenge of mastering your technique, a recurve bow might be the right choice for you. Conversely, if you’re focused on accuracy and performance, a compound bow could be your ideal companion.

Choosing the Right Bow for You

To choose the right bow for you, consider the following factors:

  • Skill Level: As mentioned earlier, beginners may find recurve bows more accessible, while compound bows can offer a more forgiving experience as you learn the ropes.
  • Intended Use: Think about whether you plan to use the bow for target archery, hunting, or both. This guidance can assist in choosing based on each bow type’s strengths and weaknesses.
  • Budget: Keep in mind that compound bows are generally more expensive than recurve bows, both in terms of initial cost and ongoing maintenance.
  • Personal Preference: Ultimately, the choice between a recurve and compound bow will come down to your own preferences and what feels most comfortable and enjoyable for you.


In summary, recurve bows and compound bows each offer unique advantages and challenges for archers. The recurve bow boasts a simple, traditional design and presents a rewarding challenge for those looking to master their technique.

In contrast, the compound bow offers mechanical advantages and accuracy enhancements that can make it a popular choice for hunting and modern target archery.

Consider your skill level, intended use, budget, and personal preferences to make an informed decision and select the best bow for your needs.