Compound vs. Recurve Bow: Which is Best?

October 24, 2013 by | 15 Comments

Recurve and compound bows are similar in some respects because they both have strings and arrows, but the similarities end there.

Much like the AR-15 vs AK-47 debate, archers are embroiled in an everlasting debate over whether a compound or recurve bow is better. The fact is that both deliver entirely different pros and cons. If you are having a hard time deciding which one to buy, then here are the major differences between them.


You can immediately tell the difference between a recurve and compound bow by the body shape.

A recurve bow is sometimes called a traditional bow because it’s basically the same bow and arrow that used around the world for centuries. There is only the bow body and a single string. While these weapons were traditionally made of wood, most modern versions are made from (or include) carbon or fiberglass to provide greater strength and durability.

Compound bows use modern technology and materials. They have several strings and pulleys attached to the limbs, which are typically made of aluminum or carbon. The body is sturdier and much smaller, making them ideal for stalking game through thick terrain.

Power and accuracy

The compound bow is definitely the winner when it comes to power and accuracy. The longer strings allow the archer to pull back farther to generate more power. They also make the bow easier to hold because it doesn’t take as much strength to hold the arrow back, which helps improve stability. Since it doesn’t take as much strength to draw the bow, you can easily hold it while you wait for a clear shot.

Recurve bows usually aren’t as powerful and require the same force to hold the draw, which can lead to shakiness and reduced accuracy if you have to wait for a clear shot. Your accuracy should be comparable if you aim and take your shot quickly.


Accessories are available for both types, but more are available for compound bows; most commonly, sights or trigger releases. Sights obviously help you aim, and the trigger release will make it easier to release the bow-string consistently, resulting in greater accuracy.

Some recurves have sights, but this is uncommon because recurve archers are usually purists who prefer a most instinctual and skills-based experience.


Compound bows are most commonly used for hunting. Due to their power, accuracy, and ability to fire arrows over a long distances, they are perfect for larger prey like deer or bear.

Recurve bows are sometimes used for hunting, but they are better for smaller prey; they can take down larger animals, but shot placement is much more critical. More commonly, they are used in shooting competitions.


Recurve bows are usually cheaper because there are no complex mechanisms. It’s just the body and a string. Compound bows have larger bodies, longer strings and pulleys. You might be able to find a compound bow priced similarly to a recurve bow if you are willing to shop around.

So the short answer is “neither.” Both are great bows; which one is best for you comes down to your personal preference, skill and experience, and budget.

Melanie Swick (a.k.a. Survival Chick) grew up wanting to be a rocket scientist, but when she realized she that required way too much math, she took to her second dream—spending time in the wilderness. Today, when she's not hiking, camping, or hunting, she's blogging about it. You can connect with Melanie on Facebook.

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  • Take-down bows can pack down nicely – you can even get break-down arrows if you want a bug-out hunting kit.

    • Melanie if you are talking about a hunting compound vs a traditional recurve , you are correct . But if you are comparing a fully tricked out Las Vegas indoor shoot Matthews compound ,Vs a fully decked Olympic Hoyt recurve bow with sights, stabilizers, v-bars, clicker, beiter plunger , competition arrow rest and 2 dozen Easton X10 arrows Thats a horse of a different color.

  • One important element not mentioned here, and a correction:

    Firstly, one should also take into account expediency of repair. To replace a compound bow’s cable, one generally has to have a bench mounted device called a bow-press. This means if the bow’s cable is damaged in the field away from a base of operations, the bow is now useless. Also, compound cables require more precision in their length and tend to be much longer than recurve or flatbow strings, meaning that it is significantly more difficult for the individual to make their own strings.

    Next, bow accessories such as stabilizers, bowfishing reels, and cat-quivers actually tend to be universal. Many screw into AMO standard receivers which can be found on both styles of bow. In fact, recurves and other traditional style bows have the advantage there since their construction allows for AMO bushings to be added aftermarket. This is usually not feasible on most compound bows, as they utilize “skeletal” frames to reduce weight, thereby offering no material to anchor a bushing into. Sights are generally universal as well (often utilizing a clamp system), except when made by a specific manufacturer to fit a specific model of bow, so it is a bit misleading to say that it’s rare for recurves to have them. Instead it would be more accurate to say that it is rare for recurve shooters to attach and use them.

    Neither of these points invalidate the compound bow as a self-reliance tool. But both should be seriously considered when selecting a bow for your self-reliance needs, especially if you will be doing all your own maintenance, tuning, and repair.

    • Jeremy Knauff says:

      Roger that. So you can only restring a recurve, not a compound bow in the field. Thanks for the feedback!

      • Correct. I would, and this is purely personal opinion, look at it like this:

        The recurve (and other “traditional” bows as well) is the more field expedient tool while the compound is a more mechanically efficient, energy saving tool if you have the infrastructure to support it.

        Another point I forgot to mention, that is very much worth considering as well, is how one plans to travel with the bow. While it is true that compounds can be (and often are) a smaller package when both bows are kept readied, recurves of the “take-down” variety allow for a smaller, cleaner package when not needed while “on the move”. This has the side benefit of reducing wear on the string when travelling as well, since the string can be folded or rolled up and safely tucked away in its own pocket or a storage tin. The down side to this, obviously, is the minutes wasted of setup time if an unexpected opportunity presents itself. That makes the compound a better choice for “opportunity hunters” while the recurve may be a better fit for people who plan to hunt in between covering significant amounts of ground, especially over rough terrain.

  • Lionel in Alaska says:

    While a compound and recurve bow are some good choices, you might also consider a “cross bow”. They weigh no more than a compound bow, are more easily packable, the bolts are shorter than conventional arrows which make them also more easily packable, and you can outfit a x-bow with a scope. They are very powerful, reaching distances of up to 100yds accurately, Cabela’s has many to choose from, check them out. A high end x-bow is as expensive as any high end compound bow, $500.00 and up will get you a dependable bow. The choice is yours, but i will stick with my x-bow!

  • Andy says:

    It is way faster to reload a recurve…

  • Bombaa Kuuaoi says:

    i have never shot a recurve bow in my life….i am mainly a compound archer but i shoot with a recurve style if that makes any sense…i dont use release aids…i always shoot fingers or with a thumb ring….also i use my sights differently…i use them to simply line up my shot horizontally while using my instincts vertically to properly arc my shots according to distance and i shoot more accurately that way…based on my experience with a compound vs what i observe with a recurve bow, it seems that the compound bow restricts you to the bows “settings” or “tuning” which is very hard to deviate from but at the same time delivering a much more consistent shot…but it does seem that compounds rely on sights and gadgets where a recurve will allow for a more natural shot…with a recurve (based on what i observe), you are able to get a better feel of your draw and the ability to alter the amount of tension you put on the string for each shot allowing for more of a “natural” shot which also leads to a bigger human error margin…so IMO….if you are a freestyle shooter with a steady hand, go recurve….if you are a more analytical shooter with very basic skills in physics, go compound…im kinda in between both….so….based on observation and experience “compound vs. recurve” is “sharp eye vs. steady hand”

  • dennis says:

    take a world class recurve and a world class compound (both tuned of course). shoot them from a machine at long range (I shoot 165m). the recurve will win.

  • tim says:

    A recurve has the advantages of being easily reassembled from a small case and damaged components easily swapped out.Also the cost of the recurve is much less allowing you to purchase another as backup.When you travel with a backpack the weight of the compound bow is also a factor.My first bow was a 55 pound pull bear recurve and I had no problem pulling the arrow all the way back. The difference I found is you do not pull the arrow back until the game is in range while the compounds letoff allows you to hold for a longer time.

    • Carol says:

      Sooo for a beginner 11 year old girl – compound or recurve ? I have no idea.Will be just shooting at targets on hay bales

      • glen how says:

        recurve for hay bales, more challenge and focus to be on target, so for me its funner and only so much room in back yard 65′ for now.

        • glen how says:

          oh i shoot 35 lb recurve ,(A samich sage 140$)- my 12 yo shoots a compound (cabelas PSE,190$ )has join a 4h club, arrows 4-6 $ ea.

      • Sara says:

        Well it really depends on personal preferences but compound bows’ draw strength can be adjusted over time as you grow. And there are mini-compound bows to that are lighter and easier to draw than the normal compounds.

      • DJ says:

        When I was just starting out with my bows, I picked compound. At the age of 14, my compound was set at a 27&1/2 inch draw length the a 40lb draw weight. I can can still shoot that same bow at an 28&1/2 inch draw with a 60lb draw weight. I now shoot a takedown recurve at 50lb. With a little bit of practice I was able to shot just as well as my compound.

        There are pluses for both bows.
        Compounds have a let off. By that, I mean that after a certain point while you are drawing your bow, the draw weight “drops” making it easier for you to hold the bow for a longer period of time.
        Next, more adjustibabilty. The compound bows nowadays, have very high adjustable setting. If you are just starting and you aren’t very strong, you can drop your draw weight to fit your needs. But over time as you grow stronger, you can raise your poundage. The same thing with the draw length. If you are a smaller being, will have a small draw length. But as you grow, you can increase it. Also you have a fastest arrow flight due the cams on the end of the bow. The downfall of a compound is that it isn’t super quick shooting. You must completely draw back your bow before you should shoot it.
        Recurve/ traditional:
        Most recurve shooting is by instinct. After many hours of shooting a recurve, you will be able to gage distance and how your bow will react. Recurves are very durable and long lasting. My grandfather gave me his bow from when he was a teen and it still shoots very well. As you pull back a recurve, poundage increases as the limbs pull back. Most traditional bows say x amount of pounds at 28 inches. If you are pulling less than that, poundage goes down. You pull farther, it goes up. Recurves are a faster shooting and loading bow. When I shoot against my farther with his compound and I have my recurve, I can shoot my six arrows to his two. The downfall of the recurve is the size. Most recurve a are about 5&1/2 feet while a compound is about 2&1/2 feet. Also with a recurve you can’t leave it strung up all the time or it will weaken the limbs.

        Both are good choices. And nowadays, you can attach a sight to either of them. But let’s be honest. You aren’t going to shoot at a target past 50 yards. There are to many variables effecting your arrow already and going farther is just going to decease accuracy. I personality like the recurve better but I still do enjoy my compound.

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