Compound vs. Recurve Bow: Which is Best?

October 24, 2013 by | 12 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.

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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.

  • 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.

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