Compound vs. Recurve Bow: Which is Best?

October 24, 2013 by | 5 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.

Body

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

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.

Uses

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.

Price

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.

5 Comments

  • 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!

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