Shooters favor different types of bows for different reasons, and two popular bow types are compound and recurve bows.
The recurve is the standard bow used by Olympians. A compound bow can be easier to use, adjustable, smaller, and more varied. But the recurve is easier to maintain, cheaper, and considered more stylish. The recurve is one of the most commonly used traditional bows.
If you can’t choose between them, don’t worry. Each is better for different things. When deciding between these two bows, let’s look at everything you need to consider.
Recurve – The basics
A longbow is a typical bow shape made from a single piece of wood and string. A recurve bow is named for the curves that extend towards the archer near the riser and away from them at the tip. That curve, or recurve, stores and provides power to an arrow in a way that a longbow can’t.
Compound – The basicsA compound is named for the small wheels (cams) at the end of the limbs. They work with the string and compound the force held in the drawn bow. The cams unwind and let off the weight, increasing the arrow speed. When the bow is at full draw, you won’t need to control the energy stored in the bow; the cams will do it for you. A compound shooter will be able to handle higher poundage easier. With a recurve bow, a 50lb draw weight requires you to hold back 50lb while aiming. 50lbs of force will be applied on release. A 50lb compound bow with 50% let-off will require you to draw 50lb, but you’ll only need to hold 25lb as you aim. But 50lbs of force will be applied regardless.
Let’s look at each category to see how each bow performs.
Most bows will top out at 70lbs of draw weight – there’s not much market for 80lbs + draw weight.
A compound bow is more efficient, easier to use, and allows you to use a higher draw weight, making it more powerful in the field.
Winner: Compound bow
Let-off is relevant to this category, a 70lb compound bow with 80% let-off only needs you to hold 14 pounds of weight, but a 70lb recurve will need you to hold and aim 70lbs of force. The compound is the easiest to aim.
NoiseCompound bows and recurves can be fitted with silencers and limb dampeners to help reduce noise. If your bow is tuned correctly, you’re using the correct arrow weight and add-ons such as string silencers; you’d expect near-silence from both.
SizeA compound bow is typically more compact than a recurve – a 70lb compound measures about 30″ from tip to tip. But a recurve with the same power can be about twice the size, up to 64 inches on average. A smaller bow is easier to handle and transport.
WeightAlthough a recurve is larger, a compound bow has more parts contributing to the weight of the bow. Once you consider the cams, additional string, and thicker riser, your compound bow is probably heavier.
A recurve is known for being lighter.
TransportableMost recurve bows are takedown bows, meaning you can break down the limbs into three pieces (riser, bottom, and top limb). You can’t usually takedown a compound bow. A compound needs to stay built – a recurve breaks down smaller, but a compound is easier to transport if you don’t want the hassle of taking it down and putting it back together again.
You can choose different limbs for a recurve bow to adjust the bow’s power; an assembled bow with a single set of limbs will give you one range of power. Most compound bows can adjust their draw weight, power, and length by tweaking the cam position. Some bows allow the draw weight to be adjusted from 5lb to 70lb without using a bow press. Compound archers have the advantage here.
ConstructionThere aren’t many differences in materials. Each bow can be made from various materials, the riser of a recurve will be made from carbon, aluminum, or wood, and the riser of the compound is often made from carbon or aluminum. The limbs are made from similar laminated wood.
Mid-range recurves such as a Samick Sage cost half the price of some compound bows, such as the Diamond Infinite Edge Pro. Compound bows are often more expensive as they require more parts and assembly.
MaintenanceA recurve is far easier to fix in the field, and you can re-string it by hand and replace a takedown bow limb easily. But compound bows are difficult to fix; you’d usually require professional assistance from a pro shop. Also, more things can go wrong since a compound has more moving parts.
Learn more about setting up your Compound Bow with our top tips
AccessoriesAvailable accessories are similar. You can use each bow with sights, arrow rests, stabilizers, quivers, string silencers, etc.
AvailabilityYou’ll find a large selection of compound bows; hunters favor the compound. Recurve bows are widely available, and the top manufacturers such as Hoyt, PSE, and Bear Archery provide both. But compound bows are most popular and have more of a market.
HuntingA compound bow gives you ‘let off’, which is vital when waiting to take down your prey. Compounds are also easier to carry when fully assembled; some can be attached to a backpack to allow you to move through woodlands easier. It’s also easier to use a higher draw weight compound bow.
YouthYoung archers appreciate adjustability; otherwise, you’ll need to replace the bow constantly as they grow. A good compound bow can have draw length and power adjusted. Unless your child is set on using a recurve bow, an adjustable compound will grow with them and be more effective.
Your strength and technique will change as you learn; while a compound is more adjustable unless you have someone to show you the ropes, you may appreciate the simplicity of a recurve bow. It comes down to personal preference.
BowfishingBowfishing can be done with either bow; there are bowfishing kits sold for both. Bowfishing requires patience; you may need to wait at full draw, making a compound bow more convenient. But you can get a faster snapshot with a recurve.
Target shooting tournaments can require a recurve or compound, but the Olympic games only allow recurve bows, which is one of the reasons elite competitions favor recurve shooters. While it could change, and maybe it’s for tradition’s sake, as things stand, recurves are the bow to shoot if you’re hitting targets.
Take a look at our recommendations for best recurve bows
Recurve vs Compound bow?
There are advantages and disadvantages to using both. I’d recommend a recurve bow for hunters and bow fishers. Bowhunting is more straightforward with a compound bow. But a recurve is ideal if you’re entering shooting contests, a total beginner, or you’re interested in traditional archery. Whichever you choose, an array of tools and additions are available for you to have fun with.