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Compound and Recurve Bows Offer the Ultimate Archery Experience

You’ll find plenty of options when searching for the perfect bow. But before you shop around, it’s important to know the difference between the two main types. Let’s look at the anatomy and uses of recurve and compound bows.

Recurve Anatomy

A recurve bow has a comparatively short riser and two long limbs strung together by a single string – a fairly simple design. The long limbs bend together and store energy when the bow is drawn, then snap forward at the shot, transferring energy to the arrow as it flies downrange.

Because recurves don’t use a cam or pulley system, the archer holds the entire draw weight throughout the draw cycle. Despite the higher holding weight, recurves produce slower arrow speeds than compound bows. Additionally, archers use their fingers to release recurves. The bows don’t have a specific draw length from one bow to the next. Most archers install a clicker (also known as a draw check), which produces an audible “click” at full draw to improve shot-to-shot consistency. Despite the inherent challenges when shooting a recurve, they’re still incredibly accurate and the primary choice for most recreational archers around the world.

Compound Anatomy

Compound bows use a complex system of cams (or pulleys), limbs, and a riser strung together by strings and cables. When tuned properly and paired with a back tension, thumb or trigger release, the compound generates almost identical shots each time and unbeatable accuracy. Cams reduce holding weight as the archer reaches full draw (also called let off) and allows the archer to comfortably stay at full draw while settling the pin and pulling through the shot. Compound risers are usually longer than those found on recurves. This feature creates an overall shorter axle-to-axle length and faster arrow speeds.

Competition and Target Shooting

Competitive archers shoot both compound and recurve bows at on the world stage in world cups and world championships. Recurves are shot at 70 meters, while compound shooters aim from 50 meters. Both score a bull’s-eye as 10-points with the point value decreasing as the arrow land farther from the 10-ring. Compound targets are 80-cm wide with an 8-cm bull’s-eye, while recurve targets are 122-cm wide with a 12.2-cm wide 10-ring. At the competitive level, archers use magnified sight lenses on compound setups paired with extended stabilizers to steady the bow at full draw for improved accuracy.

Recurve and compound bows are also equally at home on the range, whether your primary goal is backyard recreational shooting or keeping score at a field or 3D shoot.


Archers fill their freezer every hunting season using both compound and recurve bows. While effective range depends more on the archer and less on equipment, compound bows have a shorter learning curve and are a bit more forgiving.

Regardless of which bow you choose, bowhunting is a challenging and rewarding way to provide free-range table fare while enjoying the excitement of a close-quarters experience with animals. Understanding how to shoot your bow is just the start. Remember to study animal anatomy and confirm your broadheads are flying accurately before your hunt.

Also, practice while wearing the clothing you’ll be hunting in. Bulky sleeves can interfere with your bowstring, while facemasks tend to create inconsistent anchor points. Add the realism of a lifelike 3D target during practice, and you’ll be fully prepped when you reach full draw in the field.

Even though compound and recurve bows are drastically different, both have their place in the world of archery. Whether you’re considering your first bow or curious about trying something new, become familiar with all that archery has to offer, and you’ll enjoy this rewarding lifestyle for years to come. Visit your local archery shop to test equipment and learn all about archery from experts that are more than happy to help.



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Learn the basics here, from the different styles of archery to how to choose the bow that’s right for you.


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