4 different types of archery bows

How to Choose the Perfect Archery Bow for You

Taking up the sport of archery is a bit like walking through a wardrobe and winding up in Narnia. You think you know what you are getting into, only to realize that there is so much more involved than you ever imagined.

Navigating the expansive world of archery can be a challenge. What style of archery do you want to take part in? Do you want to compete, hunt, or just have fun? Answering those questions can help lead you to the most important choice any archer can make: What type of bow will you use?

There are four types of bows for you to choose from

  • Recurve Bows
  • Longbows
  • ​Crossbows
  • Compound Bows

All of those bows have their own unique styles of shooting and are used for a variety of purposes. Learning more about each of them will help you decide which one is the best fit for you.

Recurve Bows

You have probably seen many recurve bows before without even realizing it. They are frequently used in movies and television shows because of their elegant form and traditional style. Katniss Everdeen shoots both recurve bows and longbows in the Hunger Games movies, while Hawkeye shows off his recurve bow in Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Recurve Bows


According to D.K. Lieu at the University of California, the chief benefit of the recurve bow is its ability to have a high energy content while maintaining a shorter length than longbows. This is due to the way in which the tips of the bow both curve away from the archer. That makes recurves more efficient and more portable than most other types of bows.

Modern recurve bows are generally made from layers of fiberglass or wood around a core made of carbon foam or wood. The diagram on this page by Discover Archery clearly labels the parts of a recurve bow, demonstrating how it all comes together to create the graceful style of the recurve.


The recurve bow is one of the oldest types of archery bows in the world. References to them date back all the way to the 8th century B.C.

Cascade Mounted Archery discusses how they were further refined by multiple groups of people in Central Asia who developed them to be used from horseback. The people of Mongolia, in particular, were renowned for their skills in horseback archery.

These historical composite recurve bows were made from bone and horn wrapped in leather. Some are still made in that style today to give them a traditional feel.

The recurve was a popular style of bow in many cultures. This is likely due to it requiring a lower draw weight for the same amount of power as a longbow. It was easier to use in a larger variety of situations thanks to its portability and maneuverability.

Modern Uses

While recurve bows can be used for many things, their highlight comes from their use in competitions.

In fact, when it comes to Olympic-level archery competition, the recurve bow is the only style allowed. If you want a little insight into what it takes to use a recurve bow like an Olympian, then check out the video below. Jake Kaminski, a silver medalist, takes you through the basics of choosing and using a recurve bow.

Of course, recurve bows can be used for more than elite competition. You can get one for target shooting as a hobby, or you can use one in more traditional styles of archery.

Specialized recurve bows, often referred to as “horse bows,” are used for mounted archery. That comes from the historical origin of composite recurve bows in Central Asia by horse-oriented cultures. Archers ride horses at a high rate of speed while shooting arrows at targets along their path.


The longbow is similar to the recurve in that it is a popular style for traditional archery. It has strong historical connotations and so is often seen in movies that take place in medieval times. You can also see them in action in the upcoming Wonder Woman movie.



A longbow is the simplest style of bow in its appearance. At its most basic, a longbow is as uncomplicated as a piece of wood attached to a string. That simplicity belies its strength.

The long bow curves gently toward the archer when it is strung. It basically forms the shape of the letter “D.” Because it lacks the beneficial curves of a recurve bow, or the technological benefits of a compound, it is arguably the most challenging type of bow to shoot with.

Modern longbows do not differ much from their historical counterparts. They can be crafted from a single piece of wood in a matter of hours, making them popular amongst amateur bowyers.


Historian Chris Trueman details the history of the longbow in medieval times. While it was used by multiple cultures throughout the Middle Ages, it was used with the greatest effect in medieval England.

The longbow was an integral part of English warfare during that time period. The skill of English archers with their longbows gave them a potent advantage over their enemies.

Those medieval longbows were primarily made of the wood from yew trees, but other types of wood were substituted during yew shortages.

Powerful longbows in medieval times were measured at an impressive six feet in height. They had heavy draw weights that necessitated extremely strong archers to wield them.

Modern Uses

Technological advancements have rendered the longbow outdated when it comes to warfare, but they are still very popular with archers of all skill levels.

Longbows are primarily used by fans of traditional archery as a hobby. They are also frequently seen in medieval reenactments. You can find clubs and organizations dedicated to the art of traditional archery all over the world.


Crossbows are different in appearance from other types of bows, but they function under the same basic principle. You might prefer a crossbow if you want to jump right into the sport of bow hunting without having to spend extensive amounts of time practicing. They are generally easier to learn with than other styles of archery.



The crossbow is unique amongst the bows for its horizontal form. It also shoots a different type of projectile that is generally referred to as a “bolt.” Bolts are shorter than your typical arrow but are otherwise similar in appearance.

Modern crossbows are made of fiberglass and carbon materials. More traditional styles can be crafted using wood or a composite of wood, bone, and sinew.

You can find modern crossbows in both recurve and compound forms, with the compound being the more popular style due to its greater efficiency. SA Sports has a handy diagram of both types of crossbow.


The origin of the crossbow dates back to ancient China and Central Asia. According to Ancient Origins, the crossbow is mentioned in The Art of War by Sun Tzu. That treatise was written in the 5th century B.C.

Crossbows did not cost much and were relatively simple for soldiers to use. Since it did not require much training to learn how to shoot a crossbow, they quickly became an integral part of ancient Chinese warfare.

Like the longbow, crossbows were also used in medieval times. In fact, the creation of the longbow is what pushed the crossbow out of frequent usage. While the crossbow was easier to wield, it also had a shorter range and slower shooting rate.

Modern Uses

The main use of crossbows today is hunting. They can be very accurate when used correctly and are able to shoot a rapid bolt at heavier draw weights. Modern crossbows have a much longer range than their ancient counterparts did.

You can also purchase a crossbow for target shooting if that is your preference. Target-shooting crossbows have lower draw weights than the ones intended for hunting. That is because much less force is required to penetrate targets.

Crossbows made for target shooting are on the small side in the family of bows. They are easy to transport and can be very fun to shoot with.

Compound Bows

The compound bow is the most commonly used type of bow for hunting. It is also the most modern and technological style of archery.

Compound Bows


Compound bows use a special pulley system that increases their power without increasing their draw weight. While the initial draw may be heavy, the pulley system enables the archer to hold the draw at a lower weight for an extended period of time. The point in the draw at which the weight decreases is known as the “let-off.”

These bows also differ from traditional types of bows in that they remain strung at all times. Recurves and longbows need to be unstrung whenever they are not being used or you risk damaging the bow. Compound bows do not share that problem, saving you a little extra time and effort.

Compound bows are more rigid than other bows. Their risers are usually made of aluminum or magnesium alloys, with aluminum being the most popular choice. The limbs of compound bows can be made of wood, fiberglass, or composites made with carbon fiber.

They use the same style of arrows as more traditional bows but differ slightly in the materials they are made of. While aluminum and carbon fiber arrows work in all types of bows, wooden arrows are generally too delicate for the power of compound bows. The majority of arrows used with compound bows are made of carbon fiber.


Compound bows are the most recent development in the history of archery. They have been around for less than a century. That makes them a true newcomer compared to the other bow types as they are all many centuries old.

According to Archery Report, the very first compound bow was invented by a man named Holless Wilbur Allen in the early 1960s. Allen was a mechanic who figured out how to attach pulleys to the ends of a bow in order to increase their power. He received a patent for his design in 1969 and the manufacturing of compound bows began.

While the basic idea of compound bows remains the same today as it was in the 1960s, there are continual advancements being made to increase their power and accuracy.

Modern Uses

Compound bows are ideal for hunting because of the incredible force they can impart on the arrows that they shoot out. Their unique pulley system makes this possible. It also makes aiming easier since the draw can be held longer, which is especially helpful in a hunting situation.

You can also use this bow for target practice. Many compound archers do both. They hunt during the appropriate season and spend the rest of the year at the archery range perfecting their shot.

The energy-efficiency of the compound bow makes it a popular choice for both beginner and advanced archers.

Archery is a thrilling sport regardless of the type of bow you choose, but your experience will vary greatly depending on your bow. It is important to think long and hard before you make the decision to purchase a specific kind of bow.


Archery is a thrilling sport regardless of the type of bow you choose, but your experience will vary greatly depending on your bow. It is important to think long and hard before you make the decision to purchase a specific kind of bow.

If you are having trouble making up your mind, then it is a good idea to take some classes at your local archery ranges. Most ranges will provide instruction in a variety of archery styles, including the use of both modern and traditional bows. This will give you a feel for the different types of bows and help you figure out which you are most compatible with.

Some ranges will also allow you to rent archery equipment. That is helpful if you need to spend a little more time practicing with a specific bow before you make your decision.

It is okay to change your mind after you pick your bow. Many archers enjoy a variety of bows and archery styles. With archery, you really can do it all.

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Hey! Grant Chambers here, I have a huge passion with everything to do with Game Hunting and Outdoors. Over the years gone by I have learnt a huge amount through Hunting as a Hobby. I want to share all my knowledge of anything hunting related through my website bullseyehunting.com.



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