Differences Between Recurve and Compound Bow: Complete Guide

By Andy Ryan


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When exploring the world of archery, you may come across two popular types of bows – recurve and compound bows. Each type has its unique features, mechanics, and suitability for different skill levels and activities. In this article, we will delve into the distinctions between these bows, providing you with valuable knowledge that will assist you in making an informed decision when choosing the right bow for your purposes.

Recurve bows are known for their elegant, streamlined design, with curved limbs that provide greater energy efficiency while maintaining a traditional appearance. On the other hand, compound bows use modern technology, incorporating cams or wheels that enable smoother draw and higher velocity shots. Deciding upon which type of bow to use depends on factors such as personal preference, hunting or competition requirements, and the level of experience you possess.

Key Takeaways

  • Recurve bows have a traditional, graceful design ideal for archery enthusiasts across skill levels
  • Compound bows utilize modern technology, delivering higher velocity shots and increased accuracy
  • Choosing between these bows depends on preferences, intended use, and your experience level.

Recurve vs Compound Bow

Overview of Recurve Bow

Recurve bows are a popular type of traditional bow with limbs that curve away from you, creating a unique shape. These bows have been in use for centuries, offering a simple yet effective design. You’ll find recurve bows to be lightweight, usually no more than 2 pounds, which makes them easy to handle and carry. When compared to compound bows, recurve bows lack modern technology, but this means you’ll rely more on your natural strength and ability to shoot effectively.

In archery, recurve bows are known for being more affordable than compound bows. They are a great option for beginners or for those seeking a more traditional archery experience.

Overview of Compound Bow

A compound bow is designed to provide increased power and accuracy using modern technology. The key feature of a compound bow is its use of cams, or wheels, at the ends of the bow limbs. These cams compound the force of your draw, making it easier to hold the bow at full draw and ultimately improving your accuracy.

Compound bows are often heavier than recurve bows, with most bare compound bows weighing around 4 pounds. While they might be slightly more challenging to carry and maneuver, they more than make up for it in ease of use, precision, and draw weight reduction.

As you embark on your archery journey, you’ll find that these two types of bows offer distinct advantages and challenges. A recurve bow offers a lighter weight and more traditional experience, while a compound bow provides easier shooting and greater accuracy. Consider your own preferences and goals as you choose between these different types of bows for your archery activities.

Design and Construction


Recurve bows can be made from various materials, including wood, fiberglass, aluminum, and carbon fiber. For example, you might find the riser constructed from aluminum, while the limbs are made from a combination of wood, fiberglass, and carbon fiber. These materials not only provide strength but also ensure your bow remains lightweight.

On the other hand, compound bows are typically made with aluminum, carbon, or a combination of both materials. These bows also have limbs made from lightweight and durable materials like fiberglass or carbon fiber. The choice of materials helps maintain the overall lightweight design while still ensuring your bow remains sturdy and efficient.


A recurve bow has a distinct shape where the limbs curve away from you, and the string only touches the limbs at the string grooves. This creates a “D” shape, which differentiates it from other bow types.

In contrast, compound bows feature a more complex and innovative design. They utilize a system of pulleys and cams to deliver mechanical advantage and accuracy. The compound bow’s limbs are much stiffer than those found on recurve bows, as they need to handle the increased forces generated by the cam system.


When it comes to size, recurve bows tend to be longer than compound bows. This is because the longer limbs on a recurve bow provide a smoother draw and generate less stress on the archer’s hand. However, keep in mind that size varies among recurve bows; some can be quite compact, depending on the manufacturer and intended use.

In comparison, compound bows are generally more compact and shorter. They are designed to be suitable for various archery disciplines, such as bowhunting and target shooting. Their shorter size offers increased maneuverability, which is advantageous in tight spaces or when hunting from a treestand.


Recurve bows use a simple bowstring that is attached directly to the limbs of the bow, while compound bows have a more complicated setup involving cables and cam systems. The bowstring on a compound bow is also attached to the cams, which help in reducing the draw weight as you pull back the string. This mechanical advantage makes compound bows easier to draw and hold at full draw compared to recurve bows.

Remember that maintaining your bowstring is essential regardless of the bow type. It would be best if you regularly waxed and replaced your bowstring to ensure optimal performance.



When it comes to accuracy, compound bows have a slight advantage over recurve bows due to their design and technology. The use of a draw stop in compound bows allows for consistent draw length, which can lead to more accurate shots. In contrast, recurve archers do not have a draw stop and must rely on their consistency and muscle memory to draw the bowstring to the same position every time. Also, compound bows often include sights and other accessories to improve accuracy, whereas recurve bows typically do not.


In terms of distance, recurve bows require you to be closer to your target. Compound bows, on the other hand, enable you to shoot at longer ranges due to their higher arrow speeds and flatter trajectory. This means that with a compound bow, you’ll have more room for error in estimating distance to the target, giving you a better chance of hitting it.

Arrow Speed

Arrow speed is another key difference between recurve and compound bows. Compound bows typically have faster arrow speeds due to their design, which allows for a more efficient transfer of energy from the archer to the arrow. With a recurve bow, the initial energy transfer to the arrow is less efficient, resulting in slower arrow speeds.

Bow TypeAverage Arrow Speed
Compound300 fps*
Recurve225 fps*

(*fps = feet per second)

Power and Energy

The power and energy stored in a bow are crucial factors that affect its performance. Compound bows have a mechanical advantage because of their pulley system, which enables them to store more energy as you draw the bowstring. This increased energy storage results in greater power and efficiency when shooting. In contrast, recurve bows rely entirely on your strength to draw and store energy, requiring more force and effort to achieve the same level of performance.

To sum it up, recurve and compound bows each have their strengths and weaknesses in terms of performance. Your choice will depend on factors such as your experience level, desired shooting distance, and preference for traditional versus modern technology.

Ease of Use

Draw Weight and Strength

When it comes to draw weight and strength, there are notable differences between recurve and compound bows. With a recurve bow, you’ll experience a heavier draw weight, requiring you to use more physical strength when drawing the bow. However, keep in mind that the heavier draw weight can provide more power and speed to your shots, making it a suitable choice if you have enough strength.

In contrast, compound bows utilize cams and pulleys to reduce their draw weight, making them easier for you to pull and hold at full draw. This mechanical advantage allows you to focus more on your aim and control, rather than solely relying on physical strength.

Aiming and Vision

Aiming is an essential aspect of successful archery, and both recurve and compound bows offer different approaches in this regard.

For recurve bows, aiming is primarily reliant on your own instinct and practice. You’ll typically use a simple pin sight or just the bow’s limbs as your reference point. This can be challenging for beginners, as it requires constant practice and muscle memory development. However, with dedication and perseverance, you can master this traditional method of aiming.

On the other hand, compound bows often come equipped with advanced sighting systems such as scopes, peep sights, and multi-pin sights. These systems offer improved accuracy and ease of aiming, especially for those who are new to archery. Moreover, compound bows provide better stability, making it easier for you to aim with precision and consistency, even under various shooting conditions.

To sum it up, in terms of ease of use:

  • Recurve bows are lighter and more basic, but require heavier draw weight and more strength
  • Compound bows have a reduced draw weight, and are often equipped with advanced sights and scopes for better aiming and vision

So, as you practice your archery skills, consider the differences between recurve and compound bows, and choose the one that works best for you based on your physical capabilities and aiming preferences.

Accessories and Equipment

When it comes to choosing between a recurve and compound bow, it’s essential to consider the accessories and equipment available for each. Different options can help improve your shooting experience.

Sights and Scopes

Recurve Bows: Recurve bows typically rely on your natural aiming abilities, but you can add a sight to help improve your accuracy. Some popular sights for recurve bows include pin sights and aperture sights.

Compound Bows: Compound bows often come with a wide range of sights and scopes to choose from, making it easier to achieve better accuracy. These include single-pin, multi-pin, and pendulum sights, as well as scopes with magnification capabilities.


Recurve Bows: Stabilizers can be added to a recurve bow to help reduce vibrations and improve the overall balance of the bow. By doing so, you can achieve a more stable and accurate shot.

Compound Bows: Compound bows often come with stabilizers designed specifically for the bow’s unique structure. These accessories can help improve the balance, noise reduction, and accuracy of your shot.


Recurve Bows: Arrow rests for recurve bows can be simple or more elaborate, depending on your preferences. Some popular options include a shelf rest, where the arrow sits directly on the bow’s shelf; or a plunger rest, which uses a spring-loaded mechanism to hold the arrow.

Compound Bows: Compound bows often have more advanced rest options, like drop-away and whisker biscuit rests. These options offer increased stability and accuracy for your shots.

Arrow Selection

Both recurve and compound bows require arrows, but the type and specifications may differ slightly. Factors you need to consider when selecting arrows for your bow include:

  • Spine: The stiffness and flexibility of the arrow
  • Weight: Heavier arrows may provide better penetration, while lighter ones offer increased speed
  • Length: Arrows need to be a suitable length for your bow’s draw length
  • Material: Common materials include aluminum, carbon, and wood

Other Accessories

Recurve Bows: You can personalize your recurve bow with a few additional accessories like finger tabs, arm guards, and bow slings. All of these accessories are aimed at enhancing your archery experience and protecting you from injury during practice.

Compound Bows: Compound bows can be customized with even more accessories, such as bow releases, quivers, and peep sights, which can all contribute to an improved shooting experience and increased accuracy.

Remember that while accessories and equipment can certainly enhance your archery experience, it’s essential to practice and develop your upper body strength and grip for shooting success.

Advantages and Disadvantages

Recurve Bow Advantages

Lightweight and portable: Recurve bows are smaller and lighter than compound bows, making them easier for you to carry around.

Simplicity: With fewer moving parts, recurve bows require less maintenance and are easier to use. This makes them a great choice, especially for beginners.

Affordable: Recurve bows are generally more affordable than compound bows, making them a more accessible option for many archers.

Historic appeal: As the recurve bow design has been around for centuries, using one connects you to a rich history and tradition of archery.

Compound Bow Advantages

Ease at full draw: Compound bows have a let-off feature which makes holding the bow at full draw easier. This allows for longer aiming time, potentially increasing your accuracy.

Faster arrow speed: Compound bows are known for their higher arrow speeds, which can help increase the chance of hitting your target and reduce the impact of wind on arrow flight.

Customizability: Compound bows offer a wide range of adjustment options, allowing you to fine-tune the bow to your specific needs and preferences.

Effective game rate: The power and accuracy provided by compound bows make them an effective choice for hunting and game sports.

Recurve Bow Disadvantages

Greater strength required: As recurve bows do not have the let-off feature found in compound bows, you will need more upper body strength to use them effectively. This can make them more challenging for some archers to handle.

Longer learning curve: Mastering shooting with a recurve bow typically requires more practice and skill than shooting with a compound bow.

Compound Bow Disadvantages

Higher maintenance: With more moving parts, compound bows require more maintenance than recurve bows. You might need to invest more time and effort in upkeep.

More challenging to unstring and store: Compound bows should not be unstrung, complicating storage and transportation. Cases for compound bows tend to be quite bulky, and you might need a special case.

Cost: Compound bows are generally more expensive than recurve bows, which can be a barrier for entry for new archers.

Maintenance and Tuning

In this section, we’ll discuss the maintenance and tuning aspects of recurve bows and compound bows to keep them in optimal condition.

Recurve Bow

For your recurve bow, maintenance and tuning are relatively straightforward. Regularly inspect your bow for any signs of wear or damage, such as cracks in the limbs or a frayed bowstring. Replace worn or damaged parts as needed.

  • Bowstring: Make sure to wax your bowstring regularly to protect it from wear and tear. Replace the bowstring when it becomes frayed.
  • Limbs: Check for any signs of cracks or damage, and ensure the limbs are securely attached to the riser.
  • Brace height: To properly tune your recurve bow, maintain the recommended brace height by adjusting the bowstring’s length with twists.
  • Nocking point: Verify that the nocking point on the bowstring is properly aligned with the arrow rest for a consistent release.

Compound Bow

Although a compound bow offers mechanical advantages, it also requires more complex upkeep due to its intricate systems:

  • Cables and strings: Regularly inspect cables and strings for any signs of fraying or wear. Apply bowstring wax as needed, and replace them when necessary.
  • Pulleys and cams: Ensure the pulleys and cams are properly aligned, lubricated, and function smoothly. Check for any signs of wear on these moving parts that could impact your bow’s efficiency.
  • Limbs and riser: Examine the limbs and riser for any cracks, damage, or loose connections.
  • Tuning: Adjust the draw weight, draw length, and let-off settings according to your preference and needs. Use a bow press to safely make these adjustments.

Remember, a well-maintained and tuned bow will serve you better in the long run, whether you’re a novice or an experienced archer. By paying close attention to the condition of your bow and making regular adjustments, you’ll enjoy a more accurate and enjoyable shooting experience.

Skill Level and Experience

Beginner Archers

As a beginner archer, compound bows might be a more suitable choice for you. These bows use a system of pulleys and cams that provide a mechanical advantage, making it easier to draw and hold the string at full draw. This allows you to focus on developing your archery form and aiming technique, without being overly concerned about the physical effort of drawing the bow.

Additionally, compound bows often come with adjustable draw weights, enabling you to start with a lower weight and gradually increase it as you build up your strength and skill. The higher levels of accuracy afforded by compound bows can also help build your confidence in archery, which is important for beginners.

Experienced Archers

For experienced archers, the choice between recurve and compound bows might be more about personal preference and intended use. If you enjoy the challenge of relying on your own strength and skill, with a nod to traditional archery practices, recurve bows might be a better fit for you. They’re typically lightweight, with a more traditional design that requires more skill and experience to shoot accurately.

However, if you value accuracy, speed, and customization, compound bows offer plenty of advantages in these areas. The use of pulleys and cams enables higher levels of accuracy, even at long distances, as well as faster arrow speeds. Compound bows also have a variety of customization options, such as sights, stabilizers, and adjustable draw weights, which can help you fine-tune your shooting experience.

In conclusion, your skill level and experience should play a significant role in determining whether a recurve or compound bow is the right choice for you. Consider the benefits each type of bow offers and how they align with your current abilities and future archery goals.

Hunting and Competition

Hunting with Recurve Bows

When it comes to hunting, recurve bows offer a more traditional experience. They require more skill and practice to master, relying on your natural strength and technique. As a result, you’ll find that many hunters appreciate the challenge and satisfaction of hunting with a recurve bow. These bows have a long history, dating back thousands of years, and using them can give you a sense of connection to ancient hunting traditions.

However, it’s important to remember that recurve bows lack some of the modern technology found in compound bows. This means you’ll need to rely more on your own physical abilities and accuracy. While this can be a rewarding experience, it also comes with challenges. But if you’re looking to challenge yourself and reconnect with archery’s roots, recurve bows are a great choice.

Hunting with Compound Bows

Compound bows, on the other hand, offer the advantage of modern technology. This allows for greater ease and accuracy, making it easier for the average archer to excel. Hunters who want to focus on efficiency and precision often gravitate toward compound bows, as they can be easier to aim and shoot.

While compound bows might lack some of the traditional charm of recurve bows, they excel in providing hunters with an easier progression into successful hunting. The ability to adjust draw weight and length on a compound bow allows you to adapt to various hunting situations and conditions, giving you more flexibility in the field.


Archery competitions come in various forms, from Olympic-style events to local tournaments. Both recurve and compound bows have their own competitions, with recurve bows being used primarily in the Olympics and other international events. The skill and precision needed for recurve bows make competitions a true test of an archer’s abilities.

Compound bow competitions, while not part of the Olympics, have grown in popularity around the world. These events showcase an archer’s accuracy and technological expertise. Many local and regional tournaments feature compound bow categories, making this style of archery accessible to a wide range of archers.

Whether you’re participating in a competition or hunting, always remember to practice and perfect your technique. This will help you get the most out of your chosen bow and ensure you have an enjoyable experience.

Mechanical Aspects

Cams and Wheels

Recurve bows have a simple limb design, while compound bows incorporate cams and wheels in their construction. With a compound bow, you’ll notice that the cams or wheels (often called pulleys) are located at the tips of the limbs. These mechanical parts help reduce the amount of force you need to apply while drawing the bow, making it easier for you to hold and aim. The cams and wheels work together to provide a smoother draw cycle and increased accuracy.

Draw Stops

As you pull back on a compound bow, you’ll encounter a feature called draw stops. These are adjustable mechanisms that provide a specific draw length for each archer’s preference and size. Draw stops help ensure that you always draw the bow to the same spot, which leads to more consistent and accurate shooting. On the other hand, recurve bows don’t have draw stops, so you’ll need to rely on your muscle memory and feel to achieve a consistent draw length.

Release Aids

Recurve archers typically use their fingers to draw and release the bowstring, while most compound archers use a mechanical release aid. Release aids are devices that you attach to the bowstring to help you release it more consistently and accurately. These aids work by releasing the bowstring at the same point every time, minimizing any discrepancies that might occur when using your fingers. Using a release aid may take some practice to get used to, but it can greatly improve your shooting accuracy and consistency.

In summary, the mechanical aspects of recurve and compound bows differ significantly. Compound bows use cams, wheels, draw stops, and release aids to make shooting easier and more accurate, while recurve bows rely on a simpler design that requires more skill and practice to master. As you continue in your archery journey, considering these differences and how they affect your shooting style will help you choose the right bow for your needs.


When it comes to deciding between a recurve and compound bow, it primarily boils down to your preferences, intended use, and skill level. Remember that each type of bow has its unique advantages and characteristics that can affect your overall archery experience.

Recurve bows require more strength and skill as they rely on the archer’s own abilities. With a more traditional design, these bows offer a simplistic and more authentic archery experience for you. This is the perfect choice if you enjoy honing your skills and love the challenge of perfecting your shot without the assistance of technology.

On the other hand, compound bows feature a system of pulleys and cams that increase accuracy and provide a mechanical advantage. They also have a draw stop for consistent shooting, making it easier to master the sport. Compound bows are a fantastic option if you’re new to archery or if you prefer more sophisticated technology to help you achieve better results.

Ultimately, the choice between a recurve and compound bow is yours to make. Evaluate the pros and cons, and consider how each type aligns with your goals, skill set, and personal preferences. Whatever bow you choose, feel confident in knowing that practice and dedication will make you a better archer. Happy shooting!

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the main differences in shooting technique?

When shooting a recurve bow, you need to focus on drawing consistently to the same position every time, as there’s no built-in draw stop. With a compound bow, you’ll benefit from a draw stop, which helps to ensure consistency in your shooting. While shooting a recurve, you’ll follow a traditional form and technique, whereas with a compound bow, you use sights and a mechanical release for a more straightforward shooting process.

How do the draw weights compare between the two?

Recurve bows generally have a lower draw weight than compound bows. As you draw a recurve bow, the weight increases until you reach full draw. On the other hand, compound bows have a “let-off” point that reduces the draw weight by a certain percentage, allowing you to hold the bow at full draw with less effort.

Which bow type is more suitable for beginners?

Compound bows are often recommended for beginners due to their user-friendly design, mechanical assistance, and built-in draw stop. These features help novices learn proper form and build confidence in their shooting skills. However, some beginners may still prefer starting with a recurve bow to develop a strong foundation in traditional archery techniques.

What are the differences in bow maintenance?

Recurve bows require less maintenance compared to compound bows. They have a simpler design, which means fewer moving parts that may need adjustment or replacement. Compound bows, with their cams, strings, and cables, require regular inspection and maintenance to ensure they function optimally.

How does their use differ in hunting situations?

Recurve bows are lighter and quieter, making them suitable for stalking prey in close quarters. They also allow for quick follow-up shots. However, the heavier draw weight and more advanced sighting system of a compound bow provide faster arrow speeds and increased accuracy. This makes compound bows particularly effective in hunting situations where longer range shots are needed.

Which bow type offers more customization options?

Compound bows offer more customization options due to their modern design. You can adjust the draw weight, let-off, and draw length to fit your preferences and shooting style. In addition, you can add accessories such as stabilizers, sights, and arrow rests to enhance your shooting experience. While you can customize a recurve bow to some extent, the options are generally more limited in comparison.