Bow-Off – Longbow vs Shortbow – A Comparison

Garret Jacob | |

When we see famous archers like Robin Hood and Legolas from Lord of the Rings portrayed in movies, most often they are using a longbow. Does that mean then that the longbow is the ultimate bow to be used by any aspiring archer? The short answer is, not necessarily. 

We have been unknowingly trained by Hollywood to see the longbow as the most common and widely used type of bow in history. Though the longbow was famous, specifically the English longbow, for its use in warfare, it is important to note that the short bow had its own set of advantages.

An english longbow archer
A classic english longbow archer

Short bows were the types of bows used by the horsemen of Genghis Khan who conquered much of the known world during their time. Short bows were also used in guerrilla warfare to conduct raids, ambushes, and other mobile forms of attack on intended targets. 

A modern mounted archer with a short horsebow
A modern mounted archer with a short bow

So, which one is better? It depends on the situation you find yourself in. Are you using the bow for bow hunting, or solely for target shooting? Do you need to fire arrows at a great distance with great force, or rapidly at a shorter distance?

Though it is difficult to determine which is better without knowing its intended use, we can put them side by side in several categories and compare and contrast the pros and cons of each. Let us compare the longbow and the short bow in the following categories: power, range, speed, aiming, draw length, portability, cost, and hunting practicality. It is through these categories that we will attempt to determine which is better. The longbow, or the short bow?

Longbows – What are they?

The longbow is famously depicted in most medieval movies as the weapon of choice for archers defending castle gates from the onslaught of attacking armies. For the most part, this is true. The longbow was a weapon of choice for archers in medieval Europe until firearm was invented. 

So, what defines a longbow? A longbow is a single curved bow that usually measures around 1.5 meters or about 5 feet in length. It was designed this way to be the perfect length for an average-sized man to be able to draw back an arrow with little more than half their wingspan. It is important to note, however, that the English longbow used in medieval warfare was quite a bit longer than a typical longbow with lengths closer to 1.98 meters, or 6.5 feet.

The Japanese developed their form of the longbow independent of Europe. It is similar, however, often they were quite a bit longer than the European version. This longbow, called the Yumi, could measure over 2 meters (6.5 feet) long and was used in traditional Kyudo martial arts. Since it was made of bamboo, the Yumi had an incredible flex and could be longer than the user’s height. 

A brief demonstration on how the Yumi was used in traditional Kyudo

Originally, longbows in Europe and Japan were constructed from different types of wood. Today, you can purchase longbows constructed with wood, fiberglass, and even glass. You can also purchase a longbow constructed from multiple materials in the form of composite or laminated bows. Each material type has its own set of pros and cons and it is up to the user to decide which is best suited for their purposes.

Take a look at our best longbow article for some great examples of modern versions of this type of bow.

Short bows – What are they?

According to SportsRec.com, a short bow technically should be no longer than 5’5” and they usually measure at around 3 feet long. So, while the soldiers stationed on top of the castle walls were shooting down at the enemy with the longbow, the soldiers riding into battle on horseback were then armed with the short bow. 

Short bows have a shorter draw length than longbows therefore the arrows do not fly as far. However, short bows still do have many advantages. 

When archery was instrumental in warfare, short bows were highly advantageous for soldiers who rode on horses or who fought in smaller cramped spaces, like the inside of a castle. The smaller size of the short bow allowed it to fire multiple shots quickly. It also allowed the user to shoot from protected areas behind trees or a kneeling position while taking cover.

A Quick Dungeons and Dragons (5e) Short Bow vs Longbow Comparison

To get an overview of the differences let us turn to Dungeons and Dragons and review the stats for each type of bow used in gameplay.

Type of StatisticLongbowShort Bow
Cost50 gp25 gp
Range150/60080/320
Damage1d 8 Piercing1d 6 Piercing
Weight2 lbs2 lbs
D&D longbows vs shortbows

It is nice to get a quick visual using data of what we discussed earlier. Simply put, longbows have a greater range and can cause more damage. Short bows have less range, a little less damage, but are less expensive and have other non-quantitative advantages. 

Power (Draw Weight, Arrow Speed/Arrow Weight, FPKE)

When it comes to the power of a bow, several variables work together to calculate the overall power of a particular bow. Factors like draw weight, arrow speed, and arrow mass come together to determine the kinetic energy produced by a single shot. Here are these individual factors in more detail.

Draw weight is most often measured in pounds. You will want to pick out a bow with a draw weight that is comfortable for you. Your suitable draw weight is determined by your body size, your physical capabilities, and whether you are target shooting or hunting. If you are target shooting, the lower draw weight is better to master the technique.

If you are a hunter, it is important to note that most states have a minimum bow draw weight of 40 pounds for bow hunting. You will want a heavier draw weight for hunting to ensure you humanely kill your targeted animal. Always check with your state and local gaming authorities for bow hunting regulations before every new hunting season. Rules and regulations can change year to year. 

Arrow speed is usually measured in feet per second (FPS). You need more than a remarkably high FPS to be a successful hunter. The arrow mass is equally as important to produce a higher amount of kinetic energy required to kill a target. 

Arrow mass is measured in a unit called grains. One grain is equal to 0.065 grams, or 1/7,000th of a pound. The kinetic energy produced by a bow is then measured by calculating the arrow speed and the arrow mass together to form the pound per foot of kinetic energy rating, or the FPKE rating. 

FPKE ratings essentially measure the kinetic energy produced by a bow. The higher the FPKE, the harder the arrow will hit the target.  If you are a hunter and you are shopping for a new bow, look carefully at the FPKE rating to determine if your potential new bow fulfils the minimum requirements for the type of game you hunt. See below for FPKE requirements for the different sized game.

  • A rating of 25 FPKE or less is reserved for small game like rabbits, groundhogs, and prairie dogs.
  • A rating of 25 – 41 FPKE is ideal for medium game like deer, wild boar, and antelope.
  • A rating of 42 – 65 FPKE is needed for big game like elk, black bear, and moose.
  • A rating above 65 FPKE is reserved for extremely large game like cape buffalo, grizzly bear, and musk ox.

When comparing a basic longbow versus a basic short bow, when it comes to power, the longbow takes it easily. 

Most Powerful – Longbow

Range

The shot range of a bow is not just how far you can shoot an arrow, but how far you can shoot an arrow accurately. The arrow mass plays a factor into the distance as well as you want a lighter arrow to travel further with a high FPS, but a heavy enough arrow to strike a target with force.

Modern longbows have an effective range of up to 180 meters or 200 yards.

A modern short bow with a draw weight between 80 to 100 pounds has an effective range between 50 and 150 yards.

Better Range – Longbow

Shooting Speed

Shooting speed refers to how quickly you can get a shot off and how many shots you can fire in a set amount of time. The short bow is the obvious favorite when it comes to shooting speed simply because it takes more time to draw a longbow. Also, longbows are heavier, clunkier, and not as easy to manoeuvre with as a short bow. 

Best Shooting Speed – Short bow

100 arrows in 18 seconds, that’s a short bow by the way

Aiming and Shooting

When it comes to aiming and shooting both the longbow and the short bow have their perks. There are pros and cons for each type. For the longbow, since it is heavier, there will be less movement after the shot which can alter the aim of the arrow. That same heaviness however can make it difficult for the archer to maintain a steady aim for a longer period without the arm growing tired. 

A short bow is lighter and has an easier drawback making it much easier to hold steady while aiming at the intended target. However, that easier drawback does not go as far back as a longbow. A longbow drawback goes to the user’s cheekbone which is directly in the line of sight, helping the user aim more accurately. A short bow is drawn back to the dominant shoulder or forearm and does not line up as much with the user’s line of vision. 

Best for Aiming and Shooting – Longbow

Draw Length

As discussed earlier a longbow has a greater draw length making it more accurate but slower and more difficult to drawback. A short bow has a shorter draw length making it easier to fire quickly and repeatedly. The short bow maybe a little less accurate than the longbow, but it is entirely conditional on the user.

Better Draw Length – It’s a Draw!

Size and Portability

When it comes to portability there is no question the short bow takes the cake. A quick look at the methods of the famous archer Lars Anderson will quickly demonstrate how a short bow was used in combat. Because of its size, a short bow can fire many shots in a short amount of time even while the archer is running, riding a horse, or even climbing a tree. 

A demonstration of a short bow’s capabilities from Lars Anderson

Cost

If you are looking at basic longbows and short bows, the costs are pretty equal with short bows costing a little less. When you start to get into certain types of short bows like recurve, compound, etc. The prices begin to go up quickly. Also, the way the bow is constructed matters. Handcrafted bows are expensive. Quality of materials can be expensive from the type of wood to the drawstring. But overall, short bows are less expensive.

Less Cost – Short Bow

Availability and Choice Today

Truthfully, it is much easier to find good a longbow on the market today than a short bow, however, they are both out there. You just need to do some searching. There are a large number of inexpensive longbows on the market that are all machine made from the same materials and the same design. You can walk into any sporting goods store and find a basic cheap longbow. A short bow could be harder to find, but they do exist and ordering online will allow you to access more options and retailers.

More Available – Longbow

Longbows vs Short Bows for Hunting

When it comes to bow hunting, is a longbow or short bow better? Well, it depends on what type of game you are hunting and how far away you intend to be from a target. Both bow types have some pros and cons. 

A longbow is better for distance and for maintaining a strong striking force to kill a larger animal. 

A short bow is better for hitting a moving target where multiple shots may need to be fired. 

Overall, a longbow could be used in more hunting scenarios, therefore it is more ideal for hunting

Better for Hunting – Longbow

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