Compound vs Recurve – Which is Best and Why?

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A powerful compound bow is easier to aim than a powerful recurve as the string forces at full draw are reduced due to let-off. It is also smaller, more adjustable and has more model choice and market availability. The recurve bow is cheaper, easier to maintain, more stylish and the bow you’ll normally be taught to use as a beginner. It is also the only bow currently allowed in the Olympic games.

Deciding on your first recurve bow, your next bow? Want to join a club? Ready to hunt? (see our basics guide) Writing a project? Just plain curious???

If you can’t decide between, or aren’t sure of the real differences between a compound vs a recurve we’re going to try and comprehensively outline everything for you in this article. We’ll also give you an insight as to what each type of bow is used for, by what type of shooter and for what reason!

First let’s start with a very brief introduction to both types of bow and the defining features, just in case you are completely new to the subject.

Recurve – Major feature – Limb Re-curve

A recurve bow
A recurve bow

A recurve bow has limbs that curve towards the archer near to the riser but away from them at the ends or tip.

That curve is known as re-curve and can store and provide more power to an arrow than a simple longbow of the same size could.

A longbow is a standard bow shape, like one that you’d make yourself from a stick and string.

The limbs and string make a standard D shape, no-recurve at the tips. An old school longbow is very long, and could be as tall as an archer. Modern longbows are not anywhere near this huge.

There are some great examples of these types of bow in our best recurve roundup and our best longbow roundup post.

A statue of a longbow archer
A longbow, old ones were huge…

Compound – Major feature – ‘Let Off’

A compound bow
A compound bow

A compound is so called because the little wheels (known as cams) at the end of the limbs  work with the string and compound the forces held within the drawn bow.

What that means is that when a compound bow is fully drawn you don’t have to hold back all the force stored within the bow, but when you release the string the cams will unwind and accelerate the string faster than the weight you’ve been holding. The effect of this reduction in forces is known as ‘let off’.

Here’s a quick example.

A 70 lbs draw weight recurve bow will require you to draw and hold back 70 lbs when aiming. 70 lbs of force will be applied to the arrow on release.

A 70 lbs compound bow with a 50% let off will require you to pull through 70 lbs of weight during the draw, but will only require you to hold back 35 lbs of force when aiming.

70 lbs of force will still be applied during the arrow release.

Hopefully that’s made things a little clearer, but if not checkout this article we’ve written on all the different types of bows available today where we cover some of this in more detail. Or checkout our roundup post that lists the best compound bow with a price range to suit everyone.

Force and Draw Curve for a Compound Bow
Fore and Draw Curve for a Compound Bow

Let’s move onto the major feature categories of both type of weapon.


You’ll find that the top end of bows on the market for both styles coming in at around 70 lbs of draw weight. 70 lbs is enough power to accomplish pretty much anything anyone wants to accomplish with a bow. Manufacturers and retailers don’t tend to stock 80 lbs bows for this reason, these isn’t much call for them.

In an ideal world, with ideal conditions and ideal measurement a 70 lbs draw weight compound bow should perform better than a 70 lbs recurve drawn to an optimum length and using exactly the same length and weight of arrow. You’d think they should both impart the same force but in reality the compound system of string and cams is more efficient at flinging arrows and ends up being more powerful in the field.

Take a look at this article to see which are the fastest compound bows of recent years.

Most Powerful – Compound


Coming back to let-off once again… a 70 lbs compound bow at full draw with 80% let off (which is common) will only require you to hold 14 lbs of force back when aiming. A 70 lbs recurve bow drawn to an optimum length so that there is actually 70 lbs of force exerted by the limbs, will require you to hold and aim with 70 lbs of force straining against you.

That’s gotta give the the edge to the compound.

Easiest to Aim – Compound


Difficult to call this one. A compound and recurve can both be fitted with limb dampeners and string silencers to help lower the noise created from a shot (checkout those links to see some examples of both types of silencer). If you’re bow is properly tuned and you’re using an arrow that’s just the right weight for the power of the bow then you’d expect both bows to be quiet.

Loudest – Draw


A compound bow of the same power as a recurve is generally a LOT smaller. A 70 lbs compound will typically measure anywhere from 30-32” from limb tip to limb tip.

Measure a recurve of the same power and you’ll be looking at 60-64” from tip to tip. That makes the recurve double the size of a compound.

Size matters…

Smallest – Compound


There’s more involved in the construction of a compound bow than a recurve. Although the recurve is bigger, once you factor in the cams, stops and extra string, thickness of the riser to cope with the strain etc you usually end up with a heavier compound bow than a recurve (which just keeps things simple).

Lightest – Recurve


Most recurve bows nowadays are takedown. That means you can remove the limbs and break them down into 3 pieces, riser, top and bottom limb to transport them. You can’t do this with a compound (not easily anyway).

A compound is built and stays built. The broken down form of a takedown recurve will take up less room and is smaller than a compound, but you can’t shoot it when it’s in pieces….

Most Portable – Recurve


You can purchase different types of limbs for a recurve bow to increase and decrease the power of the bow. An assembled bow with one set of limbs is going to give you one range of power only. You can under-draw a recurve bow to cause it to shoot an arrow with less force, however that’s not really adjustability, that’s just going to cause bad form.

Some compound bows can have their draw weight / power and draw length adjusted by using a tool to tweak the position of the cams. Some bows like the Diamond Infinite Edge allow you to adjust the weight from 5 lbs to 70 lbs and the draw length from 13” to 31” all without the use of a bow press.

Most Versatile – Compound


Both types of bow these days are constructed from a range of materials. The riser of a recurve bow can be made from aluminium, carbon or laminated wood, the riser of a compound is usually made from aluminium or carbon. The limbs of both styles of bow are made from similar wood laminations. There’s no clear winner here.

Best Construction Methods – Draw


A roll of dollar bills

A good mid-range recurve like the Samick Sage will only cost you half of the cost of a well respected compound bow like the Diamond Infinite Edge Pro.

There’s more that goes into the construction of a compound. More moving parts, assembly and transport is more technical, the recurve keeps it simple and is more cost effective for it.

What’s it going to cost you?

Cheapest – Recurve

Maintenance and Repair-ability

If the string snaps on your compound out in the field you’re probably stuck with a bow you can’t use. A recurve on the other hand is easy to re-string by yourself and by hand, clearly the winner. A broken limb on a recurve is also relatively easy to fix, if you have a takedown bow you just purchase another limb (or set of limbs) and bolt them on. The same isn’t so easy for a compound bow, they’re designed to stay assembled and only be taken to pieces and repaired by a professional at a pro-shop.

As there are more moving parts on a compound bow there are more things to go wrong.

Easiest to Fix – Recurve


Both types of bow can come with a riser drilled to accept all sorts of accessories. You can fit a sight, arrow rest, quiver, stabilizer, string silencers, limb dampeners to either type of bow. There’s no real winner in this department.

Most Available Accessories – Draw

Availability & Choice

Visit any of the top manufacturers websites like Bear Archery, PSE or Hoyt and you’ll find a large selection of both types of bow available. The compound is the favorite of the hunter and as hunting is such a large market in the USA and other parts of the world the choice and selection of compound bows is slightly greater than that of the more traditional recurve.

Best Choice and Availability – Compound


Whilst you can get some pretty exceptional looking compound bows, they are a lot less appealing to the eye and to the touch than something with a host of heritage and style behind it like the Bear Grizzly.

Most Stylish – Recurve


Hawkeye shoots a compound, Katniss Everdeen shoots a recurve. Some of the most memorable bows in video games like the predator bow in Crysis are compounds. There’s no real winner in terms of cool.

You can be just as cool shooting either…. So long as you’re accurate and maybe have super powers 🙂

One of the coolest bows ever was in a computer game – Crysis

Cool People Shoot – Either!

For hunting?

A compound has ‘let-off’ you can hold the bow at full draw easily for long periods allow you to wait hidden and stationary in a tree-stand or the woods to take-down your prey.

Compounds are also smaller and easier to carry when fully assembled. Easier to attach to a backpack and won’t snag so easily on the woodlands as you make your way through.

It’s clear to see why the compound has become the bow of choice for the hunter.

Hunters Favor – The Compound

For youth?

For a youth archer, you need adjustability. As youth grows a bow needs to adjust in draw length and power to suit the frame of the child. A good compound bow will accomplish this with far more ease than a recurve. Unless you’re specifically training your child to become a recurve archer then a highly adjustable compound bow will last longer and grow with the archer.

A Bow That Grows – The Compound

For beginners?

Recurve tuition

As a total beginner your strength and technique will develop to the point where you will want to try a higher power bow than the one you first started with. Use a compound and you’ll be able to just adjust it to suit you. For a recurve, you can buy different limbs and don’t need a whole new bow.

You’ll generally find that if you ‘try archery’ at some sort of even you’ll be given a recurve bow. The simplicity of the recurve has to compete against the adjustability of the compound.

Just getting started?

We go for simplicity…

Best for Beginners – The Recurve

Checkout our selection of the best recurves for a beginner and our guide to archery form.

For bowfishing?

You can bowfish with a recurve or a compound. Bowfishing usually requires you to attach a reel to the stabiliser mount on your bow and use barbed arrows which you can then reel in after spearing a fish. There are kits for both types of bow and speciality bows on the market of both types.

Bowfishers spend a lot of time at full draw aiming and waiting, so a compound works well here, but also you can get off a ‘snap-shot’ much more quickly with a recurve.

Which is best is probably going to come down to which you are used to and familiar with, can’t say we see a clear winner yet.

Bowfishers Prefer – Either

For target shooting?

The Olympics only allow recurve

Target shooting competitions exist for both recurve and compound shooters. The distances and target sizes are similar so you can’t really differentiate here. Depending on how ambitious and indeed how good you are, the one factor that can be used to split the two is that the only discipline allowed at the Olympic games is the recurve. No compounds in sight…. At least not yet.

The Target Shooting Elite Use – The Recurve

Well that’s it! I think we covered everything, if we didn’t… let me know! We monitor and respond to comments all the time 😉

Hi there! I'm a passionate bowman and a fan of all target sports in general. You'll often find me at my local archery and shooting ranges honing my skills.

13 thoughts on “Compound vs Recurve – Which is Best and Why?”

  1. Recurves are much heavier when you add the stabilizers and IMO they take much more skill. You can’t just use your fingers to pull the bow all the way; you need to use your biceps and that usually takes at least a year. Also, most beginners prefer the compound since it is much easier to use. The price for either bow depends because if you buy good quality limbs, risers, arrows/nocks, sights, string, and stabilizers for re-curve, then the price will be much higher than a good quality compound bow.

  2. not too mention some recurves are designed in such a way as to preclude sights entirely. This is called instinctive shooting and relies on muscle memory and your own hand eye coordination and range adjustment to land your shots.

    while you can use compound bows without sights that is not really what they are designed for.

  3. This site was really helpful to me. I have a 4-H archery project and I will use some of this information in it. I prefer the compound bow

  4. I think one of the points missing regarding recurve bows is speed. You can load and fire a recurve way faster than you can a compound. As in you can probably fire four to five arrows to one off a compound.

  5. Compound bows are for sissies and lazy people who don’t feel the need to practice. If you cannot hit a bullseye every time with a compound, you are an idiot. Training wheels are for children. My longbow is custom made of the finest and most exotic woods available and the limbs also have woven carbon. My longbow cost $1200 so it stacks up with any compound and it’s as quiet as a mouse.

    • Everyone has a different taste. Compound is easer to learn but much more complicated to maintain and adjust. I like both recurves and compound. Each one has its advantages. I have both and I like to shoot one or the other depending on the situation and how I feel.

  6. A few erronous facts on display here. Recurves and longbows are available in great quantities. An, just like compounds, pices range in the $200-$1,500 range..depending on who made it. Recurves cannot match speed with a compound. They also require considerable practice time to master..especially if your shooting “instinctively”. Both are effective hunting tools when employed within their limitations. Compounds are easier to manipulate accurately in a short period of time. Recurves take practice..but are much lighter. Practice is key either way.


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