Compound Bows vs. Recurve Bows: Which is best for a beginner
The most exciting part of archery is buying your first bow. At least that's how I felt when I started archery. There are so many types of bows to pick up, how do you know which kind of bow is right for you?
The best choice between a compound bow and a recurve bow will ultimately depend on what your goals in archery are. Recurve bows are more difficult to shoot with, but that can help you develop better shooting habits. A compound bow may be the right choice if you want to jump in more quickly, if you plan to hunt, or if you're just here for fun and want a flashy piece of equipment.
If you still need some help deciding which may be the right choice for you, keep reading, and I'll break down the pros and cons of both types of bow. If you know you want a compound bow, check out my guide on buying a compound bow.
Learning Archery with a Coach
Before you choose which type of bow is right for you, you should consider how you plan to learn archery. You can absolutely teach yourself how to shoot, but having a coach is quite helpful.
A coach will help you from picking up bad habits in your archery form. This is especially true when learning with a compound bow. Since compound bows are more forgiving, it's more difficult to see when you're making mistakes.
Pros of Compound Bows
Besides their modern, flashy look, compound bows have some advantages that can help you learn archery. The most significant benefit for new archers is the gear system. Compound bows' use of cables and cams relieves some of the draw weight from the bow, which is known as let-off.
Let off is usually referred to as a percentage of the bow's weight. For instance, when you're shopping around for a compound bow, you may see something like 40% let off. This means that at full draw, 40% of the weight of the bow will be let off. On a 40 pound bow, you would only be holding 24 pounds at full draw.
Obviously, this gives you several advantages, especially for new archers. While you're developing your pull muscles, it can be tough to shoot with the poundage that you should be able to pull. You might also need to shoot at a higher weight if you need to hunt. With a compound bow, you can often start at a higher draw weight because your muscles will fatigue much more slowly.
Aiming with a Compound Bow
Holding a lighter weight at full draw makes it easier to aim, too. Well, aiming still isn't necessarily any easier as aiming in archery is exceedingly tricky. Still, a lighter weight can give you more time to zero in on the target as you go through your shooting form.
New archers will benefit from a compound bow allowing them to shoot more arrows without reaching muscle fatigue. This is especially true when you're first starting out and developing your muscles.
Hunting with a Compound Bow
If you're planning on doing any bow hunting, a compound bow may be the right choice for you. Compound bows are a favorite of hunters because of their small size. They're much easier to carry while climbing if you hunt from a tree stand.
Compound bows are typically more efficient at transferring force to the arrow. This gives the arrow a faster feet-per-second (FPS) than recurve bows at the same weight. A faster FPS means that the arrow will have less of an arc, which typically makes it to hit your mark.
Hunters will also benefit from the lighter weight at full draw, giving them more time to ensure their aim is right on the mark.
Cons of Compound Bows
The benefits of compound bows are something of a double-edged sword. While they can make archery easier, they can also cause you to develop bad shooting habits and impact your form.
The flashiness of the compound bow can also be a drawback. It can be easy to get addicted to the way the bow looks and feel like you have to have the latest and greatest bow out there. I've fallen into that trap from time to time, and not just with archery gear.
If you can control your spending - or just have the money to spend anyway - this may not be a deal-breaker for you. Just remember that you can hit the bullseye with any bow. You and your archery form are more important than the equipment you're using.
Compound bows are composed of more parts than their simpler brethren. As with anything that has more moving parts, there is more than can go wrong with a compound bow.
Compound bows are relatively durable as I know several archers that have been using their compound bow with its original equipment for over 15 years.
Just make sure you treat your bow right and inspect it regularly. You should do this before and after every shoot. If there is ever noticeable damage, you should perform maintenance or take your bow into a shop for repair.
Because of the let-off that a compound bow has, it will take longer to get the same workout as you would get from a recurve bow. You'll definitely get a good workout with a compound bow, you may just have to shoot more arrows. The plus side is that you can get more practice in before your fatigue starts to affect your shot.
Accuracy and Bad Form
The faster FPS on a compound bow means that you may be more accurate than you would otherwise be with a recurve bow. You can develop a lousy archery form that may not be as noticeable because of the faster FPS.
If you're a casual archer, it may not be important that your form has flaws that would be more noticeable with another type of bow. If you want to shoot competitively and plan to switch to a recurve bow, you may want to look at learning on a recurve bow instead.
Pros of Recurve Bows
Especially for a beginning archery, a recurve bow has many advantages.
Recurve bows have a more natural release cycle. When you're shooting a compound bow, the process feels mechanical, which can be distracting from your form. The organic nature of the flex of the limbs just feels more natural as opposed to hitting the wall with a compound bow.
If you're planning on entering the Olympics, you'll need to learn to shoot a recurve bow. Otherwise, some competitions offer compound and recurve divisions.
That being said, the compound bow is now part of major archery events - such as the PanAm games. Its growing popularity paves the way for it to become an Olympic event.
Recurve bows are a bit harder to learn with, but that is also an advantage. Learning to shoot with a recurve bow forces you to maintain proper form. Small mistakes in your release cycle can have a massive impact on where the arrow hits. Even if you plan on shooting a compound bow, learning on a recurve bow can help you shoot more accurately.
Though compound bows are coming down in price, they are still generally more expensive than recurve bows. You can get a decent quality recurve bow for less than $200. You're likely to pay twice that for a compound bow.
Recurve bows are generally more straightforward and less expensive to maintain, especially if you have a takedown recurve bow. With a takedown recurve, you can replace failed parts in the field without having to take the bow back to a shop. Carrying spare strings and limbs won't take up too much space but will allow you to keep shooting should something happen.
The most common part of the bow to break is the string. You can easily replace the string on a recurve bow in the field. You would need a portable bow press to put a new string on a compound.
I've recently had to revise this section as the weight of compound bows has decreased with new technology. The cams and limbs of the compound bow used to add weight, making them 1-2 lbs heavier than recurve bows. That's no longer the case, and you can expect the weight to be around the same price for either type of bow.
Cons of Recurve Bows
Shooting with a recurve bow does have some drawbacks that you wouldn't get with a compound bow.
Full Draw Weight
Recurve bows require you to hold the full weight of the bow and full draw. This means you need 40 lbs of pressure to keep the bow at its full draw length. Depending on which compound bow you get, that weight could be dropped to as little as 8 pounds.
You will typically develop your muscles more quickly with a recurve bow, allowing you to raise your draw weight (if that's your goal).
With a recurve bow, you'll probably fatigue more quickly, at least in the beginning. I would recommend that you start out with shorter sessions and build up to longer ones, so you don't create bad habits with your archery form.
With a recurve bow, you'll need to be more consistent with your form to be accurate. This is typically difficult for a beginner to do as they still haven't mastered their form and may make small errors that have a tremendous impact.
I've seen new recurve bow shooters get fed up with archery because they didn't have the patience or drive to stick with it an improve. I've seen several of them return the range weeks later with a compound bow and thoroughly enjoy their experience.
If you're the type that gets frustrated easily, realize that it can be difficult to learn proper form, especially if you are trying to teach yourself. Stick with it, and you will improve.
Similarities Between Compound and Recurve Bows
Although they look quite different, there are still a few similarities between recurve and compound bows.
Your archery form will follow the same basic mechanics regardless of what type of bow your shoot. You can easily switch from one bow to the other. You'll need to make small adjustments to your process - such as getting used to the wall - if you're switching from a recurve to a compound bow.
Both types of bows are adjustable. Compound bows are known for having large weight ranges, such as from 5 - 50 lbs. You make adjustments to the cams to change what weight you're shooting at. This can be useful if you need to start at a lighter weight or if you're sharing your bow with someone that can't pull the same weight that you do. FYI, sharing a bow usually isn't recommended, but I understand there are times that you may need to do so.
If you have a takedown recurve bow, you can change your limbs to adjust their weight or length, too.
Weight of the Bow
I'm not talking about the draw weight here, but the actual weight of the bow. This used to be listed as an advantage for recurve bows. As technologies for compound bows have improved, the difference in weight has all but vanished. Most bows of either type now range from about 2-4 pounds.
When you're starting archery, the most exciting decision you make is what type of bow you'll shoot. There are a lot of different styles to choose from, but the two most popular bow types are compound bows and recurve bows.
Which bow you choose to use when learning archery depends on what your goals for archery are. If you're planning to compete, it may be best to pick up a recurve bow. Recurve bows are more challenging to shoot, but they will help you build better shooting habits that will transfer if you want to shoot a compound bow later.
Compound bows are a more flashy choice, but they can hide problems with your shooting form. If you only plan on shooting a compound bow, this may not matter to you.
If you're just here to have fun, either bow type will work for you.