Types of Bows

types of bows in archery
The war bow has proven itself for hunting and defense many times over. This longbow from Britain has a draw weight of over 100lbs.

Archery has been around for nearly 35, 000 years. Over that time, the different types of bows have changed dramatically. There are now more bows on the market than ever before. Science and technology has helped designers create bows that shoot faster, more accurately and with little or no vibration, which are all qualities that make the growing sport of archery even more exciting. Choosing your first bow can be a daunting task with so many choices on the market today, each bow has its pros and cons so let’s take a look at the different types of bows that are available.

Traditional Bow
Traditional bows are the classic long bow made famous in the stories of Robin Hood or The Lord Of The Rings. This type of bow is the first that usually come to mind for new archers. They are ultra simple to use, have no fancy sights or arrow rests to adjust and can be assemble in seconds giving you more time to shoot. Traditional bows haven’t changed much in the last few thousand years as their simple design which has proven itself in battle or when hunting really can’t be improved upon.

Traditional bows are often longer than a modern bow (usually 66” or longer) which is where the term longbow originates. They have a d-shape when strung and often have heavier draw weights of 50 lbs or more. Scaled down versions are still made from fiberglass with low draw weights for children and beginners. Most traditional bows are made from woods such as yew, hickory, maple and osage orange.

Recurve Bow

archery bows
The recurve bow has curved limb tips and make for a shorter bow with the same draw weight as a longer bow.

The recurve bow is the first modern adaptation of the traditional long bow. Historically, archers on horse back needed a shorter length bow that still had all the draw weight of a long bow. Bowyers (the people who make bows) found that if the last 6 inches or so of the limbs were curved towards the back of the bow that the same draw weights could be achieved from a slightly shorter bow.

Most modern indoor target shooters use recurve bows as they are lightweight, have removable limbs making them more transportable, and are relatively inexpensive. Risers can be fitted with sights, stabilizers, and arrow rests which all help to improve arrow flight. A typical recurve bow is 30 to 40lbs and about 64” long. Limbs on recurve bows are now made from composite materials and sometimes wood or plastics.

Compound Bows

Compound bows are the newest bows on the market and the fastest changing. Modern design technology allows bowyers to make compound bows shorter, faster, and with little or no vibration. Compound bows have a cam on the bottom limb (although some have one on the upper limb as well) which gives mechanical advantage to the shooter.

As the bow is drawn, the cam turns over allowing the archer to hold only a small percentage of the bow’s actual draw weight. A bow that has a 60 lb draw weight feels more like 30 lbs while the archer is holding, allowing for a calmer, more accurate shot.

This type of bow is generally shorter than other bows with lengths as short as 31” making them ideal for sneaking through the woods when hunting. Compound bows also have much greater arrow speeds and are getting faster every year. A compound bow can send arrows down range at speeds of over 320 feet per second!

compound vs recurve bows
Compound Bows have higher draw weights and shorter lengths. They should be fitted with sights, stabilizers, and use a release for drawing the bow.

Sights, stabilizers, drop away arrow rests are the norm for this type of bow. A good quality arrow release is almost essential for easy drawing and smooth release of the string. Compound bows are easily becoming the most popular choice for target archers and bow hunters.

The only downside to these awesome bows is that they do require more care and adjustment. Changing a string or the cable usually requires a trip to your local pro shop which can be inconvenient compared to the simplicity of changing a string on a traditional or recurve bow.


The cross bow is a historic weapon that has changed only slightly over time. Crossbows have the stock of a gun with a short horizontal bow mounted where the muzzle would be.

They were used for defending castles but have evolved into a bow used primarily for hunting today. Wooden limbs and stocks have been replaced with light weight composite materials and plastics while keeping the significant draw weights these bows are known for.

types of bows for archery
They have large draw weights and are quite accurate, however their slow reload speed makes them impractical for hunting.

They are extremely accurate and can have scopes and laser sights mounted on them. The big downside is that they are very slow to reload making them a one shot bow. This is fine at a 3D tournament but not very practical when hunting. In addition, the trigger mechanisms are often very loud which can be unpleasant when shooting indoors or while trying to stay quiet when hunting. Crossbows can be a fun bow to shoot at the outdoor range despite their awkward size and weight.

There many types of bows available for archers and the selection is always growing. Choose a bow that you feel comfortable with that will suit your needs. Always make sure your archery proshop checks your draw length and what draw weight you can handle before purchasing. Check out as many different makes and models as possible to find the one that is just right for you.

Copyright 2019 Mike Wilson