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Types of Archery Bows

Man holding bow

Many bows have existed throughout the long history of the sport of archery. Advances in technology have helped create high-tech bows made from fiberglass and carbon fire, with impressive new shooting mechanisms and features.

Today, there are four main types of bows on the market. They each serve different purposes, and are used in specific types of archery. Here we’ll lay out the differences and advantages of recurve bows, compound bows, longbows, and crossbows.

Recurve Bow

recurve bow

Recurve bows are named for their shape: the central parts of the bow’s limbs curve toward the archer, while the ends of the bow curve away. This helps the archer shoot with more power while requiring less strength. 

Recurve bows are useful for beginning and expert archers alike. Because they are less difficult to operate, they are often used to teach beginners, but you can also spot modern recurve bows in Olympic archery events. 

Most recurve bows can be easily deconstructed, so they are easy to pack and carry. They can also support sights, pressure buttons, and other accessories. 

Recurve bows can be used for 3D, target, indoor, and field archery. 


Compound Bow

recurve bow

A compound bow uses a system of cables, pulleys, and cams that help relieve a heavy draw weight for the archer. They still require strength to pull, but the archer is able to hold the draw for longer as the pulley system kicks in. This helps the archer take aim without becoming exhausted. 

Compound bows are a modern invention, and they are almost entirely constructed of man-made materials. This makes them less susceptible to weather and moisture, which can warp wooden bows.

Compound bows offer excellent accuracy, distance, and velocity. However, they are more complex and difficult to understand. This makes them a better fit for intermediate and experienced archers. 



Longbows (also referred to as Traditional Bows) are the Robin Hood-style bows you might initially picture when you think of archery. These bows reigned on the medieval battlefield, and were primary used from the 14th to 16th century.

These bows are a simple, curved piece of wood the same height as the archer. They do not have arrow rests or sights, making them more difficult to aim. They are also less powerful than compound or recurve bows.

You might consider a longbow if you want to practice the historic tradition of archery, or if you are an expert archer looking to master this very simple but very difficult bow.



Crossbows have a short bow positioned horizontally, and operated through a crank mechanism. The crank draws the bow, which attaches the string to the trigger mechanism and holds it there until the archer fires.

Crossbows likely invented in China as early as 600 BC, and served as a common battle weapon. They are best for close quarters, and often have a heavier draw weight than compound or recurve bows.

Now, crossbows are typically used for target archery and hunting. Before you invest in a crossbow, check your local laws, as these are often more strictly regulated than other bows.