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Compound Vs. Recurve Bows

author image A.L. Kennedy
A.L. Kennedy is a professional grant writer and nonprofit consultant. She has been writing and editing for various nonfiction publications since 2004. Her work includes various articles on nonprofit law, human resources, health and fitness for both print and online publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts from the University of South Alabama.
Compound Vs. Recurve Bows
A woman firing a compound bow. Photo Credit: Ben-Schonewille/iStock/Getty Images

Technological advances in materials and an increased understanding of the physics behind archery have lead to design changes in archery bows. Today, both recurve bows and compound bows are used for hunting and for sport.

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The Differences

A compound bow uses a system of pulleys or cams, and the string that passes through the pulleys or cams on each end multiple times. This system allows the bow to build up considerable force as it is drawn. It also produces a sudden reduction in the resistance, or draw weight, of the bow after the bow is drawn back to a certain point. The reduced resistance makes it easier for the archer to control the force generated by the pulleys or cams. The extra force allows arrows to fly farther than from a recurve or longbow.

Recurve manufacturer Hoyt explains that a recurve bow is so named because the limbs, or ends, of the bow curve back inward, resulting in the string lying flat against the limbs at their ends. A recurve bow has only one string. The inward curve of the limbs helps generate greater force when the bow is drawn.

A Bow to the Past

The compound bow was developed in the mid-20th century by Holless Wilbur Allen. Not satisfied with the draw power of a traditional bow, Allen attached pulleys to the altered limbs of a recurve bow. After further experimentation, Allen applied for a patent for his "archery bow with draw-force multiplying attachments", according to Archery Report. In 1969, the patent was granted.

Ancient Asian cultures were among the first known people to use recurve bows. Recurve bows were also discovered among various Native American tribes living on the Great Plains, where hunters used the bows to shoot antelope, elk and bison. Some of these recurve bows had such a pronounced inward curve that settlers attempted to string them backward, which destroyed the bow when it was used. Bear Archery redeveloped the recurve bow in 1953.

From Wood to Aluminum

The first recurve bows were made from wood, and wooden recurve bows are still available today. Recurve bows may also be made of fiberglass or carbon, according to recurve manufacturer Hoyt. These materials are lighter and stronger than wood. Compound bows are typically made of carbon or aluminum, according to Hunter's Friend.

Hunting and Competition

Compound bows are typically used for hunting because they allow the hunter to shoot greater distances and put more power behind the arrow. The release of the tension when the bow is drawn prevents the hunter's arms from becoming tired as quickly, resulting in better aim and accuracy, according to Hunter's Friend.

Recurve bows are used in target archery competitions. They are the required bow for Olympic target archery. Although target archery is the most popular use for recurve bows, some experienced hunters choose to hunt with a recurve bow.

Technique and Accuracy

Compound bows allow the archer to shoot greater distances with less fatigue. Reduced fatigue promotes better accuracy, which can also be improved by the use of scopes to sight targets at a distance. Recurve bows, on the other hand, rely more heavily on the archer's technique to ensure a clean shot, making their use a more challenging experience, according to Hunter's Friend. Although prices for both vary according to the quality of the particular bow, compound bows are slightly more expensive than recurve bows of comparable quality.

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