Types of Archery Bows

How many types of bows are there in archery?

The archery bow generally fits into 1 of the 4 main bow categories. These are recurve, compound, longbows, and crossbows.

When getting into archery, there are a few directions you could take. Distinctions between the archery styles is important when learning the rules and acquiring the correct equipment for the type of archery you choose to pursue.

Archery refers to any activity where a bow is used to shoot an arrow at a target. However, the bow, the arrow, and target will vary based on the category.

While bows can be broken down into 4 categories, traditional archery is another term used to describe traditionally styled bows, such as horse bows or Mongol bows. These bows generally fit into the longbow or recurve category, based on how the ends or limbs of the bow are curved.

Recurve Bows

recurve bows have a “swept” curve at the ends that allows the string to rest on the tip

The recurve bow is the most iconic of the bow styles. Recurve archery bows are featured in the Olympic Games. They can be made from one piece of wood or assembled using a combination of organic and synthetic materials. The bows get their name, recurve, because of the shape of the limb tips (the top and bottom edges of the bow). They “recurve” at the ends

The bow has a U shape, like other bows, but, the tips of the bow (the limbs) have a shorter, tighter curve that bends back toward the front of the bow, or to where the target might be. When looking at a recurve bow from the side view, you will notice the the string rests on the first 2 or so inches of the This “recurved” section gives more potential energy because of the tension it adds to the string and bow assembly when the string is pulled. Traditional one-piece bows like the Mongol or Mongolian bows and horse bows are examples of this. Modern recurve bows are generally made of parts that are assembled and taken apart for transport. They allow for parts to be added, upgraded and interchanged by the user. Archers can change the strings and limbs when needed. They can also add sights and stabilizers to the bow’s riser (middle section). Bows seen in olympic competition are somewhat simple mechanically, but athletes add sights and stabilizers to their bows to increase stability and accuracy.

Compound Bows

compound bows are identified by their pulley wheels

Compound bows are modern weapons developed in the 1960’s. These bows have a more complex or mechanical look. The pulley system enhances the accuracy of arrows shot from these bows. They are often the tool of choice for bow hunters because of their increased level of accuracy and consistency. They are also much shorter from top to bottom than most compound bows, which makes them easier to handle in the bush.They use a system of pulleys and cables to help the archer draw the bowstring. The weight of the draw is reduced, making it easier for the archer to hold at full draw without extensive muscle strain The cables also act as a “let-off” system when the bowstring is fully drawn. This makes it so that only a portion of the bow’s peak weight needs to be held by the archer’s muscles and tendons while waiting to take the shot. This is in contrast to other bows that have the highest level of tension when the string is fully pulled back. Many hunters prefer compound bows because they ensure greater accuracy than longbows and compound bows.

The compound bow uses cams (pulleys) mounted on each end of the limbs. These cams rotate as the bowstring is drawn back, which changes the shape of the limbs and increases the energy stored in the bow. When at full draw, only a fraction of the actual peak draw weight has to be held by an archer, which greatly reduces the amount of fatigue an archer experiences during a long day of hunting or competition.

Unlike recurve bows, compound bows are rarely disassembled. Compound bows are more complex pieces of equipment than recurve and longbows Re-stringing these bows requires the use of a bow press. A bow press is a mechanical press used to bend the short, rigid limbs of the bow. once the tension is relieved from the strings, the bow can be worked on.


longbows are generally one piece of wood

The longbow is likely the oldest and most “traditional” of all bow types. It has been used for centuries in warfare and is still used today in competition and hunting. They are also known as “self” bows because they were historically self made by people using a single piece of wood. The limbs on a longbow are generally much longer than the archer’s draw length (the distance from the bowstring to the front of the bow when drawn). This results in a lot of energy storage and firing power.

Historically, these bows were often 6 feet or more in length and required great strength to draw.

While most longbows are long, this isn’t always the case. The defining feature is that the string of the bow doesn’t not rest against the bow limbs as it does in a recurve bow. In longbows, the string is attached to the tips of the limbs, giving the bow a D shape rather than the swept curve shape of the recurve bow.

The longbow is the oldest known style of bow.


crossbows are considered firearms in some regions

Crossbows are sometimes seen as being in a grey area, as they are not considered to be archery bows by some. Some governing bodies categorize them as firearms and place restrictions to control or ban their use. Crossbows have a long history, and were first seen in China over 2000 years ago. The bow component is mounted on a stock or handle, similar to that of a rifle. The crossbowman holds the stock with one hand and operates the trigger with the other. This configuration allows for greater ease of use and more accuracy and power than traditional bows.

Crossbows were historically used in warfare, but they are now mostly used for hunting and target practice. Crossbows come in different sizes and can be designed for different purposes such as target shooting, plinking, small game hunting, deer hunting. Crossbows are a significant military development, since they made it possible for archers with little strength and experience to operate a projectile weapon. They can be operated fairly quickly without the extensive training that went onto a military archer’s education. These weapons put the power of a bow into the hands of anyone holding it.

Pistol Crossbow

A pistol crossbow is a small, handheld crossbow that is designed to be fired with one hand. These crossbows are much smaller than traditional crossbows and usually have a draw weight of 40 pounds or less. Despite their small size, they can still pack quite a punch. They can be used for target practice, and small game hunting.

Pistol crossbows typically have a shorter range than larger crossbows, but they are much more compact and portable. They are also relatively inexpensive, making them a great option for those just getting started with crossbows.

Each bow has its own intended uses as well as advantages and disadvantages in certain scenarios. For those starting out in archery, selecting a bow type may be a difficult decision. One suggestion would be to speak to an archery retailer. They often have experience with various types of archery and may be able to point you in the right direction. Taking lessons might be the best way to figure out what you should get into. You may be able to try out different bows as well as get advice from trained experts and hobbyists.

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