Are you interested in archery?  Would you like to know what the difference is of a recurve bow vs a compound bow.  It really is a good question and you know that you’re smart just by beginning in the right place to get information.

The purpose of this article is to help you figure out the differences between traditional archery and compound bows.  I’m going to cover the pros and cons of each as well as some of the best uses and practices to go with them.  The entire field of archery is pretty big and you’ll find bows and setups especially made for certain applications.

I want you to be able to know the difference of a recurve vs compound so that you can make the best decision for you.  It’s important and you don’t want to waste your time or money pursuing down the wrong lane just because you don’t know.

We’ll start with the things that are the same, then the recurve bow, and follow with the compound bows.

Start by asking the right questions

The most important thing to consider when you want to know about differences in types of bows is what the purpose is.  Don’t buy one or the other without knowing what you plan to do with it.  Here are some good questions to answer so you pick the best bow for the application.

What do I want to shoot? – This is really important.  If you want to shoot olympic archery,go bowfishing, or do historical reenactments.  These all require something very different.

How much time do I have to practice? – You’ll need to practice either way.  Shooting a traditional bow typically takes more time to reach the same accuracy if shot instinctively.

Am I trying to learn a skill or learn how to use a tool?  Typically a skill is something that you plan to do repeatedly and quite often.  A tool is something that you can set up and learn the basics and then come back and use it the same way after a long time away.  If you’ll spend a long time away for whatever reason, most people prefer a compound that can be tuned and put in storage when needed.

How important are art and aesthetics?  This is a very personal choice and quite subjective.  It’s also the main place where people argue and decide on what they like best.  I’ll keep this part short and let you make up your own mind.

Do I want to go to archery competitions?  You normally will have to fit certain requirements for archery competitions with what you’re shooting.  If there’s only one kind of competition around, then it’ll matter.

Similarities between a recurve and a compound

There are some things that are the same for both a compound bow and a traditional bow so let’s start there.

  1. Both types of bows have a strength good enough for hunting.
  2. Both types of bows MUST BE TUNED PROPERLY.  Shooting a setup that isn’t tuned properly will give poor results no matter what you’re shooting.
  3. They only shoot good if you shoot good.  No amount of technology makes up for poor performance.
  4. Both types of bows have versions where you can add accessories to help you shoot better.  Examples: bow sights, stabilizers.
  5. Price is the same – You can spend just as much on a good recurve as you do on a good compound.

Recurve Bow Pros and Cons

recurve vs compound recurve picture

Here’s a one piece wooden laminate recurve bow.

A recurve bow is a bow that has no mechanical leverage other than the design of it’s shape.  Some of the main pros for this type of bow are.


  1. Variable draw length – You only need to draw this bow back as far as you want.  The weight will increase the farther back you draw it.  It is possible to overdraw a bow, but most of the time, this isn’t a problem.
  2. Variable draw weights  – Takedown bows offer the ability to change the draw weight be exchanging the limbs of the bow.  One piece designs do not offer the ability to change draw weights.
  3. One piece and breakdown designs available – Take down designs are extremely mobile and pack into a small space.  One piece designs are very rugged and are minimal on maintenance.
  4. Artistic and elegant experience – Most people, myself included, agree that there is a mental and artistic experience that is better experienced through a traditional bow.
  5. Better suited for instinctive shooting – Through a better connection to the bow and type of experience, most instinctive shooters choose a traditional bow.  This also means that knowing the distance to a target is not important.


  1. Effective distance – The effective distance for both accuracy and power are much shorter for most people with a traditional bow.
  2. Amount of time bow can be held at full draw – A recurve bow is only held at full draw for a few seconds, like 2-3 seconds.  You hold the full weight of the bow at full draw.
  3. Needs more consistent practice – A traditional bow needs more practice to shoot to a high degree of accuracy.

Compound bows Pros and Cons

recurve vs compound compound bow

Here’s a Bowtech Admiral bow with a great sideview so you can see all the parts.


  1. Mechanical advantage for higher draw weight – A compound bow offers the ability to shoot an 80 pound (this is the symbol #) draw weight with about the same effort it would take to draw back a 50# traditional bow.  That’s a rough guide, but that’s how it is for me.
  2. Faster arrow speed – An arrow from a compound bow typically flies in the ranges of 300 feet per second (FPS) and above.  Traditional bows are around 140-160 FPS.
  3. Let off of bow weight at full draw – Following my example of a compound bow at 80# draw weight.  The bow at full draw feels like holding a 35# bow.
  4. Extended amount of time at full draw – The reduced weight at full draw lets you hold the arrow ready to shoot for a much longer time.  For me, it’s about 30 – 45 seconds normally.


  1. Less forgiving if out of tune – A compound bow is much more complex and with all that, it’s important to keep all the moving parts in tune otherwise the entire thing will have problems.
  2. Shoots lighter arrows – At short distances, less than 20 yards, this isn’t a problem.  BUT, most compound shooters will venture out to at least 70 yards and lighter arrows are more easily affected by the elements and everything else, so you need better shooting conditions and a clear shooting lane for these types of shots.
  3. Requires more tools – The modular design of most compound bows means that you’re going to be using more tools and using many different parts.  It’s also why if you choose a compound bow for starters, I’d completely recommend a Ready To Shoot package like the PSE  Stinger

The last thing I want to mention is also really good to know.

It’s okay to get both.  It’s okay to change your mind.  It’s more important to get started than it is to sit around and talk about all the tiny little things that don’t matter at all until you actually have a bow.

To your skillful success.


photocredit1  photocredit2