Compound Bow - What is it?
Seeing prominence in-line with their development throughout the 1960s, compound bows quickly became a favorite of bowhunters across North America. By using a mechanical system of pulleys and cams, compound bows provide the archer with ‘let-off,’ which reduces the draw weight at full draw.
This let-off means the archer can hold their shot for longer before suffering fatigue, increasing their accuracy in both target shooting and during hunting season.
Because of their mechanical advantage, compound bows have a much higher rate of efficiency than traditional styles of bow. This efficiency leads to a much better conversion of energy from the bow’s limbs and into the arrow.
This, combined with the improved accuracy from their inherent let off, provides bowhunters with the perfect platform for hunting game. Draw stops, which can’t be found on traditional bows, keep an archers draw length consistent, which in turn improves groupings and accuracy; it also means there is a smaller learning curve to become proficient.
Unlike longbows, compound bows typically come from the factory with pre-installed bushings, which are used to attach various accessories to improve performance further. Popular compound bow accessories include sights, quivers, silencers, clickers, and stabilizers.
Thanks to their ability to utilize supplementary technology, compound bows have become finely tuned machines, designed for the efficient transfer of energy; allowing elite archers to break records year on year.
If you are a current bowhunter, or it has piqued your interest, the only real option to hunt humanely and successfully is by using a compound bow. Occasionally hunters will use a recurve bow, but it requires a heightened level of skill and many years practice to achieve.
Compound bows also have a smaller physical footprint, and the effort necessary to use them is significantly reduced, meaning you can hunt for much longer.
However, in the end, it is personal preference. But if you lack experience, then a compound bow is your best option, it is very rare for bowhunters to use a longbow – unless it is for small game.
The biggest drawback of compound bows is that they have a significantly higher initial investment. Even entry-level compound bows hold a comparably greater price than that of even a high-quality longbow.
Not only that, but the maintenance requirements of a compound bow far out-weight the demands of a longbow. The expertise needed solely to replace the bowstring will generally necessitate a visit to a local bow tech; if one isn’t available, it can be a steep learning curve to perform yourself.
If you are a novice archer, or only just thinking about taking it up as a hobby, you should factor in the additional cost when purchasing your first bow.
Longbow: Back to Basics
Longbows have been around for hundreds of years, finding prominence during the hundred-year war between France and England, with English and Welsh archers becoming legendary for their prowess.
Although these archers found fame utilizing the English longbow, commonly made of Yew, we will be referring to the American flatbow during this article.
Longbows fall under the self-bow categorization, self-bows have been around for thousands of years – dating as far back as the Mesolithic period. Native American tribes were the first to develop flatbows in North America.
Arrowheads discovered in North America have been dated over 13,000 years old, the oldest recorded weapons to be found on the continent.
However, the American Flatbow wasn’t developed until the 1930s when scientists directed a test designed to discover what the most efficient cross-sectional bow shape was. Initially, the research team expected the English Longbow’s D-shape to be the front-runner – however, during testing, the results were much different.
Throughout their experiments, the scientists realized that a rectangular cross-section enabled a much smoother transfer of energy throughout the shot. Addressing some vibration transfer issues inherent in the traditional D-shape design. This new rectangular design proved to outperform its precursor in almost every way.
Not only that, but it eliminated the need for longbows to be constructed from hard to source exotic species of wood. Instead, common native woods could be used to craft a far more stable, efficient, bow.
The American Flatbow reaches the apex of self-bow design, and it is unlikely that it will be improved upon. Until the development of modern recurve and compound bows, the American Flatbow was the bow of choice during archery competitions – famously used extensively by renowned archer Howard Hill.
Still popular today, American Flatbows are favored by traditionalists and those wishing to connect with the more primal nature of archery.
Compound Bow vs. Longbow Comparison
Now that you have seen a brief overview of what each type of bow is, and how they are used, it’s time to compare them. It is worth keeping in mind that every kind of bow has their own merits, and the real deciding factor is personal preference.
Accuracy and Power
While archers skilled with a longbow can achieve incredible accuracy, compound bows offer laser-like pinpointing of arrows in experienced hands.
This is thanks to some inherent properties such as the let-off featured in compound bows, and the ‘draw wall,’ but is also down to the accessories available that enhance performance. Not only that, but compound bows can be tweaked and tuned to maximize their potential.
Similar draw weights are available for each. Still, with the energy transfer efficiency of compound bows being that much higher, they offer an improved level of kinetic energy than a longbow would.
FPS compared to draw weight will always side with compound bows, similar to the way they have a generally higher power output. Efficient energy transfer from the bow to the arrow results in higher arrow velocity.
Ease of Use
Longbows are undoubtedly easier to use and maintain than compound bows, while compound bows are easier to draw for novice archers; they are also maintenance heavy. Compound bows are prone to dirt ingress, rusting, and seizing when not looked after properly.
Because there are so many moving, mechanical elements to compound bows, there are also more opportunities for them to malfunction.
Longbows are generally made from a single piece of wood, leather strapping for comfort on the grip, with a bowstring running from end to end. There isn’t much that can go wrong, and if it does, it is easily rectified.
Between longbows and compound bows, longbows are typically more accessible. Not only are they lower in price for entry-point models, but they don’t hold the same learning curve required to set up and maintain the bow.
Because of their more straightforward nature, longbows also promote the development of correct technique. Even if an archer eventually moves on to compound bows, the level of technique learned will carry through for the rest of their archery days.
Longbows lack the option to accept any ancillary accessories to improve the archer’s performance. However, compound bows can be tweaked and upgraded almost indefinitely, and bowmen are continually striving to improve the performance levels of their gear.
Compound bows typically come prepared to accept attachments, and most archers will use several in conjunction with one another to improve their accuracy and groupings.
Common Compound Bow Accessories
Utilized by nearly all compound bow archers, sights improve accuracy and typically allow the archer to make quick adjustments for distance, windage, and elevation. Different types of bow sight are available, and each has its unique advantages and disadvantages.
Open ring sights are an entry-level budget option favored by many novice archers, serving their purpose until proficiency and performance demands have increased. Pin sights are a significant improvement when compared to open ring sights.
Pin sights that have several pins also allow the user to make almost instant adjustments for distance and elevation without having to adjust the sight. Advanced sights will also allow micro-adjustments for windage.
Finally, target sights are used by many elite archers, and their use is practically a pre-requisite to reach the highest levels of competition. Target sights are the most expensive out of all the options and have a steeper learning curve, but they have the biggest payoff.
Many elite archers will use a target sight and pin sight in tandem to really dial in their aim during competition.
Bow stabilizers are used to do two things.
First off, they help with the forward and back balance of a bow throughout drawing, increasing accuracy, and reducing shakiness that can sometimes be experienced holding the draw.
Secondly, they absorb and distribute the vibration of the bow during shooting, reducing noise levels, and increasing the efficiency of the energy transfer.
Usually, an archer will use a hip quiver attached to their belt or a more traditional back quiver. However, quivers attached to the archer’s bow are still reasonably common.
They are usually used by archers that travel with their equipment a lot and want to keep the size and weight of their gear the minimum. Mounted quivers attach to your bows riser and on average will hold around 3 to 4 arrows in place.
While it is possible to shoot ‘off the shelf’ with a compound bow, and even favored by a small number of bowmen, most archers choose to use an arrow rest for increased comfort and accuracy.
For compound bows, there are several types of arrow rest available, but the two most common are drop away arrow rests, and whisker biscuit arrow rests.
Drop away arrow rest
Drop away arrow rests are a relatively newer design compared with other available arrow rests on the market. Designed so that the shelf that the arrow rests on drops away on the shot, reducing friction and retaining arrow velocity.
However, there is a bit of a learning curve to drop away arrow rests, and many first-time user’s struggle to keep the arrow perched atop the rest while drawing. Drop away arrow rests also take some time to tune, and will need tuning for each bow they are used on ensuring it drops at the correct moment.
When correctly tuned and put into practice, drop away arrow rests give the archer the maximum amount of velocity (FPS) available.
It should be noted that drop away arrow rests can produce an excess amount of noise, not ideal for bowhunters, as it increases the chance of prey jumping the string.
Whisker biscuit arrow rest
Known by some as shoot-through arrow rests, whisker biscuits hold your arrow steadily in place by using a circular ring of bristles with a small opening in the middle. In the early days, whisker biscuits gained a bad reputation for damaging the fletching on arrows as they passed through the center of the sight.
Since then, though, whisker biscuits have become one of the best types of arrow rest on the market. Keeping the arrow stable from the beginning of your shot, right up until the arrow leaves the bowstring, providing consistency of shot.
It has been noted that if your form suffers whisker biscuits can exacerbate the issue, but if you have poor form, you should be addressing that issue anyway.
The only real downside of whisker biscuits is the extra friction throughout the flight of the arrow causes a drop of roughly 2FPS from your maximum velocity.
At the entry-level, compound bows may be prohibitive if you aren’t already a committed archer. Longbows remain relatively cheaper overall, with the highest-level longbows being around 1/5th the cost of an elite level compound bow.
That’s not including the additional price for accessories and set-up if you have it done by a bow tech.
I hope you have found this article helpful, and it has answered all your compound bow vs. longbow questions. If there is anything you feel that we have missed, or you would like to see similar content, please leave a comment in the box below.
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