Longbow vs Recurve Bow

Welcome to Archery Edge, I have often been asked about the differences between longbows and recurve bows so I thought I would take the time today to discuss the key elements that define each one.

Below I will briefly outline what each type of bow is and how they are commonly used, followed by a comparison of their attributes. If you are a beginner, stuck debating whether you would prefer a longbow vs. recurve bow, I hope this short article will provide you with some level of clarity.

What is a Recurve Bow?

When discussing recurve bows, people will likely be referring to the modern Olympic style recurve bows that are popular today. Recurve bows are easily identified by their limb structure, with a characteristic ‘recurve’ away from the archer at the tip of the upper and lower limb. 

Modern recurve bows used in Olympic style field archery are a far cry from their predecessors, which are estimated to have been developed around 1000BC, with the limbs typically constructed from fiberglass and wood layered atop one another providing exceptional energy transfer.

woman shooting a recurve bow

A recurve bows riser will generally be made of wood, carbon, or aluminum and will often come with pre-installed bushings for the attachment of accessories. Most archers that favor recurve bows will attach ancillary devices with sights, stabilizers, and arrow rests all seeing common use.

Two types of recurve bows are available; one-piece recurves that are constructed from a single piece of wood, or takedown recurves that allow the archer to detach and attach the limbs from the riser as necessary.

Takedown recurve bows offer distinct advantages – the bow can be packed away for travel or storage, and because they can be relatively inexpensive, limbs can be upgraded for a higher draw weight as the archer improves.


Recurve bows are the only bows permitted in Olympic archery competitions, and a lot of field/target archery competitions follow suit.

What is a Longbow?

For this article, we will be using the American flatbow (often just called a longbow) as our reference when discussing longbows, rather than the more traditional English longbow – although they are virtually the same. 

Longbows are a type of self-bow (simple bows made from a single piece of wood) that have been around for millennia, with the oldest self-bows dating back to the Mesolithic period.

Flatbows in America were first introduced by Native American tribes, with paleo-Indian arrowheads dating back over 13,000 years being discovered in North America, making them the oldest weapons found in the region.

Although, the longbow as we know it today was first developed throughout the 1930s as an experiment into the most efficient cross-sectional bow shape. The research was anticipated to find that the D-shaped design of English longbows was the pinnacle of self-bow design.

A traditional Archery Bow consists of bows and a bowstring with arrow

However, it was discovered during testing that a rectangular-shaped cross-section was, in fact, the most advantageous option. The rectangular cross-section made for a more stable bow, that boasted a better level of energy efficiency than its predecessors.

The new design also allowed the bow to be constructed from more common wood species, eliminating the need for some hard to obtain, exotic wood types in bow making.

The American longbow quickly became the popular choice in target archery competition for a long time, made famous by Howard Hill, until the development of modern recurve bows.

Longbows still see a lot of use around the world, with many opting for a more traditional experience during their archery practice.