Basics: 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.
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.
Basics: 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.
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.
Ease of Use
Best Choice: Longbow
Straight out of the box, for beginner archers, I would sing the praises of the longbow over a recurve for a few reasons. Longbows require almost 0 set up whereas recurve bows, but particularly takedown recurve bows, require some assembly.
With recurve bows, there is always the possibility for new archers to get sucked into accessories too much, which can lead to poor technique. Because of the ease of use and simplicity of longbows, removing the option of attachments promotes better technique initially.
I believe this sets the archer upon an excellent path to building solid archery foundations before moving on to more advanced bow types.
Best Choice: Recurve
Recurve bows are designed so that the power transfer from the bowstring and limbs into the arrow is highly efficient.
This means that for a longbow and a recurve bow of comparable draw weights, the recurve bow transfers kinetic energy far more efficiently into the arrow.
This leads to an increase in arrow speed, and with recurve bows being easier to wield due to their shorter bow length, you will be able to take multiple shots faster when compared to a longbow.
Best Choice: Recurve
When it comes to the power of your shots, I believe that recurve bows offer several advantages over traditional flatbows or longbows.
Firstly, and for similar reasons, recurve bows offer enhanced speed vs. a longbow; recurve bows are capable of a much higher kinetic output compared to comparable longbows.
Takedown style recurve bows also have the option of upgrading or downgrading the power of your bow, this is much more useful than the static power of a longbow. Not only can a fledgling archer upgrade the power of their bow as they gain proficiency, but families can also share the same bow if need be, exchanging the limbs to suit each family member.
Best Choice: Recurve
As mentioned above, recurve bows have the modular ability of takedown recurve bows to heighten or lower a bow’s draw weight. Very useful for the beginner, as they can upgrade as necessary, recurves are also the option for archers on a budget as new limbs are relatively cheap.
Recurve bows are also capable of much higher draw weights than longbows, and this is an attractive property if you are a regular bowhunter, allowing you to keep up with each state’s regulation or adjust draw weight for larger game.
Best Choice: Recurve
Since longbows lack the ability for any attachment, recurves are the frontrunner in bow customization options. Not only are they available in many different construction materials other than wood, but takedown recurve bows also allow the archer to upgrade the limbs of the bow easily.
Not only that, but the riser on a recurve bow will usually have pre-installed bushings out of the box, allowing the user to attach several accessories.
Common recurve bow accessories:
Recurve bow sights come in three different types, and each has its advantages and disadvantages. Open ring sights are generally the more budget option and will serve beginners well when dipping their toe into bow sight accessories.
Pin sights are a marked improvement over open ring sights, with multiple pin sights allowing the archer to make shot adjustments over several distances without having to interact with the sight first. Target sights are for the serious, competing archer and command the highest price, often target sights will be used in conjunction with pin sights for a competitive edge.
Stabilizers are designed with two functions in mind, the increase the bows forward & back balance when drawn, and to absorb vibration on shooting.
Mountable quivers are little used when compared to other quivers, but they are an option — mainly used by archers who are traveling and want to keep the size and weight of their gear as lower as possible.
Mountable quivers attach to the rise and typically hold between 3 and 4 arrows for you.
For archer’s who find it difficult shooting ‘off the shelf’ and arrow rest is invaluable. Arrow rests ensure that when you draw your bow, the arrow is in the same place every time.
This improves consistency and results in smaller groupings over all distances.
Rarely used by novice or intermediate archers, the clicker is a device used to reach elite levels of shooting. Once the correct technique has been learned during beginner and intermediate stages of development, there will always be small inconsistencies in each shot.
A clicker aims to minimize an archer’s inconsistencies. Without going too in-depth, when an arrow is drawn, it passes through the clicker.
When the tip of the arrow passes just beyond the arm of the clicker, which is magnetized, the arm quickly snaps back into position with an audible click. Elite archers train themselves to release the arrow immediately once they have heard the click, this promotes consistency between each shot.
Best Choice: Draw
Both recurve and longbows are suitable for beginners. The simplicity of a longbow promotes better technique immediately, which the archer will carry with them always.
Recurve bows are upgradeable and budget-friendly, allowing novice archers to start with a lower draw weight, upgrading the limbs as required.
Best Choice: Recurve
Recurve bows are 100% more transportable and easier to store than a longbow. Even one-piece recurve bows have an inherently smaller bow length due to their design.
With the ability to be disassembled, the takedown recurve is king when it comes to portability and storage. Takedown bows can be packed in a case, with all their accessories, in a footprint less than half the size of a longbow.
I hope you have enjoyed this article and gained some insight into the differences between the two types of bow. Truthfully, there is no right or wrong choice when it comes to longbow vs. recurve bow, and the main factor in your decision will be personal preference.
I’ve known many archers who have used longbows and flatbows their entire lives because they prefer the more traditional feel they offer. Conversely, I have also known archers who have only ever wanted to use the latest technology available to gain a competitive edge in competition.
Do you agree or disagree with anything in this article? Maybe you have a helpful tip or some insight you would like to share, if so, please leave a comment below.
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