Types of Bows: The Ultimate Guide

Types of Bows: The Difference Between the Traditional Longbow, Recurve, Compound, and Crossbow

Have you thought about getting a bow? Have you always wanted to learn archery? Maybe you like the idea of testing your skill and getting better at target shooting. Perhaps you like the idea of getting out into nature and hunting with the bow. You might want to brush up on your survival skills and learn how to fire a bow properly.

There are countless reasons that you might be excited about getting your first bow.
Of course, for those who aren’t aware, there are many different types of bows out there from which to choose. Bows have been around for thousands of years, and in that time, the technology might have advanced, but the basic idea of the bow is still essentially the same. This is true for all types of bows. The exact mechanisms are what differ.

Finding the right bow can be difficult, but the first and more important thing that you will need to understand is that there are different types of bows. In this article, we will be looking at each of the four types of bows that are mentioned in the title.

  • Traditional Longbow
  • Recurve
  • Compound
  • Crossbow

Traditional Longbow

A traditional longbow tends to be a tall bow that it about the same height as the person who is firing it. This will provide the archer with a long draw. Like other bows on the list, they have been used for hunting and for warfare. Different cultures from around the world had their own take on the longbow, as well as other types of bows. The traditional English longbow is one of the most common depictions with which you might be familiar.

The English longbow has been in use since the 12th century, and it helped to change warfare. It was strong and able to pierce armor even at about 200 yards. There are a lot of reasons that these are a popular option still.

For starters, the traditional longbow tends to be easy to learn how to use. It is a comfortable bow, and there are different sizes readily available for different sized archers. These bows also tend to be highly accurate, at least for those who take the time to practice with them. Because they are larger, they will allow for a larger pull. The bows are very durable, and as long as the bow is taken care of properly, it should last for a number of years.

However, this does not mean that the longbow is always the best option. There are certainly some issues with this type of bow. The bow takes a long time to shoot, for example. In addition, those who are going to be traveling long distances will find that they are not as convenient to take along. They tend to be heavier, as well, so they will require that an archer is strong enough to use them properly.


A recurve bow has a very distinct look to it, and it is a huge departure from the traditional style bows that were used since nearly the dawn of human history. Before the 3rd century, which was the first time the recurve bow was recorded (in China), the bows that were in use were similar to the longbow above. They had straight limbs and both of the ends would curve toward the archer who was shooting the bow.

With the recurve bow, though, things change dramatically. The limbs of the recurve bow will face away from the archer who is firing the arrow. This means that there will be added energy to each shot, so the arrow can fly faster.

When this type of bow started to spread out of China and to other parts of the world, many people were confused about how it worked. They were so accustomed to their old bows that they would string these wrong and end up destroying the bow entirely. However, it did not take too long for this to quickly become the most popular option for archers no matter where they are in the world.

One of the biggest benefits to these bows is the fact that they are very easy to shoot. They also shoot fast. Because they are smaller, it will make them easier to take with you on travel. There are takedown recurve bows that can take up even less space. The recurve bow is also very powerful despite the fact that it has a small and lightweight design comparably.
Still, this doesn’t mean that they are the right solution for everyone. These bows cannot be pulled back as far. They are not always as accurate, and the shot with these bows is not quite as forgiving as with other types of bows.


This is a relatively new invention, and it is one that took off almost immediately. The compound bow was created in the 1960s. Upon looking at the bow, it is easy to see that a lot of engineering and design work must have gone into the creation of the first compound bow. With the addition of the pulleys, it allowed for more energy in the shot. However, the biggest difference – and many say benefit – with the compound bow is the let-off effect.

When using a traditional longbow or a recurve bow, the archer who was pulling back the bow would feel more strain the further back they pulled. This would lead to fatigue, as well as missed shots. It was not possible to draw and hold the arrow for very long without accuracy becoming a problem.

With the pulley system of the compound bows, however, all of that changes. After the archer pulls the bow back beyond a certain point, the tension is “let-off”. This means they are not going to feel the same type of strain that they would feel with other types of bows.

Why are some people still hesitant to use a compound bow? You will find that there are quite a few potential reasons. One of those is that they look confusing, especially to someone who is new and who is looking at a recurve bow and comparing it to a compound bow that is decked out with a viewfinder and other accouterments. Others might feel like there is “too much technology” in the bow, and they want something that’s simpler.

Still, there are plenty of reasons to love compound bows. One of the best features is the fact that they have very high accuracy. It is also able to draw back further than any of the other types of bows on the list. It can shoot more accurately at a longer range than traditional bows, and it takes less energy to shoot. In addition, there are often other tools, such as the viewfinder, that can be added to the bow to provide them with even more benefits. These tend to be popular with hunters.

However, the design is more complex than the other options that are on the list. They are not as beginner friendly, and they do tend to be more difficult to travel with.


The crossbow, even though it looks like it might be more of a modern invention, was actually created at some point around the 3rd century AD. There are even descriptions and designs of these bows that could potentially date back even earlier in history. However, they didn’t really start to get as much use, or at least as much notoriety until around the 15th and 16th century.

While they were starting to become more widely used, the early crossbows did have some issues. They were large and unwieldy, which meant they were not ideal for most types of battlefields. However, today, there are many different types and sizes of crossbows. There are some that are the size of pistols that fire bolts, and there are those that are more akin to rifles in terms of size.

There are quite a few things to like about crossbows. They will have the most powerful and the most accurate shot of any of the types of bows. They also have the potential for the arrows to travel the furthest and the fastest. The archer does not need to have a large arm span or a lot of strength to operate the crossbow, either.

Still, it is important to look at some of the cons. These are not easy to travel with, they tend to be costlier, and they are more dangerous, which means they need to be locked away properly whenever you aren’t using them. They are loud and they tend to be heavy. This means they are not a great option for hunting. The small pistol crossbows might be able to take down some small game, but you are sacrificing accuracy at that point.

One other potential issue is that these will take longer to reload and get ready to fire. Someone who has another type of bow will be able to get off several shots in the time it takes the crossbow wielder to fire once.

What’s Right for You?

So, which of these types of crossbows do you think will be the best option for you? Ultimately, it will really depend on just what you want to do as an archer and what type of experience you want to have. There are bows from various manufacturers and at different price points available today. Ultimately, the one that you choose will be up to the type of archer you want to be and the budget you have available.

Take Proper Care of Your Bow

It does not matter what type of bow you have; it is important to make sure that you learn how to take care of it properly. This includes restringing the bow, keeping it clean, and making sure that you are only using it within the manufacturer’s specifications. Have a hard case for the bow, which you can use to make sure that it stays safe when you are storing it at home and when you are transporting it.

What Do You Need to Get Started?

In addition to the bow and the arrows, or bolts that you might need, there are certain other accessories that you might want to consider for your bow. You might not need to have all of these right now, but you will want to keep them in mind. Consider getting arm guards specifically for archery if you are using anything other than a crossbow, for example. The bowstring, as it is released, can be dangerous and can take the skin off your arm if you aren’t careful. A guard can help.
Some of the other types of items you might want to consider include archery gloves, quivers for target shooting and for hunting, hunting arrows, target practice arrows, and archery targets. Get what you need to make each experience with the bow a positive one.

Learn How to Use the Bow

This is – strangely – one of the steps that many people miss when they buy a new bow. They are looking for a quality bow that they like and want to learn how to shoot. Then, they do not actually put any effort into finding anyone who will be able to teach them how to fire the bow properly and accurately. It is important to take lessons or at least do some research before heading out into the field with a bow and your arrows.

Find Your Bow

Now that you have a better understanding of the different types of bows that are available, and you understand some of the things that you will need to get started, it’s time to make your choice. Always make sure you are taking the time to look at the very best when it comes to the brands that are available for you. Look for some reviews to see exactly what you are going to get and why it will be worth your money.

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