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Compound or Recurve Bow? Pros and Cons to Help You Decide

If you’re new to archery or want to get into archery, you’ll eventually ask the question, “Should I buy a compound bow or recurve bow?”

Most people should buy a recurve bow when starting out in archery because most people who can shoot a compound bow find it somewhat difficult to switch to a recurve bow. On the other hand, if you can learn to shoot a recurve bow well then you will be able to shoot a compound bow well too.

That’s my short recommendation.

However, here are a few more pros and cons to help you decide whether you should buy a compound bow or a recurve bow. We’ll do cons first, then pros, and finish strong with some recommendations.

Compound Bow: Cons

Compound Bows Are Expensive

You can expect to pay between $200 to $600 for a decent compound bow…and that’s JUST for the bow itself. Some higher-end compound bows can be more than $2000.

Assuming the same arrows for a recurve bow, you will still have to buy a compound bow release and the least expensive one will run you about $20 to $40. The average price for a good thumb release is around $100 and above. The higher-end releases can be upwards of $200! For more info, check out my article about What is the Best Compound Bow Release?

Compound Bows Are Harder to Adjust on Your Own

In general, compound bows should only be adjusted by someone who really knows what they are doing.

There are 2 functions that can be adjusted on pretty much all compound bows: draw weight and draw length.

In order to adjust draw, most compound bows have bolts that can be tightened or loosened with an allen wrench. The user manual describes exactly what steps need to be followed and each bow will be different.

In order to adjust draw length, there is usually a system of screws in the cams that must be configured to increase or decrease the string length. Again, the user manual will have detailed instructions and each bow is different.

The downside is that if the manual is not clear or you just don’t understand for whatever reason, you won’t be able to adjust things safely and will have to go to your local pro shop to get your bow adjusted.

Compound Bows Can be Heavier and Awkwardly Shaped

This is big generalisation since you will be able to find some compound bows that a lighter than some recurve bows. But in general, compound bows average around 3.6 lbs to 4.0 lbs in weight.

Not terribly heavy, but when you’re hunting and carrying around a pack all day wherever you go, every ounce counts.

The other aspect is shape. Compound bows cannot be unstrung for storage and shouldn’t be for that matter. They typically run around 30 inches in length and should usually be kept in some kind of case.

Most compound bow cases can be bulky and this is so you can store arrows and all your other gear in there as well. This makes for an awkwardly shaped case that some people may find difficult to store away or transport.

Why is a Compound Bow Better?

Compound Bows Are Easier to shoot

There.

I said it.

And it’s true! Once a person gets used to the seemingly unnatural surprise of the let-off, compound bows are easier to hold at full draw and, therefore, easier to aim accurately.

For example, many compound bows have a 80% let-off. That means that for a 70 lb draw weight, at full draw, you will only be holding 20% of 70 lbs (14 lbs); 80% will be “let-off”.

You still have to pull 70 lbs until the cams rotate passed the “hump”, but once it lets off, you can hold it for much longer than a recurve bow.

This fact may be tempting for some people but we’ll see below why this may not be the be-all and end-all if you plan on ever shooting recurve in the future..

Compound Bows Produce Fast Arrow Velocity

This is one of the reasons why compound bows are easier to shoot. The speed at which the cams rotate and launch the arrow on release makes the arrow less susceptible to flinching or wind drift.

Typical arrow velocity is around 310 fps or faster!

Very Accurate

High draw weight compound bows are actually much easier to hold at full draw than one might expect. This makes it easier for a person to aim just right. As stated above, the high velocity makes the arrow less impacted by wind and form.

The combination of these 2 factors (more time to aim and high arrow velocity) make compound bows inherently accurate.

Being inherently very accurate, the arrow will generally impact where you want it to go (provided your sight is zeroed in properly). This can give new archers a confidence boost and make archery much more fun.

Adjustable Draw Weight and Draw Length

Above, I said that adjusting the draw weight and draw length on a compound bow can be difficult on your own. That’s true.

But the fact that you CAN adjust the draw weight and draw length? That’s huge!

It may take some learning and practice to figure out how to do it properly and safely, but there’s a clear advantage to being able to make those adjustments. It basically means that you can have 1 bow to do many tasks.

For example, you could lower the draw weight so that you can practice your form and hold your aim longer to develop muscle memory. Then, when hunting season rolls around, you can increase the draw weight to meet the minimum required by the regulations (or higher if you prefer).

Also, if you ever sell your bow to someone, that person will be able to tune the bow to fit their draw length and preferred draw weight.

Extremely satisfying to shoot

In my opinion, the best part of shooting a compound bow is the sound:

The whisper-slap of the release (and I mean WHISPER).

The swoosh of the arrow as you watch it rise and fall through the air in a perfect arch.

And the “thwack!” of the arrow impacting the target.

There’s nothing like it.

Satisfying.

Compound Bow Recommendation

I currently shoot a recurve bow: the PSE Mustang Heritage with a 40 lb draw weight. However, I recently had the chance to shoot a Diamond by Bowtech Edge SB-1 (available from Bass Pro).

It was my father-in-law’s bow and he didn’t do anything to it since he bought it and I’m pretty sure the sight was way off. Not my draw length, 70 lb draw weight, and no practice with a compound bow in 20 years.

This thing was a dream to shoot!

The very first arrow went a little left (about a foot) and the next 2 arrows were on target. Like riding a bike!

It’s not crazy expensive either and comes ready to shoot with a good sight, a brush arrow rest (aka. whisker biscuit), hunting length stabiliser, peep installed, wrist strap, and D-loop.

Recurve Bow: Cons

Less Accurate than Compound Bows

I consider this a Con for a specific reason and it has to do with fun factor.

The main reason anybody does archery is for fun. When someone is new to archery and they keep missing the target, it isn’t very fun and they begin to lose interest.

Recurve bows are less accurate mainly because they produce lower arrow velocities (around 180 fps). This lower velocity means the arrow is more susceptible to wind drift and issues with bad form.

That means new archers have to work a bit harder to develop good form and become more accurate shooting a recurve bow…but in the long run that is actually a GOOD THING.

So, this “Con” can actually be a Pro depending on how you look at it.

Can be slightly more difficult to learn proper form

The reason it can be more difficult to learn proper archery form with a recurve bow is because you have to hold the full draw weight of the bow at full draw. With a recurve bow, you don’t get the benefit of let-off that you get with a compound bow.

When you’re just starting out in archery, you haven’t developed the muscles you didn’t know you had that are involved with proper archery form. Developing those muscles and proper form can ONLY come with lots of practice.

Draw weight not adjustable

There are 2 kinds of recurve bows: one-piece recurve bows and takedown recurve bows.

One-piece bows are made from a single piece of wood or laminated “single piece” to form the limbs and riser of the bow. A good example of this is the Bear Grizzly. This kind of recurve has a set draw weight and it cannot be changed (except by changing how far to draw back the bowstring).

Takedown recurve bows have detachable limbs. This give you the ability to purchase different sets of limbs with different draw weights.

BUT if all you have is the one set of limbs then you are stuck with that draw weight until you get another set.

If you want more information on which recuvre bow limbs are interchangeable, check out my article here.

Why is a Recurve Bow Better?

Recurve Bows Are Less expensive

The typical recuve bow will run you around $150…less than half the cost of a typical compound bow!

And nowadays, since there has been heavy competition among entry-level bow manufacturers, you can find really high quality recurve bows for that price with everything you need to start shooting in minutes.

Recurve Bows Are Easy and Instinctive for Beginners to Learn

Most people have at least some exposure to archery. Whether through movies, TV shows, or wherever it’s pretty hard to go through life without at least seeing someone shoot a bow and arrow.

That’s why most people are able to pick up a recurve bow and just know instinctively how it’s supposed to function.

Literally anyone can learn to shoot a recurve bow.

This is proved from the fact that you can get bow packages for children as young as 4 years old!

Recurve Bows Develop your Archery Muscles Fast

As stated above, when you draw back a recuve bowstring, you are holding the full weight of the bow. You do not get any let-off like with a compound bow.

That means your muscles get a better workout when you shoot a recurve bow versus a compound bow.

When starting out, it is better to get a bow with a lower draw weight like 30 lbs or less. This will make it easier and more enjoyable when learning proper archery form.

Once you get good at it, you should increase the draw weight with higher draw weight limbs for your bow.

Recurve Bows Are Easier to Adjust on Your Own

This comes from the fact that there’s not very much to adjust at all!

For a takedown recurve bow, the most you will have to adjust is swapping out sets of limbs to change the draw weight.

That procedure is as simple as unscrewing a couple bolts, fitting the new limbs, and screwing the bolt back in.

If you have ILF limbs, it’s even easier than that!

Recurve Bows Weigh Less and Are Easier to Transport

A takedown recurve bow, as the name suggests, can be disassembled to remove the limbs from the riser.

This makes for a very compact package and can be transported very easily.

Recurve Bows Are More Satisfying to Shoot!

This one is directly linked with the difficulty in mastering the recurve bow.

It is precisely because it takes a little more effort and more practice to get really good at shooting a recurve bow that is is so satisfying.

When you get a perfect release, watch the arrow fly perfectly through the air and then impact exactly where you wanted it to hit…then all of the hard work makes the feeling so much more satisfying.

Recurve Bow Skills Transfer to Compound Bows

That is exactly what I observed this past weekend.

My 2 brothers-in-law (we’ll call them Jeff and Mark) had never shot a bow and arrow until last weekend. It was Father’s Day and I brought my PSE Mustang Heritage recurve bow out to my father-in-law’s ranch for the day.

He has a Diamond Edge SB-1 that he doesn’t shoot very often so after lunch we all went out back to break in the new target I had bought him for his birthday.

After some basic instruction, Jeff and Mark each had a turn shooting both of the bows (about a dozen arrows each).

The results were very interesting.

Both of them were able to hit the target (as opposed to the back stop) with the compound bows. Both of them struggled a bit more with my recurve bow BUT they were able to get arrows on target within 3 or 4 shots. In both cases, they knew instinctively how to shoot a bow.

One reason they struggled with the recurve was because it has a 40 lb draw weight. Even Jeff, who works constructing oil and gas pipelines and works out regularly, had a tough time holding the bow at full draw.

If the bow had been a lower draw weight, perhaps 25 – 30 lbs, then they probably would have been more comfortable shooting the recurve bow.

All that being said, here’s the kicker:

BOTH of them said that they would probably buy a low-draw-weight recurve bow to start so that they could get their shooting form down perfect, and then level up to a compound bow.

Two brand new archers could quickly see that:

  1. Archery form is absolutely important, and
  2. Recurve bows are better tools to learn archery form.

To me, this is a huge reason in favor of buying a recurve bow over a compound bow because even though both Jeff and Mark agreed that shooting the compound bow was easier they thought the recurve bow would be more beneficial to start.

Recurve Bow Recommendation

Having been shooting my PSE Mustang Heritage for a while now, I’ve grown accustomed to the heavier draw weight at 40 lbs. But still, after about 2 dozen arrows my fingers start hurting real bad and my form begins to get worse.

If I could do it all again, I would definitely purchase a lighter draw weight bow so that I could pretty much shoot all day and not get tired. The more you practice, the better your form becomes.

That’s why I highly recommend the Vista Monarch Take-Down Recurve Bow (available from Bass Pro Shops) specifically in a 25 lb draw weight.

This particular set comes complete with the arrowrest installed and also includes a black padded case with pockets, nock set installed, armguard, tab and a bow stringer.

All you’ll need is some arrows and a target and you’re ready to go!