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The 8 Real Differences Between Longbows & Short bows


There is more than one difference between longbows and short bows.  If you are a beginner to the subject of archery, there are certain things to know to help you identify the differences between the two.

So, what are the real differences between longbows and short bows? 

Although the most important difference is clearly the size of a longbow and a short bow, there are seven additional differences between the two bows.  Here are the 8 differences:

  1. Size
  2. Range
  3. Arrow
  4. Speed
  5. Draw length
  6. Usage
  7. Force
  8. Cost

Each type of bow is best designed for certain usage and knowing the differences will help you decide which type of bow is best suited for your needs.

Although longbows and short bows are manufactured differently and are used for different purposes, each is designed to function efficiently.  Before you decide which bow to purchase, you need to be able to identify the differences between longbows and short bows. 

Continue reading below to learn about the differences, as well as additional information about longbows and short bows.

Longbows and a Short bows

Longbows and short bows are similar types of bows.  They have used throughout history for hunting and as weapons during war. 

Even if you are not familiar with bows, the name itself of the longbow and short bow defines the primary difference; one is long and the other is short.

Traditional longbows and short bows are made with different types of wood, such as elm, oak, or maple.  They are easy to manufacture because they are typically made with a long piece of wood.  However, some longbows can be made with different pieces of wood.

In addition, there are more modern types of bows that are categorized as longbows merely because the string does not come into contact with the ends of the limbs of a bow.

However, though there are additional styles and versions of longbows classified in the same family, the traditional and classic style of a bow has that medieval feel that archers like.

Some basic details to know about the two bows is that:

  • A longbow can be easily identifiable because of the capital D shape that the bow and bowstring forms.   The length of the bow is about the same height as the archer.  A historical longbow, referred to as a self-bow, is made from one single piece of wood.
  • A short bow is made with wood that is more flexible and can also be made with a single piece of wood; however, other types can be made with more than one piece of wood.

But first, let’s talk about what exactly we mean when we’re talking about longbows and short bows.

What is a Longbow?

As we’ve just mentioned, the length of a longbow is about the similar height of the archer while the length of a short bow is much shorter.

We also know that a longbow is traditional and classic and is made from one long piece of wood, that can be referred to as a self-bow.

If you look at a longbow, the bow resembles a closed parenthesis ” ) ” or the shape of a capital “D”.

Throughout history, the English have been known for their superb longbows. Check out this article I wrote all about the English Longbow.

One feature that is noted about the longbow is that the string at the end of the bow will not touch the bow itself, which is what gives it that capital D look.

Traditionally, longbows have made with yew wood and would take about three years to prepare before utilizing the bow.  The part of the yew tree used to make a bow is where the inner part and the outer part of the tree are. 

What is a Short bow?

A short bow is just that: a short bow.  Technically, the length of a short bow should not be more than 60 inches. They can be smaller “longbows” where the string does not contact the limbs, but more commonly short bows are recurve bows. A perfect example of this is the traditional horse bow.

A short bow can be made out of a single piece of wood (like a longbow) or more than one piece of wood.  It is simple to manufacture and can be made out of hardwood such as bamboo or hard maple.

The traditional medieval short bow was also made from yew wood material, used for hunting and were used by the Vikings.  These types of short bows are usually positioned and drawn closer to your chest.

Because of its length, a short bow is small enough that you can shoot it while on horseback.  Other short version of bows can even be used while sitting.  And, although the short bow is much smaller in size, you still need to use both hands to use one. 

Different types of bows can also be made shorter in length.  For example, there is a short version of a compound bow and a recurve bow. 

So What is the Difference?

Now that we know what a longbow and short bow are, it seems there are more similarities between longbows and short bows.

And, this information might not help you decide which type of bow you want to use.

However, it is important to know that bows are made differently and are used for certain purposes.

Therefore, after further research, there are eight main differences between the two that set them apart.

If you are debating which type of bow you want to use, you should consider the following:

  1. Size
  2. Range
  3. Arrow
  4. Speed
  5. Draw length
  6. Usage
  7. Force
  8. Cost

Size

The main difference between a longbow and a short bow is clearly the size.

The length of a longbow can range from six to seven feet and is typically the same as the height of the archer.  Therefore, it is heavier and bulkier to carry around.  A longbow is best used in open areas as arm spaces is needed for drawing the bow.  

The thickness of the handle of a longbow, which is the widest part, can range between 33% to 75% of the width of the bow.   Also, the wood towards the limbs of the bow are slimmer than the mid-section of the bow.

One thing to know about two versions of longbows is that:

  • A Victorian-style longbow does not have any bends or shapes in the bow.
  • A Medieval longbow has a slight curvature shape in the longbow.

A short bow is shorter in length.  And, what defines it as short bow is the length.  The average length of a short bow can range between 36 inches to 60 inches.  However, the length should not exceed more than 60 inches.

Range

The range of a bow is how far it is able to shoot the arrow.  Each type of bow is designed to shoot at different ranges because they are used for different purposes.

A longbow was designed to shoot targets at long range and distances, which is good for hunting.  Because of the length of the bow, you are able to pull the bowstring at a longer length.  This allows more energy to shoot the arrow out which is enough for the arrow to hit targets at a farther range.

The range of a longbow is also affected by the:

  • The weight of the bow
  • Length that you draw the bowstring
  • The weight of the arrow

A short bow is designed about half the size of a longbow.  Because of its shorter length, the length that you can draw the bowstring is also short.  The shorter draw length means that the arrow will hit a target accurately at a closer range.  If you were to shoot from a short bow at a long distance, you might have trouble reaching your target and may not be practical for hunting.

Arrows

Arrows also affect the range of a longbow and short bow.  Because of the size of the bow, arrows vary by weight. They are also made from different materials such as wood, carbon fiber or aluminum.

Using appropriate arrows will ensure that they shoot out accurately.  And, certain sized arrows are best used with a longbow and a short bow.

  • Since a longbow is heavier and longer, the appropriate arrows to use should be bigger and heavier than arrows used for a short bow.  If you use lighter arrows with a longbow, the wind can knock the arrow off its course while shooting at a longer range.  This will cause you to miss the target.
  • Because a short bow is smaller in size and it is best used for closer ranged targets, you need to use smaller and lighter arrows.  Using a heavier arrow with a short bow is not effective because the weight of the arrow will cause it to fall short of the target. 

Speed

The size, range and arrow size play a role in the speed that a longbow and short bow shoots the arrow.

Based on what we’ve learned, the size of a longbow and short bow determines the range that the arrow shoots out at and the weight of the arrow is different for each bow.

Since a longbow is long and you can pull the bowstring further away, more energy pushes the arrow out at a fast speed and at longer distances.

However, because the short bow is shorter and the bowstring is pulled out shorter, there is less energy to shoot the arrow at a far range.  Nonetheless, since the draw of the string is tighter than a longbow, the arrow shoots out faster. 

The downside of the short bow is that the speed of the arrow will not be enough to reach a farther target.

Draw Length

The size of the longbow and short bow affects the length of the draw. The draw length of a bow is how far back you can pull the bowstring.  The length of the draw varies by the size of the bow as well as the archer. 

Therefore, if you want to use a longbow, it is important to pick the appropriate size for your height.

Because the longbow is long, the string is longer which allows you to draw the string longer.  The size of the longbow is what gives it its longer draw length.  The longer draw length gives the arrow that energy to shoot over long distances. 

Whether you use a smaller or longer longbow to your height, you will not be able to use your full draw length.  With a smaller draw length, the arrow will not have enough energy to shoot over longer ranges.

With a short bow, the size will not exceed five feet and the draw length is smaller than a longbow. Therefore, because of its size, you are limited to the length that you can draw the bowstring.  With less draw length, this allows the archer to shoot at closer distances. 

And, as previously mentioned, the draw length affects the speed of the arrow and the range that the arrow can reach.

Usage

Bows are usually used for either hunting or target practice.  The difference between bows is the range and distance that the arrow can reach.

When you are hunting, you are at a farther distance from the game.  And, the longbow is designed to be used for longer ranges.  However, longbows can also be used for target practice which the target will likely be at a farther distance.

Because the design of a short bow, it has a smaller draw length and is designed to shoot at targets within close ranges and distances.  This makes using a short bow for target practice, or in competition, more practical.

Space is also a factor for using a longbow or a short bow.

  • Since a longbow is bigger, you need a wider space to fully draw the bowstring.
  • Because a short bow is shorter, you do not need much space to fully draw the bowstring.

Force

The force of a bow is determined by the weight of the draw.  And, the weight of the draw is what pushes out the energy to shoot out the arrow. 

If you have a big sized bow, the force (draw weight) is greater.  Therefore, the longbow will project the arrow with greater force than a short bow.

Also, with a heavier draw weight, the bow is capable of shooting out at longer distances.

Therefore, logically:

  • The draw weight of a longbow is greater than a short bow.
  • The heavier the draw weight, the further the arrow will shoot out.
  • The weight of a longbow and short bow varies and each can have heavy draw weight.

An example of a short bow with a high draw weight is the Saracen horn sinew bow.  

Cost

If cost is what is keeping from purchasing a longbow or a short bow, researching the price of each as well as your spending budget is important. 

Although a short bow is less expensive than a longbow, the price will vary because of the quality of the bow.  Each bow is made from different materials which affect the cost to manufacture and the sales price. 

Handcrafted bows will cost more to manufacture and are more expensive.  Typically, handcrafted bows are made with the best quality wood, strings, and craftsmanship.  

Additionally, accessories that are pre-attached to the bow will increase the ending price.  Customization is another factor that will drive up the price. 

If you were to shop for a traditional longbow at a nationwide outdoor retailer, the price of a regular longbow could range between $100 to $400.  Bows in this price range tend to be those that are mass-produced and designed the same way. 

However, a well-crafted longbow can be priced in the thousand dollar range. Manufacturers will use the best quality material and spend much time to shape the bow with precision. 

In addition to shaping the bow, other features that make the bow of high quality include using strong and durable bowstrings.   One type of material to produce a high-end bowstring is made with Dyneema, which is referred to as the worlds strongest fiber.  The bowstring is important and necessary for shooting the arrow accurately. 

The bowstring can be made with a lower-end material resulting in a decrease in price.

The materials and time to produce a short bow have the same effect on the price.  However, short bows are less expensive than a longbow because it uses fewer materials.  If you want to buy a short bow, you can find one ranging from about $60 to $200.    

How Do I Choose Which Bow is Right for Me?

Before you decide which type of bow to use, you need to understand the differences and similarities of a longbow and short bow.

Some things to keep in mind are:

  • The size of the bow determines the length that you draw the bowstring.
  • The draw weight and draw length affect the force of the bow. 
  •  The draw length is how far you can pull back the bowstring. 

Also, when you have a longer draw length, there is more force and energy that the archer projects to shoot out the arrow. 

When you have a shorter draw length, you are unable to pull the bowstring farther away and there will be less energy that projects out. 

And, the advantage of a shorter draw length is that arrow can shoot accurately at closer range targets while the disadvantage is that there is not enough force for the arrow to shoot at targets a longer distance.

Peter Sontrop

I live in Alberta, Canada where I enjoy field archery and target shooting with traditional bows and compound bows. On this site, I share everything I’ve learned about archery along the way.

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