Bow Types

Photo credit: NechakoRiver / CC BY-ND

Archery has been around for millennia, (some even say it’s existed for over 20,000 years!) so it’s no surprise that there are a wide range of different bow types to choose from.

Over the (thousands) of years, different bow types have been devised to meet a wide variety of needs for archers all around the world. Bow design has been influenced by and adapted to suit:
Different terrains,
Speed of Production,
Ease of use
And probably a thousand other factors!

Through the ages, different types of bows have gained and lost popularity but a few have stayed the course and proven themselves to be among the best, most reliable and ever-popular bows around the world and it’s those that we will focus on today.

So without further ado, here are the most common bow types you’ll find today.


Photo credit: Vector 3D / CC BY-NC

The longbow is probably the most well known of all the bow types. It’s the basic, easily recognizable bow shape we all drew as kids, just probably a lot longer, (Duh!) standing around 1.8m (6ft) tall.

Longbows were a staple of the English armies during the medieval period, partly due to their effectiveness and partly because they were easy to mass-produce.

A longbow is traditionally made from a single piece of wood, yew and elm were favorites of the English at the time, so they can be constructed in just a few hours by a skilled bowyer. This simple design was more of a necessity in the middle ages but even modern longbows are stripped back to the bare basics in terms of features – you’re unlikely to find anything more than some basic nocks for your bow string and maybe a small shelf carved out to rest your arrow on, although if you’re going full traditional the arrow really should be resting on your hand…

The simplistic nature of longbows mean they are not the most beginner friendly bow on this list and really need a lot of practice if you want any kind of accuracy when you shoot.

On the other hand, that’s a huge part of the appeal to some archers who relish the challenge these bows pose. If you can shoot a longbow accurately, you’ll be able to turn your hand to pretty much any other type of archery with ease.

Recurve Bows

Photo credit: stevenarcherysupplier / CC BY-ND

Recurve Bows were a major development in the history of archery. This new design, with the tips of the limbs curving back away from the archer (hence the name, recurve), meant that the holder could generate as much power as a longbow with a much shorter length due to the extra energy stored in the flexed tips.

This innovation meant that archers were a lot more mobile and gave rise to the Mounted Archer – a cavalry unit that was used to devastating effect by Genghis Khan and the Mongolian Empire.

Most modern recurve bows are takedown bows which means they can be split apart into two limbs and a riser for easy storage and transport – portable in and out of use.

Recurve bows are a great choice for a beginner. Their manageable size and high power output make them a lot more forgiving than a longbow and their relative simplicity make them less intimidating than some of the compound bows available.

Beginners need to focus on their technique above everything else and a recurve bow is perfect for this – just point and shoot (safely, and at a target, of course).

As you get more experienced you can upgrade your recurve bow to include sights, clickers, stabilizers and more until you’ve got a full-on Olympic level setup.

Compound Bows

Photo credit: Bill Hails / CC BY-ND

The most modern bow type on the list is the compound bow. Developed in the 1960’s by Holless Wilbur Allen, Jr, the compound bow has quickly become one of the most popular choices in archery.

At its core, a compound bow is essentially just a regular bow with its ends cut off and replaced with pulleys that have one or more cables joining the pulley on the opposite limb.

When the archer draws the string back on a compound bow, the pulleys and cams kick in to amplify the force applied to the limbs of the bow, making it easier to generate more force and hold the bow at full draw, giving the archer longer to set their aim.

Because of the mechanical advantage the cams give the user, the limbs of a compound bow are usually much stiffer than those found on recurve or longbows. And because the limbs are stiffer and more rigid, they are more energy-efficient so a compound bow can usually store more energy and shoot faster than other types.

The cam system is also highly configurable and, making it possible to create different draw-stroke profiles to suit your shooting style.

There is a trade-off for all these technological enhancements, however. More moving parts means more maintenance and more potential failure points if anything does get damaged.

Compound bows can also be intimidating to novice archers. With so much choice and so many ways to configure your bow, it can be hard to know where to start, but with a bit of experience under your belt compound bows are absolutely a great choice to take your archery to a new level.

Which Bow Should I Choose?

Lots of people love the pure simplicity of a longbow, and if you’ve ever seen a movie set in medieval Europe you’ve probably felt inspired to pick one up act out your favorite scene.

Recurve bows come in so many shapes, sizes and designs that there’s almost certainly one that perfectly suits you. Whether you want to try your hand at horseback archery or you’ve picked up the archery bug by watching the Olympics, a recurve bow is a great choice for beginners and experienced archers alike.

And then there’s the compound bow. In truth, there’s not much a compound bow can’t do – infinitely customizable, easy to shoot, powerful and accurate, many folk think this is the bow that has it all…

As you’ve probably gathered, there’s no right or wrong bow type. And, aside from competition equipment restrictions or not wanting to show up at a medieval fayre with a bow that looks like something The Predator would have used, there’s not really a right or wrong bow for the different types of archery you want to try – it all comes down to personal preference.

Any of these bows will shoot an arrow at a target (and you might even hit it, too!) and they all need patience, determination, skill and a bucket load of practice to master- so don’t worry about the right bow, just pick one for right now and get out there a get shooting!

And besides, nobody said you have to stick with just one bow, did they?!