Archery 101 Different Types of Bows

// October 13, 2015

Archery is one of the oldest practices in existence of human and pre-human evolution. From the Latin word arcus, archery dates as far back to the Paleolothic-period (9500 BCE). Our ancestors used spears for hunting and figured out that with some torque and propulsion and leverage, they could launch their weapon further and faster. There are four basic types of bows in modern archery: the re-curve bow, the compound bow, the long bow and the crossbow. Basically, there’s four types of bows around today; compound bows, re-curve bows, long bows and crossbows.


We all recognize the longbow. Images of Native Americans with these bows resting on their shoulder are scattered throughout the mid-west to Texas. Check out some longbows available for purchase here. The longbow (or straight limb bow) is the oldest and simplest of all bows. This is the type of bow that natives and ancient romans used for both hunting and battle. In fact some claim that indigenous tribes in remote parts of the world still use long bows for everyday survival. Originally, longbows were made of a solid wood whittled down to a thin bendable material. Sometimes even a piece of animal hide or braided horsetail string was attached at each end for decorative purposes. Traditionally, on the ends of the bow there would be notches cut out where the bow’s string would fit. It was here that a holding knot was tied to keep the string from slipping through the end of the limb.

Like many other hunting products, long bows have become more advanced with technology and better materials. Some modern longbows are made from laminated wood while others are created from synthetic materials. Some traditional archers (those that use long bows or recurve bows) actually make their own bows with custom wood in-lays or pieces of animal bone and/or snakeskin for aesthetics. But the more things change, the more they stay the same. The shape and function of these bows is no different than it was hundreds of years ago.

A couple things about the longbow

Now longbows don’t typically use arrow-rests or optics, instead they have an “arrow shelf.” An arrow shelf is a flat spot where the arrow sits both while at rest and at full draw. Traditional bows however don’t have a specific draw-weight or length; they are designed to have a specific draw weight at 28 inches. This means that if the bow is drawn less than 28” inches, the draw weight will be less and vice versa. Longbows, even with their lack of engrained modern technology, are still very effective but require more dedication and practice than other bows like the compound.


Recurve bows are very similar to long bows with the exception of the flaring limbs. When drawn, the limbs curve away from the archer. The curve in the limbs is designed to store more energy than that of a straight limb bow and therefore propel an arrow at higher velocity. Most traditional re-curve shooters still opt out of using any accessories such as sights and arrow rests but in past decades these bows have been built to accept modern day sights and rests. Recurve bows from the 21st century are far different in appearance than those of earlier days.  Modern day target archers shoot recurve bows that look very similar. Additionally they are made of the same materials as the most cutting-edge compound bows.

In a comparison of the longbow and recurve, “hard-core” hunters select a long bow because of its relatively unchanging persona.  Bow hunters that want to try their hand at shooting traditional bows typically opt for the recurve because it is more forgiving and can achieve the same velocities of long bows with a lighter draw weight.  Make no mistake about it, shooting a recurve or longbow with zero percent let-off is a far cry from a 70% let-off compound bow. The Spyder Takedown Recurve Bow and Arrow by Southwest Archery is a highly rated and affordable option


Developed in the 1960’s the compound bow had about as much in common with traditional bows as the Model ‘A’ and a horse draw carriage.  The compound bow took little more than the shape and string from the long bow to become an entirely new animal.  If you ask a bow hunter to draw you a picture of a bow, this is most likely what you’ll see.  Compound bows are made of five basic parts; riser, limbs, cams or wheels, and the string/cable assembly.

The sport of bow fishing has grown significantly in popularity over the past 30 years and recurve bows have found a home in the sport, launching arrows into the water. Recurve bows are lightweight, making them easy to handle and virtually these bows will fit virtually any size shooter, short draw length or long draw length.  Another advantage is, they can be significantly more affordable than purchasing a compound bow for the same purpose. The riser is the foundation of the bow, it holds the sights, arrow rest and stabilizer (if these accessories are desired) and it has the limbs attached to it.  The limbs of compound bows were originally made of wood but advanced technology has developed fiberglass and resin materials that are significantly stronger, longer lasting and more efficient.

The limbs of the bow are where the energy is stored, when the shooter draws the bow, the limbs flex storing the energy until the release of the string, where they spring back to their original location.  Cams or wheels go hand-in-hand with the string/cable assembly of a compound bow.  When the string is released, the limbs return to their original position, but when the limbs spring back, the cables rapidly rotate the cams forward which accelerates the string and propels the arrow.  It seems significantly less complicated when you shoot a compound bow than when you read about the mechanics.

Compared to their ancestors compound bows are by far the most efficient bows on the market and are the easiest to become effective with for hunting or target shooting.  Modern compound bows are capable of achieving arrow speeds of more than 350 fps.  If human error were taken out of the equation, it’s probable that these bows would shoot a 1” group at 100 yards.

There are many manufacturers of compound bows and many good ones: Mathews, Hoyt, Bowtech, PSE, Barnett, just to name a few. One options we like form Quest Forge is the Quest Forge Bow Package Right Hand Realtree Xtra.


One topic in the bow-hunting world that will get more people fired up than any other is the crossbow discussion.  Love them or hate them, they are indeed archery equipment. Essentially, a crossbow is simply a compound bow mounted horizontally on a stock (similar to a rifle stock) with a standard trigger rather than using a mechanical release.  The bow is drawn with the use of a cocking device that pulls the string back and locks it into a jaw (not much different than your standard wrist release).  From there, the trigger is squeezed to allow the string to retract just the same a compound bow operates and it propels the arrow down range.

Check out the Excalibur Crossbow Matrix Bulldog 400 4400 Crossbow with Tact-Zone, Medium, Camouflage if you don’t currently own a crossbow.

Now ya’ll when you’re selecting a bow, the most important factor is finding a bow that fits you properly and then selecting the one that feels the best.  Don’t select your new bow from a magazine or you’re by what your favorite hunting show celebrity shoots, select it an archery range after shooting as many different bows as you possibly can.

Good luck and happy hunting!
-Outdoor Eddie


3 thoughts on “Archery 101 Different Types of Bows

  1. Robert says:

    I like very much this post. I’m a bow hunter myself. I must tell you that I totally agree about the speed of the archery. The bows are important, too.

    1. Outdoor Eddie Outdoor Eddie says:

      Howdy Robert,
      We appreciate the support here sir. Do you have anything to share with the audience in your experience with longbow?


  2. Harry Garrett says:

    Great guide on the 4 types of bows!
    This post is really helpful to beginner to have a clear understand on archery, especially bow hunting. I am hunting with a PSE and must say compound bow is still my favorite bow type to hunt.
    Crossbow is also a great one, talking about accuracy, speed and stability. However crossbow requires a certain strength to maximize its capability and they are quite “pricey” for any starter to begin with. Consider this when you get use to archery and have been out hunting for a while.
    Again, really nice post. Thanks for sharing

    P/s: If you don’t mind, I would like to provide a value post for your readers.

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