Compound bows may be the modern standard for archery and hunting, but more and more bowmen are returning to a simpler tool: the longbow for hunting and sport.
The longbow not only carries with it the storied history of archery, but provides a simplicity that can be both challenging and meditative. In a world where everything moves at high speed, longbows can offer a respite of slow, controlled movements and the sense of personal achievement that comes with mastering your shot.
Choosing the best longbow for hunting can be difficult first step in making the transition to this style of shooting. That’s why we’ve created a guide explaining everything you need to know about finding the right longbow for you. Plus, we’ll review five of the best longbows available for any bowman.
Using a Longbow for Hunting
The history and simplicity of longbows may sound appealing at first, but it’s important to consider whether a longbow is a good choice for you if you plan on bow hunting.
The simplicity of longbows can be both an advantage and disadvantage for hunters. On the one hand, there’s no need to fine tune your bow before every hunt and very few parts that can break while you’re out – the only extra equipment you need to carry is a spare bowstring. Better yet, traditional longbows are much lighter than modern compound bows.
On the other hand, hunting with a longbow is much more difficult than hunting with a compound bow (or recurve bow). You’ll need to be okay with many missed shots and walking away from a trip without a kill.
One of the major downsides to hunting with a longbow is that they have very limited ranges – you need to be within 20 yards of your target to have any chance of hitting it. In addition, since there’s no sight built into a longbow, you will be shooting more with instinct and general aim than with precision. Keep in mind also that shooting a longbow takes a lot of upper body strength, so you can easily tire during an all-day hunt.
Types of Longbows
Since longbows have such a long history and have played roles in so many different cultures, there is a virtually endless number of longbow styles. However, most modern longbows can be grouped into three different styles: English longbows, American longbows, and reflex/deflex longbows.
English longbows are probably the style of longbow you think of when conjuring an image of a longbow. They are around six feet tall with a long draw, and the arrow is shot directly out of your hand. Today, English longbows are typically manufactured with low draw weights and so are primarily good for target practice.
American longbows have a wider construction with short, straight limbs and a rectangular cross-section in the center. Unlike English longbows, American longbows have a notch cut out to hold the arrow, which provides more accurate shooting for most archers. Often, modern American longbows are made out of durable materials like fiberglass that allow for heavy draw weights.
Reflex/deflex longbows curve toward the archer at the center (deflex) and away from the archer at either end (reflex). These bows are essentially a hybrid between a longbow and a recurve bow, offering the power of a recurve bow and the low weight and forgiving nature of a longbow.
These features make the reflex/deflex longbow the longbow of choice for most archers and hunters. Keep in mind that the amount of reflex varies among bows, so that some will act more like longbows and some will act more like recurve bows.
Choosing the Right Longbow
Once you’ve determined what style of longbow is right for you, there are a few other details to keep in mind. Specifications like the length of the string, the brace height, and the draw weight can all impact how easy or difficult your bow is to draw and whether your bow is suited for your body.
The string length of a longbow is a major factor in how forgiving your bow will be – in general longer strings are much easier to draw and provide more stable releases.
When determining string length, the manufacturer’s specified string length often isn’t the actual string length. Instead, manufacturers typically specify the AMO (Archery Manufacturers’ Organization) length, which is three inches greater than the actual string length.
The brace height is the length between the string and the center of the bow grip. Most longbows come with a manufacturer-recommended brace height for that individual model, but you can adjust the brace height further to fine tune your bow. To do this, all you need to do is twist or untwist the string at the ends of the limbs.
Shorter brace heights will result in greater arrow speeds from the same draw, but at the cost of lower accuracy, greater reverberation and noise, and less stability. Longer brace heights won’t allow you to shoot quite as far, but your bow will be quieter and far more accurate.
The draw weight of a bow refers to the amount of force that you will need to apply to fully draw the bowstring back. A higher draw weight will allow you to shoot with greater force, but dealing with harder draws can quickly tire out your arms and ruin your accuracy.
If you’re switching from a compound bow to a longbow, keep in mind that longbows require you to maintain your draw weight until you release the arrow. That’s a big difference from compound bows, which lock in place at full draw. Thus, you’ll want to opt for a lower draw weight on your longbow than on your compound bow.
One-piece vs. Two-piece bows
While most longbows are made of a single piece of wood, some American longbows are available in two-piece designs. Two-piece bows are much easier to transport if you plan to travel with your bow, and have the additional advantage that the limbs can be swapped out or replaced without replacing the entire bow.
The Best Longbow for Hunting
1) Bear Archery AFT2040145
This sleek reflex/deflex longbow by Bear Archery blends modern technology and construction into a traditional design. The bow is made from high-quality wood and fiberglass, making it extremely sturdy and durable for years of heavy use. Plus, the reflex/deflex design allows this longbow to be extraordinarily quiet and to offer plenty of power for hunting.
The Bear longbow is an ideal choice for hunters and target shooters alike. The longbow is available in draw weights ranging from 30 to 60 pounds (45 to 55 pounds for left-handed bows). Plus, the long 64-inch AMO length means that this bow is highly stable and relatively forgiving to beginners – so, it’s a great choice for hunters looking to make the switch from a compound bow.
- Reflex/deflex design
- Crafted from high-quality wood and fiberglass
- Multiple draw weights
- Long string length for stability
- Not available in draw weights below 30 pounds
2) Longbowmaker Hungarian Style Longbow
This unique Hungarian longbow from Longbowmaker is beloved by archers and surprisingly inexpensive. The design of the bow resembles a reflex/deflex bow, but archers will immediately notice the difference in geometry around the center of the bow.
The bow has some hand shock when releasing, but this is mitigated in part by the leather handhold. While the longbow doesn’t draw as easily or feel as stable as a standard reflex/deflex bow, it offers excellent accuracy with some practice.
The Longbowmaker bow is available in draw weights from 20-110 pounds, which is an impressive range. Unfortunately, the bow can be difficult to string and is not compatible with all stringing machines – but, once you get it the first time, it’s easy to re-string the bow for the rest of its life.
- Highly accurate
- Available in wide range of draw weights
- Difficult to string
- More difficult for beginners than a standard reflex/deflex bow
3) Southland Archery Supply Pioneer
This high-quality longbow from Southland Archery Supply is ideal for archers who crave stability. The bow has a slight reflex/deflex curvature and a 68-inch AMO length, making this one of the most forgiving bows for beginners and seasoned shooters alike. The brace height on this bow is also highly adjustable, ensuring that you can dial in your accuracy and keep noise down when hunting.
While the price on this longbow is attractive, keep in mind that you’ll want to make a few upgrades for serious archery. The leather grip is somewhat loose, so you will likely want to replace it, as well as replace the string with one about an inch longer.
The bow is available in draw weights from 35 to 55 pounds, but is only produced for right-handed draws.
- 68-inch AMO length
- Accurate, stable, and quiet
- Range of draw weights available
- Quality construction
- Leather grip needs to be replaced
- Only made for right-handed draws
4) Southland Archery Supply Gravity
The Gravity longbow from Southland Archery Supply is one of the lightest longbows on the market today, making it a favorite among hunters. The bow weighs just 1.3 pounds, yet the hardwood construction and reinforced limb tips ensures that its durable enough to stand up to heavy use.
The reflex/deflex curvature and 64-inch AMO length on this bow combine to make it highly accurate and forgiving. However, keep in mind that there is more vibration to your hands when firing than with heavier reflex/deflex bows.
The other consequence of the light weight of this bow is that the draw weights are limited to just 50 pounds. Since most states require draw weights of 45 pounds or more for deer hunting, hunters will be relatively limited in options for this longbow. That said, beginner archers can benefit from draw weights down to 25 pounds.
- Extremely lightweight
- Accurate and stable when shooting
- Draw weights from 25 to 50 pounds
- Durable hardwood construction
- Maximum draw weight of 50 pounds
- Significant shock to hands
5) AF Archery
This highly affordable American longbow from AF Archery was designed with hunting in mind. The bow is lightweight and smooth in shooting, with a slight reflex around the limb tips to add to its stability. While the 62-inch AMO length means that this longbow isn’t quite as forgiving as the Bear Archery or Southland Archery Supply Pioneer bows, it’s still highly accurate and easy to shoot.
A major advantage to this bow is that the wooden limbs are overlaid with fiberglass. That gives the bow additional shooting power and virtually eliminates kickback to your hands after releasing the arrow. In addition, the fiberglass coating helps to ensure the durability of this bow when taking it into the woods.
The AF Archery longbow is available in draw weights from 20 to 55 pounds.
- Fiberglass coated limbs for power and durability
- Highly accurate and stable
- Relatively inexpensive
- Draw weights from 20 to 55 pounds
- 62-inch AMO length is somewhat less forgiving
Frequently Asked Questions
What draw weight do I need for hunting?
In general, longbows with at least 45 pounds of draw weight are enough for hunting deer and smaller game. If you are used to using a compound bow, you’ll want to aim for a longbow with about 75% of the draw weight of your compound bow.
What draw weight do I need for target shooting?
You don’t need as heavy a draw for target shooting as you do for hunting, but you still want to pull enough weight so that you aren’t shooting too fast. For men, draw weights of at least 35 pounds are recommended, while women and children may be better off with draw weights down to 25 pounds.
Can I customize the grip of my bow?
Yes! Most longbows come with a center grip, but you can almost always remove this or add onto it to make it more comfortable. Modifying the thickness or shape of the grip using a material like leather or nylon can significantly reduce hand shock on some bows.
Longbows are for the Purist!
Longbows combine the allure and mystique of traditional shooting with the strength and durability of modern bow construction. This type of bow is the perfect choice for either archery or hunting and can be significantly more rewarding than shooting with a compound bow. Our guide and recommendations can put you on the right track to finding the best longbow so you can get started shooting as soon as possible.