Recurve Bow vs Longbow the Pros and Cons

If you’re looking to get into traditional archery, you have a big choice ahead of you. You need to decide whether to invest in a recurve bow vs longbow.

While these two bow styles might look extremely similar – especially when you put them next to more modern styles of bows – they couldn’t be more different in how they handle and shoot. Let’s check out the pros and cons of both recurve and long bows to help you decide which is the best bow for you!

Bow Shape - Recurve Bow vs Longbow

The fundamental difference between recurve and long bows is the shape. Long bows have a single curve from end to end, giving them the appearance of a half moon. Recurve bows, on the other hand, have multiple curves – the bow curves towards the archer at the center, but away from the archer at either tip.

This difference might seem slight, but it’s at the heart of all the differences between the two bow styles that we’ll cover.

Recurve Bow vs Longbow

Best Bow for Beginners

If you’re completely new to archery, the long bow is by far the easier bow style to start out with. That’s because the body of a long bow is much thicker and more stable than the body of a recurve bow.

As a result, it’s much easier to shoot your arrows straight with a long bow. It’s nearly impossible to twist the tips of a long bow, whereas it’s quite easy to twist the tips of a recurve if you’re not used to shooting it.

In addition, long bows create less friction between your fingers and the bowstring. That’s because the string of a long bow is longer than that of a recurve bow, so the force is much more distributed away from your hand. For many beginners, this reduces the amount of finger pain you’ll suffer and makes it easier to get a smooth arrow release.

Ultimately, these two factors shouldn’t push you away from recurve bows – you’ll get the hang of shooting smoothly with practice. But, starting out with a recurve bow can feel a bit discouraging compared to a long bow.

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Best Hunting Bow

When it comes to hunting, the recurve bow is clearly the superior of the two bow styles.

First, the recurve bow shoots much faster than the long bow. That’s because it’s shorter and the curvature of the tips adds flexibility that allows the arrow to release with greater force. The long bow, on the other hand, doesn’t have the same flex to impart force to the bowstring’s release.

In addition, recurve bows are typically much shorter than long bows for the same archer. Long bows may be great if you’re a particularly tall archer, but their height can create problems if you plan to take your bow off the archery range. Carrying a long bow through the woods on a hunting trip can be quite the challenge, with the bow frequently getting caught on branches and scrub.  Check out the Best Recurve Bow for Hunting here.

That said, there is one big downside to using a recurve bow for hunting: noise. When you release a recurve bow, the bowstring thwacks against the recurved tips of the bow itself. When hunting with a recurve bow, your first shot will alert most prey in the forest of your presence. Long bows, on the other hand, are virtually silent when you release the arrow. Check out the Best Longbow for Hunting here.

Best Bow for Competitions

While long bows have a much longer history than recurve bows, recurve shooting is now the standard for most archery competitions. For example, recurve bows are used in the Olympic games, as well as at lower-level target archery competitions.

Field competitions, in which you’re moving through a course while shooting, typically accept either long bows or recurve bows. But, the smaller size and faster arrow release of recurve bows makes them the better choice for this style of competition as well in most cases.

That said, if you participate in historical reenactments or traditional archery competitions, you’ll see far more long bows than recurve bows. That’s because of the long history of long bows, which have been used throughout European history and by several other civilizations around the world.

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Growing with Your Bow

One important thing to consider when choosing your bow, especially if you’re just starting out, is whether your bow will be able to grow with you.

Long bows, unfortunately, aren’t very adjustable in terms of draw weight. Since they are made from a single piece of wood, you are limited to adjusting the string – which won’t change the draw weight very much at all. So, if you want to increase your draw weight as you improve, you’ll likely need to upgrade to a new long bow.

Recurve bows are typically made in sections and the limbs are replaceable. That makes it much easier to customize your draw weight as your archery skills improve. Helpfully, that means that you can start with a very light draw weight to practice your form, and then replace the limbs once you feel more confident in your shooting.

Choosing Between a Recurve Bow vs Longbow 

Long bows and recurve bows both have their advantages and disadvantages. While shooting doesn’t exactly translate between the two, you can always switch between them if you start out with one and decide to try the other later. Alternatively, you can learn to shoot both the long bow and recurve bow – then you can use each in the situations where they most excel.

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