How To Choose A Recurve Bow – With Size Chart – The Ultimate Guide

Woman drawing a recurve bow

For thousands of years, the elegant design of the recurve bow has enchanted civilizations around the world. Simple but powerful, these types of bows are fun for beginners and experts alike and suitable for both target shooting and bowhunting.

To get the most out of recurve archery, you have to choose the right bow and accessories. That means finding the correct size and power and considering what you’ll primarily be using the bow for. Here’s how to do just that. 

What Size Recurve Bow Do I Need?

Using Draw Length To Find To Find Bow Size

Finding draw length

Whether you are considering a compound bow or recurve bow, draw length is arguably the most important factor to consider. Draw length refers to the distance of the bowstring from the arrow rest at full draw. If you have longer arms, this will be a much larger distance and getting a smaller bow will feel awkward. Conversely, getting a bow with a longer draw length when you have shorter arms won’t allow you to use the full power of the bow.

Luckily, it’s pretty easy to estimate your draw length. You just need to measure your “wingspan,” or the distance from fingertip to fingertip with your arms outstretched. Simply hold your arms out as in a T and use a tape measure to find the length from the tip of one middle finger to the other. 

Then just use a calculator or whatever math you still remember from fourth grade and divide the result by 2.5. This is your draw length. So for example, if you have a wingspan of 70 inches, your draw length is 28 inches.

Many manufacturers actually list the draw length of their bows. For those that don’t, look for the AMO or ATA bow length. (AMO stands for Archery Manufacturers Organization, but they recently changed their name to the Archery Trade Association, so you may see both abbreviations.) The bow length should be roughly double your draw length, but you’ll find a more precise chart below.

Using Recurve Bow Draw Weight To Find Bow Size

Child drawing a bow

Draw weight refers to the amount of force it takes to pull back the bowstring. In other words, a bow with a draw weight of 50 lbs requires the same effort to draw as lifting a 50-lb rock off the ground. Higher draw weights usually translate to higher power. Draw weight doesn’t necessarily determine the actual size of the bow, but as a rule of thumb, a bigger recurve bow will have a higher draw weight. 

Draw weight is important when you’re picking out a recurve bow for a simple reason. If it’s too “heavy,” that is, too difficult to draw, then you won’t be able to shoot the bow accurately—or maybe even at all. Also a draw weight that is too heavy an lead to accidental dry firing a bow, which could damage the bow and is dangerous to the archer.

Unlike compound bows that have “let-off” thanks to cams, a recurve bow will have you holding all of the the draw weight at full draw.

Bigger, stronger people can handle higher draw weights while beginners should stick to lower draw weights. Check below for a handy chart.

Using Archer Height To Find Bow Size

An easy way to estimate what length of bow you need is to base it off your height. This isn’t as accurate as draw length or draw weight, but it’s a quick way to get a good idea. Basically, a taller person is going to need a bigger bow. Logical, right? See the chart below for the numbers.

Recurve Bow Size Chart

Draw Length Recurve Bow Size Chart

Draw Length (inches)Draw Length (centimeters)Recommended ATA Bow Length (inches)
Under 17Under 4348
17 – 1943 – 4854
19 – 2148 – 5358
21 – 2353 – 5860 – 62
23 – 2558 – 6462 – 64
25 – 2764 – 6964 – 66
27 – 2969 – 7466 – 68
29 – 3174 – 7968 – 70
Over 31Over 7970 – 72

Draw Weight Recurve Bow Size Chart

SizeWeight (lbs)Weight (kg)Recommended Recurve Draw Weight (lbs)
Small ChildUnder 100Under 4510 – 15
Large ChildOver 100Over 4515 – 25
Small WomanUnder 160Under 7325 – 35
Large WomanOver 160Over 7330 – 45
Small ManUnder 150Under 6830 – 45
Medium Man150 – 18068 – 8240 – 55
Large ManOver 180Over 8245 – 60

Archer Height Recurve Bow Size Chart

Height (inches)Height (centimeters)Recommended ATA Bow Length (inches)
Under 5’6” Under 16848-54
5’6” – 5’10”168 – 17858-64
5’10” – 6’2”178 – 18864-68
Over 6’2”Over 18868-72

Right Handed Or Left Handed?

This may surprise you, but choosing the right recurve bow isn’t just about whether you are right handed or left handed. It also depends on eye dominance and whether you are right eye dominant or left eye dominant.

Click her for a complete guide on whether you need a right handed or left handed bow and how to tell the difference.

What Will You Use It For?

Target Archery

Archer at an archery target range

For target archery, you can be a lot more flexible when choosing a recurve bow. Your main concern is getting something that’s comfortable and that you can shoot accurately. 

You probably want to focus on getting the perfect draw length, possibly even getting it professionally measured rather than simply estimating it with your height or wingspan. Being able to consistently draw your bow is one of the most fundamental aspects of archery accuracy.

As for draw weight, you should start low. Higher draw weights produce higher arrow speeds, and that can mean more accuracy. But, you have to be able to handle it. Take a look at the chart and get a draw weight on the lower end of the range for your size. As you gain experience, work your way up.  

Bow Hunting

Bow hunter with a recurve bow

If you’re bow hunting, you need to get an appropriately sized bow so that you can shoot accurately, but you also need to pay close attention to draw weight. That’s because higher draw weight means more power, and more power increases your chances of lethally taking down game.

It’s not just about you getting your trophy buck either. Using a low draw weight could mean your bow isn’t powerful enough, resulting in a shot that simply injures your quarry instead of killing it. This is unethical, both because it causes undue pain to the animal and because the quarry may die later when you can’t harvest it but neither can another hunter.

As a result, many states and jurisdictions actually have minimum draw weights that you’re required by law to use when hunting certain game with a recurve bow. For whitetail deer, this is usually around 30-35 lbs, but you should check with your local authorities to be sure.

In general, you should get a recurve bow with at least 40 lbs of draw weight if you’re going to be hunting with it. If it’s within range for your size and you can handle it, consider going even higher.

You will also need bow string silencers to quiet the bow when it is shot, so that the game you are hunting is not startled and moves before the arrow reaches the target.

What Accessories Will You Need?

Arrows

Arrows in a hip quiver

Your bow is little more than a paperweight without arrows. For bowhunting, you don’t need more than a few arrows, maybe three or four. That’s because your quarry is going to run off if you miss your first shot anyway. You likely won’t need another. You will also need broadheads for deer and other big game.

For target shooting, on the other hand, a full set of 10-20 arrows is ideal because it decreases the number of times you have to walk to the target to retrieve them.

What arrows you should choose is an article all its own, but the main things you have to pay attention to are length and weight. As for length, you need an arrow shaft longer than your draw length or else they’ll be too short to reach the arrow rest when you’ve fully drawn the bow. As a good rule for beginners, you should get arrows at least one inch longer than your draw length.

Weight is a bit more complex. Usually measured in grains per inch, a unit pretty specific to archery, it will vary with the length of the arrow. Experienced archers usually try to get the lightest arrows they can because they’ll fly faster and therefore be more accurate. This is especially true for recurve bows.

That said, bowhunters sometimes get heavier arrows because they have more penetrating power. As a beginner, it’s probably best to start with the lightest arrows within your price range, but once your accuracy has improved, you can experiment with heavier arrows.

Click here for an arrow selection chart.

Bow Stringer

Bow Stringer

A bow stringer is one of the essential accessories for recurve bows. Using cords to attach to the end of each limb, you use your body as leverage to compress the bow and slide off or put on the bowstring.

Naturally, you need a bow stringer in case you need to replace the string. However, there’s another reason too. To preserve the strength and integrity of your bow, you should unstring it during periods when you aren’t shooting. This usually means any time over three weeks, but many serious archers unstring their recurve bows after each use.

Nocking Points

Using a T square to position the nocking point

Nocking points attach to your bowstring and show you exactly where to nock the arrow. This way, you nock the arrow consistently every time. Adding one or even two nocking points to your bowstring is a great way for a beginner to get a good feel for their bow. The usual advice for beginners is to set the nocking point ¼ inch higher than the arrow rest.

You will use a T-Square, one of the essential bow tuning tools, to set the nocking point on the bowstring.

Glove or Finger Tabs

Archer wearing finger tabs

To shoot accurately, you need to be able to draw and hold the bowstring firmly and steadily. Bowstrings can really dig into your fingers, though, especially with higher draw weights. 

If you were shooting a compound bow, you would use a bow release, but with a recurve, the solution is a shooting glove or, alternatively, finger tabs. Finger tabs usually just attach to your wrist and provide two or three caps that cover the tips of index, middle and ring fingers, the ones you use to draw the bow. Finger tabs are usually thinner than gloves, so some archers prefer them since they allow for more sensitivity.   

Quiver

Archer wearing a back quiver

You need a quiver to hold your arrows. This can be a mounted quiver that’s attached to the bow and holds a few arrows. These are great for bowhunting because they keep the arrows accessible and don’t require any extra hands to carry.

For target shooting, you can consider a back or hip quiver. These hang off your body and hold large numbers of arrows. 

Click here for a guide to the best quivers.

Bow String Wax

Waxing a bowstring

Waxing your bowstring is an important part of bow maintenance. It keeps water out of the string, which can weigh it down and decrease arrow speed, and it minimizes fraying. It’s recommended that you wax your bowstring every two weeks or before shooting the bow in the rain.

Arm Guard

Archer wearing an arm guard

An arm guard is a necessary accessory for your recurve bow. When you release the bowstring, it almost always slaps against the inside of the wrist you use to hold the bow. This stings pretty bad, and after multiple shots, it will even start to bruise and break the skin. Arm guards are simple devices that you strap onto or slide over your wrist to absorb the string slap.

Bow Sight

Recurve bow sight

Sights are less common on recurve bows compared to compound bows, but you can still get one. In fact, they often make a good way for beginners to learn accuracy.

Because most recurve bows have solid wood or metal risers, it’s difficult to attach complex sights to them. As a result, most recurve sights are simple ring sights that you have to calibrate for distance.

More complicated sights, like pin sights, have different indicators for various distances and are useful in hunting since your quarry won’t always be the exact same distance away. If you want one of these, you have to be sure your recurve bow has the right threads for attaching it.

Click here for a guide to the best bow sights.

Arrow Rest

Recurve bow arrow rest

The arrow rest is simply the shelf where the arrow sits before you shoot it. While almost all recurve bows come with a basic rest, you can get and attach more advanced models to improve accuracy. These include designs like drop-away, plunger and whisker biscuit rests. 

All of these rests use a different strategy to accomplish the same thing: minimizing the amount the rest disturbs the arrow in its flight out of the bow, leading to higher accuracy. Feel free to experiment and find what you like best. Just make sure any particular rest can be attached to your recurve bow first.  

String Whisker Silencers

Bowstring silencer

String whisker silencers are basically little balls of fabric that absorb vibrations from the bowstring, cutting down on noise. This is most important for bowhunters who don’t want their quarry to hear the shot and flinch, making it miss. However, minimizing vibration helps with accuracy as well, so target shooters can consider string whisker silencers as well.

Bow Case

VISTA Traveler Takedown Bow Case

A bow case protects your bow while transporting and also protects while storing. There are two kinds of bow cases, soft cases and hard cases.

Many bow cases also have multiple pockets to store all of your archery gear.

Hard cases are ideal for air travel, while soft cases are perfect for carrying your bow to the range or hunting area.

Click here for a guide to the best bow cases.

Archery Target

Archery target on an archery range

Getting your own archery target lets you practice at home and set up specific situations and challenges. There are many kinds of targets, including cubic foam targets, heavy bag targets and 3D targets that look like game animals like deer and bear. You can even get simple paper targets.

Click here for a guide to the best archery targets.

Before you get an archery target, you just need to think about where you’re going to put it. Many targets work best when hung from a target stand. And of course, you should always mount your targets away from people.

Final Thoughts

Recurve bows are the perfect way to start an adventure into the tradition and magic of archery. With a recurve bow and accessories, you can quickly learn form and accuracy while having fun and exercising your body.

The recurve bow was the predecessor to the modern day crossbow and the recurve crossbow is still one of the most popular types of crossbows today.

Choosing a recurve bow is much more difficult than choosing a compound bow or crossbow.

Take the time to choose the bow that’s right for you.

Click here for a guide to the best recurve bow.

Photo of author

Ron Parker

Ron is an archery instructor and expert bow hunter that lives with his wife and kids in central Ohio. When he is not teaching archery or in the woods bow hunting deer, he is writing informative articles for DeerHuntingGuide.net.

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