Different Types Of Bows For Archery and Hunting

Going to an archery supply store can be an overwhelming experience. There are so many types of bows made of so many different materials, which are you supposed to get? While a certain amount will come down to your personal preferences, most of it will depend on what you want to do with the bow. Are you a hunter, a target archer, or maybe even an aspiring bowyer who wants to make their own bow at home? Let’s break it down so you know what you’re looking at on the store shelves and how you can use them to make the most of your archery experience. 

Modern Types Of Bows

Recurve Bow

Woman Shooting a recurve bow

Recurve bows are arguably the most elegant and sophisticated looking bows. Plus, they’ve gained a lot of popularity in recent years thanks to their prominence in blockbuster films like The Hunger Games

If you take a close look at the limbs of a recurve bow, you’ll understand the name. While the limbs first curve away from the center of the bow, or riser, they then curve back on themselves, creating a kind of S shape. This allows the bow to maintain more tension with shorter limbs.

With a history dating back thousands of years to the Middle East, the shorter frame of the recurve bow made it especially popular with horse-mounted archers as well as forest hunters who needed something more agile to avoid making noise in thick brush.

While the recurve bow is an ancient design, its use has continued through the modern day. Manufacturers have improved on the design and integrated modern materials like fiberglass and carbon fiber into it. Now they are popular choices for competitive archers, hobbyists and bowhunters alike.

Click here for a guide on how to choose a recurve bow.

Takedown Recurve Bow

The takedown recurve bow is a modern version of the traditional recurve bow that you can, well, take down. Basically, you can remove the limbs of the bow from the riser.

This design gives you more versatility and allows you to easily upgrade the bow later if you want. Since the bow isn’t made of one piece of material, you can also use ideal materials in different places, like wood for the riser and fiberglass for the limbs. 

Takedown recurves are easier to transport and store as well. In fact, taking them down in the off season can help the limbs retain their tension, meaning you can use the bow effectively for longer.

RELATED: Proper Archery Form  

Parts Of A Recurve Bow

The most important parts of a recurve bow are the riser and limbs. The riser is the thick center part of the bow and includes the grip, where you hold the bow, and arrow rest, where the shaft of the arrow lies before you shoot it. The limbs are the thin arms that stretch out away from the riser in either direction and, on a recurve bow, curve back in on themselves. 

The other fundamental part of a recurve bow is the bowstring, which attaches to the ends of each limb. In the center of the bowstring is fabric wrapped around it called the serving. This is where you nock the arrow and helps the arrow grip the bowstring more stably and prevents wear on the bowstring. Some bows may have a nocking point on the serving as well which shows you exactly where to nock the arrow.

Additionally, modern recurve bows often have threads that allow you to screw in accessories like sights, stabilizers and quivers. If it’s a takedown recurve bow, you’ll also find bolts attaching each limb to the riser. The bolts usually have extended knobs that allow you to easily unscrew them.

RELATED: Bow Draw Weight: How To Choose What’s Right For you

Compound Bow

Compound bow

Compound bows are the most “modern” bow type, having only been invented in the 1960s. They actually don’t use any modern technology, though, but rather take advantage of simple machines to produce more power with a smaller bow and shorter bowstring.

Specifically, compound bows have pulley systems called cams that make it easier to draw the bowstring while still producing more force than recurve bows or other traditional bows. In fact, compound bows sometimes approach 400 FPS arrow speeds while recurves usually shoot at about half that.

If you haven’t seen one before, compound bows may surprise you with their shape. The riser actually curves away from the bowstring and is very long while the limbs are short and attached almost perpendicularly to the bowstring. As a result, the limbs move more towards each other when you draw the bowstring, unlike on other bows where the limbs move more backwards towards the archer.

RELATED: How To Measure Draw Length

Because of their increased speed and power, compound bows are a popular choice with bowhunters, especially those who are less of archery enthusiasts and more hunters who just want to take advantage of the longer bow season. Still, there are compound bow competitions, and above all, they’re really fun to shoot.

Compound bows require more tuning than recurve and traditional bows.

Click here for a guide about the differences of a compound bow vs recurve.

Parts Of A Compound Bow

Compound bow construction is much more complicated than that of other vertical bows. While they do consist of a riser, two limbs and a bowstring like other bows, there are many additional parts that other bows don’t have.

The most important is the cam system. There are a number of different types of compound bows, but all of them feature at least one cam. While the physics of how the cams work could be the subject of a masters thesis, just know they function as block and tackle systems.

Basically, when you draw the bowstring, it turns the large wheel on the outside of the cam system. That wheel then turns a smaller wheel attached to it. However, since that wheel turns a shorter distance, it transfers more energy into cables attached to it, which then pull the limbs together, storing that energy.  

Some compound bows have cams on both limbs, while others have a single cam and a timing wheel on the other limb. The cams and wheels are then connected by a combination of buss and control cables depending on the type of compound bow. These cables may be stabilized by a cable slide that attaches to the riser.

In addition to a grip, arrow rest and serving just like recurve bows, compound bows usually have mounts for numerous accessories. These may include string and limb dampeners, bow sights, stabilizers and quivers.

Click here for a guide to the best beginner compound bows.

Crossbow

crossbow

Crossbows were invented several millennia ago in China and quickly spread around the world as an important military weapon. Since they provided incredible power while needing little training to operate, they were great options for range weapons and defending besieged cities.

Unlike recurve and compound bows, which are often called vertical bows, crossbows are oriented horizontally and held much like a firearm. The arrow, technically called a bolt, is placed on a rail while the bowstring is drawn and held in place by a latch. The crossbowman then pulls a trigger to release the latch and shoot the arrow.

Because the archer doesn’t have to hold the bowstring back himself, crossbows can have much higher draw weights and produce much more power. In fact, modern crossbows can reach bolt speeds of over 500 FPS. This makes them more accurate as well. 

Generally speaking, crossbows are easier to use than vertical bows, though drawing or cocking them does take a considerable amount of force and usually requires special devices like foot stirrups or cranks. Still, they require less practice, which makes them popular with bowhunters who want to hit the tree stand without having to hone their aim on the range first.

Click here to learn the differences between a crossbow vs compound bow.

Parts Of A Crossbow

Like vertical bows, crossbows have limbs and a bowstring. In fact, there are even compound crossbows that feature cam systems like those on vertical compound bows. 

However, unlike vertical bows, a crossbow’s “riser” is divided in two and attached to a rail sometimes called a barrel due to its similarity to a gun barrel. The rail often has a flight groove on top of it where the bolt sits.

The rail is then supported underneath by the stock which consists of the butt you rest against your shoulder as well as the foregrip where you hold the crossbow with one hand and the trigger assembly that’s connected to the latch above on the rail that holds the bowstring cocked. 

While those are the fundamental parts of a crossbow, most modern hunting crossbows have several other parts. Most commonly, you’ll find a cocking stirrup at the very front of the crossbow. You can put your foot through this stirrup to give you leverage as you pull up the bowstring to cock it. 

Other common parts include sights, arrow retention springs that help the bolt fly straight, safeties and anti-dry-fire mechanisms, and quivers.

What Are The Most Popular Types Of Hunting Bows?

Compound Bow

Hunting with a compound bow

Compound bows are probably the most popular type of bow used for hunting. The amount of power and speed you get is great for the price, and it also decreases the amount of practice and experience you need compared to recurve bows and other traditional bows.

The downside to a compound bow is the increased amount of maintenance and cost overall, considering that they’re usually more expensive than recurve bows. Add in the cost of accessories like a bow release, stabilizer, sight and more and the price can quickly get out of hand.

However, it’s a great choice for the serious hunter who wants to take advantage of the longer bowhunting season that most states have. 

Crossbow

Hunting with a crossbow

Crossbows are certainly the most powerful option. Plus, they’re the easiest to use and have the lowest barrier to entry. As a result, they’re also popular with hunters who simply want a way to hunt more than just rifle season. 

However, while it seems that crossbows would be the best way to do this, government regulations make it more complicated. The majority of states treat crossbows the same as other bows, but 11 only allow them during firearm season and two have a specific crossbow season. In a few states, they’re illegal altogether or only legal for specific demographics like elderly or handicapped hunters. You definitely want to check your local laws before getting a crossbow for hunting.

Recurve Bow

Hunting with a recurve type of bow

Recurve bows are a popular hunting option, but usually for hunters who are also archery enthusiasts and not interested in bowhunting just for the sake of the longer season. Instead, since recurves are less powerful and take more practice to shoot accurately, recurve bowhunters like them for the challenge and satisfaction of taking down a quarry with a more simplistic weapon.

Types Of Traditional Bows

Shooting a traditional type of bow

Longbow

Longbows are probably the simplest type of bow. They’re just shaped like a giant D and usually made of a single piece of material. They’re just, well, long, usually longer than the archer that’s using them.

English longbows in particular became famous during the Middle Ages when the English army used them to defeat the French in the Battle of Agincourt. Although they took a significant amount of training to shoot accurately, English archers were able to shoot arrows at a much faster rate to defeat the French cavalry and crossbowmen, who couldn’t reload and shoot as fast.

Longbows are simple, but they can still be powerful and reach arrow speeds over 150 FPS. They’re popular with archery history enthusiasts as well as primitive hunters who want the ultimate challenge and they can easily be carried on your back

Shortbow

You guessed it. Shortbows are short. They can be either D-shaped, like longbows, or recurve bows. They’re just smaller.

The smaller size means that shorbows have less power and rarely break 100 FPS of arrow speed. As a result, they’ve historically been a military weapon, not a hunting tool. For example, the Mongolian cavalry under Genghis Khan used them to great success, shooting them rapidly at short range.

They are shot using your hand as an arrow rest, so it doesn’t matter whether you are right or left handed, you can use the same bow.

RELATED: Longbow vs Shortbow

Flatbow

Flatbows look a lot like longbows when drawn, but when relaxed, they are more or less flat instead of D-shaped. They’re almost always made from a single piece of wood and come to a narrow grip in the center. They can be long or short.

Flatbows are most popular with amateur bowyers. Since they’re made of a single stave, they’re a good way to learn the bow-making process before moving on to more complicated bows.

Reflex Bow

When strung, reflex bows look similar to recurve bows in that the ends of the limbs curve back away from the archer. However, this “recurve” is much stronger, and you can see that when you unstring the bow. The limbs of an unstrung reflex bow curve completely away from the archer and form a C shape. This gives them increased tension and power.

Kyudo Bow (Yumi)

A yumi is the bow used in traditional Japanese archery known as kyudo. Unlike most bows, the yumi is asymmetrical. The grip is placed closer to the bottom, about a third of the way up. The top limb is therefore longer and more curved than the bottom limb. The yumi is usually made by laminating several different materials together like bamboo, wood and leather.

Historians don’t know exactly why the yumi came to be shaped as it is. However, there are two main theories. First, it’s possible that the asymmetrical design was easier for Japanese warriors to shoot on horseback. It could also be that it was more conducive to shooting from a kneeling position.

What Are The Different Types Of Bows Made Of?

Wooden type of bow

Wooden Bows

Traditionally, bows have always been made of wood. Wood is a flexible material that, when treated correctly, can store a lot of energy without breaking. This allows it to snap back and shoot an arrow with force and power.

Common woods used for bows throughout history include:

  • Ash
  • Elm
  • Maple
  • Hickory
  • Yew
  • Bamboo

Fiberglass Bows

With modern technology, manufacturers have been able to use new materials like fiberglass to make bows, something that started in the 1950s. Fiberglass has the same springy properties of wood but is lighter weight and, more importantly, a lot cheaper.  

Composite Bows

A composite bow is a traditional bow design that consists of multiple materials laminated together, usually animal horn and sinew in addition to a wooden core. The horn is on the bow’s belly, the part facing the archer, while the sinew is on the back.

Almost all composite bows have a recurve design. By taking advantage of the different materials’ strengths, they can pack more power into a smaller package. Historically, this has made them popular for mounted archery, warriors shooting from horseback.

Laminate Bows

A laminate bow is simply a bow made from multiple different materials combined together. They can consist of several different pieces of wood, potentially even the same kind of wood, or they can have a lot of different materials, like wood, horn and sinew in the case of composite bows. Some modern laminate bows even include materials like fiberglass and carbon fiber. 

Laminate bows take advantage of the different strengths of each material. For example, you may want a more flexible back with a stiffer belly. Of course, they are much more difficult to make than bows designed from a single piece of material.  

Final Thoughts On The Different Types Of Bows

No matter what kind of bow you buy or make, it’s going to be fun. Still, certain bows work better for certain applications than others. If you’re serious about archery, learn the types of bows and what makes them unique so you’ll be taking advantage of all your bow’s strengths.

Also take some time to learn how to take care of your bow, learn to shoot correctly, avoid dry firing and transport and store it in a bow case.

The all that you need is an archery target to begin practicing and enjoying our awesome sport!

See Also: Can A Felon Own A 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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