Recurve or Compound – Which Bow is More Powerful?


When it comes to choosing a bow for archery, there are two main options for most people: recurve or compound bows. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, but which one is more powerful?

In most cases a compound bow will provide more power than a recurve bow that’s sized and setup for the same archer. Both bows however, are capable of delivering high amounts of kinetic energy depending on the specific setup.

Recurve bows are the classic option for archers, with a simple design that has been used for centuries. They are traditionally made up of a single curved piece of wood with a string attached between the tips.

On the other hand, compound bows use a complex system of pulleys and cables to launch an arrow into flight. So which one is more powerful? Let’s take a closer look at each type of bow to find out.

Understanding The Differences Between Recurve And Compound Bows

Many archers choose to only shoot traditional bows such as longbows and recurves, and likewise many choose to shoot only compound bows. There are many people however, myself included, who enjoy shooting both.

New archers and people looking to get into the hobby may not know the differences or which type will get them the results they seek.

Draw Weight

If you’re looking to understand the differences between recurve and compound bows, one of the most important aspects to consider is draw weight. Draw weight refers to the amount of force required to pull back the bowstring to full draw before releasing an arrow.

Compound Bow at Full Draw showing cables and cams
Compound Bow “pulley system”

In general, compound bows have a much higher draw weight than recurve bows due to their unique design. Compound bows use a system of pulleys and cables that help reduce the amount of force needed to hold the bowstring once at full draw.This allows archers to shoot with greater accuracy and for longer periods of time without experiencing as much fatigue.

Recurve bows, on the other hand, have a much simpler design without mechanical assistance which means they require more physical strength from the archer at the same draw weights.

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While this may be more challenging for some, it also allows archers to develop greater upper body strength and overall fitness. Additionally, recurve bows are often preferred by traditional archers who value simplicity and a closer connection with nature.


Now that we’ve discussed draw weight, another important factor to consider when comparing recurve and compound bows is something called let-off.

Let-off refers to the amount of weight reduction a bow provides once it’s been pulled back to full draw. In other words, when an archer draws a bowstring back on a compound bow, the pulley system reduces the amount of force required to hold the string in place. This makes it easier for the archer to aim and shoot with greater accuracy.

The let-off percentage of a compound bow can vary from around 65% to as much as 90%. This means that if a bow has an 80% let-off, an archer who pulls back a 70-pound draw weight will only need to hold 14 pounds of force at full draw.

In contrast, recurve bows have no let-off since they don’t have any mechanical parts like pulleys or cables. While let-off can be beneficial for those looking for greater accuracy and ease of use, it also depends on personal preference and style of shooting.

Some traditional archers prefer the simplicity and challenge of using recurve bows without any mechanical assistance.

Arrow Speed And Kinetic Energy

Arrow speed and kinetic energy are two important factors to consider when comparing recurve and compound bows.

Arrow speed refers to how fast the arrow travels after being released from the bowstring. Kinetic energy, on the other hand, measures the amount of energy transferred from the bow to the arrow upon release.

When it comes to arrow speed, compound bows tend to be faster than recurve bows due to their design.

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Hammer Smashing Glass
Example of Kinetic Energy

The pulley system in a compound bow allows for a higher draw weight with less effort, resulting in a faster arrow speed.

However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that a compound bow is more powerful than a recurve bow in terms of kinetic energy.

Kinetic energy is determined by both arrow speed and arrow weight.

A heavier arrow will have more kinetic energy than a lighter one if they are both traveling at the same speed.

Recurve bows typically accommodate a longer and heavier arrow than a compound bow used by the same archer. This is due to the construction of the bows. That means a recurve has the potential to carry more kinetic energy if all else is equal.

On the other hand, the same archer can usually use a higher draw weight on a compound bow due to let-off. Additionally, compound bows store more energy in the limbs than a recurve can. This will result in a greater arrow speed, which as you may recall is the other part of our equation.

Hunting Considerations

When considering a bow for hunting, there are several factors to take into account, one of which is the bow’s power.

It’s important to choose a bow with enough power (kinetic energy) to effectively take down your chosen prey. Both recurve and compound bows can be powerful, but the specifications and setup will determine its power.

Research local hunting laws and regulations before heading out into the field as well. Most places have a legal minimum draw weight required for each animal that can be hunted.

With these considerations in mind, hunters can make an informed decision about which type of bow will best suit their needs when pursuing game.

Competitive Archery Considerations

Moving on to competitive archery considerations, it is important to note that the power of the bow is not the only factor that determines success in this sport. Of course, a powerful bow can be an advantage, but other factors such as accuracy, speed, and technique are also crucial.

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Both recurve and compound bows can be used in competitive archery, with each having its own advantages and disadvantages.

To better understand these advantages and disadvantages, let’s take a look at the following table:

As you can see, there are clear differences between recurve and compound bows. Recurve bows have a simpler design and are lighter in weight, making them easier to handle for beginners or those who prefer a more traditional approach.

On the other hand, compound bows have a more complex design and are heavier in weight. However, they have a design which allows for greater power and speed.

Ultimately, the choice between using a recurve or compound bow in competitive archery comes down to personal preference and comfort. Some archers may prefer the simplicity of a recurve while others may appreciate the power of a compound bow.

It is important to try out both types of bows before making a decision so that you can determine what works best for your individual needs and goals. The two types of bows rarely if ever compete in the same class.

Final Verdict: Recurve Or Compound?

As an experienced archer, I can confidently say that the compound bow reigns supreme in terms of power and accuracy. The unique design of the compound bow allows for a higher draw weight, which translates to faster arrow speeds and deeper penetration. This makes it the perfect choice for hunting or long-range target shooting.

Don’t get me wrong, recurve bows have their own advantages and should not be overlooked. In fact, many skilled archers prefer recurve bows for their simplicity and versatility

But when it comes to raw power and precision, nothing beats a high-quality compound bow. So if you’re looking to take your archery skills to the next level, invest in a top-of-the-line compound bow and watch your accuracy soar!