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Although it is no longer a military weapon, the bow remains a popular choice for hunting, sport shooting, and recreational activities. It requires skills and offers challenges unlike those of any other hunting or sport shooting weapon.
If you’re looking to get into archery for hunting or sport shooting, you’ll need to know about the different types of bows, how they differ from one another, and how to choose a bow that fits you.
Why Hunt or Shoot With a Bow?
Evidence of the bow’s existence dates back to 10,000 BC, making archery a 12,000-year-old art. Even with the advent of the firearm, the bow and arrow is humanity’s most iconic individual ranged weapon.
It should be no surprise that archery continues to be popular, even if it is no longer militarily relevant. Today, bows and arrows are primarily hunting, sport shooting, and recreational weapons.
The latest statistics show that out of the 11 million hunters in the United States, roughly 32% hunt with a bow, either exclusively or in conjunction with firearms, forming a community of millions of bowhunters.
If you’re new to archery, you’re not alone. Interest in bowhunting (and archery in general) has been steadily increasing since the early 2010s, indicating an undeniable rise in popularity.
The Types of Bows
Experienced bowhunters consider it part of Archery 101 to learn about the different types of bows. There are three categories that newcomers should become familiar with: Recurve bows, compound bows, and traditional bows.
Some people may consider crossbows to be a fourth category; while the crossbow is part of the archery world, they are in a class of their own and fall outside of the scope of this article.
Recurve bows get their name from the general design of their limbs; they curve away from the archer when unstrung (at rest).
Compared to a traditional bow, a recurve can store and deliver energy more efficiently, resulting in a higher arrow velocity. In other words, the recurve design allows a bow to be more powerful than a straight-limbed model of the same height.
Recurve bows are budget-friendly and accessible to beginners. Yet, they are also available in a wide range of sizes and draw weights and are used by professionals at all levels. From skilled hunters to the Olympic Games, avid archers frequently choose recurve bows as their weapon of choice. The bows used by Olympic archers are even a specific style called “Olympic recurves.”
However, recurve bows possess certain drawbacks. For example, the height of a recurve bow partially limits its maximum potential draw weight. In turn, archers of shorter stature cannot benefit from draw weights as high as taller archers, who can use larger bows more effectively.
The other main limitation of a recurve bow is the strength requirements to use the bow to its fullest potential. Maintaining a full draw while aiming not only requires using a bow of the correct size but also a sufficiently fit body. An archer who cannot consistently maintain full draw on their bow cannot make the most accurate or extended shots.
See Related Article: Beginner's Guide to Recurve Bow Hunting
If you’ve ever watched Rambo II, you have seen what a compound bow looks like.
Compound bows employ a levering system to bend the limbs, typically comprised of cables and pulleys.
This design gives such bows a unique, immediately recognizable appearance and multiple mechanical advantages, namely the ability to benefit from higher draw weights with less physical strength.
Compared to a recurve, the limbs of a compound bow are much stiffer, leading to less energy wasted into the limbs as they flex. In turn, a compound bow can achieve higher draw weights (resulting in more power).
The modern, more robust materials they employ in their construction also allow compound bows to be much less sensitive to the elements, such as temperature and humidity, granting them more accuracy and consistency.
The disadvantages of a compound bow are its weight, complexity, higher costs, and more stringent maintenance requirements. Some archers feel they make shooting a bow and arrow “too easy,” allowing archers to rely more on technology than personal skills and fitness.
Sometimes referred to as traditional bows, the barebow is the simplest archery weapon around. Although you will technically find recurve bows in this category, the unifying factor of all barebows is their simplicity; no sights, no wheels, no cables, just two limbs, a string, a grip, and a riser. An example of a barebow is the traditional English longbow.
Most barebows use traditional materials in their construction, such as wood instead of metal or carbon fiber, giving them a uniquely beautiful appearance.
Naturally, the main disadvantages of a barebow are the lack of modern amenities, including sights, forcing archers shooting with barebows to aim the traditional way. This design results in less accuracy, which can be undesirable when hunting but make target shooting more fun and challenging.
How to Choose a Bow
Choosing a bow depends on three factors; your budget, your intended purposes, and your fitness level.
You must first and foremost set a budget and determine how much you’re willing to spend on a bow. Bows of all types range in price from $50 to over $2,000. When filtering prices by types of bow, you will find that recurves are typically less expensive than compounds.
Once you’ve decided on the budget, keep in mind what purpose your bow will serve. Bows intended for target shooting may not necessarily be suitable for hunting. For example, if you intend to become a bowhunter, you must pay careful attention to the draw weights of their bow, as some states have minimum requirements for hunting specific animals. Typically, a bow needs at least 40 pounds of draw weight to be legal for deer hunting, although your state and local laws may vary.
Lastly, you must honestly assess your physical fitness level. Knowing your height is essential to determine your ideal draw length. You must also possess sufficient strength to bring the bow to a full draw without straining yourself. Don’t neglect the ergonomic factor either; if it doesn’t feel good or comfortable to shoot, you will not enjoy using it.
Above all, if your local archery shop offers you the opportunity, try out different bows and get a feel for how they work before buying.
Make the Final Decision
Archery is a fascinating hobby with plenty of real-world applications, from hunting to target shooting. Whatever your reasons for learning to shoot a bow, no matter how technologically advanced your bow is, don’t forget to train often. Archery is a skill requiring frequent and regular practice if you wish to achieve acceptable accuracy.