How to Choose a Recurve Bow: a Beginner's Guide – Foundry Outdoors

How to Choose a Recurve Bow: a Beginner's Guide

If you are choosing a recurve bow for the first time make sure to take these key concepts into consideration.

recurve bowA standard recurve bow 

I remember the innate feeling of the natural wood finish in my hand, invigorating me and carrying with it a sense of magic. Although simple, it occupied my mind like no fancy technological gadget ever could. I shot over and over in the small illuminated room near the back of the retail store; arrow after arrow flew from the string, some hitting the mark, others not. Where the arrows struck mattered little - it was the feeling I couldn’t get over. My mind was made up well before I finally made the purchase: "I am buying this bow." There simply was no way around it. I’m talking of course about my first experience choosing a recurve bow.

Traditional archery is a completely different experience than modern archery. Recurve bows are stripped of many of the gadgets that increase performance & accuracy or reduce shooting mistakes. They take time, dedication, and many, many arrows to become proficient with. Even then, traditional bows aren’t as efficient as modern compound bows. Hunting and shooting ranges are more limited, thus decreasing the odds of success. Making the decision to shoot traditional archery is to certainly choose the hard road. If you’ve ever thought about taking up traditional archery, either as a hobby or as a method of hunting, you may be encouraged by the fact it is easy to learn but difficult to perfect.

Traditional bows are broken down into two main categories; longbows and recurves. Although these bows have many similarities to the untrained eye, to seasoned traditional shooters they are very different. For the purpose of this article we’ll take a look specifically at recurves and things you should consider when choosing a recurve bow.


Recurve bows are the high tech version of traditional bows. They get their name from the shape of the tips that curve away from the shooter when the bow is unstrung. Mongolian archers are credited with developing this more efficient design to accommodate their horseback archery needs. The simple design not only makes recurves generally shorter, but also makes them able to store more energy than a traditional longbow.

Anatomy of a recurve bow

 This extra energy makes a recurve shoot faster, flatter, and deliver an arrow with more energy than a longbow of the same poundage. Some argue the recurve is more accurate than a longbow, while other argue the opposite. In the end it likely comes down to personal preference and the type of shooting you choose to do. If you are in the market for your first traditional bow and you are thinking about choosing a recurve there are a few things you’ll want to consider.


Likely the first question you need to consider when choosing a recurve bow is the purpose you are buying it for. Will you be shooting tournaments or hunting? Are you looking to simply fling a few arrows in the backyard, or are you looking to really push yourself and your skills? Each of these questions are personal and should guide your decision making. There are differences between tournament and hunting recurves. The major difference is in the size of the riser of the bow and thus the overall size. Hunting bows tend to have smaller risers that work well for short distances, while target bows tend to be longer overall and have a longer riser. The increased length of the bow tends to favor more accuracy and be more forgiving. Although bows can crossover each sport has gear specially suited for its purpose.


Another major decision you’ll need to make when choosing a recurve bow is in regard the poundage you want to shoot. There are lots of different opinions out there on this subject. Personal preference should once again be the conclusive factor. Some folks out there, including myself, choose to shoot lighter models of recurve bows. A lighter bow (50# for me) affords the shooter a few key advantages. One, you can practice longer before fatiguing which, for beginners, might be a key advantage. Shooting a recurve bow will put to work muscles you never knew you had. It takes time to develop those muscles and a lighter bow can assist there. Beginners will also likely need to shoot a good deal of arrows before becoming comfortable with their new traditional gear. The light weight will help there as well. Secondly lighter bows are more easily held at full draw allowing for steadier aim and holding in the field. Some hunters find this asset valuable in a hunting situation.

recurve draw weight (general guideline)

Heavier bows also have a few advantages as well. For starters, a heavier bow will shoot flatter than a light bow. The flatter trajectory makes aiming easier because the arrow will fall less in the short ranges you’ll hunt. Heavier bows also have more penetrating power than a lighter bow. In a hunting situation this is appealing for lots of reasons. One of history’s most famous archers, Howard Hill, promoted using the heaviest bow you could draw for the above mentioned reasons. Hill himself used a bow over 100# for much of his hunting career.  Given Mr. Hill’s hunting resume it is safe to say the heavy bow certainly worked for him. If you choose to shoot a heavy traditional bow you’ll likely need to custom order something as most bows commercially available average less than 60#.


The final aspect of your recurve shooting rig you will want to address is determining how versatile you want your bow to be. Again, to the untrained eye it might seem like a bow, is a bow, is a bow. Upon closer inspection though you’ll see that not all recurve bows are created equal and some are much more versatile. If you’d like a bow that is versatile you can look for a takedown recurve. Most bows that have takedown limbs offer the ability to buy a separate set of limbs of varying poundage. By purchasing a few different limbs you can have varied poundages available with one riser. Secondly more modern bows have the ability to accommodate more accessories. This is another major difference between tournament recurves and hunting recurves. Generally the tournament recurves have the ability to accept much more accessories than a standard hunting recurve. If on the other hand you are just looking for a bow with sweet feel that is simple, a good old fashioned hunting bow might be up your alley.

At the end of the day you can tell an awful lot about a person by the bow they tote around. These days you can get just about whatever you want from a bow. If you are looking for a recurve bow it’s important to consider the type of shooting you will be doing, the poundage that best suits your needs, and how versatile you want your new bow to be. By understanding your shooting goals you can more likely make the best personal choice when choosing a recurve bow. With any luck you will have the same gateway opened to you that I did with my first traditional bow.



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