What bow types are available to the archer and hunter?

Anthony Cote
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Common Modern Bow Types

Long Bow:

Long bows are easily the most common and most preferred bow among archers and hunters. It is known for being least expensive to build, and it can be used by a skilled craftsman to build the bow out of nearly any material. A long bow's versatility and usefulness is the reason why this is the first type of bow every child in the world learns. It is the most simple design for bows, which makes it easy to make, even without formal training.

Short Bow:

A short bow is just what its name implies: short. It is a bow that measures between 27 at its longest, and 35 when its shortest. These bows are not as long, and thus do not require as much energy to shoot. This shorter size allows the bow to be pulled with less effort, which makes it faster to shoot because of the speed gained during the draw. A short bow is a great option for an experienced archer, as it is much faster, but it is also much harder because the pull is even less forgiving. Shooters will find that if their arrows do not fly dead straight and true, their chances of being accurate are significantly reduced. As they are called short bows, they store more energy than the long bows. Control is sacrificed for speed, but they are not as fast as the composite models. They are the ideal length for hunters.

Composite Bow:

Recurve Bows

The recurve bow is the oldest, simplest and most ancient form of bow design. The energy-producing element of a modern bow is a bent limb or bow. As the bow arms are bent, a longer effective bow length is gained and this imparts greater energy to the arrow. This method is called storing energy and when the bow is drawn the energy is released and it is the energy that is imparted to the arrow to propel it to greater distances.

When the bow string is released and the limbs return to their natural linear bow shape the bow becomes reversibly bowed and energy is stored in its limbs. The energy stored in a limbs is proportional to its initial curvature. The compound bow imparts energy partly by aiding the recurved limbs flexing (called leverage) and partly mechanically in the cams that change the direction of the limb movement.

Compound Bows

Compound bows are a system of limbs, cables , and pulleys that let an archer comfortably and powerfully draw a bow.

Modern compound bows were inspired by the simpler weapon used by 19th century archers, the recurve bow.

They are composed of five main parts:

Riser : The material that holds and connects the limbs or bow limbs

Limbs : The flexible limbs that span the riser

String : The string that is pulled to bend the limbs

Cable : A set of three separate cables running between the riser (at the ends) and the string (through the cables)

Dampeners : Normally seen in the form of silencers/quiets, that are intended to reduce vibration and noise made when the string is released

Compound bows are much more powerful than recurve bows, require a shorter draw length, yet produce similar speeds.

What advantages do compound bows have over recurve bows?

Speed : Compound bows tend to be faster, but at the cost of power

Precision : Even though compounds are faster, they often have less mass in their limbs, which can result in better accuracy

Price : Compound bows are less expensive than some recurve bows

What are the disadvantages to compound bows?

Weight : They are often heavier than recurve bows, making them uncomfortable to carry


A crossbow uses the same basic principle of physics as the longbow, the crossbow just uses mechanical advantage to make it easier to pull a trigger and use the bow. Because of this, crossbows don’t have to be drawn as long before you can shoot (release) an arrow. This makes them safer for hunters and archers who may not have the strength to draw and shoot a longbow.

A crossbow is made up of a bow and a trigger mechanism that is loaded by placing an arrow in the string, or prods (also known as bolts), into the groove, and then setting the string against the trigger.

When the trigger is pulled, the string releases and shoots an arrow. To reload a crossbow, push the string back into place, place the arrow in the groove and position the string of the bow over the trigger loop.

Choose a crossbow that is lightweight and ergonomically designed, with a good scope. Properly fit the crossbow on your shoulder, draw the string back slowly, and aim carefully before you shoot.

Compound Crossbow

If you’re an avid hunter, you’ve likely had a conversation or two about crossbow versus recurve bow. Not only does the average hunter want to know about these two kicking around in the woods with you, but they want to know more about which one is best.

The recurve bow is the older of the two. It gets its name from the how it was built to get the cords to bend a bit more, or curve away. This allows for more arrows to get shot before the bow become too tired to shoot any more.

This bow can come in a variety of lengths, and you can get one that is tailored to a specific length of arrow, or you can get custom arrows made for a specific bow. There are many options to choose from with recurve bows, but probably the best option is to get the best one you can afford.

The compound bow is much newer of the two. These got their name from how the bow is made. It composes the bow stave, and the bow limbs, as opposed to the limb bow that only has the limbs in the recurve bow.

Bow Terminology

Take a look at the following five bow types, and the terms associated with each:

{1}. Longbows were as tall as many modern day people. These archers feathered their arrows and were usually shooting on horseback, being shot from above against castle walls. They also are the bows that use the thickest strings and limbs.
{2}. Recurve bow limbs curve away from the archer and the arrow wraps around this bow.
{3}. Compound bows use pulleys and levers to help increase draw weight. They have cables, wheels and cams. The firing pin helps to keep the string ready to fire.
{4}. Crossbow comes in both compound and recurve. The compound crossbow uses pulleys, levers and cams while the recurve crossbow relies on a spring to load and fire the weapon.
{5}. Bow Sling – an archaic weapon. This had a staff that was used to project stones toward the enemy.


This bow is perfect for someone who wants to learn archery fast because takedown recurve bows are easy to take apart and reassemble when they need to be. Another benefit of these bows is that they are very light weight, so you might still feel like you are shooting a traditional bow even though you aren’t.

Another unexpected benefit of takedown recurve bows is that they are the perfect sort of bow to take hunting. This is because you can easily take the bow apart for transportation and then reassemble it for firing once you’ve reached your destination.

Another benefit of the takedown recurve is that it can be easily adjusted. This is great when you have a new shooter on your hands, because they might outgrow a bow in just a few months. With the takedown recurve, it’s easy to lengthen the bow to accommodate your little one, so he or she can keep shooting for several years to come.

The last benefit of the takedown recurve is its durability. Sometimes bows get damaged after they’ve been shot a lot, but with the takedown recurve, you can choose the wood that you’d prefer that bow to be made out of. This makes it nearly impossible for the bow to ever become damaged.


For the ultimate challenge, learn to shoot a bow without an arrow rest, sights, stabilizers, or a bow press. Essentially, you shoot a barebow by making all of your calculations from the first arrow to the last shot while relying solely on "feel." A very tough discipline, the European bow was considered the ultimate challenge for any archer. Because of this, this bow was given tremendous leeway in order to pass as a "hit." Originally, archery judges used to hold high bow tournaments, and special targets were made by cutting a sweeping concave notch in the hard wood of a tree. This allowed the arrow to stick, but fall free. Cutting this target notch could take all day, so these archery judges ended up using stones placed in the notch to weigh down the fallen arrows. Over time, many of the stones became unstable, and the archer would be forced to shoot his arrow through them. In 1780, the modern target was invented in the town of Bordeaux, France.

Self Bow

Specialist Bow Types

If you are a keen bow hunter or your archery is for serious sport then there is the possibility to specialize in a bow type. However you must weigh up the advantages against the cost.

Self Bow – These types of bows, traditional bows and the like are probably what you imagine when you think about archery. These bows are simply made, requiring little to know mechanical skill to create and some of the best self bows require exceptionally little maintenance as the materials are usually very natural. You will find that these bows cannot produce high draw weights and the materials used and the finishing of these types of bow tend to not match that of other bow types. These types of bow are excellent if you are a beginner or have a limited budget.

Compound Bow – Compound bows are a form of modern bow as they use cams and pulleys to help store and release energy more efficiently. On the whole they are much more efficient than a self bow, with a similar set up they can also produce much higher amounts of draw weight, more akin to that of a modern recurve than a self bow. This means that they are much more suited to hunting and tactical shooting, so are the bow of choice for those archers that require speed and power but demands a greater control over accuracy.

Flight Bows

These archery bows are designed to launch arrows at high speeds, usually making the tips of the arrows travel over 300 feet in just 6 seconds. The best flight bows are specifically designed for competitions and are tough to judge among the fastest.

A key element in the measurement of the flight bow is the weight-to-spine ratio.

To be recognized as a strict flight bow, a bow must have a weight-to-spine ratio of at least 350 lbs per inch.

Hence, the lighter the bow, the faster those arrows will be shot for it.

The Olympic sprinters of archery are the Korean K2C, as well as the HOD, both of which are faster than 300 feet per second.

The other popular varieties of this kind of bow includes recurve and self-bow. The latter is the most basic bow-type derived from plant material familiar to the archer.

Quivers can also be attached to the arrows for holding a bowstring.

Horse Bows

A horse bow was a bow drawn on horseback. It was used both in battle and for hunting. A horse bow was different from other bows in that the size of the range of draw force that it could handle was greater, and the draw length was usually shorter. Due to the importance of archery for both hunting and warfare, the bow was a key part of training for the Turkish and Mongol warriors. Turkoman horsemen broke Wang Zhi's siege of Kaifeng by launching tens of thousands of arrows against Wang's army in a sharp rain from September to November 1083. They were also used in Europe until the introduction of repeating firearms. The last recorded use of bows on horseback was with the Japanese at the Battle of Shiroyama in the Boshin War of 1868. This weapon was apparently also kept alive until the early 20th century on the plains of the U.S. by cowboys and mountain men who, when facing a group of Native Americans, could shoot from horseback to frighten the enemy who did not possess firearms.

Foot Bows

Foot bows are the most commonly used and most popular bow design in the history of archery. They were used for thousands of years and still are in areas where they did not have access to good materials. They are still used today by those who enjoy survival based hobbies.

The main materials needed to make foot bows are the actual bow, bow string, arrow and arrow head. Most hunters will use a bow that’s within their draw cycle. This means that they can draw it back as far as they need to and it will fire the arrow. Using one that is too strong for the user could cause damage to the bow, an injury to the site, or make it hard to aim.

Back Quiver:

These are the most popular type of quiver. They come in many different styles and are often made with different materials. The basic structure is a container that sits on the hip, and the arrows are slid into the quiver, held by a retaining strap.

Quivers are not common on all bows, but they are essential for protection. The arrows will have the fletching facing down and depending on the type, they will typically have some type of feather protector to prevent the quiver from being damaged or the feathers being knocked off and damaged, or losing the arrow. Because arrows are typically very long, some type of arrow rest or aid is necessary to help keep it on the bow while not firing.

Survival Bows

A survival bow is designed to kill an animal for food. Hunters make these out of whatever available materials are in the forest.

Bow – These are great for shooting on flat terrain. They are simple to make and can shoot at a range of about thirty yards. The only issue with bow is the noise (not stealthy), they can only carry single-harvest-succession shots (e.g. you cannot shoot it again until you take down your game), and they limit your line of sight. These are good for hunting small game (rabbits, squirrels, etc.), but not large game (deer, moose, etc.).

Composite Bow – The main draw of this is that you can shoot multiple times without having to stop and make another arrow. This is great for hunting on rough terrain because they don't get caught up in the brush. As you draw to a full draw, there is a lot of force on the arrow. This makes shooting with very low weight arrows possible. The maximum range of a composite bow is somewhere around 250 yards. They are not good for shooting in the dark, and they can be loud (not stealthy). These are for hunting medium game (elk, pig, etc.).

Traditional Bow Types

Longbow: Longbows have been used for hunting, war, and recreational shooting for more than a thousand years. The first longbow was made around the year 1000. People say that the longbow is the most well-known type of bow that has been used for archery.

Disadvantages: The longbow is not an easy bow to learn, master, and use. It takes a lot of strength, an extensive amount of practice, and squeezing the muscles as much as possible. Longbows can be used for the battlefield, hunting, and recreation.

Shortbow: Shortbows are not as popular as longbows, but they can be used for hunting and recreational target shooting. These bows were used mainly for hunting in the medieval days.

Recurve Bow: Recurve bows are more popular than long and short bows. They have also been used for recreation, exhibition, hunting, and as a weapon. Recurve is another name for this bow type. They look similar to longbows, but the parts of the bows are different.

Types of Recurve Bows: Traditional Recurve Bows (style developed in Europe), Two Piece Recurve Bows (style developed in the United States), and One Piece Recurve Bows (style developed in England).


A recurve bow is characterised by its curved shape when unstrung, whereas a longbow is straight when unstrung. Longbows were developed in prehistoric times from a bow that was made of a single piece of wood (self bow). Composite bows are made from different materials, often wood, horn and sinew, glued together. Longbows are typically made of such materials as wood and often have a belly that is rounded or has some sort of a knot.

Longbows can be made from different types of wood, and different parts of the tree. Yew is a traditional, but very expensive, longbow wood. Common types of wood used are oak, elm, ash, hickory, chestnut and maple.

A longbow can be self made with some skill from local materials and can be extremely effective. However, the highland regions where the Scottish archers were most famous did not grow suitable woods for a self bow,

They relied on specially grown yew wood for the best results.

To make a longbow of yew one needs 'side wood' that is the side branches of the yew tree, well away from knots and curves.

A straight piece of side wood, any length, is then carefully selected for the core. As it dries over the years it will start to curve. When damp, it will straighten.


Are made from flexible material, usually wood, and have no sights. There are even primitive bows, called self bows that don’t have any curve to them at all.

Longbows are at least as tall as the archer and have a sight. Modern longbows can be made of several types of wood, fiberglass, metal or a combination of woods and fibers, they are not heavy but they are stiff. This makes it easier to keep them at full draw for prolonged periods.

Compound bows are made for speed and convenience. They are smaller, more narrow and can aim higher than longbows. They are useful in hunting and archery competitions.

Recurve bows are similar to a longbow but the tips of the limbs curve backward, though the tips don’t rotate, which increases accuracy. Shooting longer distances with a recurve bow is harder than with a longbow, but this is compensated for by the increased power of the bow.

Bows made of synthetic materials are convenient because they stay straight while shooting and they’re very lightweight. However, they’re not as effective as traditional bows in terms of accuracy and shooting longer distances.

The Kyudo Bow (Yumi)

Kyudo is a Japanese martial art that requires total concentration. The old saying goes, “If you have one eye on your bow and one eye on the target, you will never shoot straight,” and it’s true. In kyudo, one must face the target, put the bow behind them, and then take the arrow out of the quiver.

The Japanese bow is held in the right hand, and the arrow is placed on the bowstring. An archer must have a Zen like concentration to aim true and use the yumi (弓, “bow”) properly.

When the arrow orbits the bow and is pulled taut, the archer aims for the target. The archer then places their hand on the top of the arrow just below the fletching. When ready to fire the arrow, the mu-ai (目安, “measurement, aiming”), is released and the arrow is shot toward the target. Only one chance is given to strike the target and the archer must follow through with the shot.

Reflex Bow

The reflex compound bow for hunting is designed, and the best are designed, by adding a module to the back of the cam (cable bow) to allow the bow to have a lower brace height, so the bow is more comfortable and accurate with a faster, lighter draw.

A less expensive solution is to buy a regular compound bow that has a 45-55 pound draw; add in the module; and change the cams to match the type and weight of the chosen arrow.

This can be done with a draw weight of about 50-60 pounds (for a right-handed shooter.) However, the reflex bow is designed as a bow that is estimated to have a draw weight of 50-60 pounds.

Bow Construction Materials and Methods

There are many different types of bows and arrows which each perform differently in different situations.

Carbon Fibre

Carbon fibre limbs are the most common material used for compound bows as they are very lightweight, durable and powerful. The limbs are typically constructed using a material which is wound around a fibreglass or carbon tube before being composite cured into a mould. The composite is then typically sanded and finished before being laminating back together. Because carbon fibre is an extremely expensive material it cannot be used for all parts of the bow, the riser and cam do not usually contain carbon fibres in order to lower manufacturing costs.


Composite bows are the traditional style of bow, they are constructed using wood, animal horn, sinew and sinew glue to hold the bow together. These materials as a whole have been used for bow making for thousands of years. Primitive composite bows have been found in tombs, hunting bows and traditional bows are still used in recent years. Carbon fibre arrows and handles are normally used with composite bows and help to increase the power, distance and accuracy of the bow.

Wooden Bows

These are rather rare now as they are costly to make and are not as suited to modern manufacturing techniques. The wooden bow has been in existence for thousands of years. The materials used were often backed with leather as a protection to the inside material. The wood commonly used to make this kind of bow is Yew, Maple or Osage Orange.

Container type bows come in the shape of a triangle but with the rounded edges removed. This allows the bow to be easier to handle when making arrows with the wooden bow.

Peak type bows often have tips that are pointed upwards. These are designed to provide better accuracy. The type of wood used is generally not very strong, and these bows are best for people who will use the bow for recreation rather than hunting.

Hunting bows are usually made from staves rather than a nicely shaped bow. These staves are usually sawn from the trunk of a tree. Usually when a large animal is taken down, the bow will also lose its strength and thus is difficult to reuse. The high torque that is needed to take big game down means that wooden bows are unlikely to be reused often and therefore costly to make.

Fiberglass Bows

Fiberglass bows are the least expensive and least popular. While they are the least expensive, they usually don’t have any additional features like other bows. This means that they are typically only available in smooth draw. They are your standard bow. If you are looking for just a normal bow and don’t want to spend a lot of money, fiberglass is usually the bow for you.

Fiberglass bows are great for hunting and recreational use. There are some that can be used for 3-D shooting. However, the fiberglass bows that are used for 3-D targets usually aren’t going to be durable for hunting. If you are interested in this you will want to make sure to purchase a good quality fiberglass bow.

Composite Bows

Traditional Bows, Recurve, and Longbow.

Longbows are a mainstay of the traditional archer. They are a staple because they are cost effective, customizable, and easy to learn. The longbow is the truest of the archers chosen weapons because it really requires no modification to perform well. However, despite the longbow’s raw power it is known for having a rather slow speed.

Composite Bows are usually stronger than traditional bows. The ease of manufacture and their lower cost make them attractive to everyone. They offer a longer flight than traditional bows, but are not as accurate.

Recurve bows can usually be shot faster and further than all other types, but they will not be as accurate, and will peak more quickly than compound bows.

The compound bow is the most common type of bow in use today. This modern classic provides a fast flight, and a great accuracy, but it is considerably more expensive to purchase, or string than other traditional bows.

Laminated Bows

A new wave of bow building techniques have taken the archery world by storm. The back of an archery bow is made from laminated layers of wood. This is an extremely popular method of constructing a modern bow. It’s easy to make a beautiful and crisp looking bow. It’s also very easy to make a bow light. A bow with a light draw weight may be ideal for smaller individuals.

Laminated bows have the added benefit of being very fast. This is due to the weight of the bow and the length of the limbs. These characteristics are most often adjusted by the shooter using the bow. The archer can determine how much weight they want in their draw, and how much they want out of the product.

Solid Glass/Glass Bows

Glass bows have taken many forms through the years, from the practice fletcher (no longer made, but still quite popular) to the all glass laminated bows. Solid glass is still used as a laminate in the strongest and finest bows on the market.

Glass is used as a laminate for a couple of reasons. First of all, it’s very effective in dampening vibrations, and therefore is a good choice where forgiveness is the highest priority. Secondly, glass is an excellent material for use as a dampener because of its high density and high Young’s modulus (stiffness rating). Glass is very dense, and therefore has a very high modulus. This gives glass a lot of stiffness for its weight.

The fibers used to reinforce the laminates are high modulus fibers such as graphite. Glass is also stronger than wood, making it a great material to build a bow out of.

Glass is not a material that equates to high performance. It is suited for shooting at high-draw-weights where durability and extremely high consistency is the priority, such as hunting situations. When a glass bow is hunting and slaying big and heavy game the long lasting and consistent back wall is a critical component of success.