Longbow vs Recurve – Which is Best and Why?

In Summary: Longbows are the longest bow type tip to tip, much larger than the recurve. They are more forgiving when shot as due to a this profile they can be less prone to string torque. A recurve can be louder due to the increased string contact with the limbs. The are however more powerful, shorter, easier to adjust, and have more market availability and choice. Hunters, youths and beginners will favor the recurve over the compound. It is also the only bow allowed in the Olympic games.

Everyone has heard of the longbow, it’s the bow of legend. The thing that Robin Hood and most of the English armies wielded to good effect back in the ‘olden days’.

If you can’t decide between, or aren’t sure of the real differences  between a longbow vs a recurve we’re going to try and comprehensively outline everything for you in this article. We’ll also give you an insight as to what each type of bow is used for, by what type of shooter and for what reason!

First let’s start with a very brief introduction to both types of bow and the defining features, just in case you are completely new to the subject.

This is a Longbow – Major feature – It’s long…

The limbs of a longbow don’t curve back away from you, longbows are the classic single piece of wood style of bow that you imagine when you first think of a bow (at least I do). A D-shape when drawn.

Longbows are the longest of all the bows, because there isn’t any ‘cleverness’ such as cams or recurve to increase the power of the limbs, to make them powerful you need them to be long. Longbows can be nearly as big as an archer and stand 6 feet (1.8m) tall.

Pretty obvious why they called it the longbow, I mean it’s long right? What else would you call it?

A longbow archer

A longbow

Recurve – Major feature – Limb Re-curve

A recurve bow has limbs that curve away from towards the archer at the ends. That curve is known as re-curve and can store and provide more power to an arrow than a simple longbow of the same size could. A longbow is a standard bow shape that you’d made yourself from a stick. The limbs and string make a standard D shape, no-recurve. 

A recurve bow

A traditional recurve bow – Bear Grizzly

So next we’ll break down the various features and things you’d look for in a bow and compare the two across all categories.

Power

You can find longbows available in a similar power range to the recurve. 70 lbs of draw is going to be the maximum anyone really wants and can handle for either. The recurve on the tips of the limbs of a recurve bow will store more energy more efficiently than the simple D curve of the longbow.

Although we haven’t tried this, a straight shoot-out between two bows of the same actual measured draw weight, drawn to the optimum length to produce that weight and shooting exactly the same arrow in the same conditions, you should find the recurve to deliver a faster arrow.

Most Powerful – Recurve

Aiming & Shooting

A longbow is a more forgiving bow than a recurve. The cross-section of the riser and the limbs of a longbow is deeper and thicker than a recurve. Whilst that makes it bigger and heavier it also means there is less chance of torquing or sideways movement in the string upon release. Sideways movement of the string throws your arrow off the intended line.

That’s forgiveness for you.

Easiest to Shoot Well – Longbow

Noise

Difficult to call this one. There’s less contact between the string and the limbs on a longbow, so if you’ve got a good setup with a well weighted arrow for the bow then all the energy should just travel from the limbs, to the string and be dispersed into the arrow. There’s nothing that can slap against the limbs like on a recurve where the ends of the limb contact the string in several places when the bow is at rest.

Quietest – Longbow (less string slap)

Size

A longbow is longer than a recurve. The re-curve in the limbs of the recurve bow make it more efficient at storing power so those limbs don’t need to be as long. A modern 60 lbs longbow can come in at 64” in length whereas a 60 lbs recurve can shrink down to only be 58” long.

Size matters

Smallest – Recurve

Portability

Most recurve bows nowadays are takedown. That means you can remove the limbs and break them down into 3 pieces, riser, top and bottom limb to transport them. Whilst they are available, you won’t find so many takedown longbows on the market. Generally a longbow is self bow (or one piece bow). Made of a single piece or several pieces of laminated wood and there’s no way to take that to pieces. That gives a clear advantage to the more common takedown recurve.

Most Portable – Takedown Recurve

Adjustability

Whilst you can’t really adjust either type of bow, you can purchase different types of limbs for a recurve bow to increase and decrease the power. You can also do the same for a takedown longbow, but these are less common. As longbows are more often single piece bows, there’s no way to increase or decrease their power.

Most Versatile – Recurve

Construction

The same manufacturing techniques are used in the creation of both longbows and recurve bows. Lamination of several types of wood being the most common. No clear winner here.

Best Construction Methods – Draw

Cost

As there’s little to differentiate in manufacture and construction of either type of bow you’ll find that the cost to own and operate either is very similar.

No clear winner again!

A roll of dollar bills

What’s it going to cost you?

Cheapest – Neither!

Maintenance and Repair-ability

Both a recurve and a longbow are easy to re-string by yourself and by hand, clearly no winner there. A broken one piece longbow is just that, broken, whilst a takedown bow can have limbs replaced.

Easiest to Fix – Recurve

Accessories

Both types of bow can come with a riser drilled to accept all sorts of accessories. You can fit a sight, arrow rest, quiver, stabilizer, string silencers, limb dampeners to either type of bow. There’s no real winner in this department.

Most Available Accessories – Draw

Availability & Choice

Visit any of the top manufacturers websites like Bear Archery, PSE or Hoyt and you’ll find a larger selection of recurve bow available than longbows. Recurves are the modern standard for the Olympic, tournaments and club archery. Longbows or traditional bowmen are less prevalent than their recurve counterparts so the selection of bows on the market is also much smaller.

Best Choice and Availability – Recurve

Styling

Both the recurve and the longbow can be made to look exceptional this Bear Grizzly. They can come with beautiful polished wood grain finishes in several tones. Both can be handsome and something that you’d want to hang on your wall.

Most Stylish – Draw!

Cool

Katniss Everdeen shoots a recurve (although there are shots of her with a longbow too), Robin Hood shot a longbow. Who’s cooler?

Cool People Shoot – Either!

For hunting?

If it’s a choice between the two for hunting, I’d favor the recurve. The reduction in size makes it a much more portable weapon for pushing through the brush in search of prey. Couple that with the generally better performance and you’ve a winning combination.

Hunters Favor – The Recurve

For youth?

Youth bows are normally less powerful than full size adult bows. The recurve is more modern and more widely used in competition than the longbow. If you’re starting your kids out with their first bow and want to choose between the two, I’d go with the recurve. It will be smaller, easier for them to handle and more compatible with the disciplines they’ll be exposed to.

Give Your Youth A Recurve

For beginners?

You’ll generally find that if you ‘try archery’ at some sort of even you’ll be given a recurve bow. The increased availability, performance and reduced size of the recurve mean you’re going to have a better choice and better prices.

Recurve tuition

Just getting started?

Best for Beginners – The Recurve

For target shooting?

Target shooting competitions exist for both recurve and longbow shooters, however at a high level there are less disciplines available to the longbow shooter than the recurve. With a recurve you can go from local competition right up to world and Olympic level.

The Olympics only allow recurve

The Target Shooting Elite Use – The Recurve

Well that’s it! I think we covered everything, if we didn’t… let me know! We monitor and respond to comments all the time 😉

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