Types of Bows: A User’s Guide For All Levels

types of bows
Pierre-Yves Beaudouin / Wikimedia Commons, source

The bow used to be a simple piece of wood and a bowstring.

Ever since it was invented to this day, a lot of enhancements have taken place, resulting in different types of bows for different purposes.

It is important for every archer, beginner or pro, to learn about all these types. An archer never stops buying bows. In addition to being knowledgeable, understanding the different bow types will give you an idea of what piece to add to your collection next.

This guide discusses the types of bows and everything about them.

Get to know which bow is best for a specific types of archery, the difference between the bow types and the type that suits you.

All the information may be overwhelming at first, especially for a newbie. Have no worries, however, very soon you will be a bow expert.

So, here you go.

1. The Recurve Bow

Southwest Archery Spyder Takedown Recurve Bow standing

The recurve bow is otherwise known as the traditional bow.

Its general shape of recurve bows is quite similar to the traditional bows used in the ancient times. It is called a recurve because the limbs curve away from the archer.

Recurve bows store and deliver a lot of energy in a more efficient manner than most bows; allowing them to launch arrows very fast.

The recurve is the only bow used to compete in the Olympics. It is also widely preferred for target and 3-D archery.

Recurve bows are recommended for newbie archers because you can shoot without applying too much energy.

If you are just starting out, look for a simple recurve bow design and you can upgrade to more complex design as you become a more experienced archer.

Recurve bows come in two designs: as a takedown or one-piece.

A one-piece recurve bow is just that—a one-piece. A takedown recurve bow, on the other hand, can be disassembled and assembled.

Usually, you can separate the two limbs from the riser. The limbs of most recurve bows are made from wood with a coating of fiberglass while the riser is made from carbon fiber, wood, alloy or aluminum.

Recurve Bow Advantages

  • Recurve bows are great for beginners because they are not complicated.
  • It launches arrows at a high speed.
  • The takedown recurve bow offers convenience when storing and transporting.
  • You can get a recurve at a low price.
  • It is easy to change limbs when they wear out or when you want to alter the draw weight of a takedown.
  • Most of them come with installed bushings to let you use accessories.
  • The riser of a recurve bow has an ergonomic riser and is very comfortable to hold.

Recurve Bow Disadvantages

  • Being a traditional bow, you need a lot of practice to improve your accuracy.
  • For powerful shots, you need a recurve bow with a high draw weight—beginners may not be able to handle this.

2. The Compound Bow

types of bows compound bow

The compound bow is believed to have been developed in the 1960s.

It is a modern bow, operated mechanically using pulleys, cams, and cables. This system gives a shooter mechanical advantage in that, you use less energy.

The limbs are way rigid compared to those of other bows, making it energy efficient.

Because of this modern technology, the compound bows are very accurate and preferred for hunting, target, and 3-D archery.

Another reason why hunters would rather use compound bows is that of the “let-off” benefit.

The “let-off” point is the point at which, during the draw, you hold just a percentage of the draw weight and not the entire draw weight. This is important because you can take more time perfecting your aim.

In addition to this amazing feature, a compound bow is quiet. It has proven to be great even for bowfishing.

Compound bows are usually made of magnesium, carbon, fiberglass or aluminum.

There are different types of compound bows, categorized according to the cam system.

There is the single cam, the twin cam, and the hybrid cam system. The single cam system is the recommended one for beginners.

Although it is easy to learn shooting the compound bow, knowing how to choose one is not that simple. Seeing as it is a little complicated, there are several things you need to consider.

However, this is something that the store attendant can help with—do not worry about it.

Compound Bow Advantages

  • Generally, a compound bow is lightweight.
  • The “let-off” benefit allows you more time for polishing on your aim without getting tired.
  • The pulley system saves the shooter some energy.
  • It will not take you long to learn how to use it.
  • The quiet nature of the compound bow gives you an advantage when sneaking up on prey.
  • The compound bow is well-made and lasts longer.
  • The different cam systems give archers options to choose from.

Compound Bow Disadvantages

  • When your compound bow breaks down, repairing it will be hard because of its complexity.
  • Compound bows are not cheap.
  • Sometimes a lightweight bow is not the best for hunting.
  • It consists of so many moving parts making it difficult and expensive to maintain.

3. The Crossbow

Barnett Whitetail Pro STR Crossbow

The crossbow has been there for a very long time. It was used in medieval times for war and can be lethal.

It features a bow-like design, attached to a frame that is held like the stock of a gun.

Ancient crossbows used to shoot projectiles known as quarrels or bolts. The modern crossbows have been modified to use arrows for the purpose of hunting. Others can shoot rocks and bullets—very fascinating.

Crossbows are made from different kinds of materials including aluminum, wood, alloys and recently, carbon. As you would expect, carbon crossbows are pricier but more durable and lighter.

When it comes to shooting over very long distances, the crossbow is second to none. It is a very powerful bow too and can help you land big game.

Some people have protested that using a crossbow is not bowhunting because, apparently, it is too easy.

Although it is very easy to handle and does not require much strength from you, loading it takes a much longer time. If you miss the first shot you may not have another chance.

All crossbows are generally the same but they come in varying designs; reverse draw, compound and recurve. The kind of bow attached to the frame determines the design.

When buying a crossbow, you should know that it has higher poundage and a smaller draw length. To make sure that you choose the one that perfectly suits you, ask to shoot a few ones. Do not go home with a crossbow that you have not shot with.

Cross Bow Advantages

  • You can draw the string and wait until you are ready to shoot unlike with other bows where you have to aim and shoot immediately after drawing.
  • When wearing many layers and bulky gloves, you will have no difficulties while drawing the bowstring.
  • The crossbow does not pose the inconvenience of drawing motion.
  • It is easy to make an accurate shot even over a long distance.
  • You can use a powerful crossbow without being limited by your upper body strength and body size.
  • With a little practice, even a newbie will be able to accurately shoot a crossbow in no time.

Cross Bow Disadvantages

  • Crossbows are heavier and bulkier compared to the other bow types; portability and shooting without a rest can be an issue.
  • It is very slow to reload and a follow-up shot might not yield much.
  • A crossbow is not the quietest bow around.

4. The Longbow

Types of bow longbow Longbowmaker Pigskin Handmade Traditional Longbow

The longbow, like the recurve bow, is also a traditional bow. It is one of the oldest types of bows.

The bow is very simple and only consists of a long piece of curved wood and a bowstring.

As you can tell from the name, the longbow is very long—in most cases, it is as long as the archer. Due to this, the full draw length is fairly long. The limbs are narrow and the bow assumes a D-like shape.

The plain, traditional design of the longbow does not allow for accessory upgrades. There is not much you can do to enhance this bow.

As you can imagine, aiming and shooting is an uphill task. Learning how to shoot the longbow requires relentless practice.

Most modern archers prefer other bow types over the longbow. The only archers that would opt for the longbow are those that love a challenge.

Yew was commonly used to make longbows but hazel, elm, and ash were also used. The wood was coated with a layer of resin, wax and fine tallow.

If you want to use a longbow in modern archery, you can either buy one or have it made for you. An experienced bowyer can make a longbow in a few hours from a good piece of wood since it is not that complicated.

Despite the fact that the learning curve is steep with this one, it is amazing when it comes to hunting.

Because of the length, the shooter has more stability. Another good thing about the length is that it leaves room for sloppy mistakes such as careless release techniques.

You can make many shots in quick successions because reloading a longbow is fast, thanks to the plain design; something that you will find very valuable in hunting. This bow can also be used in other forms of archery.

Long Bow Advantages

  • A longbow is quieter than most bows.
  • It is the fastest to reload, a feature that can be very important in hunting.
  • The longbow is a low-budget bow. You will also not spend extra money on accessories.
  • You get more stability with a longer bow and smoother shots.
  • There is less likelihood of sideways movement and torquing.

Long Bow Disadvantages

  • It does not allow for use of accessories.
  • Portability will most definitely be a problem.
  • There is no way to adjust or repair a longbow. Once the limbs are broken, you will have to buy a new one.

5. The Yumi Bow

types of bow yumi bow
By Kollotzek/Wallrafen, CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons, source

The Yumi is a Japanese bow. It is used in Kyudo, Japanese archery.

During the ancient times, the yumi was the main weapon used in war by the Samurai. In those days, it was made of a mixture of bamboo and wood.

Like the longbow, the yumi is very long—longer than the shooter. It is used without all these fancy modern accessories.

Today, there are three main types of yumi bows; the synthetic yumi made of carbon fiber and fiberglass, the authentic bamboo yumi (the standard one) and lacquered bamboo yumi.

The techniques of making a yumi bow have barely changed. It is asymmetric in that, the grip is positioned closer to the lower tip. The upper curve is also different from the lower curve.

People have given different explanations for this asymmetric design. Some say the yumi was meant to be used on a horse, other say that the archer was supposed to shoot it while kneeling and others say that it is because of the type of wood used to make the bow.

The yumi bow is demanding as far as care and maintenance are concerned. If not cared for, it will become unusable in a very short time. Its shape will definitely change as a result of constant use.

However, you can always reform it manually; it is not difficult. If you care for your yumi properly, it could remain in your family for many years.

The yumi bow is perfect for archers who are interested in Kyudo. Even if you do not care much for Kyudo, the yumi will make a great addition to your collection. Besides, you can always use it when you want a different archery experience.

Yumi Bow Advantages

  • The yumi is the best bow for use on horseback.
  • It is unique and very special.
  • Kyudo, the form of archery that uses the yumi, enhances discipline.
  • It allows for a very long draw length.
  • The experience of using a yumi is awesome.

Yumi Bow Disadvantages

  • The yumi is too fragile compared to other types of bows.
  • It is more sensitive to the elements because of its composite structure.
  • The use of the yumi is limited to Kyudo.
  • If you are used to shooting the other bows, shooting a yumi will feel weird.

6. Composite Bow

types of bow composite bow
By APoincot CC BY-SA 3.0, from Wikimedia Commons, source

A composite bow is not really a bow type per se.

It is a bow made using a combination of materials. This is becoming a trend in bow manufacturing, where manufacturers use several materials in making one bow.

Traditionally, a composite bow was made of wood, sinew, and horn.

Some experts seem to imply that a composite bow is superior to non-composite bows because it is more flexible and powerful. One has even said that the composite is “almost like a living thing”.

Its composition makes it sensitive to weather conditions.

A composite bow can last for more than 100 years, as long as it is well taken care of. You need to shoot it regularly and protect it from the elements.

Composite Bow Advantages

  • A composite bow stores more energy than a self-bow of the same size making it very powerful.
  • When properly cared for, the composite can last for a very long time.
  • The bow can be used for different purposes in various situations.
  • It is smaller and lighter.

Composite Bow Disadvantages

  • Being very sensitive to weather conditions, it can be easily damaged under bad weather.
  • Making a composite bow is time-consuming and requires more materials.
  • A traditional composite bow is not easy to maintain.


There are many types of bows but the above are the most common. They are commonly used in modern archery.

If you decide to look into ancient archery, you will discover more bow types that are rarely used today—some are not available anymore.

The recurve bow can be used in any type of archery including Olympics. It is very popular and easy to use. It is a traditional bow that has been enhanced to suit modern archery, hence why many archers prefer it.

The compound bow is a little complicated in terms of design but learning it is not that hard. It is highly preferred for hunting because a shooter can take down a big animal without using much strength.

The crossbow is a very interesting piece. It is more like a combination of a gun and a bow. It can be used in most forms of archery, especially bowhunting and bowfishing. Its greatest advantage is that you do not have to shoot immediately after drawing. This gives you enough time to wait and aim.

The longbow is the real traditional bow. When using it, you have to do it like the ancient archers did. There is no way to add modern accessories. Although it may take you a while to learn shooting with it, you will love hunting with it.

The yumi is great if you want to diversify and venture into Kyudo.

The most important thing is to choose your primary bow from the above types (if you are a newbie). You can buy the others as you progress. Do not limit yourself to just one type. Remember each one offers you a unique experience.