Recurve Bows Vs. Longbows

Young women with the bow

A recurve bow and a longbow are similar in that both are fairly simple, consisting only of the bow and its string. Neither bow comes with the complicated system of pulleys and counterweights in a compound bow. A recurve bow looks different from a longbow because of the curve of its limbs, or the ends of the bow. You can use both a recurve and a longbow in competition or for hunting.

Slings and Arrows

The longbow dates back several millennia. According to the British Grand National Archery Society, archaeologists have discovered longbow remnants in the British Isles that are up to 3,000 years old. The recurve bow developed later. The shorter length of a recurve bow makes it easier to handle in close quarters and on horseback.

End Curves

The primary difference between the shapes of a longbow and a recurve bow is that the ends on a recurve are bent forward. The recurve is an arc that ends in two short curves forward at either tip. The longbow is a single, long arc from tip to tip. The curved shape of the recurve gives the arrow more power when it leaves the bow. Some recurves, such as those used by some Native American tribes, were bent so sharply at the ends that white settlers who attempted to use the bows accidentally strung them backward, destroying the bow.

Size and Style

Recurve bows are typically shorter than longbows, since they were designed to be used in close quarters or on horseback. Today, the typical recurve bow is between 48 and 70 inches in length. Some experts say a recurve bow should not be shorter than 58 inches. A longbow usually is between 4 and 6 feet long, and its length can depend on the height of the archer.

From Yew to Fiberglass

Originally, longbows were made of yew wood. According to Tucson Archery, longbow makers had to shape the bows carefully by hand to smooth over any knots or imperfections in the wood. They used the same care in making the string of a longbow, because a broken string often caused a broken bow. Archers who used longbows in battle always made sure their strings were broken in, and they carried two extra strings in case one frayed or broke during battle. Today, both longbows and recurve bows are typically made from layered fiberglass, carbon and/or wood. Wooden bows often have a carbon center. These materials make the bows lighter and stronger.

Competition and Compound Bows

Today, the recurve bow is the only type of bow permitted in Olympic target archery, according to the British Grand National Archery Society. However, certain Paralympic events allow the use of a compound bow, which uses a carefully balanced system of pulleys and counterweights to accelerate the arrow. Longbows are not used in Olympic or Paralympic events, but can be used in other competitions.