Traditional or Compound — Which Bow is Right for You?

By Dave Dolbee published on in Archery, Arrows and Accessories, Bows, General

I have been an archer for just a touch over 25 years now. I spent several years competing with hopes of Olympic glory and many more as an editor and writer for major archery magazines and websites. During that time, I have tested hundreds—possibly thousands of bows for fun, hunting, competition and articles. I have had the opportunity shoot bows for reviews and others for research and development (R&D)—ones that never made it to market for one reason or another.

Traditional bow and custom arrows

Traditional archery tackle offers simplicity and a primitive weapon feel that is hard to beat.

Beyond that, I taught classes at the collegiate level (UCLA) and at a range sponsored and supported by Easton Sports Development for over a decade, and worked for local archery stores. During that time bow models from all time periods fell into my hands. Like old guns… if they were shootable, wouldn’t you want to fire off at least a couple of shots? I always did.

One thing I have come to realize from that experience, was early compounds really never should have made it to market—at least not given this archer’s modern penchant for speed, but that is fodder for a future article. Early compounds were slower than most recurves of the day. It was likely the let-off—giving the archer the ability to hold less weight at full draw—that made the difference, but if you compared a bow from the ’70s or ’80s to modern bows your head would absolutely explode at the technological difference.

Which Bow is Right for You?

There are many factors to consider when making the choice between purchasing a traditional or compound bow. Traditional bows (longbows and recurves) offer a historic as well as a simplistic advantage. There is a certain mystique associated with shooting a stick and string. The bow’s physical weight is much lighter, and you will not get bogged down with technology and a bunch of accessories. There is certainly an argument to be made for keeping it simple.

Unlike traditional bows where you must hold the entire weight at full draw, compound bows will significantly reduce the holding weight. This makes drawing and aiming easier in target as well as hunting situations. Compounds are also a tinkerers dream. There are a plethora of sights, stabilizers, arrow rest and releases to chose. You can be as high-tech as you wish or shoot something that is more native, as Uncle Ted prefers.

Ted Nugent shooting a bow

Ted Nugent is one of today’s most famous archers. Over the years, his choice of equipment and accessories has changed but he has always had fun pulling the string.

Compound bows are also more efficient. Therefore, you get more bang for the buck compared to a traditional bow—that is, your arrows will shoot faster for a given draw weight when compared to a traditional bow and deliver more kinetic energy in a hunting situation. This is due to the effect of having eccentrics, more commonly known as cams.  Early wheel designs and later designs know as modified cams, held the peak draw weight for about two inches of the draw cycle, close to the point you reached full draw. Today’s speed bows will hold the peak draw weight through most of the draw cycle. That means the bows reaches peak weight near the beginning of the draw and holds it at peak until the cam or eccentric rolls into the valley and where it lets off about 65 to 80 percent of the draw weight. When the string is released, the cam reverses and the peak weight pushes the arrow throughout the power stroke.

This speed and power come at a cost though. The more aggressive the cam design, the harder the bow will “feel” during the draw cycle. However, the extra speed and power can lead to better accuracy and the shot being less affected by the environmental conditions such as wind.

Both types of bows have advantages. Just as most gun owners chose to own more than one model of firearm (revolver, semi-automatic, bolt rifle, Modern Sorting rifle, shotgun) archers often choose to own both traditional and compound bows. The main thing to consider when making a purchase is to have fun!

What’s your preference? Do your prefer compounds, traditional bows or both and why? Let us know in the comment section.

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Comments (14)

  • Martin

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    @Steve F (last comment)

    I’ve had the exact same experience, I have two compounds and both have been gathering dust ever since I got my first recurve. There’s just something so cool about the “stick and string” that makes it irresistable to me.

    Reply

  • Oleg

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    With me it was just the contrary – by old recurve is barely being used since I’ve got my first compound (currently own 3). The precision caused by the let off still amaze me.

    Reply

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