Traditional or Compound — Which Bow is Right for You?

Traditional bow and custom arrows

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.

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (32)

  1. I’ve had the same problem; I have two compounds, both of which have been collecting dust since I received my first recurve. I can’t get enough of the “stick and string” because it’s simply so amazing.

  2. Compound bow is certainly my choice. It is more efficient with higher speed and accuracy. I am a beginner in this field, but I am much interested in becoming an archer. Which kind compound bow do you specifically suggest for a begginer?

    1. Brand is not as important as ensuring the bow fits you. Stop by a local archery club or proshop and get measured first. ~Dave Dolbee

  3. I’ve never tried using these bows before, but I think traditional one would be better for a newbie like, thanks for your share

  4. I think that for the beginners like me the traditional bow is more suitable. I like to learn this sport. It’s quite interesting.

    1. You can learn on either bow equally. It is simply a matter of personal choice. ~Dave Dolbee

  5. Good article, thank you. I always wanted to use a bow to hunt with when I was younger. I’m 65 now and years ago I had my first motorcycle accident on the highway as a car turned left and struck me square on. Besides the broken leg and crushed ankle I dislocated my elbow from a tenden snapping. The elbowwill not straighten or lock in the open position. Would I be able to use a compound bow? I know I couldn’t use a straight or a recurve bow.
    Thanks again for your artlicle.

    1. William,

      So sorry to hear about the accident. As someone who rides, that really resonates. You should be fine with a compound bow. Compound bow shooters bend their front arm slightly as a natural part of their form. ~Dave Dolbee

  6. I have never fired a bow so I am not sure which I would prefer but I do have a desire to learn on both. Thank you for your helpful and interesting article.

  7. Very helpful blog post, Dave. I am a newbie to archery and in fact, I was looking for the right bow by reading reviews and information when I saw your blog. I actually do not know the kind of bow to buy since I am just starting, but your post helped me with my choice.

    Thanks a lot!

  8. 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.

    1. Compound “bows(?)” aren’t bows, they are machines and shouldn’t share the traditional bow season. Jennings made it easy for anyone to hit the target, no skill, no talent, anyone. Buy a rifle if you’re talentless and leave true bow hunters alone. Archers, “HA!”, want-a-bes, phonies, play with your wheels, releases, sights, but don’t call yourself archers. Generations of “TRUE ARCHERS” are laughing at you.
      When are you put wheels and sights on an ATLATLS or SLINGS?

    2. You’re being pretty elitist with this comment but I can’t help but agree to some extent. I’ve always kind of felt like compound bows are “cheating”. And if they aren’t, then well, at what point does a bow stop being a bow? They have so many things on them to make shooting easier, that it’d seem at some point it just becomes a gun that shoots arrows that you have to draw instead of pull a trigger.

  9. @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.

  10. I’ve shot compounds since the early eightes, and yes they sure have come a loong way. a couple of years ago a fellow archer got me started shooting traditional. My compounds are begining to gather some dust, pheasant hunting with a recurve is awesome!!! and it getsme ready for longbow hunting deer later in the fall. 30 to 40 yard shots are not unrealistic. I have never lost an animal that hit.

  11. This is supposed to be the link for the “All-Time Top 10 Glock Posts” story. As you can see it’s not working correctly!

  12. I recently decided to try traditional archery. Recurves seemed – as stated in the article – simpler and more ‘approachable’ than compound bows. I have enjoyed myself learning the techniques and just target shooting in the backyard so far. I may eventually get competent enough to try to competitions, but I an not a game hunter by nature. There are a few very good traditional / instinctive archers that share their knowledge and skills on You Tube. Billingsagte Archery is a favorite. I am very disappointed in the area big box sporting goods stores. All their product lines are heavy on compound and crossbow archery with almost nothing for the traditional archer. They have No trad bows for sale. Thank goodness there are quality suppliers on the web. (3 Rivers Archery & Lancaster Archery are 2 of my preferred web sites.) I was pleased to see an email article arrive this week. Please consider more.

  13. I never owned or shot a bow, I now have a Robin Hood bow, I believe it is very old, was wondering if u ever heard of one of these and if so. Is it worth re-stringing?

    1. It is possible. There is no way to tell for sure without a close inspection. My advice would be to determine how much it means to you first. i.e. if it is some kind of heirloom (from a relative that has for instance) keep it as a wall hanger. If not, take it to a local archery shop or archery club and have someone familiar with old bows give you some advice. Even then, you may need to “exercise” the bow by drawing it slowly several times. This would be done in steps. Draw the bow back 10 percent and let down, then draw 15 percent and let down etc. Sorry I could not give you more of an answer. ~ Dave Dolbee

  14. No doubt the longbow is more fun to hunt with. Warning tho, it is not easy to hold back a longbow while waiting for a buck to clear a blocking tree. I always hunted with a recurve, back east til I went out to Wyoming. You pull and release, almost in the same motion, even tho the deer is often moving. I never had a problem in the NE with my recurve, served me fine, but I knew my limit was about 20 yards due to the pull required. Even so, you have to let a recurve go pretty quick, or back off. The western cowboys convinced me I needed a compound bow (with some let off) for longer shots for mulies. Even tho they were right in a way…it did not help in WY. The adjustment to deer in the open was difficult, but I stayed with the compound, cause it really gives you maybe 5-7 yards more distance. Anything else you hear they are lying. You can hold a lil bit longer and the arrows fly faster, and that is a definite advantage. To the crossbow, assuming you are not a cripple (like me).You dont gain anything in kill ratio with a crossbow. Moving to a crossbow you summon up all kinds of troubles. First…nothing has changed, a crossbow is no more powerful than your compound, but you think it is, because all you gotta do is pull the trigger (like a rifle) .Second are launching lighter arrows, (much lighter) which wound alot of game. Third, crossbows sound like a rifle when they go off..and all the bow silencers on the market do not help…that is bunk. So a buck will hear the noise and often jump the string. In my opinion the distance where they cannot jump the string is roughly 17 yards…same as a compound ‘s deadly range. They still hear it, but they do not have time to react. So idf you can pull a 50 pound compound, you have gained nothing by moving up to a crossbow (in killing power).

  15. May be a silly question, like comparing a 9mm to a bb… but what about sling bows… with the right set up they seem to have some reasonable results within the 25yd range. I ask because I’m considering making one since I’m not in a position to purchase a compound bow at this time.

    1. Buy a “REAL” bow, not a machine. Compounds a crap for people we no talent or ability! Buy a big rifle with a big scope, it sounds like that’s where your ability is.

  16. I’m inclined more to the longbow and recurves than compound, but admit to shooting the compound more when there’s competition involved. But for lightweight, ease of use in hunting situations where the bow isn’t always vertical, I much prefer the recurve or longbow.
    Not to mention, longbows are much eaasier to build than compounds.

  17. I tend towards the ccompound andhave severa but have a wonderful take-down recurve that’s very pleasant to shoot.

    1. Look like you need to attend more school or proof read before you sent. Compounds aren’t bows, they machines for talentless people with no ability. Simply speaking “CRAP!”, traditional bows are “BOWS!”

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