Archery Bow Types

There are quite a number of bow types that you can shoot. 

At the club when you are learning you are most likely to use an inexpensive takedown recurve bow.  It's called a takedown as it can be taken apart into the riser (handle) and the two limbs.  Once you have completed a course you may be keen to try other bows and may even have had your heart set on a particular one.

When you are having fun you can shoot any bow style allowed under the rules but out in the world of competition it can be a bit mystifying what you can compete with and therefore claim awards and records for your score.  Here we show the bow types commonly available and popular and tell you a little bit about them.

showing the shape of an archery recurve bow

Recurve Bow

The recurve bow is so called as, unlike the longbow which has one arc towards the archer, the limbs on a recurve bow curve away at the ends.  This curve stores and delivers more energy more efficiently than an equivalent straight-limbed bow.

Modern day recurve bows are takedown as they are in three parts with a handle - often called a riser - and a pair of limbs that bolt on.  Many beginner bows have wooden handles but the most popular bows have a metal handle, either cast or computer machined.  Bow limbs can have many different laminations including wood, carbon and modern composite materials making them light and efficient.

You can shoot a recurve bow in every shooting discipline right up to international level in target and field archery, and the recurve is also currently the only bow type used in Olympic Archery.

a compound bow in use at a tournament

Compound Bow

Modern compound bows have metal risers and composite limbs.  The limbs are short and stiff and the string is connected to a pulley system mounted on wheels or cams. 

When a recurve bow is drawn the archer has to hold more weight as the draw length increases; on a compound the bow reaches a peak weight part way through the draw then the weight drops off - this "let-off" can vary from about 65-80% and means that at "full draw" an archer is holding very little weight.  As the fingers of the archer can then torque the string, compound bows are more usually shot using a release aid instead of "off the fingers".

As they can be less strenuous to shoot than the other types of bow, compounds are very popular.

You can shoot a compound bow in every shooting discipline right up to international level in target and field archery, and this bow type is involved in two classes of Paralympic archery.

a longbow in use at an archery target competition


The longbow hardly needs an introduction.  Made from a single wood or several laminations, the longbow has never lost its popularity and is experiencing a resurgence on the shooting field with quite a number of longbow exponents taking their archery very seriously and shooting new records.  Archery GB Rules govern the dimensions of longbows and set minimum lengths according to draw length.

Archers who don't shoot one as a main bow will often have a longbow for a fun day out and can discover what a challenge the longbow brings to a day's shooting.

It is recognised as a bow type in all shooting disciplines - target, field, flight and clout - in the UK including World Archery rounds.  Internationally it is only recognised in World Archery field or 3D archery where it will be up against archers shooting the American Flatbow that World Archery class as a longbow.

Recurve Barebow

Recurve Barebow

Barebow recurve archery is very popular in the UK especially in field and 3D archery where it is an international division under World Archery rules.  It is also recognised in the UK for target and clout.  Compound barebow can also be shot in Archery GB field competitions.

A barebow has no sight and to be within the rules a barebow must pass through a 12" hoop when unstrung.  As the usual stabilisers can't be used on the riser, some archers shoot with a heavy, dumpy weight instead and others use specialist barebow risers that allow weight to be inserted into the riser.  

Composite Bows

Composite and traditional bows are great fun to own and shoot.  Only in World Archery field and 3D are they internationally competitive within the instinctive division.  Within Archery GB they are classed as recurve barebow.



this archer enjoys shooting his flatbow

American Flatbow

Also referred to as an American Longbow, the American Flatbow was developed as an experiment to test against the English Longbow in the 1930s.  Of course modern laminations allow for fibreglass layers and carbon cores to make dependable, stable limbs that are fast and smooth to pull. 

It is possible that this type of bow was the forerunner of the modern one piece wooden bows with recurve limbs but in archery the history of bows has such a long timeline that most "innovations" have taken place in one form or another decades earlier though using different materials.

The American Longbow is classed as recurve barebow in all disciplines apart from World Archery field and 3D, and World Archery and UK flight where it is a recognised bow type.


strategic Partners