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 decicions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (29)

  1. 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

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

  3. 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

  4. 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

  5. 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.

  6. 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!

  7. 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.

  8. @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.

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