Recurve vs Longbow: Which Should I Use A Recurve Or Longbow?

Traditional Archery – By Doug Besherse

One of the most frequently asked questions I get is

What is the difference between a recurve and a longbow?”

Recurve vs Longbow
Recurve vs Longbow

While they both have a lot of similarities they both likewise have unique characteristics. In the following article, I will do my best to explain the differences between the two as it applies to bowhunting.

Since the creation of man, hunters have searched for the perfect bow. A bow that would do the best job for every given situation. Try as they might the perfect bow has never been developed and I am convinced it never will be. The reason for this is that in order to obtain the best of one characteristic you must give up the best of another characteristic. It is therefore impossible to have the best of every characteristic built into a single bow.

Through the never-ending search for the perfect bow, every conceivable design has been used at one time or another. While some of the “new designs” are thought to be the masterpieces of the computer era, in reality, their origins can be traced back thousands of years. About the only thing that has changed is the more modern materials that are now available. With these materials, bows have a longer “life”. By using these modern materials performance has also increased, but not near as much as most people would think. With these things in mind lets examine the longbow and the recurve.

Longbow vs. Shortbow Brief Comparison:

Advantages Disadvantages
Longbow 1. Stores more energy
2. Able to shoot heavier arrows
3. Can be shot completely horizontal with no effect on accuracy.
4. Light in mass weight
5. Better accuracy and velocity
6. Extremely quiet when shot. 
7. Draw smoothly. 
1. This bow is not the bow I recommend for beginners.
2. Harder to conquer and can frustrate even experienced shooters.
3. Harder to deal with in tight spots. 
4. Typically are not as fast.
5. Have more noticeable vibration
6. String & riser distance is shorter which causes some problems. 
Recurve 1. This is the bow that I recommend to people starting out. 
2. Shorter Recurves making them easier to handle in tight spots.
3. Will out perform a longbow.
4. No hand shock.
5. Less particular about the arrow spine.
6. Less elbow room required to fire
1. The recurve is noisy compared to a longbow.
2. Accuracy can be affected by the angle 
3. They are bulkier and not as easy to carry around. 
4. Shorter draw length
5. Can only be used with light arrows

Recurve vs Longbow

What Is A Longbow?

What Is A Longbow

When the word longbow is mentioned most people think of a longbow with narrow limbs and a very small grip. Longbow’s, however, are not necessarily long nor are their grips necessarily small.

By today’s common standard a longbow is any bow that has limbs that do not touch the string while the bow is strung.

The bow can be short and wide limbed with a bulky grip but still be considered a longbow if it meets the aforementioned standard. There are “longbows” being made today that when unstrung, actually look a lot more like a recurve than a longbow. There are also quite a few longbows being made that are under 60″ long. That is shorter than most recurves that are currently being made. The short wide limbed longbows are commonly called flat bows. 

Why so much difference in the designs of these bows?

It is simply that we are still looking for that perfect bow, one that will be the best of everything. 

What is a recurve bow?

Well, what about the recurve? 

The recurve has tips that curve away from the string and the string touches the limbs while the bow is strung. In fact, everything that was said about the longbow can be said of the recurve, only in reverse.

It is also being made in many different designs and lengths in the quest to find that elusive perfect bow. The recurve is more popular than the longbow, however, most people that have shot a recurve for a while end up owning a longbow as well. 

Here are a few generalities that apply to both types of bows and how they affect your hunting: 

1. The heavier the draw weight the faster the arrow. This is pretty elementary and something that should be considered, but try drawing a 70# stick bow after setting in a treestand for four hours on a cold morning. Can you say “ripped tendons”? 

A lot of people are finding out the hard way that heavier isn’t necessarily better! Given the same design, you will be able to shoot a longer bow more accurately than a shorter bow. The longer bow will also draw more smoothly than the shorter bow. This is true but try shooting a 72″ bow out of your favorite treestand that you have cleverly placed tree limbs around.

2. Can you say “my arrow went into orbit because my bow limb hit a tree limb when I shot.” I can because it has happened to me, only I was using a 69″ longbow. A narrow limb design with a thick cross-section (typical longbow) is more stable than a wide limb design with a thin cross-section (typical recurve). Stable means that the limb is less likely to twist side to side while being shot.

The problem with using the narrow limb is that most bow designs can not be made shorter than 64″ and lots of hunters don’t want a bow that long. 

Here are some of the main differences between the two types of bows. Again I will use generalities.



  1. The longbow is longer and therefore harder to deal with in tight spots. It is not “center shot” (most are not even close) and therefore more particular about arrow set-ups.
  2. They typically are not as fast, but a good longbow has more than enough performance to get the job done. Because the limbs run through your hands and because of the lack of mass weight, they typically have more noticeable vibration. This is commonly known as hand shock.
  3. The distance between the string and the riser(known as brace height) is shorter which causes some people problems. 


  1. Longbows are lever-type mechanisms and because of this design arrow speed will not vary much between heavy and light arrows. Because it is generally longer it will be more “forgiving” in the way you grip it, draw it, and release the string.
  2. Longbows are not affected as much by the angle that you hold them while shooting. Typically they can be shot completely horizontal with no effect on accuracy.
  3. They are light in mass weight and a pleasure to carry around.
  4. They are generally beautiful works of art. They are extremely quiet when shot. They draw smoothly. 


This bow is not the bow I recommend for beginners. It is a bow that is harder to conquer and can frustrate even the more experienced shooters. I do, however, think everyone should eventually give them a try. For a number of reasons (some of which I can’t explain), they are a real thrill to shoot. 



  1. The recurve is noisy compared to a longbow.
  2. It is more particular about the way you grip it, draw it and release the string.
  3. Its accuracy can be affected by the angle by which you hold it while it is being shot.
  4. It is a spring-type mechanism and because of this design arrow speeds will vary between light and heavy arrows.
  5. They are bulkier and because of their design are not as easy to carry around. 


  1. Recurves are shorter making them easier to handle in tight spots.
  2. They generally will out perform a longbow.
  3. They have virtually no hand shock.
  4. They are less particular about the arrow spine.
  5. They have higher brace heights making them easier to shoot with a jacket on. 


This is the bow that I recommend to people starting out. If you currently shoot a compound bow the grip will feel more natural to you. This bow is typically easier to learn to shoot than a longbow and people generally shoot a recurve better. Recurves are more popular and you will have a greater selection of bows to pick from. Whichever bow you choose you will need to practice a lot to become comfortable with it. The good side to that is you will be having so much fun that you’ll want to shoot it every day!

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