Gear

The 14 Types of Bows and Which Is Right for You

boy shooting a bow

Learning how to shoot a bow should be one of the top priorities on your survival plan. For some reason, picking up a bow often tends to intimitate folks far more than learning how to shoot a gun.

Maybe it’s because aiming and shooting a firearm seems like a less complicated process than figuring out how to load and release and arrow – and making sense of all the moving parts on a hunting bow.

Perhaps it is the fear of looking foolish – or getting stung horribly on the arm when pulling back to release the arrow, that deters many novices from learning how to use this silent, deadly, and vital survival weapon.

Men and women who grew up country likely had a bow thrust into their hands at an early age. Out here, children learn how to shoot and hunt with both firearms and bows generally starting at age nine of 10.

Simply because you are getting a late start and did not have a papaw to teach you how to hold and shoot a bow, does not mean this hunting and self-defense weapon is beyond your reach and capabilities.

With some bow selection guidance and proper training, you could be hitting dead center on a target and ready to go into the woods in search of wild game in just a few weeks. Bow hunting is no easier or more difficult than hunting with a rifle – it just takes practice.

Types Of Bows And Selection

You could hunt all the common types of game wandering around in the woods across the United States with any type of bow currently on the market.

But, figuring out which bow best suits your physical capabilities, age, and size requires both some pondering and trial and error.

The 14 Types of Archery Bows

Compound BowRecurve Bow
Traditional or Long BowCrossbow
Takedown BowBare Bow
Self BowHorse Bows
Flight BowsYumi Bow
Reflex BowFoot Bow
Survival BowFlat Bow

None of the bows are better for hunting or self-defense than the other, they can all be used to take down an attacker from a far away, or to harvest dinner from the woods.

The choice of which bow to either begin learning on or transition to comes down to personal preference and abilities.

recurve bow

Recurve Bow

Recurve bows have been around for hundreds of years and originally used exclusively for hunting. In our modern era, the bow is also often used for beginning target practice as well as for archery contests.

This type of bow is often manufactured in wood, wood laminates, or the less expensive, fiberglass. The bow was created out of a simplistic concept that join a couple of limbs together as one at the rise – the bow string attaches to other limbs.

The riser on a recurve bow typically boasts both an arrow rest and a sight. It is favored by beginners and instructors because of its sturdy nature but simple design.

A beginner that may not possess the physical ability to handle the tension weight on a different variety of bow may still be able to shoot this variety accurately.

Because of the physics in the design of the recurve bow, it can release and arrow a lot further than some other types of archery bows. The end of the limbs on a recurve bow curl forward and increase the power of the weapon without adding extra length to it – like a traditional longbow.

When the archer draws the bow back, the recurve limbs arc away from the body and help enable the bow to force more energy into the arrow being fired. Both the design and the size of a recurve bow are an asset for an archer shooting from dense terrain, in the saddle, or from inside a blind.

One of the most striking differences between a recurve bow and the other three varieties of bow is not what is has, but what it does not have. When you are bow shopping and see a recurve being displayed or inside of a package it is definitely a “what you see is what you get” type of situation.

While other compound and crossbows are often sold in basic form, they are designed for accessories to also be purchased and attached – not so with a recurve bow.

When contest shooting or hunting with this type of bow, the accuracy of a fire arrow depends solely on the archer’s aim, strength, and naked eye sighting abilities.

Even with the what some folks would deem limitations, the recurve bow remains extremely popular with hunters because of their ultra quiet shooting style and amazing ease of use.

The only downside of a recurve bows involves its lack of adjustability – the draw weight cannot be adjusted because the bow is not designed to be altered.

Compound Bow

This bow has a whole lot of moving parts – and that is exactly why some hunters are so enamored with the compound bow. It has rapid fire capabilities and effective when aimed.

The compound bow has not been around nearly as long as the recurve bow, but is still a population target training and competition bow.

This variety of bow boasts a levering system that enhances its quick and highly accurate firing mechanism – as well as a detailed cable and pulley system.

But, a compound bow can be more than a big challenging for a novice or less physically able person top shoot because of the magnitude of strength necessary to master its draw weight to pull the arrow back.

Aiming a compound bow also requires more strength before arrow releases than a recurve bow. The multiple moving parts on this style of bow make it a more maintenance intensive bow than the recurve.

Many hunters and trainers believe that a compound box is more adept at taking down large animals and agile deer than a recurve bow.

When using a recurve bow, the harvesting of deer or large animals is typically only possible if the person using the bow is strong enough and quick enough to fire the arrow with the maximum amount of pressure.

A compound bow can be adjusted with custom weights to enhance its versatility – allowing even less strong archers to take down a large animal. Compound bows come in an array of sizes and draw weights, allowing the purchaser to get the perfect fit to suit their strength and size.

A compound bow is generally created out of lightweight material like fiberglass, carbon composites, or aluminum. The pulley system on the bow is often referred to as a “cam.”

The cam reduces the level of force an archer must use to draw back the arrow – effectively allowing them to retain it in a stable position longer to aim before shooting.

Unlike a recurve bow, the compound bow is explicitly designed for the addition of accessories. Sight pins are probably the most popular accessories for this type of bow. The pins permit the archer to aim more accurately for extended yardage.

The sight pin also enables an archer to better determine how much draw weight is needed to release the arrow to hit the desired target at a specific distance.

Traditional Bow

A traditional or long bow is definitely the most challenging of all bow types to operate when hunting wild game. A traditional bow is also commonly referred to as a “straight bow.” This type of bow has been used to hunt and for self-defense for centuries.

This extremely simplistic bow boasts just two pieces – the bow itself and the string. In modern times, the traditional bow is primarily used for competition shooting, but it can also be used for hunting.

Even traditionalists who use it for hunting do no frequently hunt large game with the long bow – although it can be done depending upon the strength and skill or the archer. A heavier draw weight must be used when hunting than during archery contests.

You can make a straight bow yourself or purchase one at a store or online. Like the recurve bow, the traditional bow is now designed for any accessories to be added. This means the drawing, aiming, and firing are done entirely manually.

The act of drawing the bow is not complicated, but it does require strength. Drawing a straight bow requires turning the arch of the bow curve toward you while holding the arrow between your fingers on the bow.

Traditional bows are commonly made of wood but can also be found made of fiberglass composite materials. The biggest challenge when shooting a traditional bow relates to the high draw weight the archer must manipulate when pulling the string backwards. When the string is released improperly, the welt on your arm can be substantial.

Crossbow

A crossbow looks and acts more like a firearm than a bow. Many die-hard archers – especially men, look down upon the compound bow because of its highly automated shooting style… they consider it cheating. Crossbows are primarily used for hunting, but have also been used in archery competitions.

A trigger is squeezed to release both the string and the arrow on a crossbow. When dealing with crossbows, an arrow is typically referred to as a “bolt.” Because of the design on this type of bow, they are far easier to shoot than the recurve, compound, and traditional bow.

Fans of crossbows rave about the high level of accuracy and quietness they possess. Being able to fire quietly, accurately, and rapidly is definitely a benefit when either hunting or using the bow for self-defense. Being able to fire a bolt a great distance is also advantageous when hunting wild game so spooking your prey can be avoided.

Crossbows are lightweight and small, making them more portable and easy to manage when traversing rough terrain. The limbs on this type of bow are smaller than those on a long bow, recurve bow, or a compound bow.

Like compound bows, accessories can be mounted to a crossbow to enhance drawing, aiming, or firing.

Takedown Bows

This type of bow is made to be taken apart quickly and easily for transportation. Some folks mistake the name of this type of archery bow to mean is has some special ability to “take down” wild game.

While it is a good hunting bow, nothing about its design gives it an edge over other more popular styles of hunting bows.

Typically, recurve bows also have bottom and top limbs that can be removed after the string is also taken off so it too can be broken down into three pieces for easy transport.

Barebow

A barebow is a type of archery bow that does not have either a sight or a stabilizer. These bows are often used for competition shooting, and are similar in size and shape to many modern bow varieties but do not boast modern shooting aids like a sight, stabilizer, or clicker – for example.

Some barbows do have weights to a riser. Fans of barbows are traditional archers who are highly skilled and can aim and fire instinctively.

Self Bow

This type of traditional archery bow is comprised of a single piece of wood. This style of bow can also include long bows and flat bows.

Horse Bow

Mounted archers used this style of specialized traditional recurve barebow because of its weight, size, and easy maneuverability while on horseback.

Flight Bows

A flight bow is a specialized style of archery bow created to maximize the arrow’s flight path. It is an incredibly lightweight bow in a recurve or compound design that shoots more aerodynamic and shorter arrows.

The arrow is drawn back to the arc of bow limbs so it can rest on the arm of the archer to harness as much power and draw into the release as possible.

Yumi Bow

A yumi bow is a type of traditional Japanese bows with an asymmetrical designs – including both the shorter hankyu bow and the longer daikyu bow, that are used when following the kyudo style of Japanese archery.

These bows are now typically used primarily for contest shooting but can also be used for hunting by skilled archers. This type of weapon is also often referred to as the “Kyudo Bow.”

Reflex Bow

This type of archery bow has either curled or curved arms that turn away from the archer for the whole of their length. This design style allows the bow to be substantially shorter than both a long bow or a recurve bow but still possesses the ability to shoot at the same or greater velocity.

Foot Bow

This type of specialist bows has a significant draw weight that is designed to be drawn using both hands from a lying position while the feet hold the bow steady.

The foot bow is typically made out of a composite that is made with the intent of increasing raw power during the arrow release. Foot bows are often used in flight archery.

Survival Bows

These types of specialized bows are relatively new when compared to most of the bows on this list. Thanks to the millions of folks who understand the value of prepping, “survival” bows were developed to address the portability and versatility needs of users preparing for the worst.

Survival bows are generally lightweight, have a compact or rapid takedown design, can be easily and quickly reassembled, can be carried simply and often allow for extra arrow storage.

Flat Bow

A flat bow has basically wide limbs, is not recurved, and is … flat. The limbs on a flat bow are rectangular in cross section. Because of the limb design, flat bows are especially narrow and are deeper in the handle area with a rounded solid handle that enhances a firm grip.

Archery Bow Construction

Wooden Bows

Archery bows made out of wood are commonly the longbow, yumi, or flat bow. Wood commonly used to make bows include elm, yew, rosewood, and bamboo.

Composite Bows

A composite bows is comprised of multiple types of materials, often a mix of fiberglass and wood. This combination of materials can provide a bow with enhanced flexibility and strength.

A compound bow generally refers to a traditional style bow that is made from sinew and wood. Most modern composite bows boast a laminated finish.

Fiberglass Bows

A fiberglass bows is considered better than wood by some archers, from a flexibility and strength perspective. But, most advanced or “upper end” bows are not made from fiberglass.

A fiberglass bow is typically far less expensive and used in specialized bows, youth bows, and basic bows marketed to beginners.

Laminated Bows

This type of bow material is made using a technique that layers varying material and securing them all together with a heat, glue, or welding process. Lamination can make a bow far stronger, and is often used in modern mass manufactured bows.

Glass Bows

Some styles of archery bows are comprised of graphite or solid glass limbs. These limbs are made using the extrusion process.

The materials used to make glass bows have varying strength than lamination that gives a unique power and feel to the bow. But, bows made using this process tend to have a much higher price tag than most other varieties.

Wrap-Up

Once you learn how to use your first bow, you want want to upgrade to a more expensive model or master other varieties to capitalize on the strengths of all four types from both a hunting and survival perspective.

Regardless of the type of bow you choose when, mastering the basics of use is necessary before being able to depend on the weapon to put food on the table or to take down attackers.

Archery bows can be purchased online, but going into an outdoors store and garnering the help of a trained associate can help you find the best fit for your body size, strength, and abilities. To learn more about how to buy your first bow, check out our bow buying guide.

types of bows Pinterest image

Tara Dodrill

About Tara Dodrill

Tara Dodrill is a homesteading and survival journalist and author. She lives on a small ranch with her family in Appalachia. She has been both a host and frequent guest on preparedness radio shows. In addition to the publication of her first book, 'Power Grid Down: How to Prepare, Survive, and Thrive after the Lights go Out', Dodrill also travels to offer prepping tips and hands-on training and survival camps and expos.
View all posts by Tara Dodrill →

6 thoughts on “The 14 Types of Bows and Which Is Right for You

  1. A few notes I would add to an excellent article. Bow can also be made of pvc, I make recurve and crossbows using heated and molded PVC pipe, 3/4 inch or 1 inch. They have pulls ranging from 35lb to 55lb.

    Additionally a crossbow can be used for a trap very easily using a simple trip wire. It’s very illegal but could be used to secure a location in shtf or put along trails used by deer

  2. As a little kid I had a beautiful hand made yew bow. Quite a nice now for a little kid. By my teens I had a beautiful l a mutated deep recurve bow. It was a 90 lb pull. My other competition bow was a 75 lb fiberglass long bow. I lost them both to a theft when I was 17.
    Today I have a smaller crissbow with a 50 lb pull that fires an 8″ bolt. I also have a pair of 40 lb fiberglass long bows. One is in need of a new bow string. That will soon be taken care of.
    I have arrows with sharp bullet point tips and some with triangular hunting points.
    I plan to make a new quiver to wear strapped to my back like I wore it in competition. A form of fast draw. Pull an arrow and come over the left shoulder with the right hand. Knok the arrow and quickly pull and aim in one swift movement then release. It was competitive but a good follow up if needed to quickly drop a deer if hunting. Easier than too long a blood trail.
    I’ve seen some homemade pvcpipe bows. Some work quite well in fact.
    Nice info on the basic types of bows and their traditional uses.
    My next purchase will probably be a nice wood recurve bow. Its a good alpurpose piece of equipment. If my right arm is strong enough from a bone surgery I’m wanting to make an elm long bow. Make it green then work it to stay limber while it dries.
    Nemoseto: you might like trying a wood bow if you have good wood available. Find a fairly straight limb about 3″ or 4 inches across and 6′ to 7′ long. Split it lengthwise. Then carve it and shape it a as you thin it to about 1/2″ thick. The heart wood is the best part. A little wider toward the middle and narrower toward the ends. Notch near the rounded tips for the bow string. Keep a more uniform thickness from tip to tip. If you prefer an aiming bump add that shape in the middle to your preferred side for right or left hand use.
    I link at least some recurve at the ends. You do that by boiling the shaping area and make a wooden curve to mold the shape you want as it dries. I use a 1′ piece of 1×6. Decide on a shape and draw it on the 1×6. Then drill and place 3″ long dowel pieces along both sides of the line to hold the 1/2″thick wood bow as it dries. It should be a curve toward the archer then the tips curve away. It really adds spring and power.
    The middle if strong will curve away from the archer when the bow is strung. It needs to be kept limber and flexible while the wood is drying.

    1. Yeah I know about wooden bows, I have made at least 2 dozen from white Ash. Pulls between 30 and 60lb . Some backed with deer sinew, some I made deer leather handles on. I usually use sinew or artificial sinew thread. I make arrows fletching with turkey feathers. Points I also make. I sell the wooden bows when I make them and most ended up on the wall in display in houses on the rez. I sold a few PVC bows too (I wrote an article a few years ago that them calling them “$5 bush bow”). Right now I only have a PVC recurve bow and it mostly hangs in a wall these days

  3. Like a lot of kids I started with the cheap little wooden bow and rubber suction cup arrows. Yeah, I learned quick to get a cheap real arrow. Had to become an instinct shooter because I didn’t realize that I was left-eye dominant. Now, sadly, my shoulder and back would have a fit if I drew my 25# recurve. Maybe I’ll give it a whirl if I can find a doc who’s open and who will remove a huge skin tag from the inside of my left elbow. That would SOOOOO bleed.

    Once upon a time I saw a Sythian horse bow online. Ooooh, I wanted it, still do.

  4. Cross Bows require as much caution in use as firearms. A good fried of mine lost his left thumb in a regrettable accident while hunting. Like all deadly weapons, all bows require your undivided attention.

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