Archery has been around for a really, really long time. Some experts have traced the origins of the bow and arrow as far back as 70,000 years ago when it was used for nearly all the same things they’re used for today. Whether it be hunting, warfare, or simply for recreation, there’s a bow and arrow out there for everyone, which is amazing considering that the core concept of a bow hasn’t changed at all since our species first discovered it. There are bows that shoot arrows with more force, bows that are small, bows that are large, and even bows that are made out of space-age materials! This is why we’ve decided to give you a brief rundown of the types of bows you could encounter on your archery journey, how they work, what they’re used for, and when they came about.
Anatomy of a Bow
It would be challenging, if not impossible, for you to understand the different types of bows that are available to you and really appreciate them without understanding the basic anatomy of a bow. Bows are made of individual parts, which function together to allow you to shoot your arrow safely and accurately. Below is a list of some of the essential parts of a bow you should know about including what their function is.
The limbs of a bow are one of the most important parts especially when firing an arrow. Bow libs are the flexible “edges” of the bow, which have the bowstring attached to them. These are made of materials that allow them to flex in the direction the bowstring is being pulled while the bow is being drawn and then return to their original position once the arrow has been fired.
Bow limbs are important for two reasons. Firstly, they (in combination with the bowstring) allow the bowstring to store the potential energy created when the bow is drawn, and secondly, they ensure that once your bow is at full draw it will be able to safely retain its shape and structural integrity once the arrow has been fired. Limbs on compound bows and crossbows are different as they have cams on their ends, which allows the bow to safely generate and store even more power!
The riser of a bow can be characterized as the primary structure on which all other components rest and/or are joined. The riser is also the part of the bow that you would hold when drawing your bowstring and lining up your shot, so you could say it’s pretty important. Risers can be made of wood, composite materials, metal, and even a special kind of carbon fiber.
Risers can vary considerably depending on the application of the bow, your ideal weight, what type of bow you’re using, the shape that you prefer, and what your price range is. Risers can also differ depending on handedness, so it’s best to choose which hand you’ll be gripping with and which one you’ll be drawing with before buying a riser.
This one might seem self-explanatory but in the interest of being comprehensive, let’s get into them anyway. The bowstring is the part of your bow that allows you to apply force to your arrow via its nock and generate the energy required for it to take flight. These strings are capable of storing loads of energy, a load which they share with the limbs of the bow.
The bowstring can be attached directly to your bow’s limbs, or it can be attached to cams that spool and unspool your bowstring as needed. Cams are used on compound bows and compound crossbows exclusively, and allow you to fire an arrow with far more power. Bow strings can be made of various materials, all of which have incredible tension and torsion resistance.
While the riser, bowstring, and limbs are all critical components of a bow and arrow they aren’t the only ones you’ll encounter on your archery journey. If you’re just starting out and learning the basics you don’t really need to worry about these, but we figured that it’s a good idea to mention them since many archers use them to improve their accuracy, especially over long distances.
Stabilizers might sound like some sort of futuristic mechanism, but in reality, they’re just weights (usually in the form of rods) that you can attach to the riser of your bow to increase your accuracy. Why would making your bow heavier increase your accuracy, you ask? Put simply, the weight acts as a counterbalance, which allows you to draw your bow and release your arrow with minimal deviation from the shot you’ve lined up.
Even if you’ve never held a bow or firearm before, the chances are that you’ve seen one of these before. They’re essentially magnification devices that allow you to view your target in greater detail from far distances. While they are typically found on firearms, there are ones designed for bows and crossbows too, as they are great to have for long-range hunting scenarios and even competition shooting.
Release mechanisms are cool. They allow you to grip your bowstring, draw it, and release your arrow without your fingers ever having to touch the bowstring! These are designed to increase accuracy as they eliminate any variable input your fingers could generate. There are many types of releases, such as mechanical releases, trigger releases, index finger releases, and even thumb releases. Their performance is purely subjective, so be sure to give them all a try to figure out which one suits you best (if you’d like one at all).
Arrow rests, as the name suggests allow the shaft of your arrow to rest while you’re drawing your bowstring. This component and the nock of your arrow are pretty much the only parts of your arrow that will be in direct contact with your bow besides your quiver (if you’re using one). The four primary types of arrow rests are a full capture compound, prong compound, fall away compound, and blade compound rests.
Types of Archery Bows
Whether you’re an avid archer or you’re simply interested in the nuance of the sport, it’s reasonable to assume that you’ve probably seen different types of archery bows throughout your life. Different bow types are suited for different applications, whether it be for hunting, competitive shooting, recreational shooting, or as a means of self-defense, and they each have characteristics and features, which make them proficient at their intended task. This being said let’s have a look at the different bow types you could encounter and what makes them unique.
The longbow is basically the oldest type of bow and arrow setup there is. As the name suggests this type of bow is really long and considering that the first bows were made out of wood it was the best way to increase your bow’s power output is to increase the length of your bow’s limbs, which will allow it to store more energy.
While they are the oldest type of bow, they have been used consistently since their inception, and not just for recreational applications either. There are loads of longbow field archery events, and since these bows have no cams or special limb materials to make loads of power, they can get pretty competitive.
You can find longbows in pretty much any facet of archery and is considered by many to be one of the purest forms of archery out there. Not many people use longbows as their primary bow these days but loads of archers use them as a recreational tool, to improve their fundamentals, or to teach newcomers the basics of archery.
The American Flatbow
This is pretty much an American take on the classic longbow, which is said to have originated in England. This longbow is largely similar in size and performance to the English longbow except with gentle curvature that makes it appear nearly flat in comparison. This is considered the modern incarnation of the longbow as it features fiberglass integrated into its layering, which allows it to store and subsequently release a lot more energy.
This bow is thought of as being in a league of its own. The American longbow is classified as being a type of recurve bow in most competitions, but according to the World Archery competitions body, it is recognized as its own bow type and can be used to compete in conventional field archery events and 3D archery events as well.
This bow was originally developed in the early 20th century to see if any improvement could be made to the original English longbow. There have been other attempts at innovation, but this particular model seems to have stuck and as a result, we have many variations of the American flatbow to choose from today.
The Recurve Bow
Recurve bows are arguably the most versatile and used type of bow on the market today. Recurve bows are characterized by their limbs, which bend away from the archer instead of towards them. This characteristic allows the bow to generate, store, and transfer more energy into your arrow, all while being smaller in size than a longbow.
While recurve bows were initially created as a singular unit, modern bows are modular and consist of three parts that connect to one another. The limbs, riser, and bow string can be swapped out and changed as needed, and can be made of various materials to suit your preference. Different parts can be lighter, more robust, more rigid, or simply different colors depending on what your archery needs are.
Why do we think that recurve bows are the most versatile? Well, they don’t produce a mind-blowing amount of power the way that compound bows do but they store more than enough energy for pretty much any application including hunting, field archery, and 3D archery. Recurve bows are also the only bow type allowed in every archery discipline including all World Archery events.
The Recurve Barebow
The barebow is a type of recurve bow that has been designed to be as minimalistic as possible. Conventional recurve bows are compatible with sights and stabilizing bars, which can make them easier to shoot accurately and make your shots more consistent. As the name suggests, barebow recurve bows are a bit more minimalistic by comparison.
Barebow recurves are just that, bare. At least they’re intended to be, as no aids such as scopes or bar weights are allowed in barebow competitions, as they’re a test of skill rather than the relationship between archer and bow. This doesn’t mean that barebow recurve bows are stuck in the past though, as many improvements have been made to this bow construct since its inception.
The original variation of the barebow recurve bow, like the original longbow, was simply made of wood. Barebow recurves can be made of various composite materials, and are usually quite powerful even though they have no mechanical aids attached to them. In competitions, a special stubby stabilizer can be used on these bows, provided they are able to pass through a 12-inch hoop when unstrung, as is regulation.
The Compound Bow
The compound bow is the latest iteration of the bow and arrow, not counting the crossbow, which tends to be relegated to its own category, and since you can’t use this bow in certain competitions, we think that’s fair. Compound bows are best characterized as compact units with cams located on the ends of their limbs.
Cams exploit mechanical advantage to reduce the amount of effort needed to draw your bowstring while greatly compounding the amount of power produced by the bow. There are many types of compound bows including single-cam, dual-cam, and binary cam. Different types of compound bows vary in power, durability, and frequency of maintenance, so choosing one can be a bit challenging if you’ve never fired one before.
Compound bows are versatile, powerful, accurate, and can be used in virtually any shooting scenario. As you can imagine, they are quite expensive compared to other bow types, and the more cams your bow has, the more maintenance and tuning it requires. Like any mechanical device, the more moving parts there are the greater the probability of things going wrong. Therefore, compound bows should be meticulously maintained to ensure they’re in peak working order.
To be fair, this isn’t a bow and arrow, and if you ask any veteran archer if it is, they’ll probably say no and give you a less than approving look. Crossbows are basically a compound bow attached to a weapon stock, and instead of you having to draw your bowstring manually all you need to do is cock the drawstring back, load a bolt, take aim, and fire!
This removes the need for you to keep your bowstring drawn, which enables you to focus on lining up your shot. Regardless of what anyone thinks, the use of a crossbow is classified as an archery tool, and it makes for a quick and effective weapon and hunting tool should the situation demand it. Like compound bows, crossbows are equipped with cams which make them equally (if not more) as powerful as their bow and arrow counterparts.
The limbs of a crossbow can vary depending on the style and type of bow you’re working with, but they nearly always resemble a recurve or compound bow. This being said, while it can take a long time to develop the ability to use a bow and arrow effectively, the learning curve required to use a crossbow is far less steep, which can make it especially appealing to newcomers.
What Is the Best Type of Bow and Arrow?
As you can see there are many types of bows for archery. Which one is best though? Well, it’s difficult to say. Longbows are easier to shoot and are a lot more forgiving than compound or recurve bows, but they produce less power and can be a bit challenging to carry around compared to their counterparts.
Recurve bows are sort of a middle ground between longbows and compound bows. They offer good power, stability, and consistency, and they are low maintenance compared to compound bows. They can also be modified easily with parts that are readily available, but they aren’t nearly as forgiving as longbows are especially for beginners. This being said, more and more budding archers are starting out with this bow type, which might be an indicator that they are becoming more manageable.
Compound bows are the most powerful bows for archery. They can be used in competitions, field archery, 3D archery, hunting, and pretty much any other application you can think of. Their power comes at a cost though, as dual-cam and single-cam compound bows need to be maintained regularly if you shoot often. Binary cam bows on the other hand don’t need to be re-synced and therefore require less maintenance.
Now that you know some of the basics of bow anatomy, how they work, and the different types of bows available to you, it’s time for you to get out there and put your new-found knowledge to the test. Remember that all bows have their pros and cons and that it’s best to give each one a try before settling on one, or, you could get one of each!
Frequently Asked Questions
Are Single Cam Bows Any Good?
Single cam compound bows are one of the most purchased bow types on the market today. Not only do they have ample power, but they require less tuning and maintenance than their dual-ca counterparts, which makes them quite appealing to newcomers and veterans alike.
What Was the Purpose of the Bow and Arrow?
The bow and arrow have met a number of needs for our species for thousands of years. It was primarily used for hunting and as a wartime weapon as it was one of the only long-range weapons available at the time. When gunpowder was discovered, it became less popular.
Who First Used a Bow and Arrow?
The practice of archery has been around longer than recorded history, but one of the earliest depictions of a civilization using archery is the ancient Egyptians. Their people used the bow and arrow in archery and warfare, which gave them a much-needed edge in each application.