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Compound Bow vs Longbow: Who Really Wins the Fight?

compound bow vs longbow
Written by Erik Himmel

Imagine you and your friend wondering into the bush and snipping like two seasoned paratroopers. You and your friend use bows instead of rifles. When you aim and shoot an elk with your arrows, you both erupt into an aura of celebration.

But have stopped and wondered how you have become such professional archers? Have you ever paused and compared your bows characteristics? So which one of these two delivers a bull’s-eyes? Maybe it’s a battle of wits between a compound bow vs. longbow.

Bow hunting comprises the use of bows and arrows. Usually, it works by the hunter pulls the bowstring outwards and backward. As the same time, he typically holds an arrow nocked perpendicularly to the string facing ahead. The bowstring itself attaches to both sides of a long stick or branch that is skewed slightly, hence the name bow.

Many gradual improvements in the design, materials, and uses of these weapons have taken place. Hence, these signs of progress have significantly evolved to justify a glaring distinction. Now, there exist two broad categories of bows – longbow vs. compound bow.

So what’s the difference between these two? And how to distinguish which one is an ideal piercing weapon? You must understand the difference between the two.

Unknown to you, they differ from the origin, uses, design as well as handling. Besides, each has its distinct materials and construction technology. Finally, both of these have specific vulnerabilities.

In this write-up, I am going to inform you about all these details. Hopefully, after reading through, you would be able to differentiate them by a simple look. You will also describe the bow, fletching, and bowstring precisely. So stay tuned and carry on reading for more information below.

Compound bow vs. Longbow

The traditional and good quality longbow comprises a bowstring that is tied to a bowed implement. Usually, the tool is a single unit from top to bottom. To lurch your arrow far, you need to pull the bowstring back significantly. This action required a lot of energy and concentration. Therefore, you have to lug your entire weight backward. Besides, you need to stay erect for improved accuracy.

compound bow and longbow

If you have less weight, however, this action is awkward. Its difficulty is even more so if your hands are unsteady. Therefore, a better contraption replaced this mechanism. Here, a pulley (cam) is introduced to recoil the strings. And to improve the versatility and reinforcement at the center, a thicker and more robust member is fitted. Therefore, the entire length comprises of a short truncated upper recurve segment, and a lower one coupled together with a much stronger middle unit.

The advantage of this new design is that it allowed for a more significant backward movement of the bowstring without the bow breaking. Further, the archer used less energy. Still, the accuracy of the arrow to the target significantly improved.

1. Origins

Bows have been in existence for millennia. A 17,000-year-old arrow discovered in South Africa proved that bow hunting existed even during the stone-age era. It’s believed that the Egyptian are the ones who invented the bows and arrows. Many pieces of evidence indicate bows in use around 2,300 BC.

During this period, the preferred construction materials were sticks from hardwood timber such as ash, oak. The string was made of sheep intestine.

Obviously, so many changes have taken place since then. From the rudimentary and inaccurate weapon, you now have an extremely light and powerful tool.

Compound bow

A compound bow is an improvement of the longbow. It’s fairly intricate. Holless Allen gets credit for the development of the compound bow. He modified a longbow into the much stronger compound bow we see today.  He did this by initiated several improvements to the longbow and showcased it through a patent he applied for in 1966 and received in 1969.

The new compound made its debut in the US National Archery Competition in the 1970s.


Bowhunting enthusiasts Baer, Hiyt, and Mathews refined the longbow using new and modern materials. They transformed the hitherto wood frame and sheep intestines elements previously used for the construction of these longbows.

But even before the new revolution in the manufacture of the longbow, a previous one had already occurred. The most advanced modernization of the medieval bow goes to the Welsh. It appears that they manufactured the longbow into a tactical offensive weapon.

Their archers managed to withhold a large regime of British soldiers in the Battle of Waterloo in 1066. But the first recorded use of a longbow was during the battle of AD 633 during the war between the Welsh and Mercians. Since then, this particular longbow earned the name of British longbow.

It’s been used in numerous battles with the French both on land and in the sea.

2. Design

The design of a longbow varies from that of a compound bow. We elaborate on these variations in details below.

Compound bow

The high-quality compound bowsare sophisticated. They have two sewn recurve ends fitted with pulleys at the end (limb). Either or both cams feature one or more cables attached to the opposite limb.

These cams provide the pivot needed when you pull back the bowstring. This action (let off) enhances the accuracy of the arrow while giving a more natural aiming response.

The center of the compound bow (riser) pivots the limbs, bow sights, bow stabilizers and the quiver. This section required greater flexibility to transfer as much of the stored energy from the bow to the arrow. This segment curves out towards the target, making it exert more force that is subsequently transferred to the arrow.

Newer models of compound bows have cables and cables slides as well as brace height. This is the length between a grip throat and the bowstring.


The longbow, on the other hand, comprises a long weapon measuring about four-feet long. Its stave was from D-shaped section of a hardwood branch. It has a singular and long limb. Typically, it’s made from a single material. There is no reinforcement or any clamping along the entire stretch.

Even if the bowstring structure is the same as that used in a compound bow, the longbow still shoots slower and requires more force. Still, the arching process is also more strenuous than the former. This is due to the lack of bow curve, absence of cams as well as a more prolonged and weaker limb.

3. Material

The elements that make the longbow and compound bow affect how these two tools operate. Let’s look and the material composition of longbow vs. compound bows.

Compound bow

Previously, compound bows comprised of plastic coated steel. However, due to lower tensile strength and greater flexibility – that decreased the arrow’s overall accuracy, – they now feature more suitable materials.

The more prominent material currently is the high-modulus polyethylene compound. It offers higher tensile strength as well as maximum energy transfer.


The ancient longbows were constructed mostly from yew. However, hazel and elms were occasionally used. It was then coated with resin, wax or excellent tallow to improve its tensile strength. Currently, however, composite materials of laminated fiberglass and tampered wood are now used to make recreational longbows.

4. Uses and Benefits

Long ago, bows and arrows were used for hunting and conquering. But presently, they are used primarily in sports hunting and bow shooting competitions. Archery has grown as a favorite pastime as well as a game in all major tournaments.

Compound bow

A compound bow has a more significant benefit due to its design. The robust cams allow for a higher energy reserve. You only draw a portion of the energy and rest remains at the front where it’s needed most when shooting. The horizontal limbs also reduce the vibration and recoil intensity before shooting the compound bow, improving the accuracy of the shot as a result.

Further, modern compound bows have sighting devices to improve aim, as well as mechanical release to retain shot consistencies. Therefore, you are likely to shot accurately using less effort.


Longbow proved challenging to use since it required inertia of over 65 pounds to deliver the necessary projectile power. This posture is also more strenuous since one has to arch significantly back to convert sufficient energy to the kinetic power needed by the arrow.

Different types of longbows were used for assorted arrows. There existed fight arrows, with chisel arrows. Other bows accommodated hunting arrows. Even within them, they also vary between animals and birds hunting types.

When you compare longbow vs. compound bow, you find that a longbow is lighter and quicker to shoot. Besides, it’s quieter. Further, the longbow is easy to make since it needs just one or two tree branches.

5. Draw Length

In archery, you need to be sure about a bow’s draw length. Typically, a draw length has a close correlation with your overall body size. Take the distance from the tip of a nocked arrow to the tip of your draw-out hands are. Divide this distance by two-and-half, and you get your draw length,

Compound bow

For a compound bow draw length, measuring the arrow tip should ideally be around two feet beyond the riser at full draw. When you hold this position and measure the arrow length, you get the draw length by adding one foot to the computed distance.


The draw length of a longbow is usually more than five feet. Many of the early models had their measures reaching twelve feet. But they commonly averaged six-and-a-half feet long.

6. Limitations

Even the best functioning longbows or compound bows have their drawbacks. Below are some of the shortfalls that are apparent in both the compound bow and the longbow.

Compound bow

By design, compound bows have many moving parts. This structure makes them susceptible to breakages and parts malfunctions. Further, many elements make maintenance and handling a bit expensive.

Replacement is also intensive. It requires special tools to replace and repair damaged parts or strings of the compound bow.


The longbow stretches more slowly and unsteadily. When you draw it backward, your arms move with the full energy you are exerting. You need more power to hold back your aim hands firmly. At the same time, during the process of drawing your bow, less energy is available at the point where the bowstring meets the arrow. This has the dual effects of releasing less punch directly to the arrow, as well as exacerbating your unstable hold.

Hence when you release the arrow, it first, only move a short distance and then, is less linear in its movement. Further, it’s more likely to miss its target due to a weak trajectory caused by less force.

7. Care and Maintenance Requirements

Proper care for your bows is vital. You appreciate that owning a modern compound bow may cost you up to one thousand dollars. Even with the composite material, they have many parts and accessories that need tender care.

Compound bow

Compound bows have sights, pulleys, limbs, cables, and cams. All these are made of different materials. Further, their assembly is delicate. Hence you ought to maintain each component individually:

  • Cables: Waxing protects your cables when not in use. Do this once a month or after every exposure to the elements.
  • Limbs: Laminated limbs are susceptible to cracking under the various layers. Do thorough inspection (by rubbing with cotton wool) to identify such defects.
  • Frame: This component suffers from a lot of tension. Inspect it routinely for cracks and twists.
  • Cams: Visually check on the cams before using your compound bow. To prevent corrosion and discoloration, wipe this part clean after every use.
  • Accessories like bow-sights rest, and quivers also require regular maintenance. Accurately mount them to avoid any damages through colliding with other surfaces.


Longbows are made from composite frames or laminated timber. Run periodic inspection to identify damages to the fame and the bowstring. Apply remedial measure similar to those on frames and limbs and accessories in the compound bows. Don’t store limbs in a hot compartment.

Keep your longbow in a cool dry place. Better still, afford similar treatment to bolts and nuts.


You understand the compound bows offer better performance than the longbows. However, you may still come across diehard adherents of the traditional bowing techniques. To them using compound bow vs. longbow both propel the arrow to the ordinary distance of twenty-two feet.

But the inclusion of modern technology into bowing has made significant strides that you can’t ignore. In fact, the new construction and materials have made the hitherto bow hunting more comfortable sports to learn.

So, whether you aspire to up your hunting skills or win a trophy at an archery completion, you have to start by learning how to use, to differentiate and care for your bows and arrows. Either way, you still need to practice consistently to perfect your pull, nock, aim, and shoot.

About the author

Erik Himmel

A Part-Time Firearm Instructor

Hi, this is Erik. We all know firearms are dangerous, but only when one doesn’t know how to use and care for them. I have 15+ years of experience with different types of guns and for the last 10 years, I have taught numerous people how to hold and shoot a gun while staying safe and keeping the surroundings unharmed. My neighbors are some of my biggest admirers who enjoy talking to me about their guns, firearms safety and maintenance.

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