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Compound Bow vs Longbow: Who Really Wins the Fight?

compound bow vs longbow
Written by Catherine Weeks
Last Update: August 11, 2023

Compound bows are becoming increasingly popular nowadays. With the advancement of modern technology, compound bows are becoming more robust, flexible, and accurate.

However, a large portion of bowhunters still uses traditional longbows for archery and hunting. Now the question is, why? What is the difference between these two? And how to distinguish which one is an ideal piercing weapon?

That’s what we’re going to discuss today in our “compound bow vs longbow” guide. We’ll explore the key difference between these 2 bow types, and help you choose the best one for you.

Compound bows use a pulley system to store potential energy, resulting in high-velocity (up to 370 ft/sec), and high-powered arrows whereas traditional longbows feature a traditional outlook, are low-maintenance and are easy to carry around. Which one you’ll end up choosing depend largely on your preference.

Let’s explore more in our in-depth “Compound Bow vs Longbow” comparison:

A Brief History

Longbow vs Compound Bow

The traditional, good-old longbow comprises a bowstring that’s 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 requires a lot of energy and concentration. Therefore, you have to lug your entire weight backward. Besides, you need to stay upright for improved accuracy. If you have less weight, however, this action is awkward.

It’s even more difficult if your hands are unsteady. Therefore, a better contraption has replaced this mechanism in a modern-day compound bow.

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 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 without the bow breaking apart.

What’s more? the archer now needs to spend less energy, and yet, the accuracy of the arrow has significantly improved.

Compound Bow vs Longbow: Key Differences

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 Egyptians are the ones who invented the bows and arrows. Many pieces of evidence indicate bows were in use around 2,300 BC.

During this period, the preferred construction materials were sticks from hardwood timber such as ash and 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 lightweight and powerful tool.

Compound bow

A compound bow is an improvement upon 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 and love today.  He did this by initiating several improvements to the longbow and showcasing 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 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 medieval archery 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 the 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. Let’s see what our “compound bow vs longbow” comparison guide points out about the design differences between these two types of bows:

Compound bow

The high-quality compound bows are 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 quivers. This section required greater flexibility to transfer as much of the stored energy from the bow to the arrow as possible.

This segment curves out towards the target, making it exert more force, which is subsequently transferred to the arrow.

Newer models of compound bows have cables and cable slides as well as a higher 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 a 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 clamping along the entire stretch.

Even if the bowstring structure is the same as in a compound bow, the longbow still shoots slower and requires more force.

As a result, the arching process is also more strenuous than the former. This is due to the lack of a bow curve, the 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 perform. Let’s look and the material composition of compound bow vs longbow.

Compound bow

Previously, compound bows comprised plastic-coated steel. However, due to lower tensile strength and 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 the 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 shoot accurately using less effort.


Longbow proved challenging to use since it required an inertia of over 65 lbs to deliver the necessary projectile power. This posture is also more strenuous since you’ll have to arch significantly back to convert sufficient energy 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 animal and bird hunting types.

When you compare a longbow vs. a compound bow, you find that a longbow is lighter and quicker to shoot. Besides, it’s also quieter.

Additionally, 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. Divide this distance by 2.5, and you’ll 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 up to 12 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, having many elements make compound bow 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 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 moves a short distance and 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 bow is vital. You appreciate that owning a modern compound bow may cost you up to $1,000. 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 various layers. Do a 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 damage through colliding with other surfaces.


Longbows are made from composite frames or laminated timber. Run periodic inspections to identify damages to the fame and the bowstring.

Apply remedial measures 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.

Are Compound Bows Better Than Longbows: Which One to Get?

Compound bows and longbows have been used for centuries in hunting and archery. Now, you might be thinking Is a compound bow better than a longbow, or is it the other way around?

That’s a question that has been debated by hunters, archers, and outdoor enthusiasts for many years. Let’s find out which is the better option for you.

When a Compound Bow Is Better

Compound bows are becoming increasingly popular due to their superior accuracy and power compared to traditional longbows. While some people will always prefer the classic look of a longbow, it’s hard to deny the benefits of a compound bow.

Compound bows have several advantages over longbows. They are capable of higher draw weights than traditional longbows, allowing for greater accuracy, longer range, and more penetrating power.

The cams on a compound bow also make it easier to shoot with a consistent draw length, which can be very helpful for novice archers.

Additionally, compound bows are usually easier to maintain and tune than longbows. This can be a big plus for people who aren’t as experienced with bow maintenance and tuning.

When a Long Bow Is Better

Longbows have several advantages over their modern counterpart that make them attractive to traditionalists.

Their simpler design makes them lighter and easier to carry, making them a popular choice for hunters who must traverse long distances.

Longbows can also be more durable than compound bows since they are less complicated and require fewer parts. They don’t usually require as much maintenance or tuning either, which can be a plus for those with limited technical skills.

Finally, traditional longbows are often more aesthetically pleasing than compound bows, which can be a plus for those who prioritize looks.

Longbow vs Compound Bow: Which One You Should Get

The choice of whether to get a compound bow or a longbow is up to the individual archer or hunter. Both have their advantages and disadvantages, so it’s important to weigh all of the factors before making a decision.

Some archers may prefer the classic look and feel of a longbow, while others may be drawn to the power and accuracy of a compound bow.

Ultimately, the choice is yours, so do your research and find the option that best fits your needs. Good luck!


And with that, we’re at the endgame of our in-depth “compound bow vs longbow” comparison. Let’s do a quick recap.

You understand that compound bows offer better performance than longbows. However, you may still come across diehard fans of traditional bowing techniques.

To them, using both a compound bow and a longbow propel the arrow to the ordinary distance of 22 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 bow hunting a more comfortable sport for everyone.

So, whether you aspire to hunt elks, deers, or any other small-medium game animal; or win a trophy at an archery completion, you have to start by learning how to use, differentiate and care for your bows and arrows.

Either way, you still need to practice consistently to perfect your pull, nock, aim, and shoot.


Which Type of Bow Is More Accurate: Longbow or Compound?

Compound bows are generally considered to be more accurate than longbows as they feature a system of pulleys that help create consistent draw weight throughout the shot.

Is It Easier to Shoot a Longbow or Compound Bow?

In most cases, compound bows are easier to shoot than longbows since they feature a system of pulleys that help make the draw weight consistent throughout the shot. Compound bows also tend to be less affected by wind speeds, giving them an extra accuracy boost.

How Much Draw Weight Should I Use With Each Type of Bow?

Generally speaking, recurve bows require more draw weight than compound bows, with 40-50 lbs being the standard range for recurves and 25-45 lbs being the usual range for compounds.

For safety reasons, it is important to never exceed the maximum recommended draw weight for either type of bow.

About the author

Catherine Weeks

Cathy believes that hunting is not about downing an animal; rather, it’s about enjoying the purity of this challenge and making a connection with nature.

She loves country music, horses, shooting, and hunting; and spends her weekends in the great outdoors with her husband and two kids.

Though Cathy has hunted most of her life, it was not until her partner gave her a bow that she realized she had finally found her passion.

She is always determined to share her missed opportunities, dedication, emotions, and small details that people often forget to mention when they talk about their hunting experiences.

Cathy also works to promote wildlife preservation and protect natural resources. She thinks “patience” is the most important thing that can make a big difference.

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