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Shortbow vs Longbow: Which One is Best for You?

Shortbow vs Longbow
Written by Catherine Weeks
Last Update: August 11, 2023

For archers who are interested in purchasing a bow, deciding on a winner from the “shortbow vs longbow” can seem a little confusing.  This will help the archer to have a clear knowledge of their features, uses, and benefits.

Just like their name suggests, longbows are longer than short bows. Longbows allow the shooter to put more energy into each shot and make them cover longer distances. Short bows, on the other hand, provide comfort as less energy is required for each shot. 

Let’s dive deeper into the full comparison and figure out who wins the “long bow vs short bow” comparison once and for all.

What’s a Shortbow?

A short bow is designed to shoot within close range and mid-range. Their arrows aren’t heavy but light in weight, which fits the bow’s capacity. Crossbows and recurve bows are common examples of short bows.

What’s a Longbow?

The longbows are designed to travel far with tremendous accuracy, breaking through defenses, and tough amours. They are longer than short bows, which is why archers using this type of bow need a lot of space to shoot.

Shortbow vs Longbow: Key Differences

Shortbow vs Longbow: Which One is Best for You

The difference between a long bow and a short bow is realized through their features. There are strong qualities a bow must possess to make it valuable for the user.

The most important features or factors used to classify these two types of bows in this discussion are based on their origins, design, materials, uses, benefits, draw length, limitations, and the required care and maintenance guide.

To further clarify your vague idea of these bows, let’s ponder on these factors briefly.

1. Origins

This is a factor to consider because it helps the owner to have a history of how these bows came into existence. Looking at their origins, we have;


This set of bows can be traced back to northern Asia. It is reported that the nomads of the dry, cold grasslands in Asia, were predominant users of this bow.

Short bows were known to be consistent during the bronze age by the Greeks. They used it on horseback infiltrating the ranks of their enemies during battle. Minoans and Mycenaeans Greeks were well known for using these bows.

They were later improved by the Chinese, Assyrians, and Egyptians as they came in contact with the nomads from Asia.


The longbows otherwise known as the English longbow were first noticed during the Anglo-Saxon invasion of Wales in 633AD.

It is referred to as the English longbow because England holds the greatest military record of using the longbows. The English warriors used longbows against the French warriors during the war that lasted over a period of 100 years.

It was a powerful war bow in medieval archery and warfare.

2. Design

One critical factor that distinguishes longbows and shortbows is their mode of design. This factor describes the shape and form of these bows in detail.


This bow is designed with flexible shaft wood, sharp at both ends with a central part and two curve woody wings. This center is designed with a strong horn or bone glued to connect and hold the two wings’ wood together.

The wood used should have different mechanical properties to maintain and hold its bending and non-bending ability.

The ends of the wood are held by a strong cord or a gut string a bit shorter than the wood shaft. The size of this bow is 3 to 4 feet long, about 1.2 meters.

The design for self-bows, which is an example of a short bow requires only one type of wood.

So the mode of design is easy. But for other types of short bow, the wood used is of varieties. Also, putting together a self-bow is easy, and doesn’t take much time.

Whereas, other types are not easy to construct because it needs a lot of time and focuses while put together. But the finished result is worthwhile as it is more durable and can withstand moisture.

However, for the much more complex short bows, the center must be carefully crafted to store enough energy and provide elastic capacity for the wing woods to hold on.

It must be constructed such that the sinews are stretched outside, while the horn located in the middle is compressed inside.


This class of bows is designed into a long curvy D-shape. This bow shape provides the overall performance of the English longbow.

The bow stave is long to hold the size of the arrow and the draw length is wide. The length of this bow is considered within the size of 6 to 7 feet long, almost or the size of the height of an average man.

The longbows are designed from a single type of wood and the finished product is protected with a water-resistant coating to keep it strong and durable.

From this wood, the bow is constructed to possess sapwood and heartwood. The inside of the bow contains the heartwood while the outside contains the sapwood.

Finally, the bowstrings are designed from specific materials to meet the weight of the bow.

3. Material

The next thing to consider in our “shortbow vs longbow” comparison is the materials used in putting together the short bow and longbow. The materials involved must be of a standard to provide maximum results. Let’s have a deeper look.


The basic materials needed to construct this bow are simply; wood, glue, bone or horn, stiffening laths, and sinews. The woods used are either hard maples or bamboo.

This wood mechanical property helps the wood to withstand stress. The sinew can be obtained from the lower legs and back of wild deer.

This sinew provides elastic tension, thereby increasing the amount of energy stored by the wood.

The glue is either animal glue, hide glue, or gelatin obtained directly from the gas bladder of fish. The arrows and strings used are not specific, but the arrows must be short.


The basic materials involved in producing the English longbow are; elm or yew sapwood and heartwood, horn, ash, hemp or silk strings, and glue.

The yew or elm sapwood provides good tension while the heartwood resists the compression. The distribution of this wood must not be above 50%. Likely a 50-50.

The string cord tied to both ends through horn nocks is made of hemp or silk material.

Varieties of arrows used are broad-arrow, wolf-arrow, dog-arrow, welsh arrow, and Scottish arrow. These arrows must not be light in weight but must meet the standard for maximum operation of the longbow.

4. Uses and Benefits


  • Fires arrows faster
  • Very sharp and effective in tight spaces
  • The bow and arrow are light in weight
  • Easy to carry around
  • Very affordable
  • Less space is required for an elbow to adjust and fire
  • Useful from horseback


  • The arrows travel accurately straight and longer than short bows
  • Stores more energy than the short bow
  • Used to penetrate strong armor
  • It can handle heavier arrows
  • They are versatile to accommodate more arrows
  • It has good fire velocity

5. Draw Length

This factor denotes the extent or distance a person pulls back the arrow before releasing it. It’s a feature that determines the distance of your target arrows, depending on the energy you exert while pulling your bow to shoot.

That means the force you apply determines the distance your arrow will reach. Let’s look at how this feature affects both bows.


The draw length capacity for a short bow stops between the elbow and the dominant shoulder. Indicating that the draw length is short compared to the English longbow.

This tells you that this type of bow can operate in tight and open spaces accurately.

The maximum range a short bow arrow can reach is 50 to 150 yards. Meanwhile, the draw weight is within the range of 80 to 100 lbs. This tells you that the short bow is limited in distance. The distance of the arrow cannot surpass the capacity of the bow.

But it travels fast within its capacity, within a split second it will bring down its target.


The English longbow provides enough space for the shooter to pull his arrow or dart back. The arrow can be pulled back to your cheekbone position, showing that the draw length is wide and the arrow can travel faster.

The distance an arrow shot from an English longbow is within the range of 180 to 400 yards depending on the weight of the bow.

The draw weight of the English longbow is within the range of 160 to 180 lbs.

However, with this bow, the archer can determine how far he can shoot his arrow depending on his target. He can also adjust if his target is near. If the target is near, he doesn’t have to apply too much effort or force.

But if the target is far he will have to apply greater force on his bow, making sure his arrow travels far.

6. Limitations

There are limitations or cons associated with this set of bows. This shows the extent to which this shooting tool can reach.


  • It has a shorter draw length
  • Only light arrows can be used for this bow
  • The accuracy and velocity are limited to the longbows
  • Not versatile enough to accommodate more arrows
  • It cannot penetrate heavy armor


  • Lack of enough space to fire an arrow
  • Not useful from horseback
  • Less affordable compared to the short bows

7. Care and Maintenance Requirements

Taking care of your bow should not be overlooked if you need your hunting tool to stay strong and durable. Let’s look at the ways you can keep these two sets of bows durable.


  • Make sure you check and treat scratches, nicks, and dents
  • Keep your bow in a cool and stable environment
  • Never flex or bend the bow’s limbs in reverse
  • Use Danish oil if your bow is scuffed or soiled
  • Wax your bowstring regularly when needed


  • Do not use heavy arrows on this bow
  • Wax your bowstring regularly when needed
  • Don’t rest this bow on its tip
  • Check and treat scratches, dents, and nicks if found
  • Replace your strings when needed

How Do I Choose Which Bow is Right for Me?

When choosing a bow, it is important to consider the type of bow (shortbow vs longbow), your level of expertise and physical strength, and what kind of activities you plan on using the bow for.

Short bows are usually more suitable for beginners as they require less draw weight, while longbows allow experienced archers to shoot farther distances with greater accuracy.

Ultimately, the right bow will depend on individual shooting style and personal preference.


Longbows are suitable for skillful shooters who need more space and the desire to have their arrows travel longer, faster, and more accurately.

However, the short bow is suitable for shooters who operate in tight spaces. Archers with short bows can pocket it around, as they are convenient while longbows aren’t.

The longbow is more versatile enough than the short bow because it accommodates more than one arrow depending if the archer is skilled enough to use it.

In addition, those who want to venture into hunting with a bow should start with the short bow as the longbow is meant for highly skilled archers.


How Far Can a Short Bow Shoot?

Generally, a short bow with a draw weight of 25 – 30 lbs can shoot an arrow up to around 20 yards. With proper technique, however, it is possible for an experienced archer to shoot arrows even further with a short bow. For example, some archers have achieved ranges of up to 40 yards or more with a 30-pound draw weight short bow.

What Is the Hardest Bow to Shoot?

The hardest bow to shoot is typically a recurve or longbow with a high draw weight. Bows with higher draw weights require more strength and accuracy from the archer, making them more difficult to shoot accurately. Generally speaking, bows with 50 pounds or more of draw weight are considered to be very difficult for most archers.

Is a Longer Longbow Better?

No. In general, a longer longbow is more powerful than a shorter one. This is because a longer bow has an increased draw weight, meaning that it can shoot arrows further and with more power. However, this also means that shooting a longer bow requires more strength and accuracy from the archer, making it harder to shoot accurately.

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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