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Archery Did the Compound Kill the Recurve?

Did the Compound Kill the Recurve?

Compound bows are now crossing the 350 fps threshold, and decked-out rigs featuring rangefinding sights are making archers more accurate than ever. Have these technological advancements made the traditional stick and string obsolete?

Fed up with recurve near misses when animals jumped the string, Archery Hall of Famer Holless Wilbur Allen created the first-ever compound in the 1960s. Featuring cables and four wheels to increase speed and penetration, the Allen Compound Bow hit the market in 1967 but received an underwhelming response.

Tom Jennings tinkered with Allen’s design and debuted the two-wheel Model T in 1974, which became incredibly popular among hunters for its lightweight, easy-to-shoot construction. 

Early compounds measured more than three feet long with archers finger shooting until the emergence of release aids and shorter rigs just a few years later.

As compounds grew in popularity and the number of manufacturers releasing these more efficient rigs multiplied, recurves took a nosedive for several decades. While some major players still sold a select few traditional models, most poured their resources into compound innovation.

Half a century later, most pro shops are now dominated by compact carbon compounds boasting blazing speeds as well as countless sights, rests, stabilizers, release aids, and other accessories that allow for microadjustments for pinpoint accuracy.

Beyond bolstering arrow speed from a recurve average of 150-175 fps to over 350 fps, compounds also offer an advantage in generous letoff that makes these bows easier to shoot — for kids and beginners especially — yet devastatingly deadly. Dialed-in accessories can increase precision performance for more ethical shots at game. And while compounds certainly still require some practice before heading into the field, the time commitment to achieve repeatable accuracy is much lower than when instinctively shooting a recurve.

But despite the ongoing domination of fast compound rigs and high-tech accessories, traditional archery has seen a surge in recent years.

As public land hunting, hanging from a tree saddle, and swapping out stealth camo for flannel hand-me-downs gain traction, recurves are also making a resurgence in the hunting world.

While most modern bowhunters are still clinging to the latest and greatest, a small subset is taking hunting back to its roots and embracing the challenge of shooting recurves and longbows.

author avatar
The Bow Bully
The Bow Bully discusses a variety of archery topics and offers tips, advice and the occasional nudge to make you a better bowhunter. With years of experience, and an attitude to match, you'll find the Bully has something to offer both beginners and seasoned hunters.

44 thoughts on “Did the Compound Kill the Recurve?”

  1. Bow Bully
    Are you going to do any reports on sighting in the bows and such. Like what arrows are available and are some more accurate when used with one bow but not as accurate with another bow. That is what happens with airguns and pellets and so on.

    Will be waiting for more reports.

  2. “Did the Compound Kill the Recurve?”
    Bow Bully,
    I would say “no” to that. I’ve owned a few recurve bows, and one compound bow, and I prefer the recurves when shooting for fun (which is most of my shooting, be it with bows, airguns, or firearms). When I shot in a muzzleloader club in Florida, they shot archery after the muzzleloader matches…but the bows had to be stick bows. And some of those guys were awesome with stick bows; they could hit a very small pine cone with every shot at 20 yards…then again, they were retired, and spent all their time shooting. 🙂
    Anyway, I bought a stick bow, and it was a ton of fun, even though I never got as good as the old timers.
    For hunting, I can see where compound bows have their place; but my next bow will be either: 1) a recurve, if I buy a bow, or 2) a stick bow, if I get the time and decide to make my own bow.
    Thank you for an interesting and thought-provoking report.
    Take care & God bless,

    • thedavemyster,

      Just bite the bullet and say ” I’m going to build my own bow ” . It will drive you crazy in the short term but after you make a couple and get some experience it will be sooooo satisfying to whittle one that really shoots the way you want it to! If it wasn’t for two bad shoulders I’d still be hunting with a longbow.


        • Dave,

          I’ll have to second Hanks suggestion of picking up the whole set of the Bowyers Bible! If you have a question about bow building the answer resides somewhere in those 04 volumes. I hate to admit this but volume 01 has become BobF’s bed time reading material of choice over the years. If memory serves me correctly I picked them up through 3 Rivers Archery but that was many moons ago. Some of the best info for a first timer will be about the tools needed and how to use them, bow design parameters, and good bow building woods.

          Good luck and get to whittlin!


          • “I’ll have to second Hanks suggestion of picking up the whole set of the Bowyers Bible!”
            BobF, yes; that’s surely the way to go; actually, I think my archery friend sent me that already, before we moved to this new house…hence, I should have it here…somewhere…might be easier to buy it again than to find it, hahaha! 🙂

  3. P.S. Bow Bully, I know B.B. had this to say about you last week: “He will start frequently covering crossbow and archery topics on this blog…”
    I realize you have a job to do, and you’ll have to cover a lot about modern bows and crossbows; however, if you ever decide to throw in some history on say, medieval crossbows, or “ballesters, or even ballistas…I’d love to read those reports (and I’m likely not alone on that); I love reading about any kind of projectile launcher, and find the historic ones intriguing. I’m looking forward to your future reports. May it all go well for you. 🙂

  4. TBB,

    As you well know, the recurve and the long bow are not only still around but are having a resurgence. Because of a bad shoulder, I had to get rid of my compound. Recently I had my shoulder put back together. and now I have a compound crossbow and a light recurve but have yet to pull them out and play with them any.

    I have played with a long bow once. To me, that is the way to go. I can see my recurve getting some time on the range this year.

  5. Being able to see/watch the arrow in flight is what keeps me shooting traditional archery . Plus even as quiet as some of the (arrow shooting machines) compounds are, they can’t compete with a well tuned longbow. Also the stick and string weigh nothing compared to a wheelbow.

  6. My two sons (now 18 &21) started archery about twelve years ago.
    They started with youth compounds…graduated to adult compounds within a few years…and now both shoot recurve exclusively.
    The oldest shoots a full Olympic rig and the younger shoots a longbow…says a recurve is too modern 🙂
    Both also do a lot of photography…and both shoot film.
    Thank goodness the traditional methods aren’t completely dying.

  7. B.B.
    The same goes for Black Powder Hunting. We now are with inline that takes shotgun primers and sabot bullets. Some even take modern “White” Powder.

      • I concur with you two gents 100% with regard to black powder muzzleloader hunting! My wife grew up in the backwoods, with a granddad that had an actual original .50 caliber Hawken rifle, which he’d gotten from the Native American man who’d taught him how to hunt and trap. Man, how I wish I had THAT rifle. But my wife did get me this nice .50 caliber Hawken replica back in 1995. This gun accounted for my first deer, as well as a whole bunch of wild hogs. My hunting load is my match load: a patched round ball over 70 grains of black powder. You don’t need an inline, or 200 grains of powder, or a big bullet in a sabot to “bring home the bacon.” Old traditional rifles like this work just fine…as long as you do your part. My wife said if I bought an inline, she wouldn’t even let me hang it on the wall. And I won’t get one, as that would be like an insult to her, since she already bought me this fine rifle. 🙂

  8. TBB,

    Future articles: Arrow spine stiffness (is this really important?), Arrow fletching with feathers vs plastic, How heavy should your arrows/bolts be, and Proper maintenance of your equipment Fact vs Fiction.


  9. “Have these technological advancements made the traditional stick and string obsolete?”


    I don’t think that will ever happen. Self bows, long bows, recurves, crossbows and now some specialized airguns (pneumatic bows?) all shoot arrows and have their own following.

    I hunted deer with a compound bow for 5-6 years and found that I preferred the simplicity of wood bows. From what I’ve seen, all of the hype about, accuracy, arrow speed and range of the compound is no advantage to the average guy who has an effective range of 15 to 20 yards.

    I kinda equate the compound to a motorcycle (mechanical, cold, fast and noisy) and the self bow to a horse (organic, “alive”, quiet) both will get you there 🙂

    Each to their own eh! Cheers!


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