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.