Compound, Recurve or Crossbow – What Is The Best Choice For Bowhunters?

compound vs recurve vs crossbowArchery is viewed by many outsiders as a very primitive method of hunting. However, the more you look around on the market, the more you realize that modern bows look anything but primitive.  

Most states view bows on a spectrum ranging from primitive to very modern. On one end of the spectrum, you have the recurve bow, which is the most traditional, then the compound bow, then the crossbow.

This is somewhat ironic because the crossbow has been around far longer than the compound bow. 

In addition to how primitive you are trying to be as an individual, there are a lot of other factors that will play into which bow is the right choice for you.

This article will discuss the most significant things to consider when choosing what type of bow to use for hunting. 

 

Ranking Each Bow Type

Hunting Regulations 

CT bow hunting signageDepending on what state you live in, regulations could leave your bow choices wide open or they could immediately eliminate some bow options. Because state laws may definitively rule out some bow choices, it is worth discussing the topic first. 

1. Recurve

Recurve bows will be the most widely accepted under state laws. Generally, you only need to make sure it has sufficient draw weight and can shoot arrows that are legal in your state.  

2. Compound bow

Most regulations are pretty conducive to compound bows but will have some limitations on their features. In some cases, states will regulate how much let-off they have.  

Let-off is the drop in force it takes to hold the bow back once it is drawn. Many states will have a minimum draw weight for the bow to make sure it can propel an arrow with enough kinetic energy to be lethal.  

And finally, some states will have limitations concerning battery powered devices affixed to your bow. Again, not all compound bows on the market are legal in all states, so make sure you understand your state hunting regulations before making your choice. 

3. Crossbow

The crossbow is the most restricted of the bow types. The nature of the weapon gives it some significant advantages over the other two types of bows, which both require the hunter to draw and manually hold the bow back in the drawn position.  

Because of its advantages, some states view them as less primitive and subject them to more intense regulations. Some states do not allow the use of them at all or only during modern firearm seasons.

Other states may have special seasons where they are allowed or allow them during regular archery seasons.  

If a crossbow is something you would like to hunt with, you should definitely consult your state regulations to see if it is a legal option.

 

Ease of Use 

recurve bow hunting

1. Recurve

Recurve bows are going to be the simplest to shoot, but probably the most difficult to be successful hunting with. Many youngsters get the opportunity to shoot recurve bows at summer camp or with family and friends.  

Most recurve bow shooters finger-draw instead of using a release, so the whole operation is about as simple as can be. However, recurve bows lack the mechanical advantage of the other two bow categories and are more difficult to shoot accurately. 

2. Crossbow

For anyone with rifle shooting experience, a crossbow will be the next easiest to use and arguably the easiest to be successful with while hunting.

For many, they are easier to shoot accurately because you shoulder them like a rifle and can use a scope or more traditional sights.  

Once the bow is drawn, the hard work is done, and the use of a crossbow will feel familiar to long gun shooters. 

3. Compound bow

The compound bow is a little more complex to sight in and operate than a recurve bow, but has the advantage of let-off and advancements that make them fast and accurate. A good choice for draw weight is whatever you can draw comfortably in any position you might find yourself while hunting.  

If you picked a recurve bow and a compound bow that were similarly difficult to draw initially, the compound bow will be easier to be effective with once you are familiar with how to use it.  

 

Popularity 

1. Compound bow

Most of the archery hunting world today revolves around compound bows. There are smaller sub-communities of archery hunters that enjoy using more traditional gear and recurve bows.

However, information, tips and instruction related to compound bows are all going to be easiest to find.  

2. Crossbow

Because many states are so restrictive when it comes to crossbow hunting, the method lags behind in terms of popularity.

Many people who archery hunt with compound or recurve bows also look at crossbows as a completely different form of hunting and attach some stigma to the method.

Between those two reasons, crossbows are not nearly as popular as compound bows.         

3. Recurve bow

 

Effectiveness 

bow hunter aiming at gameAll three bows types are capable of being used to harvest any big game animal found in North America.

However, that is dependent on the hunter knowing the capabilities and limitations of his or her bow. It also is true only if the hunter is competent and accurate with their bow. 

1. Compound and Crossbow

The effective range of crossbows and compound bows is definitely a hotly debated topic.  

Many shooters of both types are comfortable putting arrows in a kill zone out past 70 yards, but there are endless discussions about whether or not those are wise shots to attempt on a big game animal.

A more typical range limitation for hunters of both bow types is somewhere between 30 and 60 yards depending on ability and opinion.  

Regardless of range, the modern broadheads and mechanical arrows or bolts used with compound bows and crossbows are very effective on big game animals and typically provide effective results when paired with good shot placement. 

If you are using a recurve bow or a compound bow with a lighter draw weight, make sure to research what arrowhead and arrow shaft combination will perform best at slower speeds. 

2. Recurve bow

Most experienced recurve bow hunters know they must limit their shots to much shorter ranges than the other two types of bows. For many hunters, they are looking at being within 20 or 25 yards of their quarry.

Like all types of hunting, there are some who stretch the limits of their weapon, but for recurves closer is definitely better. 

 

Price 

Price is a consideration in almost any buying decision and bow choices are no exception. 

1. Recurve

While it is certainly possible to spend a lot of money on a recurve bow, it is much harder to do so on a bow from one of the other two categories. There are a lot of recurves on the market that would be suitable for hunting that are between $150 and $300.  

2. Crossbow

Crossbows are a little more expensive than recurve bows but a little less expensive than compound bows. Crossbows also tend to come a little more use-ready than compound bows.

Again, if you want to, you can certainly spend big bucks on a top of the line crossbow. However, many popular choices are available in the $450 to $650 price range. 

Read our buying guide to pick out the best crossbow for your needs.

3. Compound

When you move up to compound bows, spending big bucks becomes much easier. Most bows that are on the leading edge of technology (something new seems to be launched every year), are going to run you north of $1000.  

If you consider that price may or may not include everything you need like sights and rests, you can see where you could spend a good chunk of change on a quality modern compound bow.

One advantage of there being new bows on the market every year is the market is typically full of used bows that can be had for a fraction of the price even if they are just a year old.  

Make sure to read our buying guide to get the best compound bow for your money.

 

Conclusion 

For most hunters, I believe the choice between the bow types comes down to how primitive they want to be. Extreme traditionalists are always going to favor recurve bows.

Crossbows offer an option to those folks who are interested in bowhunting but tend to lean towards the most modern and easy-to-be-effective method allowed by regulations.  

Compound bows are chosen by the people who seem to fit in a category of wanting to shoot in the traditional bow and arrow form while benefiting from advancements that make their weapon more effective.  

All three options can be enjoyable and effective, so do not hesitate to try all of them.   

Erik Jutila
Erik is a native of the Pacific Northwest and loves spending time in the woods and on the water. At a young age, his dad introduced him to hunting and fishing. Since he caught his first trout as a toddler, he has grown into a full-fledged angler who pursues salmon and steelhead in rivers and streams. His summertime passion is chasing albacore tuna 50 miles off the Oregon and Washington coast. He also enjoys hunting for deer, elk, and waterfowl. He has spent the last seven years working in the outdoor/sporting goods industry.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here