Maybe it’s the Hunger Games. I don’t know. But the longbow is becoming a lot more popular these days. Maybe you are just getting into archery, but aren’t sure which bow you want to start with. Perhaps you just want to learn a little about these two types of archery bows. Either way, let’s check out the match up of the compound bow vs longbow and help you decide which would work better for you.

Quick Stats on the Compound Bow vs Longbow


compound bow vs longbowThe Compound Bow

  • Arrow speeds up to 370ft per sec 
  • Made of lightweight, ridged metals
  • Much shorter than longbows
  • Used for last 50 years
  • Arrows-carbon, aluminum, fiberglass




compound bow vs longbowThe Longbow

  • Arrow speeds up to 200ft per sec
  • Made of wood, fiberglass
  • Bow usually as tall as the shooter
  • Used for thousands of years.
  • Arrows-wooden



Tradition Archery vs Modern Archery?

Do you want to know something?

I’m an old soul. I shave with a straight razor and write with a fountain pen.

But when it comes to the different types of bows, I don’t think it’s a matter traditional archery vs modern archery. Yes, tradition archery refers to shooting either a longbow or recurve, and those two bow types have been used for thousands of years. And yes, the compound bow is modern in the sense that it wasn’t even invented until the late 1960’s.

I guess my problem isn’t really with the classifications between modern and traditional. It’s the connotation I’ve picked up from some in the archery community that one type of archery is better than the other.

The Truth…
Most archers who shoot both modern and traditional bows like I do know that even though they are both very different, they are also both awesome!

The Compound Bow

The compound bow, which has only been made for the last 50 years, has revolutionized archery. It is the most widely used type of bow today. This is in part because of its high arrow speeds and the bows ability to be shot accurately.

The Design compound bow vs longbow

The genius of the compound bow design is the pulley system. This enables the shooter to pull heavy draw weights, up to 80 pounds and this is what give the insanely fast arrow speeds.

The pulley system varies in design, but the typical components are a bowstring hooked to either two cams or a cam and a wheel, which are attached to the limbs. There are usually cables which then connect to each cam and help give the archer mechanical advantage as they draw back the bowstring.

Another reason compound bows are so popular is that because of the cams, the bows offer something known as “let off.” Cams vary in shape but are usually oval. When the archer draws the bowstring is rotates the cams backward until the set draw length is reached. At this point, the rotated cam makes it much easier to hold the bowstring back at full draw. This is let off. It is described as a percentage.

For instance…transfering compound bow

A compound bow with a 60 pound draw weight and %50 let off, means that it hold takes 30 pounds of force to hold the bow at full draw. Let off has increased drastically over the years.

Most compound bows have at least 70 percent let off, and a few have as much as 90 percent let off. This means that even an 80-pound bow could be held at full draw with only 8 pounds of force.

Compound bows can be near half the length of a longbow and can shoot twice as fast. The riser is the longest piece on the compound bow and the limbs are short and ridged. If you were able to attach a bowstring to the limbs of a compound bow, you would not be able to draw the bow or bend the limbs.

The short limbs are only able to bend because of the pulley system which exerts a large amount of force when you draw. The limbs gain potential energy when they are bend and then transfer that energy to the arrow when it is fired.

The Setup

Over the years, compound bows have become much lighter and faster. This is due in part advances in engineering and the use of new lightweight, strong metals. Along with the improvement to bow design and materials, the accessories used for compound bows have advanced as well.

Accessories used for compounds bow

  • Arrow rest
  • Release aid
  • Bow Sight

Most compound archers utilize different shooting accessories to increase accuracy and ease of shooting. This is a part of the reason compound bows offer precision shooting.

The Longbow

The longbow is the oldest form of archery bow used, and archers still shoot them today.

compound bow vs longbowThe Design

They are traditionally made of a single piece of wood. The types of wood varied, but the yew wood was a standard early material used for longbows.

Hickory, elm, ash, and oak were other woods commonly used.In reality, most wood and wood type materials have been tried out for longbows.

The nature of how the limbs of longbow work mean that you need a hard material that won’t warp so that the bow maintains it’s shape, but it must also be flexible with suitable elasticity.

This is not an easy task

Modern longbows are composite, laminated bows, meaning layers of various materials are glued together. This works well as you can utilize the strength of a specific material and minimize its weakness with another material.

A typical material makes up for newer longbows uses a laminated hardwood, like maple, and is finished with an outer layer of fiberglass. This helps protect the wood and maintain shape which increases the bows lifespan.

The Setupcompound bow vs lonbow

Most longbows are shot instinctively which means that no sights are used on the bow. While it’s possible to outfit them with a sight and arrow, most archers shot “bare bow” which means that no accessories are used.

When an arrow rest is not used, the arrow is shot off the shelf, which is flat surface cut into the riser. Longbows have a fitting name as they usually near the height of the shooter when unstrung. Once the bowstring is attached, tension bends the limbs back toward the shooter, shortening the bows overall length.

Longbows utilize a single bowstring which is made of various threads of material which are twisted together into a single string. Linen and hemp were traditionally used for bowstring.

Today, dacron is one the most common materials used for longbows. Dacron is a polyester material which properties make it good for use as bowstring.

Compound bow always remains strung, and in fact, needs a particular press to remove the bowstring. This usually is only done when make individual adjustments to the bow or changing the bowstring.

It is easy to remove the bowstring on a longbow, which is good because you need to take it off every time you aren’t shooting. Leaving the bowstring on can permanently warp the limbs.

Compound Bow vs Longbow Arrows

Arrow are primarily made of wood, fiberglass, aluminum, or carbon. The arrows used with longbows are traditionally wooden. This in part because arrow were made of wood long before they were made of modern materials. Wooden arrow also perform well being shot from a longbow.

Arrow are classified by “spine” which is their flexibility or lack of flexibility. Modern materials can make much stiffer arrows which don’t work as well on a longbow. The reason for this is something know as the archer’s paradox.

In a nutshell, the bow and string on a longbow are in a straight line. Thus, when you shoot an arrow, you are actually shooting slightly to the side. The archer’s paradox is that because of the arrow flex, after leaving the bow, it actually lines itself back up when flying.


All this depends on the right arrow flexibility which is why wooden arrows are best for longbows.


Wooden arrow don’t hold up with compound bow. The reason for this is that compound bow exert much more force than a longbow into the arrows. Wooden arrow are too flexible for the fast compound bow. They need stiffer arrows which is where the modern materials come in.

Additionally, compound bows have a cut out riser which allows the arrow to be fired straight in line with the string.

Compound Bow vs Longbow Major Differences

The differences in a compound bow vs longbow are many. Along with the materials and accessories available for each bow, the way each bow operates and stores energy to shoot arrows is different.

Compound bow


  • Stores energy in long, flexible limbs by pulling a single bowstring attached at each end.
  • Has a variable range for draw weight and length.

Compound Bow

A compound bow first needs the draw weight and draw length adjusted for the user. Most compound bows with have a range for both of these things which is then adjusted depending on your needs.

Once you set the draw length on the bow, this becomes the draw stop. The cams will fully rotate, engaging let off at this distance. The bowstring won’t draw further than the set draw length.

You adjust the draw weight through limb bolts which increase or decrease the flex on the bow limbs. However, once is set you will pull that fixed weight every time you draw.


A longbow has both a variable draw length and draw weight. The range for both of these is determined by the length of the bow which is often roughly as tall as the archer. A longbow stores energy in the limbs as you draw back the bowstring which flexes the limbs. A longer bow is able to be drawn back further.

Longbows also have an approximate draw weight assigned to them. They are rated at 28 inches. So if you purchased a 40-pound longbow, this means it is 40 pounds at 28 inches. If you do not draw back that far, the draw weight would decrease.

Compound Bow vs Longbow For Beginners

So which bow should you start with if you are beginner? This is a question many people ask when getting into archery.

Longbow for Beginners

  • Cheaper than compound bows
  • Don’t require setup
  • Harder to shoot accurately

Compound Bow for Beginners

  • More expensive
  • Require set up
  • Easier to shoot accurately

Check out one of the best longbow archers in the world. This video is from a show called Smarter Every Day. Good stuff.


While there are many differences between the compound bow and longbow, bow can have a place in your archery experience. If you are a beginner, either bow is an option. But if you are wanting to bowhunt my recommendation would be starting with a compound bow. The reason for this is that compound bows shoot much faster arrows and the smaller bows make it easier to travel and hunt.

Author: Kasey Jones

Published:July 31, 2018

Category: Archery