Below are the two main types of crossbows, the recurve and compound. They are very similar in many respects but differ in their construction and how they function. In this article, we compare the two types.
You can easily notice that the main difference between them is the way these two types of crossbows are strung. The compound on the left has a much more complex string system while the recurve on the right much simpler.
The Recurve Crossbow
The recurve crossbow is an offshoot of the recurve bow. It borrows the limb design from it, with the ends of its limbs curving away from the shoot. This curve serves a purpose which is to increase the amount of tension the string will have when fully drawn.
When stringing a recurve crossbow, all you need to do is insert the string loops into the limb tips using a stringer.
To the right is an picture of the top view of a recurve crossbow.
- The simplicity of its design allows it to be more reliable. This is because there are no additional mechanical pulleys and wheels and the parts needed to connect and operate them involved. The more mechanical parts, the bigger chance of one component breaking and stalling the entire device. Those additional components also need to be maintained. Recurves don’t have these.
- The simple limb design allows you to put on the string, or replace the string yourself using a stringer.
- They are lighter in weight and more balanced since there is no additional weight at the front of the device.
- Recurve crossbows are regarded to be more accurate because there is less tuning involved as well as timing issues that can change the way your weapon shoots.
- Recurves have slower arrow velocities when compared to their compound conterparts. Though there are some exceptions.
- In general, this type has higher draw weights. More powerful recurves need well over 200 lbs. of force to cock, while many similar compound versions are between 170 and 180 lbs.
The Compound Crossbow
The compound crossbow is one that uses a cam system. This is a set of wheels located at the limb’s tips. The loops of your crossbow’s string are connected to the cam system, which along with cables uses mechanical leverage to draw the string back to its cocking position.
Compound crossbows use limbs that are stiffer than those of recurves which is why you need these cams and cables to make is easier to pull them back. Because of this they are able to store more energy which translates to more speed and power passed to the arrow when shot.
To the right is a top view image of a compound crossbow.
- The major advantage of compound crossbows is the higher speed. The stiffer limbs and longer string pull (because of the additional loops and cables) give you more leverage even with shorter limbs. The higher speed translates to more powerful shots on impact.
- While all types of crossbows make some noise, compound versions tend to be quieter, which helps when you’re trying to use the element of surprise to your advantage when hunting game.
- The cam system allows this type to use shorter limbs compared to recurves, and yet produce faster arrow velocitiies. The shorter limb length lets you get into tight areas easier, though there is more bulk up front because of the cams.
- The addition of the cam system introduces more weight making the compound heavier to carry. This can take its toll if you hunt for hours though can be easily remedied with a sling.
- Because of the cam system position to the front, the balance of the weapon tips towards the front. So when shooting a compound you have to take into consideration this extra weight otherwise you’ll be pointing at an angle towards the ground and not horizontally.
- The compromise of the additional pulley technology means you need to maintain these extra components. It also requires you to use a press to change the string.
- As with products with more technology and components, you can expect a more expensive price tage. This is the case with compounds which are more expensive in general with a similar recurve version.
Recurve vs Compound Crossbow Summary
There is no right or wrong crossbow as these two types are function as intended. They’re both great for target shooting and with the right specifications either recurve or compound versions will serve you well hunting.
Their main difference is in the technology in which they use to propel the arrow to the target. In brief:
- Recurve crossbows are relatively cheaper, more reliable since there aren’t many parts that can break down, simpler to maintain, and generally more accurate. In general though, your average recurve crossbow won’t win any speed or power contests against a similar compound and they will have longer limb lengths which can make them harder to squeeze in to some spaces.
- Compound crossbows, on the other hand are generally faster, have a narrower build since they have shorter limbs, and are quieter. They are more expensive, require more servicing and maintenance and are heavier to carry.
Beginners will often be better off starting with recurve crossbows because of their simplicity, reliability and generally lower cost. It lets you quickly learn all the components of your weapon and how they all work together. It also allows you to easily do servicing yourself.
In the end it comes down to fit, and more importantly the brand and model you select. See our top crossbow picks for more information.
So Which Type of Crossbow Do I Choose?
As we just mentioned, you start with the brand and model when choosing.
But if you end up with two very good crossbows, one being a recurve another being a compound, here’s what we suggest. Noise shouldn’t be much of a factor because all crossbows are noisy, it just matters how loud. The quality of the limbs and construction should be the same if you’ve chosen good models. Though do consider warranty this can vary substantially.
- If you’re priority is speed and power, then go for the compound. With a compound, you’ll not only get a crossbow that shoots faster (all things being equal), but also need lower draw weights. Most compound models will have draw weights around the 175 lb. area while a similar recurve will have you pulling over 200 lbs.
- If you prefer overall durability, and ease of maintenance in the long term like for example simplicity of string replacement and other servicing, then a recurve crossbow will be your choice.