Recurve Bow Guide
- Fixed vs. Takedown
- Riser Materials
- Limb Materials
- Bowstring Materials
- Right Handed or Left Handed Bow
- Draw Length
- Draw Weight
- Bow Length
Welcome to our comprehensive recurve bow guide. A recurve bow is the modern day upgrade to the traditional longbow and they can easily be identified by their tips which curve away from the archer at both ends
A schematic and description for the components of a common recurve bow is presented in the image to the right.
Fixed vs Takedown
A fixed-limb recurve bow is pretty straight forward in that the bow limbs are permanently attached to the riser. This means that the bow cannot be easily adjusted to suit different body types, and must be chosen carefully to ensure that they are suitable for the firer.
Proponents of fixed-limb bows enjoy the smooth aesthetic lines that come from not having to cater to different attachments and limb types.
Takedown recurve bows are extremely popular as their design allows the removal of the limb components which simply attach to the riser by way of limb pockets and bolts.
The main bonus of the takedown bow is that it can be disassembled for easy storage, transportation or to facilitate an upgrade of the limbs to better suit your ability.
Recurve Bow Materials
Risers will usually be made from wood or aluminum, or in some cases, a mixture of both.
Aluminum is favored for its strength and rigidity, whilst also being relatively light. This rigidity reduces flex during firing, and is therefore believed to be more accurate (although probably not enough to be noticeable to most people).
However a metal riser is important when you expect to place a large amount of stress on your bow, either from a very high draw weight or regular repeated firings (eg in a tournament setting)
Wood on the other hand is usually lighter than the metal alternative, sometimes cheaper, and the varying types of wood used in the manufacturing process give the bow a unique aesthetic quality. Bows with a wooden riser have a more traditional and warm feel compared to machined aluminum.
Some of the more modern bows with a wooden riser will actually use specially treated wood (such as Dymondwood) which consists of many layers of hardwood, bonded together with resin, and set under extreme pressure and heat. This retains the wooden appearance, while improving the overall strength and resistance to moisture.
However a number of high end bows will combine the best of both worlds, using a strong machined aluminum riser with a comfortable wooden grip.
The limbs will also come in a variety of different materials, with the most common being combinations of wood, fiberglass, and carbon fiber.
The limbs are one of the most important factors when choosing your bow, and the higher quality the materials; the smoother your bow will be when drawing to peak weight. The opposite of a smooth drawing bow is one where the draw weight per inch of draw length starts to stack up rapidly (known as stacking) towards the end of the draw. This results in a less comfortable experience and can tire you out faster.
A poor quality limb can also twist ever so slightly during firing which can randomly impact the accuracy of your shots.
These days, limbs made from laminated wood and reinforced with fiberglass are used by practically all manufactures and offer great performance at easily affordable prices. The wood used in the limb can influence its quality, as poor quality or improperly treated wood can be influenced by changes in heat and humidity – leading to twisting or warping.
Newer bows have started to incorporate carbon fiber to reinforce the limbs and make them less susceptible to warping.
Some of the top tier manufacturers have taken this a step further and removed the wood entirely from the limbs. These top performance limbs are predominantly carbon fiber built around a synthetic core such as hard foam or ceramics.
These modern limbs are typically light, strong and resistant to all manner of conditions which can impact the performance of more traditional materials.
Aside from traditional bowstrings (which can be made from a wide variety of source materials), most bows for sale today will be paired with a bowstring made from Dacron or a High Modulus Polyethelene (HMPE) fiber.
Dacron B-50 is chemically similar to the material that plastic soda bottles are made out of. Its been around for a long time has retained its popularity for its durable nature and low cost. Bowstrings made from Dacron will stretch slightly when being drawn and this uses up some of the potential energy. The result, is that bows with a Dacron string will fire a slightly slower shot than the same bow with a Fast Flight string. The upside however, is that the string does snap back to its original shape when released, and the extra ‘give’ in the string reduces the stress on the limbs & riser.
We’d recommend Dacron strings for a wooden bow, or one designed to hold lower weights.
HMPE strings are a newer invention and have largely replaced Kevlar strings which had a higher tendency to snap. Names such as Fast Flight, BCY 452X, Dynaflight, Spectra, and Dyneema all refer to strings made from composite HMPE fibers.
As you may have guessed, these strings are lighter, stronger and faster than the Dacron equivalent, but at the cost of increased stress on the bow frame. These strings have negligible stretch when drawn which helps with performance, but you need to ensure that your recurve bow has suitably reinforced tips (very common these days) if you wish to use Fast Flight or other HMPE strings. On the plus side, their popularity around the world has meant that the cost is very comparable to Dacron strings.
Right Handed or Left Handed Bow
Right Handed – you hold the bow by the riser with your left hand and pull the string with your right hand.
Left Handed – you hold the bow by the riser with your right hand and pull the string with your left hand.
In archery the choice between a right or left handed bow is influenced by eye dominance as well as your hand dominance.
For most people hand and eye dominance is the same (i.e. if you are right handed your right eye is dominant) however it is not uncommon for them to differ, and for those few where this is not the case, it can potentially impede your archery skills.
To determine which of your eyes is dominant, follow these simple steps:
Step 1 – Hold your hands at arm’s length out in front of you. Your palms should be pointing forward with the back of your hands facing you.
Step 2 – Cross over your hands to make a triangle shape between your thumbs and the part below your first finger.
Step 3 – Look at an object in the distance with both eyes through the triangle you have created with your hands. The object will need to be close enough to see clearly but far enough away to cause your eyes to focus (aim for at least 15ft away).
Step 4 – Focus on the object and slowly move your hands towards your face. Keep your head still and make sure you do not lose sight of the object. Do not think about your hands or where they are moving. Having distractions around you such as a loud TV or someone talking can help focus your mind elsewhere – so long as your eyes remain focused on the object.
Step 5 – Draw your hands until they touch your face. The triangle should end up over your dominant eye.
So now that you know what your dominant eye is, how does this help you with archery?
If you are right eye dominant and are using a right handed bow, your eye will line up with the bowstring and the arrow, so in effect; you will be looking straight at where the bow is aiming.
If you are left eye dominant with a right handed bow, your dominant eye will be looking off to the side of where the bow is aiming.
In this case the simple fix is to close your dominant eye.
This is the preferred shooting method for many archers with mixed dominance as shooting a bow that corresponds to your hand dominance just feels more natural and will be easier to learn.
The downside to closing one eye is that you have a narrower field of view and your depth perception can be impaired.
For target archery this is unlikely to cause a problem as you will be shooting from fixed distances at a known target.
Field archery with unmarked distances should also not be too much of an issue as you can estimate the distance with both eyes before you take your shot.
Hunting is where eye dominance and hand dominance really should align.
When hunting, you target is likely to appear at varying distances, may be moving, and may only be available for brief windows of time.
Being able to acquire targets with you periphery vision, quickly aiming your shots while accounting for distance, and ensuring your firing arc is clear of other people is best achieved with both eyes open!
Keep in mind that like many things, not all bows are sold in a left handed version. If you are left eye dominant and are torn between an awesome looking bow that only comes in a right handed version, or an okay looking left handed bow, we’d suggest going with the awesome bow and firing with one eye closed.
Draw length is the distance between the bow string and the outer edge of the riser when you hold a bow at full draw.
If you want to be technical, the Archery Trade Association’s (formerly the Archery Manufacturer and Merchant’s Organization) standard definition states that the draw length is the distance between the groove of the nock on the arrow to the position 1 3/4“ forward from the pivot point of the grip when the bow is fully drawn.
This isn’t exactly the smoothest definition to read, hence the first sentence in our section is the intended approximation.
The length of your draw is directly proportional to the power of your shot, but the most important factor is that the length is comfortable for your arms.
One of the easiest ways to measure your draw length is to:
- Stand with your arms and hands outstretched (it’s not a competition so just stand naturally and don’t try to over-stretch)
- Have someone measure the distance between the tips of your middle fingers in inches
- Divide this distance by 2.5 or consult the table below to find your personal draw length.
|Draw Length (Inches)||25||26||27||28||29||30||31||32||33|
To sanity-check this measurement, you can also make a fist and stretch out your arm to the side as if you were drawing your bow. Turn your head in the direction of your arm and have someone measure the distance between the corner of your mouth and the furthest point of your fist (excluding the thumb). This should be quite close to the estimate in the table above.
Draw length is an important factor in choosing your arrows as we discuss later in this article.
Draw weight is the amount of weight an archer will pull while drawing the bow, and is the key factor in determining how much power is applied to propelling an arrow forwards. With a recurve bow, the weight is a function of the bow construction, the tautness of the bowstring, and your draw length.
Recurve bows can quite easily be adjusted up or down in terms of weight, so don’t panic if the specified weight on your favorite bow isn’t perfectly matched to your strength.
A typical draw weight table is provided below:
|Your Body Weight||Draw Weight|
|50-70 lbs||10-15 lbs|
|70-100 lbs||15-25 lbs|
|100-130 lbs||30-40 lbs|
|130-150 lbs||40-50 lbs|
|150-180 Lbs||40-55 lbs – Minimum for BowHunting|
|150-180 Lbs||50-65 lbs|
|180 lbs and up||60-70 lbs|
When you see a bow listed for sale, the seller may say something like 60#@30” (meaning 60 pounds of draw weight when drawn to 30 inches), but more commonly the bow will just state the weight in pounds. This refers to the draw weight at a standard draw length of 28 inches (which roughly corresponds to someone 5’11’’ tall of average build).
Before looking at bow weights, you need to determine your own personal draw length which we covered in the previous section.
As a general rule of thumb, subtract about 4 lbs of weight for every inch shorter than 28”, and add 6 lbs of weight for every inch greater than 28”. These amounts will vary the further away from 28” you are, but can be used as a guide.
For example, if you have a draw length of 27” and are looking at a 50 lbs bow, the actual draw weight for you will be around 46 lbs.
Conversely, if you have a 30” draw length, the same bow would have a draw weight of approximately 62 lbs.
As we mentioned before, the draw weight can be modified up for down by adjusting the tautness of the bow string. This can be done by twisting or untwisting the string to add or remove length as necessary. For major adjustments, you can replace the string with a longer or shorter one.
Draw weight should be aligned to what you can pull comfortably and reliably. There’s no point getting the most powerful bow you can find if you need to strain your muscles just to pull it. That excessive strain can cause injury, but at the very least may cause your limbs to shake which will ruin your aim.
For someone who is new to Archery, we would recommend starting out with a relatively low initial draw weight (eg 35 lbs for men). This is because Archery uses a set of back muscles that aren’t typically worked out in a normal day, so on most people they won’t be at peak strength. After a few months of practice, you may find that your bow becomes very easy to draw, at which point you may wish to increase the draw weight settings.
Keep in mind that if you are eventually going to be shooting a hardened target such as big game, or something at very long range, then a more powerful bow and the strength to draw it will be a necessity.
If you plan to go hunting with a recurve bow, then we consider 50 lbs of draw weight as the minimum safe level for even close range hunting. You don’t want to be in the position where your arrow bounces off the target, or even worse, wounds the animal without killing it.
Your ideal bow length will be a personal decision and the draw length and draw weight will be a far bigger influence on your shooing style, but as a guide here is what we suggest:
Under 5’6” = 64” bow
5’6”-5’10” = 66” bow
5’10”-6’2” = 68” bow
6’2” and over = 70” bow
The overall length is determined by the length of the riser and its two limbs. In general:
Short Limbs + Long Riser = Faster but less stable and more susceptible to stacking
Long Limbs + Short Riser = Slower but more stable and less susceptible to stacking