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Bow Battle: Recurve VS Compound

For a survivalist, this is a difficult question to answer because there are so many factors involved in your decision. I hope to help you through the maze of considerations in this article and I will attempt to keep it from becoming something you read when you have trouble sleeping. However, understand that there are some concepts that you must understand in order to make an informed choice and finally I will present my suggestion, perhaps the best compromise available.

I have hunted big game with just about any weapon that will sling an arrow, over the years. I’ve made and hunted with primitive bows (flatbows, longbows), traditional bows (recurves, and fiberglass longbows), compound bows and even crossbows. There is a hard fast rule in the archery world and one I want you to keep in mind as you read this article. This rule never changes and never will. “For everything you gain, there is something lost.”

For the purposes of this discussion, I will refer to any longbow or recurve as a traditional bow. For our needs, they both hold the same advantages and disadvantages with some small differences. As an example, a recurve bow is faster than a longbow but harder to place a new string on without damaging it because of the rearward bent limbs. A longbow is more sturdy and durable and easier to maintain than a recurve but it has a greater shooting arc and this makes it more difficult to be accurate with. See what I mean? Gain something, lose something. Also, when I speak of compound bows, most of it would apply to crossbows as well since they are in essence, a compound bow turned sideways.

Modern compound bows are a marvel of science and engineering. Every year they shoot arrows faster and faster and they have become a massive money maker for the hunting industry. The prices of ‘flagship’ bows go up each year as the newest ones promise to be faster and lighter than those in the previous year. This speed of the arrow is what sells and manufacturers are in constant competition with each other to make their product faster than the other guy. I mention all of this so you will see that, as a survivalist, speed is not your friend.

Traditional bows, on the other hand, have a much slower arrow speed. Keep in mind that the average bow that an American Indian would have whittled out of a tree limb probably launched arrows under 100 fps. Particularly when you take into account their small stature and the fact that most of their bows were somewhere in the area of a 40-pound draw weight. Compare that to a modern compound that shoots around 350 fps and you see what engineering and science have brought us.

As a survivalist, you have to decide on the lifespan of your chosen bow. Are you anticipating its use to be over the course of months or years? If you are looking at this possibly being your meat producer after you’ve run out of ammunition and it has been years since you’ve seen a sporting goods store, have you considered whether or not your choice allows you to shoot homemade broadheads after you’ve lost or broken your Grim Reapers?

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You may think you already know where all of this is leading but I might surprise you if you keep plunging ahead. While it would appear that the choice is easy, it may not be as evident as you think. Traditional bows are tough, they look sexy and mankind have been using them for centuries to feed themselves. All true. They can be shot with homemade strings, arrows, broadheads, and in a pinch can even be shot with some scary cracks running through the back of them. Also true.

The greatest issue that negates all of the arguments above is simply that the learning curve on a traditional bow is huge. They can be one of the most difficult weapons to master when it comes to consistent accuracy. Keep in mind that it requires 7 years of shooting every day in order to ‘create’ an Olympic Shooter and this is with an over-payed coach standing nearby. Do you have the next 7 years to practice with the recurve you’ve added to your emergency kit?

Above all else, compound bows are fast…

Fast means a flat arrow trajectory for longer distances which makes the learning curve low and the accuracy so precise that if you are not careful you will be running arrows into arrows in your target (thus buying new arrows). They are effective at greater distances, really only limited by your own practice time and effort and they carry state of the art sights that allow even novice hunters to hit their bulls-eye.

The problem with these from our point of view is the speed. Remember when I spoke of manufacturers making these faster and faster? That speed decreases the lifespan on many parts of the bow, beginning with the string and going on from there. In a survival situation, it may be a little difficult to procure a bow-press in order to replace this string (assuming you have an extra one), or the knowledge to do it if you did. There are a lot of archery shops making a lot of money replacing one-year-old bow strings on the newest flagship bows simply because the manufacturer promised you speed. They didn’t tell you that it would cost you durability.

Another problem with speedy compounds is that they propel an arrow so fast that they will most likely not be able to shoot any kind of homemade broadhead accurately. We simply cannot make a broadhead consistently the same size and weight out of stamped metal or stone. This means your arrows will ‘plane’ just like your hand does when you hold it outside the window of your car while driving at high speed. This is why mechanical broadheads (that open on impact) are their own million dollar industry. They are necessary in order to hunt with a modern compound bow.

Now that we’ve gotten through all of that, let’s look at what we need for a survival bow. We need something light, so we can carry other items with us. It absolutely must be durable which would automatically rule out the latest flagship compound bow. We need to be able to hit something with it, without committing the next 7 years of our life in order to become an Olympic Archer, and it needs to be slow enough to shoot homemade broadheads whether they are pieces of a broken, glass bottle or hand knapped flint.

Does such a bow exist that provides all of this? I think it does and now I’m going to tell you what I would choose. In fact, I have already chosen it and have used it to hunt with for the last 3 years.

While compound bow manufacturers were trying to discover new ways to make their products faster so that they could charge more money than their competitor, something amazing happened. A ‘by-product’ of greed, you could call it. They also began expanding into the child market with bows that are designed for smaller framed shooters or people with less strength. Most often these bows are referred to as “Youth Bows”.

For our needs, the first generations of youth bows were not really feasible. They had extremely short draw lengths that prevented all but the smallest adult from pulling them back and they were so limited in their draw weight that you honestly might not even generate enough energy in your arrow to bring down a small deer. Their intended design was to get your child shooting a bow just like Dad does and then sell him a larger one after he grew.

All of that changed around three years ago when females entered the market. Along with bundles of pink camouflage clothing, came bows that were marketed toward smaller frame people but with stronger arms to pull heavier draw weights than children. Survivalists nearly had the perfect bow but much of the problem remained. Short draw lengths prevented larger adults from using them and they were not very adjustable. Also, these bows were pricey. While the youth bows were comparatively reasonable, the female bows were designed for adults and carried adult price tags.

Remember, what we are ultimately looking for is a ‘slow’ compound bow. We want the accuracy of a compound but the durability of a traditional bow. Then we hit pay dirt. A company named Diamond Archery created what they saw as the perfect youth compound. They named it “the Infinite Edge” and it is so customizable, so small and lightweight, and so durable (assuming you adjust the draw weight back to a reasonable level) that I am surprised anyone is buying anything else. Since then there have been a couple of other manufacturers making similar bows.

This ‘grow with your child’ compound is the brass ring from a survivalist point of view. It’s small and lightweight. It can be adjusted to even adult sized draw-lengths. The draw weight can be adjusted from 70 pounds down to a child’s capabilities. The real sell point though is that all of this can be done by you, in the field, with some simple tools. No bow-presses needed, no archery technician required.

This not only allows us to dial back on the bow killing speed of modern compound bows, so that this thing is not tearing itself apart every time you shoot it, but it allows us to adjust it whoever might be with us in a given scenario. A child, a wife, whomever. You can choose the broadheads you want to shoot and then keep dialing the draw-weight back until they fly true, actually tuning the bow to fit the arrow, not the other way around. You gain all of the advantages of speed, accuracy, and durability, in one tight little package.

I am by no means a salesman for Diamond, and as I said there are other companies out there who are now making similar products. I name it only because that is the brand I am most familiar with. When making your own decisions, look around and price shop but keep all of these principles in mind as you do. SLOW arrow speed, low learning curve, accurate sights, and small and lightweight.

If I could leave you with one thought out of all of this when you begin making your decisions it would be this. ARROW SPEED KILLS BOWS!!!! Arrow speed also prevents you from shooting very large, very effective, and very reusable broadheads. You should have nothing in your arsenal that requires frequent maintenance or is anything less than durable. Even beyond prepping, it only makes good, financial sense to spend your money wisely.

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About Timothy Lewis


  1. I guess the simple answers to the question would be:

    1. what you can afford – money, time to gain some proficiency and labor to maintain?
    2. parts – from arrows to bowstrings, pulleys to sights and so on – a replacement inventory/stock within your #1 abilities?
    3. are you handy enough to either make anew both the bows and the arrows when they inevitably fail or need replacement or repair?
    4. finally, the obvious – if you are able to ….. why not purchase (or build) both and have the options left open? 2 = 1, 1 = 0…. remember?

  2. recurve is fun and useful..good to practice with. given the choice, compound is the better option. case closed.

  3. being new to archery and bow hunting , i have considered my choice as favourite bow for survival/hunting has to be a recurve takedown easy to takedown and assemble easy to stash in your bug bag and powerful enough to hunt small/medium sized game i have a 50lb recurve horsebow ,but for survival in extreme cases has to be my ASD pro hawk compound for sheer terror power 75lb draw weight and accuracy i have recent purchased toxic broadheads also some fishing broadheads i also think carrying my compound and equipment whilst on my mountain bike is energy sapping but for defence my compound is no 1 🙂

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