Tips on How a Recurve Bow Works

A quality recurve bow is a piece of art.  Carefully crafted, it has the look and feel of quality; the satisfaction found in the draw and release of a recurve is without equal.  For this reason, recurves continue to hold their ground as popular bows for target, field, and 3d archery.  Even in the age of rapid compound bow advancements, recurves have seen resurgence in popularity within the hunting community. So, what makes a recurve bow so special and how does it work?


The easiest method for identifying a recurve bow is the curved limb tips on both ends of the bow. The limbs of a recurve bow are reflexed or curved away from the archer. The bow begins to look a little like the number “3” when the string is pulled back and the limbs begin to bend. A recurve is typically shorter than traditional longbows, but the shape of its limbs let it store more potential energy and upon release, the reflexed ends accelerate faster than the rest of the limb, resulting in a more efficient transfer of that energy to the arrow. This additional energy provides for faster arrows- equaling flatter, more accurate trajectories and translating to higher kinetic energy readings, which are beneficial in hunting situations.

Draw Weight

Be prepared to give your shoulders and upper back a work out when you start shooting a recurve bow.  A recurve will put a heavy workload on the trapezius, deltoid and latissimus dorsi muscles. It is important to consider the bow’s draw weight and your current capabilities or physical limitations.

Lighter recurves are easier to shoot for long periods of time, especially for beginning archers.  It is a good idea to start out shooting a bow with a lighter draw weight in order to perfect shooting form and your shot process; while starting with a lighter bow also allows for you to build your back and shoulder muscles over an adequate amount of time in order to avoid muscle strain. Many archers also feel that a lighter bow is easier to hold at full draw, allowing for a steadier, and (hopefully) more accurate aim.

Bows made with heavier draw weights have their advantages, namely they shoot faster, flatter arrows and, as mentioned, this can be beneficial in regard to both accuracy and penetration.  Some recurves are “take-down” bows, and the limbs can be replaced with others that will provide a heavier draw weight without the archer needing a new bow riser.

Use the graph below as a starting point to determine what your draw weight should be if you are interested in taking up traditional archery.  Remember, a recurve bow does not provide let-off at full draw like a compound, so typically your draw weight will be far less than you would be able to pull and hold given the mechanical advantage of a modern compound.  Regardless of where you fall on the chart, it is imperative that you select a bow and draw weight that fits you and will allow you to draw and shoot the bow comfortably, and with consistency of form.

Recurve Draw Weight Chart
Archer’s Weight Suggested Draw Weight
70-100 lbs. 10-15 lbs.
100-130 lbs. 15-25 lbs.
100-130 lbs. 25-35 lbs.
130-160 lbs. 25-35 lbs.
120-150 lbs. 30-45 lbs.
150-180 lbs. 40-55 lbs.
160+ lbs. 30-45 lbs.
180+ lbs. 45-60 lbs.

Draw Length

Next, you will need to determine your draw length.  Draw length is the distance between the throat of the grip and the nock point on the string, measured at full draw.  You can calculate an approximate draw length if you measure your wing span and divide by 2.5.  A pro-shop will be able to help you determine your exact draw when you are selecting a bow.  The chart below will help you determine what bow length (tip-to-tip) you will need given your calculated draw length.

Draw Length to Recurve Bow Length Size Chart
Recurve Bow Length Draw Length Chart
54″ to 62″ up to 25″
64″ to 66″ up to 27″
66″ to 68″ up to 29″
68″ to 70″ up to 31″
70″ to 72″ 31″ and over

Shooting with a recurve takes patience, dedication, and many hours of practice. It is this intimacy and necessary dedication that make mastering a traditional bow so satisfying.  Shooting a recurve bow also has the ability to help you with your shot process and make you a better archer in whole.  So, give it a try, it’s a unique experience like none other!


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