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The compound bow isn’t strictly speaking a type of bow, but a material configuration of it. Olympic archers use a recurve bow, but it’s no longer a layering of different types of wood. These days it’s various mixes of aluminium alloy, fiberglass and carbon fiber, which technically make it both a recurve and a compound bow. But when people speak of compound bows, they usually mean bows that have a system of pulleys and cables, which is what will be referred to hereon when we talk about the compound bow.

As with all technological progress, the compound bow is designed to enhance the desirable qualities in a bow while minimising the undesirable ones. Compared to an equally precision-machined recurve bow, the compound bow is more effective at transferring force into the arrow, making each shot faster, while increasing the accuracy of the bow. That’s what the pulley system is all about – it is meant to take full advantage of the energy in the bow limbs and transfer it into the arrow with minimal drawing force from the archer. In addition, most compound bows come with sights, which can be adjusted to the distance of the target being hit.

Compound Bow
Compound Bow

Despite it looking like a highly complex rig, it actually requires less practice to master than the recurve bow. Its complexity is in the set up. What looks like a long string wrapped around some pulleys, are actually two cables and a string. While the performance of such set-up is excellent, it has limited repairability if you’re out in the woods hunting. If you damage a string or a cable, to replace it you need a bow press, which is a special stand that the compound bow must be mounted on. It looks like a wall-mounted bike rack, and is not an object any hunter would want to carry with them on a hunt. In comparison, damaging a string on a recurve bow is no big deal as it doesn’t need any special equipment. With that said, the compound bow is still favoured by hunters for its accuracy and projectile velocity.

If you’re looking to learn bow hunting, then a compound bow is where you will likely begin. Traditionalists will sometimes scoff at the compound bow, arguing, quite correctly, that the compound bow is the easiest type of bow to use, requiring the least amount of skill. For example, the modern recurve bow still requires you to learn how to hold and release the bow. That set of techniques becomes completely unnecessary in the compound bow, which uses a trigger release to launch the arrow. It must be remembered, however, that each bow serves its specific purpose. One type is not objectively better than another. Traditional bows, like the longbow and recurve bow, have their challenge in the bow itself. In other words, the purpose is not just to hit the target, but to hit it with the kind of bow you’re holding. For a hunting bow, the challenge and the goal is in the live target, with the bow facilitating that goal as much as possible.