What Is a Compound Bow

Whenever someone new to archery asks what kind of bow they should get, I always tell them, “Start with a compound bow”. Which, of course, just prompts the natural next question – “What is a compound bow”? This is a good question, and it has a complex answer. Fortunately, I’ve found that a lot of what the more experienced archers would consider to be important differences between compound and traditional bows are, for beginners, rather detailed distinctions that don’t need to be made. In light of that fact, I’ve chosen to focus on only the biggest differences, the ones that really define the compound bow as a unique device that merits its own patent, set of instructions, and usage notes.

The Design

Traditional longbows are usually single or bound pieces of wood. There are variants, of course, but the basic idea is that the power comes from the tension in the wood, and the tension is generated by drawing the string, with no aid. Compound bows, on the other hand, feature pulleys and lever systems that allow the archer to draw the string WITH aid. These systems allow the arrow to be drawn with significantly less mechanical effort on the part of the archer. These pulleys are typically prominent features of the bow, and add quite a bit to the power per unit of work ratio.

What Is a Compound Bow

Important Notes

Traditional longbows are big pieces of wood, typically as tall as the archer, that fire after being drawn. A compound bow, by contrast, is significantly shorter and more compact, and a lot stiffer than a longbow. Longbows bend quite a bit, whereas compound bows bend only at the edges, and only minimally. This allows the compound bow to generate more power and operate more efficiently than the traditional longbow. On top of the that, the compound bow is easier to draw, because of the pulleys we mentioned above. This means the compound bow gets more power and accuracy for less work, making it an excellent piece of technology any archer interested in learning should consider.

Usage Considerations

Using a compound bow is not radically different than using a longbow. Or, put more properly, it is not radically different in mechanics: You still draw a string and fire an arrow that way. It can feel significantly different, however, and that is why it’s important to have someone a your local pro shop teach you the important usage differences. If you’re new to archery, you might want to consider getting a teacher with experience instructing students in compound bow use. No matter what, it’s important to learn the basic differences between compound bows and longbows (which you already have), and then prepare yourself for the switch by familiarizing yourself with usage notes. The most important things to remember in that regard are the relatively easy draw; the significant power in your draw; and the ease and silence with which the arrow will fly.