Can I start learning archery with a compound bow?

When someone starts with archery there is about a 90% chance that their first bow will be a compound bow. For some reason so many archers that are member of a club tend to start with a recurve bow. This happens because most coaches often advice archers to start with recurve archery for various reasons. Although there are some valid reasons, some arguments are based on misconceptions. In this article I will discuss these misconceptions and answer the question: ‘’can I start learning archery with a compound bow?’’

Yes, you can absolutely start with a compound bow if you prefer. Compound bows are not more technical or require more strength than recurve bows. Both compound and recurve archery are easy to learn and impossible to master. You should purely base your decision on what discipline you prefer.

In this article I will first debunk some common objections against starting with a recurve bow. Next, I will discuss some valid reasons why you might want to start with recurve archery. I will also discuss the main differences, how to make the choice and how to get started.

Misconceptions debunked

When I was researching for this topic a lot of archers voiced their opinion on why they advice to start with recurve archery. To be honest I believe that most archers that make these claims don’t shoot both disciplines. When I spoke to archers who shoot both styles, I got way more nuanced answers. Since I also shoot both disciplines I want to debunk some common misconceptions about this.

Recurve archery is a stepping stone towards compound archery

A lot of archers believe that recurve archery is a good stepping stone towards compound archery. Although, a lot of skills can be applied in both disciplines, they are very different in a lot of ways. Compound archery is not just a more advanced version of archery, only reserved for experienced archers. Both disciplines tend to have their challenges and benefits. In my opinion it also seems silly to first buy a recurve bow, while your goal is to get into compound archery.

Recurve bows are less technical

This was one of the misconceptions I believed when I had no experience with a compound bow. When you look at the cams, the sights and the string, it seems a lot more complex. Although the setup with the cams is more technical and difficult to comprehend, they are a lot easier in one important area.

One of the major challenges in recurve archery is the archers’ paradox. It can be quite a hassle to tune your button and arrow to make sure that it’s set up correctly. Since most compound bows are shoot through, you don’t have to worry about the archers’ paradox. Therefore I believe compound and recurve bows are very similar in terms of complexity.

Recurve bows are more forgiving

Some archers believe that recurve bows tend to be a bit more forgiving. For example, a compound bow can derail if you draw the bow incorrectly. Although this can cause major damage, I have never seen it happen at the range. You really have to mess up a lot of things to make it derail. With recurve bows something similar can happen. If your string or limbs are fitted incorrectly, your limbs might fly upon release. Don’t be afraid though, if you are careful and make sure to follow all guidelines, you will never experience these issues.

You need more strength for a compound bow

It’s true that compound bows tend to have a higher draw weight than recurve bows, but this is only part of the story. With recurve archery the heaviest part is when you are at full draw. At this point you have to aim and release the string, which often takes about 10 seconds. This can be quite a burden on your muscles, especially when you are just starting. Compound bows have a let-off for exactly this reason. Therefore you can shoot a higher draw weight while experiencing less muscle strain. I for example shoot a 26 LBS recurve bow and a 45 LBS compound bow. After a shooting session with the compound bow my muscles feel just as tired as when I was shooting with the recurve bow.

Click here to see a comparison chart of draw weights of recurve and compound bows.

Compound archery is more expensive

For many people compound archery seems more expensive than recurve archery. If you compare a bare recurve bow to a fully equipped compound bow this is true, but of course that is not a valid comparison. If you buy a fully equipped compound and recurve bow, they will cost about the same. Of course there is a lot of variation between offers, but you can get a decent compound bow below $200,-. If you want to know more about these cheap compound bows, check out my dedicated article:

‘’Are cheap compound bows any good?’’

So why do so many archers start with recurve?

You might now wonder why some many people start with recurve archery. Shouldn’t more people start with compound archery? Well, there are some solid reasons to start with recurve. It’s not because compound is harder or more technical, there are more subtle reasons.

It’s the easy option

I think many archers that start don’t really have a preference for any shooting style. How could you really. If you have never shot with a compound bow, you don’t know if you like it. Compound bows are not often for hire at archery clubs; therefore it can be really difficult to get some experience with compound bows. Most archers fell in love with archery while shooting with a compound bow. Most archery courses teach archery with recurve bows and therefore most archers stick with it.

You can also shoot traditionally

When you are unsure what discipline you like, nothing is as versatile as a recurve bow. If you fully equip it with a sight and stabilizer, you can shoot as an Olympic recurve archer. If you feel like switching things up, you can always remove the sight and stabilizer and shoot more traditionally. With compound archery, you can’t really get that more traditionally feel, since you always have to shoot with a release aid.

You can experiment with what you like

Since you can shoot in multiple different configurations, you can experiment to find what aspects you like and dislike about archery. If you buy a recurve bow, you can experience a more traditionally feel when you remove all the aids. You can, however, also get experience with aiming and tuning, which is more important in compound archery. Therefore recurve archery is a great starting point, if you don’t know if you like the traditional or the technical feel.

How to make the choice

So how do you choose between compound and recurve? The first tip I would give is not to focus on the look of the bow. Some people really like the look of a traditional bow, but don’t like the technique. So if you have the chance trying is always the best option. Sadly you may not have the possibility to experience all shooting styles. Then the best option is to gather as much information as you can and making a decision on the differences between the shooting styles. If you want to know more about the differences, I would recommend reading this article next:

‘’The differences between compound and recurve archery’’

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