What is more popular, compound or recurve archery?

In this article we are going to discuss which shooting style is more popular compound or recurve. Maybe you want to switch but you wonder whether there are a lot of competitions or maybe you are just plain curios and wonder which one is more popular. Therefore, I will discuss this question in more detail in this article.

Maybe you just want a short answer; I won’t take you hostage and force you to read the entire article. So here is a quick answer if you are in a hurry:

I believe that compound archery is a bit more popular worldwide than recurve archery. This is mostly because archery is quite popular in the United States and in particular compound archery. The popularity of these two, however, differs a lot per country and per club. Recurve archery for example is more popular in European and Asian countries.

Keep reading if you would like more details!

A look into Google trends

Sadly we don’t know how many archers practice recurve archers and how many compound. When you become a member of an archery club you often don’t have to indicate which shooting style you practice. There are even many archers that practice multiple styles and archers often switch. Therefore, there is no central database where we can see actual number of registered compound and recurve archers.

Luckily we can often infer what is popular based on Google trends data. If you would for example search for ice bucket challenge, you will quickly see that it was just very briefly popular. When you do this for other fads you can quickly see the popularity of a certain trend.

Ice bucket challenge

If you would look at ice skating for example you can clearly see that more people Google ice skating in December and January then in August. This, of course, makes sense since it isn’t possible to skate on natural ice during the summer.

Ice skating

We can even put two or more keywords in Google trends which allows us to compare the popularity of the two. So if we place both ‘’compound bow’’ and ‘’recurve bow’’ in the tool, we can compare how many people search for each option.

Recurve bow vs compound bow 

Blue = recurve bow; red = compound bow

Detailed data on google trends

You should, however, take these results with a grain of salt. Google will only compare keywords with this exact spelling. Synonyms and similar words are not added into the results. If we slightly change the wording by replacing ''bow'' with ''archery'', the results will change dramatically.

Recurve archery vs compound archery

Blue = recurve archery; red = compound archery

Detailed data on google trends

Although Google trends isn’t very clear, we can at least see that both shooting styles are quite popular worldwide.

How it differs per country

If we look deeper in the google trends data we can see that the popularity between compound and recurve archery differs across countries. Compound archery for example is very popular in the United States, while recurve archery tends to be more popular in Europe.

This can be traced back to why people practice archery now and in the past. In the United States a lot of people hunt, either for the meat or as a hobby. It’s easier to shoot accurate with a compound bow than with a recurve bow; therefore most hunters prefer this option. In Europe archery is only seen as a sport, since hunting is prohibited. Recurve archery was the first form of archery that was allowed in competitions. Compound archery was only in later stages allowed in most competitions. That's why compound archery is still not part of the Olympics while recurve archery is.

Although there are still a lot of people in the United States that use their bow to hunt; archery as a sport is becoming way more popular. These cultural differences, however, tend to stick for quite a while, therefore archers in the United States are just more familiar with compound bows than Europeans.

How it differs per club

Not only does the popularity of shooting styles differ per country, it can also differ massively per club. Some clubs are really focused on one type of archery. Target clubs for example often have more recurve archers. Clubs that are more focused on hunting simulations and 3D archery tend to have more compound archers, since the compound is more fitting to the hunting theme.

Although a few clubs will have only compound or only recurve archers, most clubs tend to be quite divers. Archers often switch between disciplines, so in general there always tend to be a few archers in each discipline.

My estimate

I believe that compound archery is a bit more popular than recurve archery worldwide. In most countries, archery tends to be quite a niche sport, meaning that it isn’t practiced by a lot of people. This is especially true in most countries in Europe.

In some countries like the United States, South Korea and Japan tends to be a lot more popular. In South Korea and Japan recurve archery is very popular, while compound archery tends to be more popular in the United States. Since a lot of archers live in the United States, I believe compound archery is a bit more popular.

I believe, however, that the difference isn’t all that big. Although compound archery is getting more popular in Europe and Asia, recurve archery is getting more popular in the United States. More archers are now practicing archery as a sport instead of hunting, so I believe the cultural differences will slowly diminish.

Final words

I hope this article answered your question. Sadly I can’t give you a clear cut answer, since we don’t have reliable data. Therefore we can only make inferences on Google trends data and other observation.

I wouldn’t base your choice between compound and recurve archery purely on popularity of the discipline. In most countries, both divisions have a lot of participants. So, with some exceptions you will always find fellow archers, which shoot in your division. Additionally if everyone would stick to the most popular division, we wouldn’t have such a great diversity in shooting styles.

When I started with archery at my local club there were only a few recurve archers, since the club was quite focused on 3D archery and 3D competitions. When some target archers started organizing in and outdoor competitions, recurve archery got a lot more popular. We now have a lot of diversity and most archers partake in both 3D competitions and target competitions, so taking the initiative can really transform your club!

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