Crossbows can be broken down into three categories: Recurve, compound standard limb, and compound reverse limb. But what is the difference between them? Check out our simple guide for all the answers and some recommendations of our personal favorites.
So you want to get into crossbow hunting. Great! We couldn’t be happier to welcome you into the community.
The only thing is, you’re probably already confused by the sheer number of options there are to choose from. Do you go for a recurve, compound standard limb, or compound reverse limb? And what even is the difference?
There’s no need to feel overwhelmed, the differences are a lot simpler than you might think. Read on and we should answer any questions. And if you get to the end and still need help, just reach out to us and we’ll be happy to help.
Now, let’s get started with the basics!
What Is the Difference Between a Compound and Recurve Crossbow?
Three special characteristics differentiate a compound and a recurve crossbow, those are width, power and sound. These three characteristics are directly related and so the increase in one will require a big change in the other.
These differences are most evident in the different limb designs each unit adopts. So how do the limbs on a recurve crossbow differ from the limbs on a compound crossbow?
Recurve crossbows are substantially wider than a compound crossbow mainly because they have very large curved limbs from which the crossbow takes its name. Because of the limb design, they will carry a high draw weight to gain a sufficient arrow speed which is maxed out at around 400 FPS (feet per second). The design is very simple and what most people would associate with a basic crossbow.
The stored energy in recurve bows comes directly from the limbs, making it the least efficient design of the two categories. This, generally speaking, makes the recurve design deliver more noise and less speed. The latest recurve bow models do an excellent job at reducing vibration and noise by using dampening material.
Compound crossbows are more efficient because of a cam system. These compound the weight of the limbs, meaning they don’t need to work as hard for you to get more speed and quieter shots. It also means you have a much narrower bow than a recurve model.
Different Types of Compound Crossbows: Reverse Limb vs Traditional
While there is a clear difference between a recurve crossbow and a compound crossbow, within the compound category there are also two variations: A reverse limb, and a standard limb compound crossbow.
So what are the differences between them?
A reverse limb crossbow can accomplish the same amount of draw length as a standard limb
crossbow while also having a shorter overall length. The shorter length is achieved because the whole system is reversed meaning that the aluminum riser and limb pockets can be positioned much further back on the flight rail – sometimes even further back than the foregrip.
This has several advantages:
Primarily, it reduces the overall length of the bow making the entire crossbow a little more maneuverable, easier to bring to shoulder, and more balanced for freehanding. Also, the string is in contact with the arrow for a longer distance—otherwise known as the power stroke—resulting in a faster arrow speed.
The string and cables of a reverse limb crossbow are mounted slightly different than a traditional compound crossbow which means that once the arrow leaves the flight rail, there is less excess energy (vibration and kinetic energy) to be dissipated through the crossbow parts meaning that your shot will be noticeably quieter. This is particularly beneficial to avid hunters looking for small advantages in the field.
Standard limb crossbows require a higher draw weight and a longer draw cycle to achieve the same amount of arrow speed. The power stroke can often be about two inches shorter than a reverse limb crossbow, but it may be a bit front heavy for freehanding. This does however give quite a different feel to the release of the arrow from the flight rail, so if you prefer more of a rifle feeling then perhaps a standard limb crossbow is the best option for you.
What Are the Benefits of a Recurve Crossbow?
The benefits of a recurve crossbow are really all down to its simplicity. As we mentioned earlier, the entire crossbow is made up of four main components. The limbs, string, stock, and a trigger. Of course, there are some more parts to it, but you get the idea!
With simplicity at its core, a recurve crossbow has many other benefits which is partly the reason why they are still so popular today.
Here’s a big benefit. You can change strings and components on your own without a crossbow press! Having the ability to do this work is very appealing if past experiences have left you stranded in the field.
While the recurve crossbow is larger than a compound crossbow, recurve crossbows can be lighter. This means that they are well suited to stand hunters and people out on multi-day hunts where carrying the unit over distances and long periods is expected.
The reduced weight of the recurve crossbow also means that some hunters can find it easier to aim. This is mainly down to it being easier to hold steady, but also because they can be shouldered much easier.
What Are the Benefits of a Compound Crossbow?
Whether you prefer to use a reverse or standard limb compound crossbow, the main benefits are speed and power. This is mainly thanks to the cam system that increases the length of the string under load and therefore can store more potential energy in the system while shooting the arrow.
This also means you can take down bigger game with more confidence.
While sometimes heavier than a recurve crossbow, almost all compound crossbows have a much smaller overall size. This makes them a lot more maneuverable through dense brush and thickets meaning you are less likely to make excessive noise.
Drawing the string of a compound crossbow takes very little effort thanks to the cam mechanism which also produces something called “let-off”. This means that as you draw the string further back, it actually gets easier.
Maintenance can be a lot harder to do yourself because of the complex arrangement of strings, cams, and cables, which is why we offer a crossbow service. This can mean that if you have a mechanical issue while on a hunt, you are less likely to be able to fix it and continue on.
But there is a way around this, and that is to follow our crossbow string maintenance guide because proactively maintaining your crossbow is better than having it fail on you at the worst possible moment.
What Type Should I Choose?
At the end of the day, each crossbow type has its benefits and drawbacks. For different people, one type might make more sense than the other. Some will be louder and quieter than others. Some will even shoot a dime at 100 yards.
Crossbow makers have multiple crossbows styles that will fit almost any budget. It is up to you to decide what factors and benefits are the most important to you. Whether you’re after something with more accuracy, better optics, a specific trigger system, or easier cocking and de-cocking, honing in on the features you will benefit from is the most important part of the process.
One thing we can confidently say is that if you are looking for a more simple crossbow that gives you that traditional feeling, a recurve crossbow is the way to go.
But at the end of the day, we always recommend working with a reputable shop to see
what option is the best fit for you.
Top Recurve Crossbow Brands
At Borkholder Archery, we only stock what we know are the best products on the market. This goes for broadheads, arrows, compound crossbows, and especially recurve crossbows. That is why we can only recommend Excalibur recurve crossbows because they are the best on the market.
One of the reasons why Excalibur is the number one brand in recurve crossbows is because it is incredibly easy to replace the string. All you need is a stringing aid, a rope cocker, and a little bit of practice to make sure that you can change a string out in the field and keep your hunting session going. This is one of the main reasons why someone would choose a recurve crossbow.
As well as the practical benefits, Excalibur are known throughout the industry for their excellent manufacturing standards that translates into incredible accuracy when shooting. They are also among the lightest crossbows on the market which makes them even more appealing to a wider range of hunters.
Top Compound Crossbow Brands
We can’t list the best compound crossbow brands without mentioning Ravin. Their cutting edge technology has created a crossbow lover’s dream. Ravin’s top-end models are by far the most powerful on the market, capable of shooting an arrow at up to 500 FPS which is achieved by their HeliCoil cam system. As you might expect, they don’t come cheap, but a Ravin will always be worth the investment.
One of the things we like the most about TenPoint crossbows is that every model has great balance. This might not be the ‘first thing’ you’re looking for in a crossbow, but balance is at the core of so many other features, especially accuracy, and maneuverability. The differentiating feature is TenPoint’s ACUslide decocking system. It’s safe, quiet and controlled. TenPoint’s optics are also among the best on the market.
Wicked Ridge is one of those great brands that strike a real balance between performance and affordability. We find that a lot of their lower-priced units benefit from trickle-down technology, meaning that the high-end features you would expect from an expensive crossbow like high power, great accuracy, and carbon arrows are available even on the cheaper models.
If you’re looking for a specific recommendation or just can’t choose between the incredible selection of crossbows that are currently on the market, don’t hesitate to contact us at Borkholder Archery, or stop by our store in Milford, Indiana and we’ll be happy to help out.