Archery bow styles

There are many different bow styles available to the archer (see AGB Rules of Shooting for definitions of bow styles). You can focus on just 1 or as many as you wish. Those mainly used are recurve, barebow, compound, longbow and traditional. Crossbows are also available but are usually restricted to their own clubs (and are not shot at Warlingham AC). Kyudo is the Japanese art of archery and is practised in dedicated dojos. Horseback archery is also practised at a few locations (and is separate from AGB).

If you are new to archery, and can’t wait to buy your own bow, you really ought to talk to a coach and read this document (pdf, 3,5MB) before making any purchases.

Archery GB has an introduction to bow styles and basic kit

Recurve bow

This is probably the commonest in use (certainly at Warlingham AC) and is used in the Olympics. Most are ‘take down’ bows; i.e. the riser and limbs are separate. Have a cut out window for arrow to pass. The following accessories are normally added to aid consistency:

Sight: used to improve accuracy by placing the sight pin on the object to be hit (the gold in target archery). Can be adjusted for elevation and left/right position. Can be a simple pin/tape or a sophisticated piece of engineering;

Button: used to fine tune arrow/bow set up based on bow power and arrow stiffness (spine)

Clicker (and/or a kisser): used to provide consistency in draw length and thus elevation, particularly at longer distances (but can play tricks with your mind);

Stabilisers (long rod, short rods, V-bars): help improve shot by dampening vibration (which may affect string) immediately following the loose. The dampening action also reduces shock to the archers bow hand/arm.

Arrows usually aluminium or aluminium/carbon composite (pure carbon arrows are not always allowed at some clubs and competitions)

Archers may also use:

Sling (finger or wrist): as it’s recommended not to grip the bow handle during the loose (to reduce torque), these stop the bow following the arrow up the field - albeit not very far.

Tab: usually a leather or soft plastic protector for the drawing fingers. Some styles use a glove.


Another (increasingly) common style. Basically a recurve bow without any sight, long stabilisers or clicker/kisser. Some stabilisation allowed - usually by addition of additional weight below the hand position - provided the bow (unstrung) can pass through a circle 122mm diameter. You can buy some excellent bows specifically designed to be used as recurve barebow style. This style has a unique method to placing the fingers on the string and aiming based on target distance.

Compound bow

A more powerful bow characterised by the use of pulleys (‘cams’) and shorter limbs than recurve bows. These are used in the Paralympics. Most of the effort is expended in the 1st few inches of the draw allowing the archer to hold the bow at full draw longer than that for recurve bows. 

The accessories are similar to recurve but the sight is more sophisticated (can even include a spirit level !!), shorter stabilisers and no clicker. In addition, most are shot with a release aid (a sort of external trigger) instead of a tab.

Arrows almost exclusively aluminium or aluminium/carbon composite. 

There is further differentiation into Compound (unlimited), Compound Limited and Compound Barebow.


A traditional English or Welsh bow. Can be ‘self' bows (made with a single wood type - yew, ash, etc), ‘backed' (2 laminates) or ‘laminated' (3 - 5 laminates).  Many are increasingly backed with cane (not a wood but grass) to improve cast (speed). Self cane bows may also be available and are also very good (although not allowed for some types of field archery competitions in UK). Common terms used in longbow construction are the “back” (the side furthest from you when you hold the bow at draw) and the “belly” (the side closest to you/your belly).

Aiming can be unaided or assisted with a band on the bow or a ground marker. No other accessories are used on the bow (although a kisser - a 'draw length indicator' - is allowed if not used as a sighting aid). Tabs or finger gloves can be used to draw the string. The arrow rest is the forefinger (with or without a glove). Arrows are made of wood with feather fletches (bamboo shafts are rarely permitted).

Here is a detailed history and information on the longbow.

Asiatic bows

A new classification by AGB from April 2022. Includes horse bows, hungarian, turkish and mongolian bows. Originally constructed using bamboo/wood, horn and sinew, now using wood and modern materials. Very powerful bows for their size.


(aka American Longbow or Recurve Traditional)

Usually made of wood laminates and resembles a recurve bow. Arrows same as longbow and arrow rest must be a simple (recurve style) type. Can be shot as a barebow.