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Bow Basics

Long Bow


Characterized by their simplicity — consists of a long, slightly curved frame that's approximately equal in length to the archer's height.

Recurve Bow


Named for its distinct shape — the central parts of the limbs curve towards the archer and the tips curve away.

Compound Bow


Identified by its modern features — consists of sights, stabilizers and a system of cams, pulleys and cables.


Bows are elastic objects. This means that when stress is applied and later removed, the material in the bow returns to the original dimensions and geometry it had before the load was applied.

Figure: Elasticity of a bow demonstrated by comparing the bow's length and width at pre-draw, full draw, and after the arrow has been released. 

Bow Elasticity


The draw curve of a long bow and recurve bow are generally linear. This means that it is progressively more difficult the further it is drawn. There is no "let off" so the archer must hold the maximum draw weight at full draw. A compound bow's draw curve peaks part way through and "lets off" near the end of the draw cycle, making it easier to hold at full draw.

Figure: Draw curve for a long bow, recurve bow, and compound bow. 

Bow Draw Curve


The paradox is the phenomenon of an arrow traveling in a direction it is pointed at full draw when it seems as though the arrow would have to pass through and thus travel in the direction it was pointed pre-draw.

Figure: The two graphics below depict the archer's paradox showing the anticipated trajectory direction at both pre-draw and full draw.  

Archer's Paradox 1

When the string is released, it exerts a pushing force at the rear of the arrow. As a result, the arrow bends around the bow's frame enabling it to fly in the same direction as the arrow points at full draw.

Figure: From left to right, the yellow line indicates the manner in which the arrow bends around the bow's frame as it is released from full draw and leaves the bow in a trajectory towards the target. 

Archer's Paradox 2