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Updated August 2022
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Buying guide for Best compound bows

For those with fond memories of learning archery in grade school or extracurricular clubs using the classic recurve bow, the compound bow is a revolutionary upgrade. Drawing the compound bow is easier in some respects, allowing even new archers to draw a higher weight, and its release is better controlled, thanks to the bow design and some helpful accessories.

These bows look much more complicated than the fairly straightforward recurve bow, and they are. The string-and-pulley system alone can be confusing to look at, much less tune to an archer’s exact needs. But the sport of archery has enough enthusiasts using compound bows that finding an expert is easy to do. Still, how do you know you’re buying the best compound bow for your needs?

In this shopping guide, we’ll take you through the basics of the compound bow, its construction and important features. When you’re ready to buy, check out our top picks in the product list above.

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Think about how you’ll use your compound bow: A bigger, heavier bow is more accurate in windy conditions, while a smaller, lighter bow is easier to pack into the backcountry.

Recurve vs. compound bows

Recurve bows have been in use around the world for thousands of years, and the longbow for a few hundred. The compound bow is a modern invention, patented in 1969, and it has continually gained in popularity among archery enthusiasts ever since.

Recurve bow

While many technical changes have gone into the simple recurve bow over the centuries, it still has some drawbacks, particularly when drawing and releasing the bowstring.

  • Easier to string: For most types of recurve bows, stringing the bow is a straightforward process, often done just before each archery session. That’s part of the bow’s simplicity.

  • Harder to draw: Archers need good arm strength to draw the bow fully, especially as they approach the end of the draw, because the draw force becomes much heavier with each inch. Mustering that much strength stresses the whole body and can make it harder to hold the bow straight and steady. This affects the power of the release and the accuracy of the arrow.

Compound bow

The use of a cam system changes the weight profile of the draw. The disadvantage of the compound bow is its complexity. With more moving parts, this bow needs a lot more maintenance and can break down more often. Improper handling can damage or destroy the bow.

  • Harder to string: Stringing and adjusting the bow often requires another piece of equipment, called a bow press, because the bow is under much higher stress than a recurve bow. The compound bow also stores a lot more energy and so must be handled responsibly.

  • Easier to draw: The heaviest weight occurs within a few inches of the start of the draw, and then the weight stays consistent through the rest of the draw. That’s a lot easier on the archer, and it helps ensure a more efficient draw and release. Archers get better accuracy and more power in each shot.

Compound bow features to consider

There are many components in a compound bow. Here is a list of the most important. Many beginner bows also come with accessories like a sight, a more advanced arrow rest, a D-loop, and a mechanical draw pull. These are also available for purchase separately.

Bow riser

This is the largest and most identifiable part of the bow: the long, inward-curving portion of the compound bow that includes the grip.


The top and bottom limbs complete the “bow” shape of the compound bow, extending back from the bow riser. The cams and pulleys are attached to each of these limbs.


This provides much of the draw and release control. The bowstring loops around this slightly oblong wheel, which maintains the draw weight and provides a “let-off” once the arrow is released. Most compound bows are either single cam or dual cam.

Idler wheel

Sometimes called a pulley, this wheel is attached to the top limb on single-cam compound bows, with the cam attached to the bottom limb. The idler wheel provides simple tracking guidance for the bowstring but no additional power or release control.


Typically molded into the bow riser, the archer holds the bow at this point.

Arrow shelf

The arrow rests on this small ledge molded onto the bow riser, typically at the top of the grip.


The most active part of the compound bow, the bowstring is strung around the cam and the idler wheel.

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Never “dry fire” a compound bow by pulling the bowstring all the way back and releasing it at full draw. This can destroy the bow.

Compound bow prices

You can expect to pay somewhere between $65 and $1,000 for a compound bow, depending on its quality and features.


Smaller, lighter kids’ compound bows range from $65 to under $150.


Beginning archers and those buying a compound bow for growing kids may want to get an adjustable compound bow, which allows for greater range in draw weight and draw length. Good-quality adjustable bows are priced from $150 to $400.


High-end compound bows are often made of composite materials, which can help reduce vibration on release. These compound bows can cost $400 to $1000.


  • Decide how you plan to use your bow. This is one of the first things to ask yourself when buying a compound bow. The answer can help you determine the size, weight, and material of your bow. Will you be shooting targets at the range or do you plan to hunt? What kind of game will you be hunting and where? Whether shooting targets or hunting, what distance will you typically shoot at – 100 to 150 yards or more?

  • Test how each compound bow feels when you hold and draw it. There are many variables involved in choosing the right compound bow, but the most important consideration is how the bow feels when you hold it and when you draw it. The best bow for you will feel right in your hands and comfortable throughout the draw and release process.

  • Fit your new compound bow to you. If you purchase a compound bow online, take it to a nearby pro shop or archery range as soon as you get it so it can be fitted to you. Experts can help you figure out your draw weight and length. They can also tune the bow and help you set the sight.

  • Practice at a target range. Take your new compound bow to a target range so that you can practice shooting a few arrows. If the bow feels comfortable to use, great. If the experience isn’t as much fun or as comfortable as you expected, you might want to exchange the compound bow for a different one.

Archery terms

You’ll also want to know some key terms when you’re shopping for a compound bow.

  • ATA: This stands for “axle to axle” and is often mentioned when describing the height of the bow. This is the distance from the axle of one cam/pulley to the other.

  • Draw weight: The amount of force needed to pull back the bowstring.

  • Speed: The speed an arrow travels after being released is measured in feet per second (FPS).

  • Draw length: This is the distance you can pull a compound bowstring before it stops.

  • Smoothness: This describes the quality of the draw you feel from the time you pull the bowstring until you reach the full draw length.

  • Back wall: This is the term used to describe the point at which the bowstring stops, when you reach the full draw length. The draw length is set when the bow is being tuned to fit the archer’s needs and is stopped by mechanical means, either with a drawstop or a cable stop.

  • Let-off: This is the percentage that draw weight reduces once the bowstring is pulled all the way back.
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An archery pro shop can help you set up your new compound bow, and many also offer lessons.


Q. I’m pretty strong. Should I get a compound bow with a really high draw weight?

A. It’s entirely up to you. Keep in mind that even compound bows with just 20 pounds of draw weight are really powerful compared to traditional recurve bows, and 40 pounds of draw weight is more than enough to bring down a deer at less than 30 yards. However, plenty of compound bows are available with weights above 70 pounds, and archers like the challenge presented by these bows.

Q. What is the best starting weight for a beginning archer?

A. That depends on your age, build, and strength. You might need to test several compound bows before you find the right one. However, a good guideline is to find a bow at a weight that is comfortable for you to shoot, even if it’s just five pounds, and gradually increase the weight.

Q. Is a dual-cam bow better quality than a single-cam bow?

A. Not at all! A bow’s quality, power, and accuracy aren’t entirely determined by the number of cams. Each type – single or dual cam – offers different characteristics. For example, single cams tend to be smoother in the draw, which is desirable for accuracy.

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