Longbows Vs. Compound Bows – What You Must Know

This article covers the topic of longbows vs. compound bows. The key differences between the two bows and which one is better for the modern-day archer. You also get to see the differences between their size, strength, and their historical impact.

And we also cover how Captain Kirk is connected to the compound bow. So, let’s begin with a summary of the article. This summary covers the basic difference between compound bows and longbows.

The main difference between longbows and compound bows is in the “let-off” mechanism of the compound bow. This “let-off” mechanism in the compound bow allows the archer to hold the bow at full draw much easier and for much longer than an archer with a longbow. This gives the archer with the compound time to aim much more effectively. Now, aside from the “let-off” mechanism, the bows differ in size, weight, and materials from which they are made. As you will see in a second.

Now, that we got the summary out of the way. Let’s discuss the detailed distinctions between the two bows.

Longbows Vs. Compound Bows – Breakdown Of The Key Differences

Comparison Between:LongbowCompound Bow
History and OriginDates back to several thousand years B.C.Invented in 1966 by Holless Wilbur Allen
Size and DimensionsCan be 71″ or longeras short as 31″
DisadvantageIts large size, and inability to fire anything but arrows with feathersVery close to a perfect bow
How It Is UsedArcher draws the bowstring with his hand to a set anchor point (usually on their face)The archer draws the bow, usually with the help of a release aid, to aid in accurate shooting
Longbows vs. Compound bows

This table quickly demonstrates the differences between longbows and compounds. But now, you get to see how and why these bows differ. And what role did William Shatner a.k.a. James Kirk play in the history of the Compound bow.

Longbows Vs. Compound Bows – History And Origin

Compound Vs. Longbow

Now, let’s first start with the longbow. Most commonly associated with the British Kingdom in the Middle Ages. And while the longbow did make its name during the Middle Ages its origin goes way back.

There were excavations that discovered early forms of longbows as far back as X in Y. So, the longbow in its early form has been around for a while. But the large versions of longbows are most commonly associated with the Welsh.

They used the longbow to great effect when fighting off the British Kingdom. Sadly, it did not work in the long term since the British Kingdom absorbed Wales and its bows into their army.

And since that time the Longbow was used to achieve great military victories over the French in the 100 years of war, such as at Crecy and Agincourt.

The English Firing Their Longbows

And with the advent of gunpowder weapons, longbow use died out. But in the modern-day era of archery, the longbow has been kept in use by archers. Its popularity has been kept alive by Hollywood history movies that often depict heroes such as Robin Hood or Medieval Armies firing the longbow.

What About The History Of The Compound Bow?

The Compound bow is a relatively new invention. The patent for the Compound bow was first filled in 1966 and it was granted in 1969. The compound bow was designed due to the inventor’s desire to fire faster arrows without necessarily increasing the draw weight of the bow.

So an ingenious system of cables and pulleys was designed to increase arrow speeds without adding draw weight to the bow, and of course, making the bow easier to hold at full draw.

You can check out a more detailed history of the Compound bow here.

One last interesting tidbit is that early Compound bows were considered very high-tech which is why they tapped a then famous William Shatner of Star Trek fame to promote it.

William Shatner And The Compound Bow

I find this historical tidbit really cool.

Now let us discuss the difference between the Longbows and Compounds size.

The Difference In Their Size

What you will notice about a Longbow is that, well, it’s very long. Hence the name. The reason for its length comes from its history. One of the original purposes for Longbows was to inflict damage on an armored enemy.

This meant an arrow from a medieval longbow had to travel a distance and pierce the enemy armor (if they wore any). So naturally, the arrow had to be shot from the bow with great force. Hence the size. Given the material the Longbows were made, which was yew wood. The only way to achieve the necessary power with yew wood was to increase the size of the longbow.

Hence why Longbows were often 180 cm or 71″ and longer. With draw weights between 80 and 150 pounds. While the Medieval versions were very strong, modern Longbows tend to have draw weights from 60 lbs onwards. With even lighter bows available.

What About Compound Bows?

How long are Compound bows?

Compound bows tend to be very small. With Lengths ranging from 31″ to 40″. While there are longer Compounds available, most tend to stay in that range. The reason is that Compound bows are often used in bowhunting. There, a shorter bow is much easier to carry around and maneuver around.

So, how can these bows be equivalent in strength to longbows? Well, it’s the whole system of pulleys and cams that does the trick. These systems transfer more efficiently from the bow to the arrow while simultaneously making it easier for the archer to hold the bow at full draw.

That is why, if you are buying any compound bows it pays to pay attention to the let-off percentage. This lets you know how much the draw weight “falls off” at full draw. Meaning if the let-off is 70% and the bow is a 50lb draw weight. Then 70% of the draw weight “falls off” at full draw. So, a 50lb bow feels like 15lbs at full draw.

Disadvantages Of Longbows and Compounds

So, what are the disadvantages of a longbow?

Well, the biggest disadvantage for a longbow is its size. It’s cumbersome to carry around (compared to a compound) if you’re going hunting.

And on top of that you can in essence shoot feather-fletched arrows. While you can add an elevated rest I guess, I am going to assume you are going for an all-natural Longbow.

The issue is, that arrows with plastic vanes hit the longbow when fired. And since plastic vanes do not compact upon hitting an obstacle, that in turn affects the trajectory of the arrow. And messes up your aim.

What Is The Disadvantage Of A Compound Bow?

The main disadvantage of the Compound bow over the longbow is its weight. No, not in the draw weight. But in the actual physical weight of the bow. Given all the add-ones and cables a modern-day compound can be twice as heavy as a modern-day longbow.

Even with that, I would still pick a Compound bow over a Longbow any day of the week.

Reasons Why Compound Bows Are Better Than Longbows

  • The let-off (this makes it easier to hold the bow at full draw)
  • Compound bows can have aiming aids (peep sight, a sight, etc.)
  • Mechanical release (not holding the bowstring with your fingers allows for a much cleaner release. This means the side-to-side movement of the bowstring that happens when using finger release does not happen with the mechanical release. This translates to a much smoother flight of the arrow)
  • You can take your time with aiming the Compound (the let-off mechanism allows the archer to take their time aiming the bow. Since there is much less stress on their muscles)
  • You can add stabilizers and other add ons to help in your performance

For all these reasons the Compound bow is far superior to any Longbow.

In Conclusion

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. Hopefully, you learned something new. If you wish you can continue learning by checking out my article on the recurve bow and the longbow right here.

You get to see which one is better for modern-day archery.

Or if you wish to compare two bows that played a pivotal role in world history. Go take a look at my article on the Turkish bow vs. the Longbow, just go here.

Take care!

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