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String Theory: A Glossary of the Different Shapes of Bows
When drawing a bow, the force doesn’t come from the string stretching—it comes from changing the shape of the bow itself. Here’s a rundown of common bow shapes and how they affect an archer.
Straight: the straight bow is the simplest form of bow—just a simple curve of wood connected by a string. The rigid shape makes it easier to draw initially, but as the string is drawn farther back, the strength required to shoot it increases. A longer bow generally results in greater power—traditional English longbows, for instance, could fire arrows an estimated 240 meters with a force of up to 180 pounds.
Recurve: the tips of a recurve bow curve slightly away from the archer at each end, which shortens the distance between the string and the bow at rest so that, when drawn, the string can travel farther before releasing the arrow. This makes the bow more energy efficient since the additional distance adds momentum to the shot. This is the type of bow used in international archery competitions.
Reflex: when unstrung, the entire body of a reflex bow curves completely away from the archer. This C shape imbues the bow material with considerable potential energy, allowing for a shorter length without sacrificing power or strength. That tension also makes them notoriously difficult to string, rendering them practically useless for modern hunters to floss the venison out of their teeth.
Compound: instead, modern hunters often rely on compound bows, which use a system of pulleys to do most of the work of drawing the string. Even when a string is fully drawn, the pulleys often hold part or even most of the draw weight, allowing the archer to hold and aim the bow without as much strain or fatigue.