top of page
Buying Your First Recurve Bow (Guide/Advice)

(Taken from a Reddit post and has an American bias but many of the answers will still apply. Talk to local coach or more experienced Archer)
by FerrumVeritas

Newbie Question

This comes up a lot here, which makes sense. People getting into archery is a good thing. Since recurve bows are more of a "classic" bow, and since their entry cost is lower, they're a popular choice for people new to the sport. Please note that this guide largely applies to adult archers who are fully grown.

So you want to buy your first bow, which one should you buy?

This is going to sound flippant, but in all honesty you shouldn't buy your first bow. You should borrow or rent it. Take a class, learn to shoot, learn what you like, and what kind of shooting you want to do. It'll save you money in the long run, especially if you move up in draw weight while you're learning.

Okay, now that I have that out of the way, I'll actually answer the question by discussing the different characteristics of a recurve, and pointing out bows that fit those characteristics.

One piece or take-down?

Get a take-down bow. One piece bows are beautiful. They feel cool. But they're more difficult to transport and have virtually no adjustment. You can't do much to tune them, and the weight you buy is the weight you get. This makes them a terrible first bow, because you shouldn't start with a heavy draw weight if you want to learn to shoot well. I'm not saying never buy a one piece bow, I'm just saying that you shouldn't buy one until you've settled into archery and the way you shoot isn't likely to change.

Limb attachment type: bolt on, ILF, or Formula?

Since you're buying a take-down bow, the limbs have to attach to the riser (the handle part) somehow.

Bolt on: Many bows that you see as "club bows" will have this kind of attachment, as will the often recommended Samick Sage and its like. They're cheap to manufacture, easy to set up, and relatively simple. Many of them are made very similarly, making their limbs pretty interchangeable. But they're not designed to be, and aren't always. Finding new limbs can be a pain. There's no real way to know except through trial and error. You can't adjust the weight on these, or the tiller. These are a perfectly good bow to rent or borrow, but I wouldn't buy one. You'll probably want to replace it. The biggest benefit of a bolt on bow is (initial) cost, but that gap has narrowed a lot recently.

Hoyt Grand Prix/International Limb Fitting (ILF): ILF limbs are designed to be largely interchangeable between different manufacturers and are the de facto standard for competition archery. All of the top manufacturers make bows that use ILF limbs, and the number of options are virtually infinite. They're able to be tuned to match your shooting, even allowing for some weight adjustment. You can use these options to get the style, feel and performance you want; from Olympic, hunting, bare-bow, or even traditional. You should buy an ILF bow as your first bow.

Formula: Formula is Hoyt's newest limb fitting. In theory, it is capable of better performance than their Grand Prix/ILF attachment system. It has some technical limitations (shorter sight window for same length bow), but the biggest reason not to buy a Formula bow as your first bow is that you're giving up all sorts of interchangeability. Which means you better love that bow, and be willing to only buy very expensive, high-end limbs. In practice, there are ILF limbs that perform just as well as Formula, and even Hoyt sponsored archers often choose their ILF offerings.

I'll get to limb material further down, but let's talk about bow length first.

What length should your recurve bow be?

This is kind of a complicated question, but the answer really depends on two things: draw length and purpose. There are several ways to calculate draw length, but the best way to determine it is to measure. This is an important number to know, but be advised that it can slowly change over time too. By purpose, I mean hunting or target archery. You can use a hunting bow to shoot targets, and you can use a target bow to hunt, but in general one is more suited to the other. Hunting bows are shorter to make them easier to maneuver in the woods. Target bows are more comfortable and more stable to shoot. Because of this, I think your first recurve should be a target bow. If you intend to hunt with it, buy a hunting bow once you've learned to shoot and are able to handle a higher draw weight (35-40# minimum).

Below are the recommended bow lengths based on draw length, using normal components. If on the edge, most shooters opt for the longer bow length.

Draw Length     Target Recurve Length    Hunting Recurve Length

25-27"                66"                                    58-60"

27-28"                68"                                    60-62"

28-29"                70"                                    62-64"

30"+                   72"                                    66"

Bow length is achieved through riser length and limb length. A 25" riser is the target standard, while a 17" riser is the standard measurement for hunting (although a 19" riser is more popular).

How long of a riser should you get?

Target risers are typically 23"/25"/27" while hunting risers are typically 17"/19"/21". For the vast majority of people, a 25" or 19" riser is a good choice. For target archery, a 25" riser allows for a longer sight window (helps shoot long distances comfortably) and better stability than a 23" riser, while being much more available and affordable than a 27" riser.

On a 25" riser, short limbs give you a 66" bow, medium limbs 68", and long limbs 70".

If you have over 30" draw length, you'll want/need a 27" riser. These are expensive, but they've gotten more affordable recently. There's also currently a trend to shoot longer bows, especially in bare bow and indoor target archery, making 27" risers popular even with people that have 28" draw lengths. For a 27" bow, look at the Kinetic Sovren, Mybo Wave, and Gillo G1, which all offer 27" options. Or just spend all the money on the Hoyt Xceed (but if you were going to do that, what do you need this guide for?).

If 3D archery is going to be your focus, I'd consider a 21" riser. It gets you close to a target length bow while being easier to carry in the brush. Anyone with a 25-29" draw length should be able to shoot a 64-66" bow pretty comfortably. Then again, you can also shoot a full length target bow 3D (and will likely score better).

What's the difference in riser material?

Risers are typically made out of aluminum, magnesium, wood, or carbon. Aluminum is by far the most popular material, and is generally processed one of three ways: forged, CNC machined, or die cast.

Wood: Ah, wood. The classic bow material. You won't find many target length wooden bows (and virtually no affordable ones), but they're required by some organizations for the "Traditional" class of archery. It's still a popular material for hunting risers because it's the lightest, and it's a classic. It feels the best when it's hot or cold (but can be damaged by changes in temperature). It's more common to see wooden bolt-on bows than ILF ones, but Oak Ridge and White Feather make some affordable choices, while Tradtech by Lancaster Archery makes some mid-to-high-end offerings. Still, you can generally get a better metal riser for the cost of a decent wood one.

Magnesium: Magnesium risers are lighter and stiffer than aluminum, but basically have to be cast and can't hold as much weight before they fatigue. The cheapest ILF risers on the market are made from magnesium (Galaxy Crescent, Core Air and Gonexo). This doesn't make magnesium a bad material, necessarily. These bows shoot pretty well. But I would avoid it if you plan on shooting 35# or more (most have a max recommended weight of 40#). This makes it an okay first riser if you're on a budget, but I get something else if you can afford it because you'll be less likely to want to replace it.

Aluminium (Cast): The next cheapest riser construction is cast aluminum. Personally, I would take a magnesium riser over a die cast aluminum one because the aluminum one isn't any better but it does cost more. Again, I would be cautious using more than 35# on a die cast riser and wouldn't go over 40.

Aluminium (Forged): In theory, forged aluminum allows for the strongest, most rigid aluminum construction. In practice, forged aluminum saves on material over pure CNC machining and doesn't require as high-grade aluminum (thus cheaper). Forged aluminum risers are an excellent value. Most of them do not have a weight limitation (the Gillo G2 being a notable and odd exception). This can be the only riser you need to buy, if you get a quality one. The WNS Delta LX/Kinetic Heat (same riser, partnership between the companies) is a standout value here, as is the Sanlida Forged A7. The WNS Elite Forged/SF Forged Plus has been used to win plenty of medals.

I would recommend a forged aluminum riser as your first recurve riser. You might not need another one.

Aluminum (CNC): There are different grade of aluminum used here (6000 and 7000 series, machine extrusion), but for our purposes they're similar enough. CNC machining allows for greater consistency, more complex geometries, and tighter tolerances than forging. It uses (and wastes) more material, and generally requires higher grade aluminum to be stronger. Most premium risers will be CNC machined. Companies like Kinetic have upended the market recently by offering affordable CNC machined risers. The Kinetic Vygo is a good choice if you plan on shooting target barebow, with its included weight system. The WNS Delta NX is an excellent bow for the money. Decut and Sanlida have affordable offerings too. Mybo make competitively priced, high quality bows. The Gillo G1 (reduced in cost now that its no longer their flagship bow) is a standout value for both barebow and Olympic archery.

For a hunting riser, the Hoyt Satori is the gold standard here. The Galaxy Sear, Exe Scream, and Win&Win Black Elk are good values.

If you want to splurge, you will find the best risers available are CNC machined. These include the gorgeous MK Archery MK-Z, Hoyt Xceed, innovative Gillo GT, and Win&Win Wiawis ATF-X. But if you're spending that much, you don't need this guide.

If you're going to spend extra money on the bow itself, this is the place to do it.

Carbon: Carbon's big advantage over other materials is that it dampens vibration incredibly well (and can be quieter). WNS makes some relatively affordable options, but otherwise you're looking at some top end choices.

Okay, but what limbs do you need to go with the riser?

We talked about length, but the next important number when buying limbs is draw weight. I don't know how strong you are, and don't necessarily trust you to be honest about it when you say so, so here's my general recommendation: go to a club, borrow or rent some equipment, and shoot for a while to figure out what you're comfortable with.

20# off the fingers (see below) probably won't be too heavy for most adults to shoot for 90 minutes at a time. But I've certainly seen cases where it was. For most people, I'd say 24-28# is a good place to start. Even if you're strong as hell, don't buy limbs marked more than 24-30# as your first set. Learn to shoot accurately with good form. Everyone will be more impressed if you shoot all yellow than if you pull 50# and don't.

Being over bowed (shooting too much weight) is the biggest and most common mistake a new archer can make.

Because limbs are the one component here that you are likely to replace before it wears out, I don't see any benefit in spending a lot of money on your first set of limbs. By this, I mean less than $100usd, and around $50 if you're lucky.

WNS Explore B1, Galaxy Bronze Star, Akusta Breeze, Kinetic Honoric, Core Prelude are among the good choices. But a lot of your entry level limbs are the same.

What do I mean by "off the fingers" (OTF)?

The marked weight on a limb is basically never what you are actually pulling back. Recurves are generally measured at a 28" draw (except high end Win&Win limbs, apparently). If you pull further, add 2#/in. If you don't pull as far, subtract about 2#/in. That's not quite accurate, but it's a rule of thumb to get you in the ballpark weight. The good news is, with an ILF riser, you can typically adjust 5% (10% total) in either direction if necessary.

So about those different limb materials?

Limbs are typically made by laminating either fiberglass and/or carbon over a core material of maple, bamboo, or foam. Carbon is typically faster, smoother, and more torsionally rigid than fiberglass, but this depends a lot on the type of carbon fiber used and how much, if any, fiberglass is laminated in with it. If it's close in price, get the carbon, but don't sweat it too much for your first limbs.

Wood will be the most common material for limb cores. And that's perfectly fine.

Foam will resist temperature changes better, and often be a bit faster than wood. I like foam because I'm an idiot and leave my bow in the car in both the summer and winter, and I think they hold up better against that stupidity.

Bamboo is often faster than wood, as fast or faster than foam (it's a contentious thing).

What type of bow string do I need to (literally) pull it all together?

This could be a deceptively simple question with a very complicated answer, but I'm going to try and save some trouble here. Basically any normal material other than Dacron, 14 strands if shooting less than 26# OTF, 16 if shooting more. 18 if you absolutely refused to listen to my draw weight advice. Avalon's Tec One is a decent choice, and cheap. Get the same AMO length as your bow, or, if the seller specifies actual length get your 3" shorter than the AMO length.

There, I kept us out of the weeds there.

Riser, limbs, string. That's the complete bow, right? Not exactly.

For most of the bows I listed, you'll need some accessories like an arrow rest.

Okay, so what arrow rest?

If you want the absolute cheapest rest that will do the job, you can get a Cartel or Hoyt super rest for next to nothing. It will do the job. If you want something better, there are three main choices (and their knockoffs).

Shibuya Ultima is a solid, minimal stick on rest. This thing is on a lot of medal winning bows. It's better for Olympic Freestyle than barebow. It's $35-40. Avalon Tec One is a $10 knock off.

Spigarelli Z/T is a bolt on rest, popular for indoor and barebow archery. About $25. Again, Avalon makes a $10 knock off. Spigarelli makes more adjustable versions of this rest that cost a little more, but are worth it.

AAE Champion II is kind of a best and worst of both worlds. It's a stick on rest with a heavier wire. At least one former Olympian and current barebow shooter has recommended it for both. The Avalon Axis is the knock off.

With the differences in price, I would buy the genuine articles unless you really need to trim costs to fit a budget. If you're using any of the above rests, you'll need a plunger button.

What's a plunger button and which one should I buy?

A plunger button resists the flex of the arrow on release and ensures a consistent shot. If there's one piece of equipment every recurve shooter should buy once and cry once on, it's a plunger button.

There are only two that I'll recommend. The Shibuya Ultima DX is well made, consistent, and reliable. It's also very affordable at about $30. You'll regret going cheaper, so don't. It's one downside is that it isn't as adjustable as high end models.

Speaking of high end models, the one 90%+ of world class archers shoot is the Beiter plunger. It doesn't work better than the Shibuya, but it's much easier to adjust, tune, and set up a consistent backup. Barebow shooters will appreciate this when changing distances.

Is that it?

Not really. You need arrows, at least. You'll need other accessories. If you're shooting Olympic freestyle, you'll at least need a sight. There are stabilizers, weights. So many rabbit holes. But this is a good start. It's a complete bow: a platform upon which you can build; something you can adapt to you as you develop.


EDIT: So can you just get a cheap sight?

If you're shooting bare bow, you don't need to! But if you plan to shoot Olympic freestyle, also no. You should pony up an get a quality sight. I'm far from an expert here (frustration with a cheap sight had me start shooting bare bow), but there are three that the coaches and Olympic shooters at my club recommend. A good sight might cost nearly as much as (or more than) your bow.

Avalon Tech One/Tec X. This is the cheapest sight I'd recommend you spend money on, at about $80. It has good adjustability and decent quality components, but you'll want a bottle of Loctite Blue because parts of it can rattle loose. Still the most budget friendly option.

Shibuya Dual Click. If I were buying a sight, this is the one I would buy. It's a stripped down, less expensive version of the Shibuya Ultima that is just as precise if not quite as convenient for about $135. It saves this money by having all of the moving parts in the sight block, rather than the bar.

Shibuya Ultima. Do you just want to buy one sight ever (yes, if you can afford it)? Then this is the sight to buy (at least until you're good enough that Axcel wants to sponsor you).

So where do you buy all of this?

Ideally, from a local club or shop. But most local shops are going to be very focused on compounds and probably not know much about recurves (especially target recurves). Don't buy your bow from Amazon. There are a lot of counterfeit products, or low quality products that look like higher quality ones here. I recommend Lancaster Archery Supply and Alternative Shooting Services. Lancaster is in the US, but the world's largest archery dealer. Alternatives is in the UK, but has competitive pricing and affordable international shipping. I find that I can often get a better deal at Alternatives, but Lancaster has a more up to date catalog.

bottom of page