Compound bows are a relatively young design that stemmed from the USA in 1966. The bow was designed for hunting but is now widely accepted in just as many competitions as recurve with the significant exception of the Olympics .. at least currently. Not long after the Tokyo Olympics, World Archery submitted plans for the inclusion of compounds in the Olympics. This would be for an indoor competition at the Los Angeles 2028 games.
Many of the unique features of this bow and its accessories are an engineer’s solution to the black art that is archery. Does this make it something less than the self-bow or the recurve? As much as we love to wynd up compounders … No, it doesn’t! but it does raise a whole new range of problems to be addressed although these are mostly psychological in the mind of the archer.
The compound bow is usually made from composite materials such as carbon fibre and aluminum. They tend to be quite compact and are stored as a single unit (limbs etc can be replaced or swapped but that’s for the workshop requiring a bow press). These bows tend to be in the higher poundage range of 40# to 60# for target and higher for hunting (WAAAY higher if it’s a big beast!). This is the peak draw weight – the maximum oof you need to draw the bow. The actual weight you hold when the string is drawn all the way back (called anchor point) can be as little as 15 to 25% of the peak draw weight. This is due to the system of pulleys, called cams (aka training wheels to the rest of the archery world ;o), doing most of the work for you. This means aiming can be a lot more relaxed than the same process on a recurve.
Compounds are allowed 2 sights, fore and aft. The fore sight can be a magnifying lens and often includes a spirit level bubble to help the archer get consistent alignment. The rear site is a peep hole on the string that allows the archer to line up his bow through the front sight. This can fit various strengths of ‘clarifier’ for a sharper image. (In other words, telescopic sights! I mean, seriously guys?) This allows pinpoint accuracy even at 90m.
Compounders shoot with a mechanical release aid (it can literally be a trigger!!!). This makes for an extremely clean release of the string, doing away with lateral wobbly motion of the string for an arrow shot off the fingers. Yet another engineer’s solution to a problem that has plagued archers for thousands of years. As with Olympic recurve bows, stabilizers can be added according to taste. Current trends have weights maximised to increase inertia and so resist extraneous movement but this in turn increases physical demands on the archer eroding much if not all of the advantages gifted by the bows engineering. (And people wonder why we mock compounders!)
As you can imagine, this makes for an extremely complicated bow with many moving parts all of which seem to conspire to make the bow go out of tune the second you take your eyes off the thing. Troublesome areas include the cams with such exotic problems as timing issues or cam lean; sights can have 3rd axis issues; rain can cause the lens or clarifier to distort the view of the target; peeps can twist out of alignment; release aids can fail, drop away rests dont … it’s a maintenance nightmare. Also, dryfires are damn near a death sentence for a compound. See our books and guides page for a helpful maintenance manual for these precious technological marvels. However, in spite of all the issues that this bow can suffer from, compounds are massively popular in the USA. Many are of the opinion that the compound’s popularity is on the rise worldwide and will become the most popular bow type in Europe and the UK very soon. Even the recurve masters, the Koreans, field a compound team. One thing likely to hold back the compounds march to world dominance is the cost. While small, speedy, hunting type bows can be reasonably priced, target compounds can get frighteningly expensive very quickly when you consider bow, scope, sight, release aid, stabilizers and launcher need purchased and few of these come reasonably priced! We’ve tried to spec a reasonably priced compound should you be interested in compound on a budget.
A question we’ve been asked a few times … Is compound easy mode? For all the banter aimed at compounders, while the features listed above make hitting the target/scoring higher easier, the expectations for each shot are much higher than other forms of archery. This puts incredible stress on the archer who could throw away an entire competition because they lost focus for just 1 shot. At the World Cup final in Edinburgh 2010, one of the compound archers shot a 7. While the general public attending politely applauded the shot, the audience of mainly archers gasped. They knew that shot had probably cost the match (it did).
So while the physical demands on the compound archer are less, with the default accuracy higher and bow inconsistencies engineered out … the psychological stresses and zero tolerance for error in competition might well make it the hardest bow to truly master although it seems it’s actually a matter of mastering yourself rather than the bow.
Still, if they implement many more engineering solutions to archery issues on compounds, it will mean shooting a compound will be less like Archery and more like Wii Archery! Our Editor swears compounders train like this.