I have a community with great knowledge but limited resources so bows are preferenced over guns. Is there any reason why their warriors would carry "English" long bows instead of modern style compound bows? Mainly looking for tactical excuses.

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    $\begingroup$ There are a lot of discussions around "self bow vs composite bow" topic. The consensus seem to be that composite bows, while generally superior, are more sensitive to moisture. $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Oct 3, 2017 at 0:43
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    $\begingroup$ @Alexander: I think the OP means a COMPOUND bow - the high-tech ones with wheels & cables - rather than a Mongol-style composite bow. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Oct 3, 2017 at 5:09
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    $\begingroup$ Doesn't the "limited resources" part already answer the question? If they have the resources to make compound bows, they probably also have the resources to obtain guns. $\endgroup$
    – Erik
    Oct 3, 2017 at 12:03
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    $\begingroup$ limited resources. a compound bow contains plastics and metals, generally harder to get hold of than wood. Those little wheels will have to be accurately round, meaning you need machines to make accurately round plastic wheels - making those machines takes resources. And those wheels will run on some kind of very precisely machined (more machines!) bearing or bush, which will need to be lubricated (resources!) - and very clean (unreliable!). Or just cut a branch off a tree and shave it into a stave - with the "downside" being that warriors training with that bow get ridiculously strong. $\endgroup$ Oct 3, 2017 at 12:07
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    $\begingroup$ What does "limited resources" mean here anyway? Limited types of materials, or limited amount of resources? Not having access to proper metals, ceramics, or plastics makes a compound bow a bad choice, but not having a good supply of high (high!) quality wood makes a longbow infeasible. $\endgroup$
    – Thierry
    Oct 3, 2017 at 14:45

5 Answers 5


Compound Bows


  • Easier to use

  • Average user can shoot further

  • More accurate without practice

  • Smaller & lighter


  • Complex & slow construction

  • Suffers wear & tear faster

  • Suffers from the environment faster

  • Requires laminate wood, fiberglass, or carbon fiber to take full advantage

  • Though few consider it, the pullies can be jammed (think "mud")

  • Though few consider it, natural wood arrows are often too soft for the power behind the bow.



  • Easy to manufacture

  • Easy to maintain

  • Effective without lamination/fiberglass/carbon fiber

  • Highly effective with natural wood arrows

  • Withstands weather well

  • Has no moving parts to get gummed up


  • Bulky

  • Longer training curve

  • Shorter range

  • Less power

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    $\begingroup$ Do you have sources for the ranges? Longbow targets were up to 400yards, but modern bows ranges are only 70m. $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Oct 3, 2017 at 7:03
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    $\begingroup$ It's obviously not the same as war, but larp and reenactment are close - and having taken standard and recurve bows to larp I know that they do get muddy and dirty. Cleaning them is as simple as wiping down and drying off. Pulleys and bearings are harder to maintain - so a quick stop+shoot becomes a stop+check+clean+shoot. Even running through light woods or long grass can get twigs and fibres stuck in the end of the string, which would render a compound temporarily useless till cleaned (or risk breakage) - while a standard bow would simply work and get cleaned later. $\endgroup$
    – Rycochet
    Oct 3, 2017 at 14:18
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    $\begingroup$ @Separatrix The 400 yard number refers to where the arrows fell on the ground. Plus, it's made up. English longbows shot far but not that far. 70 m is the distance to archery targets today. Archers today aren't even remotely strong enough to pull one of the super strong English longbows with great range. Obviously, being able to deliver a headshot at 70 m and hoping to hit anyone in a large group of people a few hundred yards away, are quite different goals. No one who knows anything about archery would argue that an English longbow is more precise than a modern compound bow. $\endgroup$
    – UTF-8
    Oct 3, 2017 at 14:30
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    $\begingroup$ Range: see history.stackexchange.com/questions/8022/… Firing rate: some friends of mine used to bow hunt together, one with a compound bow, and the other with a primitive longbow (he was into primitive survival as a hobby). The friend with the longbow would wait until the compound bow was being aimed, then raise pull, aim and shoot before the (already aiming) compound bow could get the shot off. It came down to how you use the arms differently with the two kinds of bows. $\endgroup$
    – pojo-guy
    Oct 4, 2017 at 2:02
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    $\begingroup$ This is similar to why people still use AK-47's despite there being more accurate and lighter rifles on the market. It's heavily standardized, somewhat cheap to manufacture, and it (usually) keeps shooting with only minimal maintenance. $\endgroup$ Oct 4, 2017 at 12:00

from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compound_bow

Warranties for compound bows do not cover "dry loosing", and it's not unusual for numerous parts, especially the limbs and riser, to be damaged or destroyed after even a single dry loosing. If a string or cable breaks when the bow has been drawn this will have a similar damaging effect on the limbs.

If a string breaks on your longbow you can string it back up in seconds, with the several dry strings you carry. No doubt archers in wars over the millennia with non-technologically advanced bows did this all the time. If you break a string in similar circumstances on a compound bow you will be very lucky to be able to repair it in the field. At best a hunting trip cut short. At worst you will shortly be parrying sword strokes with your worthless bow. The broken string and destroyed bow is one example - compound bows are full of other fiddly parts like (several) pulley wheels with ballbearings which can get grit lodged in them and render the bow useless. Longbows are much simpler and more robust.

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    $\begingroup$ I used to shoot Recurves in the state team where I am (West Aus), and just wanted to add to the quote there.. "If a string or cable breaks when the bow has been drawn this will have a similar damaging effect on the limbs." - Having had compound bows break while shooting, I can confirm that they also have a damaging effect on your limbs. When a carbon bow arm explodes it tends to fill your arm with all sorts of debris, and removes some skin along with it. $\endgroup$ Oct 3, 2017 at 5:09
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    $\begingroup$ @AaronLavers - that could be the core of a very useful answer. If I were a member of a culture that didn't understand science the way we do now, I'd certainly see a bow that occasionally explodes as a serious indicator that the powers that be do not approve of those types of bows. $\endgroup$
    – Miller86
    Oct 3, 2017 at 11:12
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    $\begingroup$ @Miller86 And if I were a general in a culture that understood battle tactics, I'd see a bow that explodes as something that fights against me, not for me. $\endgroup$
    – corsiKa
    Oct 3, 2017 at 14:40
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    $\begingroup$ Dry loosing is just as bad for long bows as it is for compounds and can result in a broken bow. It's also something of a moot point - one of the first lessons any archer learns is, "never dry-loose this." $\endgroup$ Oct 3, 2017 at 17:24
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    $\begingroup$ @Aaron I am no expert but have certainly heard this before about compound bows. Enter youtube. I just watched 3 videos showing people snapping strings dry firing their compound bows (all accidents); there are more. No exploding bow limbs yet; if you find one pls link it up. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Oct 4, 2017 at 18:38

The most obvious reason is the ease of manufacture. With the right wood and a knife, you can whittle a bow. Building a compound bow requires metal working tools.

If a community has limited resources, it may not have the tools to build a compound bow.

If a community had the tools to build a compound bow, they would build crossbows instead. They are easier to use and don't require the training and practice of a bow to be proficient.

The most obvious tactical reasons to use a bow over a gun is that a bow is mostly silent and you have a chance to recover and reuse your arrows. If push came to shove, you could even make your own crude arrows if you ran out.

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    $\begingroup$ Even if the OP meant to say composite bows rather than compound bows (composite bows have been around for thousands of years and provided many of the attributes of a modern composite bow in terms of size, draw and poser) the answer is still valid. Complex manufacturing techniques, access to special materials and special maintenance required to keep the bow in top condition make compound or composite bows rarer and more expensive than a traditional long or short bow. $\endgroup$
    – Thucydides
    Oct 3, 2017 at 16:21

You said so yourself: They have limited resources. Even though compound bows are not thought for warfare, but rather for competition or, at best, hunting, they are still far superior to longbows in terms of raw power. However, they are not only harder to manufacture: they're more expensive too. If you're already making a compound bow, you're short from a gun almost just by the powder, and it isn't really justifiable over even a crossbow - which is much more low-cost in terms of maintenance and can be used with much less training - either. A longbow is a logical choice only if you need something that balances fire-power and resource usage.

  • $\begingroup$ Well, you could alternatively use a recurve bow... its less unwieldy, but has other weaknesses. $\endgroup$ Oct 5, 2017 at 13:15

I'm actually going to look at three basic possible kinds of bow, longbows, composites (made from laminated layers of materials with different compressive properties), and compounds made from modern composite materials like carbon fibre or Fiberglas.

Rate and cost of manufacture, as people have mentioned composite or compound bows are expensive and time consuming to make, if you leave a composite bow to cure by itself, rather than using an oven to force-dry the glues, then it takes years to be usable. Modern compounds just can't be manufactured below a certain limit you can't make the material let alone the finished object.

Hot climate, in a dry climate old-school bone/horn, wood, and sinew composite bows can last a lifetime, they usually don't but they can, but they tend to de-laminate when exposed to damp air for extended periods, compounds are the opposite, the sun is NOT your friend if you have a modern compound bow the resins and artificial fibres they are constructed from degrade when exposed to UV. Longbows don't suffer from either of these issues, they're a good all weather weapon.

Ease of use and efficiency of fire, compound and composite bows are only superior for horse archery; you need more room to fire either one in an infantry formation than with Longbows, not a lot more with composites (quite a bit more for compounds) but when it comes to stopping a charge with an arrow storm density and rate of fire are key. Composite and compound bows require a different, longer, draw to generate the same power so rate of fire is marginally reduced. They also both have less "snap" so per pound of draw so a released arrow goes slightly slower, shorter range, less stopping power.

Other issues; compounds and composites are easier to draw at a given draw weight for an untrained archer. Compound bows allow you to "hold the draw" while you aim making them more accurate at the cost of firing rate. Both of these make the weapons easier to use than a longbow but don't necessarily improve combat performance, you don't need "pip the ace" accuracy against massed targets for example.

  • $\begingroup$ With the same draw weight, a compound bow will fire an arrow at a much higher velocity than a longbow will. This results in a significant advantage in range, accuracy and penetration. If you equalize the release velocity, the compound bow will require significantly less energy to use. This will reduce fatigue and allow your troops to sustain a higher rate of fire over a long engagement. Compound bows are also much smaller and have a shorter draw length. They would actually be easier to use in a more tightly packed formation than a longbow. $\endgroup$
    – user41348
    Oct 4, 2017 at 19:52

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