Compound Bows vs. Crossbows: Which is Better for Fiction Writing?

Crossbows in fiction experienced a bit of a renaissance with the popularity of The Walking Dead and Daryl Dixon. But are they really any better than compound bows? This guest blog from Tomaz Rodica, of ArcherStop, compares the two. Be sure to let me know your opinion in the comments. Enjoy!


What is a Compound Bow?

what is a recurve bow

On the left is a compound bow. On the right is a recurve bow. Sound good? (Image on left by Pierre-Yves Beaudouin / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0, (Image on right by Sentinel7 at English Wikipedia – Photo taken by myself. Originally from en.wikipedia; description page is/was here., Public Domain,

For the sake of clarity, modern vertical bows can generally be split into two categories: compound and recurve.

Compound bows use pulleys and cables that bend the limbs, compounding the archer’s ability to load potential energy when drawing the arrow. They are what you picture when thinking of high-tech bows, and have only been around since the 1960s.

Recurve bows sport a more traditional design, with limbs unassisted by pulleys. They can trace their lineage back to longbows and other primitive tools.

Because of these features, compound bows are by far the most popular of the two type.

Speed of Use

Winner: Compound bow. The only time required is the adjustment of the bow toward the target. Crossbows, on the other hand, are bit more involved:



Winner: Compound bow. Expect the draw weights of a compound bow to be 50 percent lighter when compared to crossbows. This can make it easier to handle. Additionally, the gross weight of crossbows is typically double or triple the weight of the compound bow, due to the extra features (like grips and a stock) required for their use.

Effective Range

Winner: It’s a tie. Crossbows and compound bows both max out around 50-60 yards. Beyond that, only the most experienced operators will be able to make it work.


Winner: It’s a tie. There are good cases to be made about how easy it is to be accurate with either compound bows or crossbows. However, as with all weapons, bows and crossbows are only as accurate as the people (or characters, in the case of writing fiction) using them.


Winner: It’s a tie. Arrows fired from crossbows and compound bows can be reused, so long as their structural integrity is still intact.

(Also: yes, crossbows can use arrows with broadheads, just like compound bows. ~Ben)


Winner: Compound bows have a slight edge. Vibration upon firing equals noise. Although both crossbows and compound bows use technology to reduce their vibration, the noise caused by reloading crossbows makes them surprisingly less suited for stealth scenarios than compound bows.

Take that, Darrel Dixon.

crossbow the walking dead

On second thought, we’re cool, Daryl. We’re cool. (Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC)

Power Stroke

Winner: Compound bows. “Power stroke” refers to the ability to maximize the potential energy stored in an arrow prior to it being released, which in turn increases the kinetic energy delivered into a target. As such, a longer arrow and a longer draw will result in a higher power stroke. With that in mind, the compound bow is a clear winner.

The Takeaway for Writing Fiction

Crossbows get a lot of attention in fiction, but in strictly pragmatic terms, compound bows are a better choice for when versatility, portability, power and stealth count. Keep that in mind when you’re writing fiction where these factors matter.

compound bow versus crossbows

4 thoughts on “Compound Bows vs. Crossbows: Which is Better for Fiction Writing?

  1. Another good post, Ben. I shot archery in high school. My uncle, a champion archer, taught me. I used a large, fiberglass bow to which he taped a sight made of a pin with a small red plastic head. 🙂 — Suzanne


  2. The steampunk nation I concocted in my fantasy world uses compound bows, which they call wheelbows, as they started out with a techboost when they first came to their current world but lost the information on firearms and gunpowder. In a muskets versus compound bows battle, I think the deadliness would heavily favor compound bows.


  3. Pingback: Compound Bows vs. Crossbows: Which is Better for Fiction Writing? – Bum's Landing & Restart – Andrè Michael Pietroschek

  4. Compounds are deadly at exaggerated distances too. Both weapons are amazing mechanical machines in the hands of a highly-trained and skilled archer. The effective range of either weapon is really only limited by the ability of those bending their limbs.


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