Do Recurve Bows Have Let Off?

If you are new to archery, you will probably feel as though you are being handed a book of terms from a foreign language. This is because many of the terms that are used in this sport are exclusive to it. That’s great, but it can feel a little intimidating to beginners.

One of the phrases you might commonly hear is ‘let off,’ but what does this mean, and does it apply to all types of bow, or is it specific to one particular type?

In this article, we are going to be looking at whether recurve bows have let off and why this is.

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What is Let Off?

When you are shopping for your shiny new bow, you may sometimes come across the let off of the bow in its features. However, you will only ever see this when looking at compound bows; in short, a recurve bow does not have let off.

But why is this?

A recurve bow is used by the archer pulling the bow to full draw, and he or she will take the entire weight of the draw. In contrast, a compound bow works on a system of cams and cables, and these are designed to take some of the draw weight for the archer. For this reason, they are often used by people who have less strength or by children.

However, now all of the draw weight is taken by the compound bow, only a portion of it, and this is known as the let off, essentially because the archer will be ‘let off’ having to take this weight.

In terms of how this works on each individual bow will depend on the bow itself. When you are looking at compound bows, you will notice that the let off is given in a percentage figure.

For example, if the let off of the bow is 50%, then when held at full draw, the bow would take 50% of the weight while the archer takes the other 50%. If the bow is 50 pounds, then the let of would be 25 pounds.

It is important to keep in mind that this is merely an example, and in the main, compound bows will come with a let-off of between 65% and 85%.

Why Is Let Off Important?

As we have already mentioned, let off is excellent for children or adults who may be lacking in strength. If you have ever shot a recurve bow, you will know how much it takes to hold the bow at full draw without shaking or getting tired.

Using a compound bow with let off will make a huge difference to the poundage that you can pull. If you are going to be using your bow for hunting, then it is vital that you have a heavier poundage, but using a recurve may not allow you to do this when you are just starting out.

Also, when you are shopping for a new bow, looking at the let off percentage will give you an incredibly clear idea of how easy or difficult the bow will be to hold at full draw. This means that you will know what to expect.

So, do recurve bows have let off?

No, if you are buying a recurve bow, you will need to be prepared to hold the weight of the full draw yourself. If you are strong enough to do this or want to adopt a more traditional method of shooting, then this is definitely the way forward.

But this is not the only way that shooting a recurve bow differs from shooting a compound bow. There are other things that you should consider before making a decision on which type of bow will work best for you.

Recurve Bow vs. Compound Bow

There are a lot of people who go into archery with the mind that they want to use a recurve bow because they are synonymous with a more conventional version of the sport.

However, once they begin using them, they quickly learn that they may have been better starting their archery career using a compound bow owing to their easier to use nature.

But it vastly depends on what you want to get from the sport, so with this in mind, let’s take a look at some of the other differences between a recurve bow and the modern compound bow.

  • The release mechanism of the two bows is different with compound bow users often using a release aid. However, this is not possible with a recurve bow, therefore adding to their difficulty to shoot.
  • When shooting a recurve bow, the archer would use the string as their sight. In contrast a compound bow user would install a peep sight into their bow, making it much more simple to use. There is also the option for compound bow archers to use a magnified sight which again, adds to their convenient and easy to use nature.
  • Recurve bows have a process called archers paradox and this is where the arrow point is heavier than the arrow itself. In short, this means that the arrow would shoot off to the side if the archer’s paradox did not exist but this does make shooting the bow a lot more challenging.
  • Compound bows are much easier to aim so you find that when using this type of equipment, you will hit your target more often than with a recurve bow.
  • Recurve bows do not have variable draw weight like the compound bow. This allows archers to start with a lighter draw weight and move up as they become more used to shooting.

Are Recurve Bows Good?

You could be forgiven for thinking that the recurve bow is not as good as their compound counterparts, owing to the lack of let off and other functions. But it is important to remember that this type of bow has been used for thousands of years without difficulty.

While it can take some time to master a recurve bow without let off, that should not be a reason to be put off. If anything, starting with a recurve bow could give you the upper hand over competitors.

This is because you will need to develop physical strength and precision without the aid of the cam and cable system that we see on compound bows. Right from the get-go, you will be honing your skills as an excellent archer. What’s more, your form will be a lot better than when learning with a compound bow.

At times, archers who learn with a compound bow will find that they do not pay as much attention to their form and this can be detrimental to their overall performance.

Furthermore, a lot of people, beginners especially, find that a recurve bow feels a lot more natural as opposed to using a compound bow. While they may be more difficult, they certainly feel how you would expect a bow to feel.

If you are planning to be in it for the long haul, the last thing that you want is a high maintenance cost for your bow. But with recurve bows, it tends to be less expensive to fix and maintain them. This is purely because of the complex system of cams and cables on the compound bow that require a more mechanical approach when being serviced. You’ll also find that a recurve bow costs less to purchase initially, again because it is a much simpler design.


One of the most common terms that you will hear when looking at compound bows is the let off of the bow. This is something that is exclusive to this type of bow and if you are using a recurve bow; it will not have a let off.

Let off refers to the amount of weight that the compound bow will take when it is at full draw and is usually shown as a percentage. This weight is taken by the bow thanks to a mechanical system of cables and cams which are not featured on a recurve bow.

There are differences between the two types of bows and both have their pros and cons. In the end, having let off can be useful if you do not have the strength to hold a recurve at full draw but you will lose out on the more traditional feeling of archery.


About Brad Harris