What’s the difference between a hunting bow and a target bow?

Maybe you’ve wondered this on a recent trip to your local archery pro shop when you eyed up the selection of hunting recurve and compound bows in one area and those labeled for target archery in another.

targethunting12

Except for the muted colors or camo that dominates the hunting selection, versus the bright colors of the target bows, they sure look the same, right?

They are, to a certain extent. But there also are some very calculated differences. Let’s start with compound bows.

Target compounds are going to be longer than hunting compounds. Target bows commonly measure 38-40 inches from axle to axle, while hunting bows usually fall in the 28-34-inch range.

targethunt8 This target compound bow measures 38 inches long.

The longer bows offer an archer a better chance at precision shooting, because the string angle at full draw is not as severe as it is on a shorter bow, brace heights are often bigger 7-8 inches - and the bows tend to be very “forgiving.” A forgiving bow is one that allows an archer to make tiny mistakes in form, but keeps the arrow going where the archer wants it.

Hunting bows are built shorter so bowhunters can navigate through thick brush or hunt in the tight quarters of a ground blind or tree stand. Maneuverability and portability are the main features of hunting bows. Also, short brace heights of 5-6 inches – which are not very forgiving – help generate lots of arrow speed. Fast-shooting bows can minimize poor hits caused by animals moving before an arrow gets to them.

targethunt6 Hunting compound bows need to be maneuverable.

Though not always, most target compounds offer the archer the option to reduce the amount of let-off – to 60-75 percent - which increases holding weight at full draw. Many target archers like that increased holding weight because it gives them more control of their bows and it makes it easier for them to activate their release aids.

Bowhunters, on the other hand, often prefer a lot of let-off – 80-90 percent - to minimize the holding weight. A bowhunter might have to hold a bow at full draw for an extended period waiting for a game animal to offer the perfect shot opportunity. The less weight they’re holding for that period, the longer they can hold it and stay still.

targethunt10 Target compound bows are built for precision accuracy.

With recurve bows, you’re also likely to see target bows generally being longer than hunting models. Full target recurve bows used by adult men tend to run 66-72 inches long; women will shoot target bows 64-70 inches. Hunting recurves usually are anywhere from 50-64 inches.

targethunt11 A recurve bow built for target archery is long and forgiving.

Again, the difference is precision accuracy versus mobility and arrow speed. The target archer wants a long, forgiving bow with an open string angle. For recurve archers, the open string angle is more conducive to a clean release of the string drawn with fingers. The sharper string angle of a hunting recurve makes it more difficult to get a clean release, because the drawing fingers can get squeezed by the string.

But the hunter only needs to hit an area the size of a pie plate from 20 yards away or less to score a quick killing shot. The target archer might be trying to hit a 10-ring the size of a coffee can lid at 70 meters.

targethunt5 A recurve bow built for hunting is short, maneuverable and is very powerful.

Adult men shooting target recurves generally have bows with draw weights in the 35-50-pound range, although top competition archers will pull a little bit more. Competitive women general draw 30-45 pounds. Their sole purpose is precision accuracy in shooting at paper or 3-D targets.

Bowhunters typically use bows with 45-55 pound draw weights. Depending on the game, some states require bowhunters to use bows that draw no less than 45 pounds. The hunter’s goal is to shoot a heavy arrow with enough force to pierce hides and break bones.