How to Choose the Best Recurve Bow for Deer and Elk Hunting: Lessons from an Epic Fail

How to Choose the Best Recurve Bow for Deer and Elk Hunting: Lessons from an Epic Fail

Hey friends! So you’re looking to get into traditional archery and do some big game hunting with a recurve bow? Smart thinking – it’s so much more rewarding to stalk and take down an animal with just your skill and a simple bow.

But choosing that perfect recurve can be tricky. Trust me, I learned that lesson the hard way! Let me take you on a little journey through my epic fail as a newbie recurve hunter, so you can avoid the same mistakes I made. Grab a cup of coffee and get comfy, we’ve got a lot to cover.

My Rocky Start with Recurve Hunting

Picture it – I was a fresh-faced newbie looking to get into traditional archery. I’d shot some compound bows before but was itching to try something more old-school. So I marched myself down to the local archery shop, slapped $300 bucks on the counter, and said “Give me your finest recurve!”

Big mistake #1 – impulse buying a bow without doing any research.

The shop owner handed me this shiny new takedown recurve with fancy limbs that he promised could take down a moose. I was over the moon. Strapped my new toy to my back, grabbed a dozen arrows, and headed to the range, full of confidence.

I stepped up to the line, nocked an arrow, drew back and…completely missed the target from just 20 yards away! My arrows were flying everywhere except towards that poor defenseless foam deer.

Turns out that bow was WAY too heavy for me to draw smoothly. And the string angle was all wrong for my short draw length. I was trying to shoot a 70lb moose-killing machine when I could barely handle 30lbs!

Mistake #2 – getting a recurve that didn’t match my strength or draw length.

But I didn’t want to admit defeat. For weeks I kept trying and failing to shoot that darn bow accurately. My form was crap, my shots were all over the place, and my wallet was steadily emptying on lost arrows.

Finally I swallowed my pride and went back to the archery shop for help. The owner took one look at me struggling to draw the bow and said “Yeah, that thing is way too much for you. Let’s get you set up properly.”

Sometimes you just gotta learn things the hard way! Let’s make sure you don’t repeat my mistakes…

Choosing the Right Draw Weight

The single most important factor in choosing your recurve is the draw weight. This determines how much strength you need to draw the bow back.

For deer and elk hunting, you want a draw weight between 35-55 lbs if you’re a woman or youth, and 45-65 lbs if you’re a man. Anything less than 35lbs won’t have enough power to penetrate an animal’s vitals from typical hunting distances.

I know it’s tempting to get a heavier bow for that badass feeling. But trust me, you want something you can shoot accurately and comfortably over and over. A bow that’s too heavy will destroy your form and accuracy.

As a beginner, always start on the lower end of the range and work your way up. You can increase weight later by switching out the limbs as your strength improves. It’s much easier to work up in 5 lb increments than try and drop down once you’ve got a bow that’s too heavy.

If you’re new to archery in general, I recommend starting around 25-30 lbs to dial in your form. Shoot at least a few hundred arrows at that lighter weight until your groups are tight before increasing draw weight. Proper form is key!

How to Choose the Best Recurve Bow for Deer and Elk Hunting: Lessons from an Epic Fail

Finding the Right Draw Length

Your draw length is the distance between the bow grip and string when you pull the string back to your anchor point. The right draw length allows you to shoot comfortably and accurately.

To determine your length, spread your arms out straight on either side of you. Have a buddy measure from the tip of one middle finger across your chest to the tip of the other middle finger. Divide that number by 2.5 and you’ve got your approximate draw length.

You want a bow that’s about 2″ longer than your measured draw length. So for example, if you measure 28″, get a 60″ or 62″ bow. This extra length provides smooth performance and proper string angles.

If you get a bow that’s too long or short for your draw, you’ll really struggle with accuracy and comfort. I found that out the hard way with my first moose bow! Take the time to measure properly and get a bow matched to your draw. You’ll be glad you did.

Pay Attention to Recurve Bow Weight

Another key factor is the overall weight of your unstrung recurve bow, which is determined by the riser material. Typical weights are:

  • Wood or fiberglass riser: 2 – 3.5 lbs
  • Aluminum or magnesium alloy: 2.5 – 3.5 lbs
  • Carbon/carbon composite: 1.5 – 2.5 lbs

Lighter bows are easier to hold and aim steadily. But heavier bows absorb more vibration and shock for a “dead in the hand” feel.

As a beginner, look for a recurve around 2.5-3.25 lbs total weight. This gives you both stability and some vibration dampening. Avoid bows over 3.5lbs – that leads to fatigue and shaky shots.

For hunting situations where you’ll hold at full draw for longer, go for a bow on the heavier end of the range. The mass helps offset muscle fatigue for smoother, accurate shots even when waiting for the perfect moment to release.

Choosing Between Take-Down vs One-Piece Recurves

The next big decision is whether you want a take-down recurve (where the limbs can be detached) or a solid one-piece bow.

Take-down pros:

  • Easier to transport
  • Can change draw weights
  • Store it in a smaller case
  • Replace damaged limbs individually

One-piece pros:

  • Simple, fewer parts
  • No alignment issues
  • Slightly smoother shot
  • Often less expensive

For your first bow, I recommend a basic one-piece wooden recurve like the Samick Sage. It’s simple to string and shoot, and very affordable.

Down the road, take-down bows offer more versatility. You can mix and match limbs for different draw weights, replace damaged limbs, and pack it in a compact case.

If your budget allows, get both! A solid fiberglass recurve for hunting, and an inexpensive takedown like the Samick Sage to learn on.

photo of brown wood slab

Comparing Recurve Bow Materials

Traditional recurve bows are typically made from either wood, fiberglass, or modern composites like carbon fiber. Here’s how the different materials compare:

Wood – Beautiful and traditional. Maple, oak, hickory, and yew are classic woods used in recurve bows. Smooth, quiet shot but less tolerant of weather extremes.

Fiberglass – Durable, weather resistant, and affordable. Combines flexibility with some vibration dampening. Not as quiet as wood.

Carbon/Carbon Composites – Lightweight, efficient energy transfer, minimal shock and vibration. More expensive but high performance.

For beginners, fiberglass is a great choice – durable yet affordable. Down the road, try out some wood or high-end composite bows to find your perfect match! Don’t be afraid to splurge on your dream bow once you’re hooked on traditional archery.

Picking the Right Accessories

While recurve bows are beautifully simple by design, you’ll want to add some key accessories for an optimal setup:

Arrow Rest – Plastic or fur rests attach to the riser to cradle the arrow. A must-have accessory.

Plunger Button – Fine tunes arrow flight by slightly flexing the arrow as it leaves the bow. Helpful but not mandatory.

Sight – Stick-on plastic sights help improve aim. I recommend going sightless to start and master instinctive shooting before adding this accessory.

Quiver – Holds your arrows neatly on your bow when not shooting. Look for lightweight back quivers that attach securely.

Arm Guard – Protects your inner forearm from string slap. Necessary for comfort and consistency.

There are tons more accessories you can add, like stabilizers, specialty rests, custom strings etc. But the basics above are all you need when starting out. Avoid going overboard and complicating things early on.

Prioritizing Practice Over Perfection

Here’s the best advice I can give you when choosing your first recurve bow – don’t obsess over finding the absolute perfect bow right off the bat. Pick a quality, adjustable bow that fits within your budget, then get out there and start practicing consistently with it.

You’re going to progress rapidly as an archer in your first year. As you improve, you’ll figure out exactly what you need in your ideal bow to match your shooting style. And you can always upgrade down the road.

No bow will make you an amazing archer on its own. You gain skill through hours of quality practice. So find a solid starter bow, be realistic about your current abilities, and focus on improving your form rather than chasing the latest gear.

The right recurve is amazing in your hands. The wrong one will make you want to snap it in half, like I wanted to do with that first moose bow! Learn from my early struggles, be patient in your selection, and get ready for rewarding traditional archery adventures ahead.

Now grab your new recurve and let’s hit the range! Just…maybe leave that 70lb moose annihilator at home this time. My shoulder is twinging just thinking about it!

Captain Hunter is a seasoned hunting mentor with over 20 years of experience in the field. His passion began as a young man on trips with his father and grandfather in the Colorado mountains. Today, he shares his unmatched skills in survival, tracking, and marksmanship through his website When he's not volunteering with youth hunting programs, you can find Captain Hunter providing expert hunting tips, gear reviews, and answers to your most pressing questions. His decades of experience make him the trusted guide to help any outdoorsman master the sport.