Best Recurve Bow Rankings & Reviews of Top 2016 Models
Last rankings update: November 2016
As traditional archers with over 46 years of combined hunting experience, we know what features we like to see in our recurve bows. Due to the recent increased interest in traditional bows, however, there’s one question that is being asked with exceeding frequency: what is the best recurve bow for the money? As with everything, the short answer is: “it depends.” Are you looking for a budget recurve or is money no object? Do you plan to hunt or just do some target practice or 3D shooting? Do you have any archery experience? Is easy storage an issue or do you have plenty of room to store the bow? Unfortunately, there just isn’t a “perfect” recurve bow that will suit every need (although there are models that get pretty close – see below).
With the above problems in mind, me and Zach decided to pool our experiences together, as well as reach out to various online bloggers/hunters (including Barbara Baird of WomensOutdoorNews, and Nick Obradovich of Modern-Hunters) for their opinions, in order to come up with what we believe to be the most accurate ranking of the best recurves in 2016. In the end, our findings tend to confirm the popular adage: personal preferences will dictate ideals. We hope you will enjoy the fruits of our labor and that you’ll become as addicted to bow hunting as we have over the years.
Best Recurve Bows in 2016:
What Went Into Preparing Our Recurve Bow Rankings?
Combined years of archery experience between us
Number of hunting experts we consulted
Man-hours spent doing online research
Total number of recurve bows examined
A Unique Perspective
Between me and Zach, we’ve personally owned (and hunted with!) dozens of recurve bows all over North America. This has given us a unique look into the differences between various models, as well as how they evolved over time thanks to customer feedback. We’re in a unique position to judge real-life performance.
Since I’ve spent over 8 years working at an archery pro shop, I’ve seen first hand the problems beginner and advanced recurve owners face. I’ve also taken mental note of the bows that tended to be sent in for repairs more frequently than other ones and used this to discard multiple bows from our rankings.
Even we don’t own every recurve bow ever made (duh!). We were able to make up for that by borrowing some models from friends and colleagues to give them a test drive at the range and in the field. If there’s a recurve bow you’ve ever heard of, we’ve probably used it and tested it more than once.
We’re Actual Hunters
We’ve personally used over 60 recurve bows in real hunting situations and harvested dear, elk, and even cape buffalo. You can be certain that we didn’t just take the recurve bow into the backyard to shoot a few arrows – we’ve actually used the bows where it counts the most – in the field.
We consulted close to a dozen bloggers and expert archers known in the online community. We asked them about their preferences, what recommendations would they give to beginner archers, and what to avoid at all costs when shopping. You’re not only getting our point of view, but theirs as well.
We discarded around 58 recurves to arrive at these rankings. Many were discarded not because they were bad, but simply because there were cheaper alternatives with identical performance. Please note therefore that our rankings are a reflection not only of quality, but of value for the money, too.
We’ve went over around 140 editorial reviews of recurve bows, and countless more written by customers on both online stores like Amazon and Cabelas, as well as in forums such as ArcheryTalk.com. We took meticulous notes of what others are saying and weighed that information heavily in the elimination process.
CPSC Market Recalls
We scanned through the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s database and took note of recurve bows that were recalled from the market due to safety hazards. Both the seriousness of the discovered malfunctions as well as the number of bow models recalled from a company’s lineup were considered.
Archery Range Support
We reached out to multiple archery ranges all across the United States and inquired about their members’ preferences and about their overall impressions of different bow manufacturers and models. This information was a critical component of preparing our rankings.
Let us now delve a little deeper and take a look at the top recurves in a few different categories: best overall, best budget choice, best value, and best for youth. Again, these are rankings based on our subjective opinions. For each top pick we provide a detailed overview of the bows pro’s and con’s, along with base stats (length, weight) and our ratings on a few different metrics. We also provide an alternative recurve choice for each category to give you an additional option to explore. And if you find recurve bows too complicated, see these crossbow rankings instead – a crossbow is much simpler to handle and has a softer learning curve than a vertical bow, even if the top models (like the TenPoint Turbo GT) are much more expensive than recurves. Just make sure to check your local crossbow hunting regulations as they are not legal to harvest game with in all states.
Our Martin Hunter Review
A beautiful bow, matched in style and design only by the PSE Blackhawk. It’s also the lightest full-sized recurve that I’ve ever handled, weighing barely a little over two pounds. (The weight will be slightly over that if you install accessories like whisker silencers and stabilizing rings.) Additionally, the Martin Hunter is about the only recurve bow on the market in which we couldn’t find a single definitive shortcoming; as long as your budget allows for it and you don’t mind the one-piece design with no detachable limbs, go for it instantly.
Among materials used in the making of this bow are Bubinga, Sheuda, Soft and Hard Maple, and of course fiber glass lamination. The lines, curves and colors on the hunter are refreshing and have a raw/primitive, but highly stylish feel to them. Every traditional archer I’ve met relished the way the riser (handle) sits in the hand, as well as its resilience in the face of accidents – I’ve seen it dropped from treestands, stepped on, fallen out of the back of a truck, and even accidentally dry fired; non have negatively impacted the performance and accuracy of the Martin Hunter.
The name “Hunter” adequately describes the primary purpose of this recurve. The light weight, colors, excellent vibration reduction (noise reduction) and flawless energy transfer through the limbs (giving it perfect accuracy in the hands of an experienced shooter) make this bow a great friend to both amateur and seasoned hunters alike. Given the right draw weight (Over 50#), taking down game as big as what you’ll encounter on a hunting safari in Africa, not to mention the much smaller animals (deer for instance) is perfectly attainable even at 35+ yard distances – mostly thanks to the level of comfort this recurve elicits in its owner, giving you flawless concentration during the draw/release cycle and complete confidence that the arrow will land exactly in accordance with your aim.
The Martin Hunter will take any string you have, including of course Dacron and FastFlight, giving you that little bit of extra energy efficiency. It has a very smooth draw cycle with no noticeable rough spots or “jumps” along the way. The smooth convex curve on the inside of the grip flawlessly distributes pressure throughout the hand, translating to a very steady hold. The arrow release is just as smooth and carries the arrow very efficiently and with authority, and speed freaks will be glad to know that 172 FPS (feet per second) is very attainable at a 45 pound draw and with 10 gpp arrows.
Who Should Avoid The Martin Hunter?
Only reasons to avoid this bow is if it’s outside your budget or if you don’t like one-piece recurves without detachable limbs. Otherwise, this is one piece of archery equipment that performs perfectly on every single metric imaginable (comfort, accuracy, power, steadiness, smooth draw and release, light weight, good size, style), making it a great purchase for every archer who can afford it and definitely the best recurve bow overall that we’ve ever encountered.
Alternatives to the Martin Hunter: the Bear Archery Super Kodiak is a very close second. Also a highly versatile bow, it differs from the Martin Hunter mostly in its heaver weight and slightly more noisy. It’s also cheaper than the Hunter, so if noise and weight are not priorities for you, the Super Kodiak is a very worthy alternative.
Cons: could be a little quieter; recommend buying a set of whisker silencers for the string. Customer service can be sometimes hard to reach.
Our Samick Sage Review
The Samick Sage bow is by far our favorite pick for anyone on a budget. Whenever a beginner archer asks us for a recommendation that won’t cost much more than a meal at a fine restaurant, we immediately point towards the Sage. Read on to learn what you’ll get for this cheap price.
The Samick Sage is a takedown recurve. This means the limbs can be quickly unscrewed and detached from the riser (the handle). This has a few advantages: it makes the bow more compact and therefore easier to transport and store, and it also allows you to change the draw weight of the Sage without having to buy a brand new bow (you just have to exchange the limbs for a pair with a higher draw). The screws are very durable and tight enough to minimize vibration during the shot, while still requiring no more than your hand to unscrew, meaning you won’t need to carry any special tools or keys with you.
Over the years we’ve had the privilege of using this recurve bow to successfully harvest hog, deer and even elk, and we’ve never felt that it noticeably lagged behind its more expensive cousins. Granted, there’s a bit more noise and vibration than with more expensive ($300+) models, particularly one-piece recurves. However the difference is not big enough to make any noticeable impact in a hunting scenario, especially if you keep your shots to within around 35 yards. Just to be on the safe side, I’d recommend getting some string whisker silencers to quiet things down a little bit.
As with any recurve, accuracy will largely depend on the skill of the shooter. You can, however, rest assured that the Sage won’t fail you during the aim and releases phases, and that your arrows will fly true if you take good care of your weapon (replacing the string when it wears down, avoiding dry firing, and un-stringing the bow after each use to avoid undue stress on the limbs). Moreover, for those who like a little extra speed, you’ll be able to attach the FastFlight™ string to the Sage, as the bow has reinforced limb tips that are well equipped to handling the extra stresses imposed by the string.
Last I checked, the Samick Sage is available in draw weights ranging from 25 pounds all the way up to 55 lbs. If you plan on hunting deer or smaller game, you’re going to need a minimum of 35# of draw weight, and preferably 40# if you plan on taking shots from over 25 yards. If you’ve got your eyes set on larger game (elk for instance), I’d recommend a minimum of #45 lbs regardless of your range. It’s worth noting that an adult beginner will have no difficulties handling a 35#, but a 45# or even 40# draw could prove a bit problematic. As such, I always recommend that beginners start out with a 35 pounder, focusing mostly on deer and smaller critters. Once you feel comfortable holding the drawn bow for prolonged periods of time, you can exchange the limbs for heavier ones, or simply make the plunge and purchase a new, higher quality bow.
Who Should Skip The Samick Sage?
This bow is suitable for archers of all levels, particularly beginners – although there is no reason a veteran hunter shouldn’t love it as well. Only reason to skip this recurve is if you have more money to spare, in which case take a look at our other bow recommendations.
Alternative To The Samick Sage: a very close second in the “budget” category, albeit noticeably more expensive, is the Martin Saber. Both are very good bows for the money and your choice between the two should be determined by your budget and visual preferences.
Pros: flawless design, very quiet and comfortable, and one of the most beautiful recurves I’ve ever handled.
Cons: only available in 40 and 50 lbs. draws, which may be too much for smaller-framed archers. The one-piece design may be a con for those with less storage room.
Our PSE Blackhawk Review
The PSE Blackhawk is possibly my favorite one-piece recurve bow of all time, save but for one or two other bows that are in the same league. Not only does it carry a design worthy of kings, it’s also the most comfortable bow I’ve ever held. Obviously comfort can be subjective and will largely depend on the size of your hand; mine oscillates somewhere between medium and large, and I can imagine the bow being a little less comfortable for men with very large hands, though.
Being a one-piece (you can’t detach the limbs from the riser as the entire bow is made from one piece of wood), it’s slightly more accurate and has better energy transfer than takedown bows. Additionally, the lack of limb attachment pockets makes for less vibrations and, consequently, a quieter shot. On the downside, beginner archers may find this limiting in that storage during transport can be somewhat problematic. For the same reason (lack of detachable limbs) it’s also not possible to change the draw weight on the bow. For these reasons, among other ones, I would generally not recommend the PSE Blackhawk to a rank beginner in archery.
As far as I know, the PSE Blackhawk is only available in two draw weight settings: 40 lbs. and 50 lbs. I did e-mail PSE with a question regarding the availability of lower draws and whether they were considering introducing one to the market. As of January 23rd 2016 I have not yet received a reply, and will update this article once / if I do. If you’re a beginner, keep in mind that while these draw weights are plenty for harvesting mid-to-large sized game, you may have trouble keeping the bow in a drawn position. If unsure it’s best to just buy a different bow with 35# draw, or settle for a 40# Blackhawk but go easy on it at first and ease yourself into the draw, increasing the duration of your hold slowly over the course of a week or two until you can comfortably hold it for a good 15-20 seconds without straining. Don’t rush things!
The PSE Blackhawk can literally last a lifetime (or a couple ones). Laminated hardwood of the highest quality was used in the manufacturing process and the cut and finish are of exquisite standards. In my years working at a bowshop I had the privilege of seeing a Blackhawk brought in for maintenance numerous times, sometimes for restringing and other times to test the draw, and I’ve never encountered as much as a minute crack in the lamination; maybe a small scratch here or there, but nothing beyond what you’d expect from regular use. This is one of those bows you will likely hand down to your kids.
The material (hardwood) has excellent density which, combined with the finish, makes it highly competent under tough weather conditions – rain, snow, and even highly moist air. I took this bow over the years through a multitude of target practice sessions (both indoors and outdoors), 3D archery course runs, countless hunting seasons, and even long range shooting – the Blackhawk was highly resilient in all scenarios. As far as grip and texture go, the Blackhawk gets two thumbs up. The bow rests perfectly in the palm during the draw, and upon release doesn’t jump around and vibrate excessively between the fingers (like some other bows do). I’ve handled this bow with sweaty hands multiple times and never felt like it was giving me the slip.
Alternative to the PSE Blackhawk: the Bear Grizzly is a great alternative with top-notch value. Both bows bring very similar features and characteristics to the table and differ primarily in length (the Grizzly is 58″), design, and of course price.
Our PSE Razorback Review
A good recurve bow for youth should easy to handle and forgiving of beginner mistakes. It should be light-weight for convenience, and available in low draw weights (preferably 30 lbs. and below). Ideally it will have detachable limbs for easier draw manipulation and more convenient servicing at a pro-shop in case the bow limbs are damaged (you only take in the limb for repair, not the whole bow). Finally, it should be affordable so that barrier to entry is low. We have found the PSE Razorback to be about the only bow on the market that meets all of these criteria.
Let’s get one thing out of the way: your child is not going to hunt using the PSE Razorback; not enough power. This bow is meant purely for target practice and 3D ranges. If you want to take your young ones hunting, better do so with a compound bow or crossbow, where they will need to exert significantly less effort to draw the weapon. Hunting with a recurve only makes sense with 40 pounds of draw, and most youth can’t handle that. If yours can, you’re better off getting them one of the other bows meant for adults – see our other recommendations.
The size of the riser/grip is perfect for small-to-medium sized hands, providing for a stable shooting platform that doesn’t “dig in” and cause discomfort or pain. Beginner young archers will also appreciate the presence of a factory-drilled accessory mount hole; attaching a 3-pin sight or stabilizer are therefore a breeze, allowing aspiring archers to get better accustomed to the various accessories and shooting techniques that are accessible with a recurve.
Who Should Avoid Buying The PSE Razorback?
Archers who plan on hunting anything larger than fowl should skip on the Razorback. If noise is a major concern, note that this bow is not the quietest on the market, although installing a stabilizer will help significantly. (Make sure not to force the stabilizer into the hole and to screw it in under control.) Traditional shooters with larger hands should also avoid it, as the grip won’t feel comfortable for them. Anyone who likes speed and power should also look elsewhere, as this is a recurve designed for introducing beginners to the sport.
Alternatives to the PSE Razorback: we’ve concluded that the primary alternative is the Ragim Wildcat; while more expensive, it comes as a complete kit with suitable feather-fletched arrows, an armguard, quiver, bow stringer and sight. The Wildcat is however less accurate and the limbs feel a little flimsy and not as durable as the ones on the Razorback.
Why Did So Many Recurves Not Make It Into Our Rankings?
Deciding which recurve bows to include in our rankings and which to discard as not an easy task. Roughly speaking, it went like this:
- We first discarded all recurve bows that were extremely new to the market and didn’t have any established performance history. This left us with around 60 models.
- We then discarded bows that have a prominent history of limbs breaking or cracking. This left us with around 45 models.
- Our next step was eliminating bows that had notoriously uncomfortable grip areas, as testified to by many different owners. Even the best bow is useless if you have to suffer physically every time you draw and hold. This left us with around 40 recurves.
- From here we segregated all remaining bows into the most appropriate of our four ranking categories (best overall, best value, best for beginners and best for youth).
- We then went over each category and compared various characteristics and overall performance of each bow. Our criteria were different for each category, for example:
Our best bow had to be an all around excellent performer, with great accuracy and stability, comfort, smooth draw, very high durability, availability of high draw weights to accommodate both serious and amateur hunters, maneuverability and ease of handling in the field. Price was generally not a factor, however near the end of our elimination process we felt that there was a tie between two or three bows, in which case the one with the best price won. Finally, the top recurve overall had to have an established history of excellence and performance, spanning many years. A new bow that has only been on the market a few years just cannot be crowned “king” no matter how well it seems to perform, as certain design flaws and issues only come up after multiple years of continuous use.
Our best value bow had to be one that was fairly priced, and which provided exceptional value for the money paid. Similar to the best recurve overall, it had to be good at everything, with no major noticeable flaws. You typically can’t demand perfection in high value products however, so we allowed for a bit of compromise as far as beginner-friendliness and noise reduction go.
Our top budget recurve had to obviously be very cheap, while also providing a fun shooting experience for a beginner (as beginner archers are the most likely group to look for a budget recurve) and being versatile enough to grow alongside the archer without needing to be replaced quickly. It also had to be drilled to accept accessories to provide new shooters with experimentation opportunities. This was the easiest category to draw a clear winner in.
Our top youth recurve was fairly easy to select. The bow had to be a take-down for easier maintenance and upgrading; it had to accept accessories and be available in draw weights as low as 20 lbs. After factoring in these parameters and then discarding bows with excess vibration, low accuracy, and a bumpy draw cycle, left us with only one or two selections that were available at a reasonable price.
What To Look For When Choosing a Recurve Bow?
Selecting the ideal recurve begins with answering a few questions; based on your answers you will arrive at one or two ideal choices by process of elimination. It goes somewhat as follows:
Step one: do you plan to hunt, or just do some backyard target shooting? If you’re only interested in target practice then just about every bow on the market is a potential match for you. If you’re looking to hunt, however, you narrow things down significantly due to the following requirements:
- The bow must be available in a draw of 40 pounds or higher to allow for sufficient arrow penetration from beyond 15-20 yards.
- It should preferably be no longer than 64″, and preferably 62″ or lower, to ease maneuverability outdoors.
- It should not be loud, or else you’ll be getting a lot of bucks jumping the string.
Step two: next, decide on whether you would like to go the traditional aiming route, or whether you’d like to use a sight and/or other accessories; if the latter appeals to you, then your selection is yet again narrowed down to only those bows that are pre-drilled for accessory attachment. Unless of course you are comfortable drilling the bow yourself and know what you are doing, then it doesn’t matter – bu this is rarely the case among beginner archers.
Step three: next, decide on whether you want a take-down or not. Take-down bows make storage and transport easier, as well as provide for faster and cheaper draw weight upgrades and servicing in case of damage; on the flip side, they are relatively louder and typically much heavier, too. One-piece recurves on the other hand cannot be disassembled, so you’ll need to have dedicated storage and transport room; on the other hand, they will be somewhat quieter and significantly lighter. One-pieces tend to be better looking, too, although this is subjective.
Step four: at this point you should decide on a budget. Keep in mind that you’ll also need to spend a little extra on accessories: around $40-$80 on arrows and tips/broad-heads, $20-$30 for a stringer and an optional arm-guard, and anywhere from $10 to $50 for an arrow quiver if you want one. If you go the budget route, you can get all of these accessories for less than $100 combined.
Once you’ve narrowed things down based on the above criteria and once you’ve specified a budget, simply select the bow that matches your budget and which appears to you the most (be it due to appearances, or some specific feature that differentiates it from the other viable choices).