Shortbow vs Longbow: Differences Explained

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Have you decided to explore the ancient art of archery but aren't sure what bow you want to use?

This is a pretty common conundrum. Most people don't realize how technical this sport is when they first begin to explore it. They become overwhelmed by the selection of bows available to them.

Hopefully, we can use this guide to provide you with the information you need to make an informed decision.

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Longbow vs Shortbow

Let's begin with a summarized view of the topics covered in this article; we understand that not everyone wants to read through multiple pages of content to get an answer to their question.

Shortbow

Longbow

PROS

PROS

  • Fast reload speed

  • Allows for mobility

  • Easy to transport

  • Slightly cheaper
  • Long range

  • Higher accuracy

  • Forgiving of mistakes

  • More customization options

CONS

CONS

  • Lower accuracy

  • Shorter range

  • Requires more maintenance
  • Less mobility

  • Heavy to carry and transport

  • Slower reload times

BEST FOR

BEST FOR

Close quarters shooting where you need to stay on the move.

Long-range shooting, suitable for beginners.

What is a Shortbow?

A shortbow is no longer than five and a half feet in length and is known for its rapid-fire and mobility. The origins of shortbows seem to lie in Asia, specifically in Mongolia, where they were used by warriors riding into battle on horseback. 

Because of its shorter draw length, a shortbow is best used at short range, but it makes up for its lack of range with firing speed and versatility.

When bows were the long-range weapon of choice in ancient and medieval times, shortbows were instrumental to warfare. This was because the archer could shoot from cover, or while kneeling, or in tight spaces without too much difficulty. 

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These characteristics made this bow type the first choice for civilizations that focused on war and conquest, such as the Vikings, the Mongols, the Greeks, and the Huns.

In modern times, shortbows are still used by archers who specialize in horseback archery or focus on speed and short-to-medium-range accuracy. Shortbows don’t require the archer to stand still while firing, contributing to its fast-paced and adaptable nature.

What is a Longbow?

Most people will be more familiar with longbows due to Hollywood. Most famous archers, such as Legolas from Lord of the Rings, Katniss Everdeen from the Hunger Games, and Robin Hood, are depicted with longbows as their preferred weapon. 

These bows originated in Europe in the Anglo-Saxon period, specifically in Britain. The English longbow was introduced to the world in the invasion of Wales in 633 AD. It soon became the weapon of choice for many nations, owing to its ability to cause untold damage. 

The Hunger Games' Katniss Everdeen shooting a longbow

A longbow is typically much longer than a shortbow and often matches the height of its user. Because of its longer draw length and heavier arrows, it specializes in long-range combat. It was often used in the past by armies defending their position, whether in a castle, fort or even from a hill or favorable position on a battlefield. 

However, one massive drawback to these bows is that they require quite a bit of open space to be effective. The archer is rooted in place while they line up their shot and fire because of the bow's massive size. However, its damage potential and range make up for this.

Relevant Characteristics Between a Shortbow and Longbow

Here’s a quick look at the characteristics of both types of bows.

Shortbow

Longbow

24-26 inches

Draw Length

28-30 inches

300fps

Speed

173fps

50 - 150 yards

Range

200 yards

150 - 160 yards

Accuracy

220 yards

Medium to High

Portability / Ease of Use

Low

3 - 5.5 feet

Size

6 feet

$175-$300

Cost (average)

$200-$400

Similarities and Differences

While the table above illustrates each bow type's most important fundamentals, we should take a closer look at some of them to understand them better. Some of these factors aren’t so easily defined and require more explanation.

Shortbow and Longbow Differences

Let's start by taking a look at some of the most significant differences between the two bows.

Size

This is probably the most obvious difference between the two bows. A shortbow is typically around three feet in length and will never exceed five and a half feet. An average longbow is about six feet, but can be as long as the archer in some cases.

Range

Range ties in quite heavily with the size of the bows. Because of a shortbow's smaller size, its draw length is not as long, and as such, it’s more accurate at shorter distances. 

A longbow's range is much farther because of its longer draw length and heavier arrows. Many factors also determine range and accuracy that are also dependent on the archer; these include draw weight, arrow weight, and aiming.

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Arrows

Both bows use specific types of arrows and, while some archers prefer to use customized arrows, the types aren’t interchangeable. A longbow uses longer and heavier arrows because of its longer draw length and range. In comparison, a shortbow uses lighter and shorter arrows. 

If you try to use a heavy arrow with a shortbow, it won't travel as far because the shortbow's draw length doesn't allow for enough energy to be given to the arrow. Similarly, if you try to use a lighter arrow with a longbow, to shoot a long-range target, the wind may knock it off course.

Speed

Shortbows will shine in the speed department because of their shorter draw length and lighter weight. The weight and size of both bows and arrows will be the determining factor here, but because the string on a shortbow is drawn tighter, the arrow will leave the bow faster than on a longbow. 

The shorter draw length on the shortbow also means that it takes less time to fire several arrows in succession.

Shortbow and Longbow Similarities

Now that we've examined some of the most marked differences, let's look at some of the similarities between the two bows.

Cost

While shortbows tend to be slightly cheaper than longbows, the difference isn’t too significant. Both types cost more or less the same, although it's much easier to find a decent longbow than a shortbow these days. This is mostly because the longbow is much more popular. 

These costs will also go up as you look at better brands of bow and such. Handcrafted bows cost the most, with some being priced north of $1000; this is due to the time, skill, and materials used to craft them.

Materials

There aren't too many differences in the materials used to craft different types of bows. Yew, bamboo, and elm were traditionally used to craft bows because of their flexibility. Many people still prefer to use a wooden bow today over the modern materials used, such as aluminum, steel, and fiberglass. 

There are also composite bows constructed from a variety of materials and are made as both shortbows and longbows.

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Uses

Both bow types are used for hunting and sport in modern times. The choice of which is better falls entirely to the archer and their preferences. For example, shortbows are useful in hunting because it's easier to rapidly shoot multiple arrows at a moving target. The drawback is the lack of range. 

Whereas a longbow may take longer to reload, you’ll be able to stand farther away from the target, and thus, get a clean shot.

Advantages of Shortbows

While shortbows aren’t as common in modern times, there are still many benefits to using them over longbows. Let's dive into a few of these advantages.

Shooting Speed

Because of a longbow's longer draw length, it takes much longer to notch the arrow and draw it back before firing. This means that there’s a much longer delay between arrows than with a shortbow. The current record for speed is held by Danish archer Lars Anderson, who can shoot three arrows in 0.6 seconds—he uses a shortbow to do it. 

This faster shooting speed also means that shooting a moving target becomes much easier because you can shoot more arrows at the target before it disappears.

Portability

A shortbow's size and weight make it much easier to pack up and transport than a longbow. Portability also plays a significant factor in moving around with the bow as you position yourself to shoot; the other factor is the arrows and container you use. 

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Traditionally, a quiver is used with a bow, but some archers have found that using one slows down their shooting speed. Some archers will stick the arrows into the ground if it's soft enough. Then, they’ll grab them as needed. Some highly skilled archers will carry their arrows in their bow hand while firing. 

Whichever method you prefer, the lighter arrows that a shortbow uses, and the weight of the shortbow itself, make moving around much easier.

Versatility

Versatility ties in quite strongly with portability because a shortbow's mobility means that it can be used in many ways. One of the most popular ways to shoot a shortbow is from horseback; another is when circus performers train to shoot a bow accurately with their feet. 

The shortbow's size and weight mean that it's easier to handle while kneeling, helping with aim and accuracy.

What is a Shortbow Best For?

A shortbow is best for the archer who prefers to move around as opposed to staying in the same spot while firing. Another factor that comes into play is range; a shortbow is best used at short-to-medium range and thus, should be used by an archer who prefers to shoot rapidly from shorter distances. 

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Finally, a shortbow thrives in enclosed spaces, so if you're hunting in a dense forest or shooting targets inside, this is the bow you should look at.

Advantages of Longbows

Aside from the artistry and level of nostalgia attached to it, longbows provide users more perks including:

Range

Serving as the proverbial medieval sniper rifle, a longbow's range is vastly superior to that of a shortbow. Owing to a longbow's larger size, which gives it a greater draw length, arrows can fly much further with greater accuracy because of the larger amount of energy put into them when released. 

This ultimately means that you're able to shoot much further with a longbow, depending on the draw weight that you're comfortable with. Because longbows are often the same height as their users, you should make sure to choose a bow that you can use safely; it should never exceed your height.

Accuracy

A longbow has much higher accuracy than a shortbow because of its heavier arrows, which are harder to knock off-course and have a lower drop rate.

Even from a shorter range, the longbow has the edge over a shortbow’s inaccuracy. While a shortbow allows for multiple arrows in quick succession, a longbow prefers to hit once and hit hard. 

The arrows used by a longbow also have better piercing capabilities and were traditionally used to pierce heavy armor. Nowadays, these piercing abilities help the arrow stick to a target instead of falling off because it didn't penetrate the target deep enough.

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Availability

The longbow is the most popular bow type today, which means that there are many different types of longbows available on the market. While you may struggle to find a decent shortbow, there are plenty of longbows for any wallet size and taste. 

Longbows also offer more customization options such as scopes or aim assists, and will allow you to tailor your bow to your style. A longbow is also easier to maintain than a shortbow and tends to last a little longer, but this also largely depends on the user.

What is a Longbow Best For?

A longbow will work best for someone who prefers to shoot from a far distance and prefers accuracy over speed. Because of its larger size, a longbow doesn't allow much mobility and will require the archer to shoot from an area with a good view of the target. 

That being said, a longbow is often the preferred bow for hunting purposes because of its long-range accuracy and piercing capabilities.

Photo credit: archerytopic.com

What About a Recurve Bow?

The recurve bow is probably the most popular bow shape because it holds the most power, if handled correctly. This is also the only bow type used in the Olympics because it requires quite a bit more skill to shoot accurately. 

A recurve bow is typically around the same size as a longbow, but its limbs are curved at the ends. This causes the bowstring to slap against the limbs, which sends more energy to the arrow. As a result, it causes it to hit faster and harder.

Comparing a recurve bow to a shortbow is more difficult than comparing it to a longbow because the recurve bow is much more similar to the longbow in shape, size, range, and accuracy. 

A recurve bow suffers from the same setbacks as a longbow when compared to a shortbow in that it requires more space to fire, its reload speed isn’t as fast, and it requires the archer to remain stationary while firing.

When compared to a longbow, the finer details need to be examined to find the differences. 

While there are longbows on the market that will be able to match the power rating of a recurve bow, the string slap that occurs on the recurve will always give it the edge; it gives the arrow more speed. 

However, a longbow is much easier to aim with because of its deeper frame. This helps you to keep your arrow straight while aiming and firing, while the recurve won’t help you avoid moving your string sideways and messing up your shot.

While a recurve bow will usually be only slightly smaller than a traditional longbow, it's effortless to transport. This is because most recurve bows break down into three parts and can be disassembled and reassembled. This also offers more customization options and makes replacing a faulty part much cheaper.

Bottom Line

The main factor that should be examined when deciding which of these bows to use is range. If you value speed and mobility over range and accuracy, then the shortbow is a much better option for you. 

While most people prefer a longbow for hunting because of its long-range and higher accuracy, many have opted for the shortbow. The reasons for this are that it offers more options and it reloads so quickly, which sadly means there’s more room for error.

A longbow is a better option for beginners because of its higher accuracy and higher availability in today's markets. Ultimately, though, the choice lies solely with you and will depend on your preferences.

People Also Ask

Because we want you to make a fully-informed decision, we'll try to answer any burning questions you may still have before we leave you to mull things over. These are a few of the most frequently asked questions that we get, but if there's anything else you want to know, please feel free to contact us.

How Far Can a Shortbow Shoot?

The answer to this question is dependent on quite a few factors, including the arrow's weight, the bow's draw weight, and the size of the bow. The average distance is roughly 100 yards, but many skilled archers have managed to accurately shoot further than that, with the furthest distances reaching around 175 yards.

How Far Can a Longbow Shoot?

This depends on a few factors, including the ones listed above, although another vital factor to consider with a longbow is wind speed.

A longbow can shoot accurately up to 200 yards, although there have been archers who have made shots up to 250 yards away.

Is a Longbow Good For Beginners?

Yes, a longbow is a great choice for beginners because it's the most forgiving of the bow types. It allows for a much wider margin of error, while shortbows and recurve bows require quite a bit more technical skill to be truly effective.

How Long Will a Longbow Last?

If properly maintained, a longbow can last for around 20-30 years. It will need to be regularly restrung, and you should wax the string before each use. Also, make sure not to put too much torque into the bow (pulling the string sideways while aiming). This can damage the string and the bow's limbs.



My name is Jeff and I have been hunting and fishing for over 40 years. I am an avid archery lover, bass fisherman, and all-around outdoorsman. Currently, I'm obsessed with elk hunting but I'm sure I'll move onto a different favorite soon. You gotta love hunting for that reason :) If you have any questions, or just want chat about your latest hunting score or big catch, you can reach me at admin@biggamelogic.com. Read more about Big Game Logic.