Prior to the 1950s, those who were interested in the sport of archery were limited to the choices of longbow and recurve bow. Typically which a person chose depended on what use he/she was going to put the bow to, target practice or hunting. Most hunters used recurve bows because they had more power than longbows for killing big game like deer and elk. When the archery compound bow was invented, that all changed.
The compound bow is very different from previous bows because it is strung in a continuous loop that uses a pair of pulleys to multiply the force applied to the arrow. In addition, at least on of these pulleys, usually both, is a cam that allows for a release of tension on the arms of the archer when the bow is fully drawn. This makes it easier to hold the arrow in firing position and aim to get a truer shot than is possible under full load as with longbows and recurves.
Another major change brought about with the advent of the compound bow is the ability of the archer to adjust the draw strength of the bow. Longbows and recurve bows are manufactured to have a particular draw strength when fully drawn. Compound bows can be adjusted within certain tolerances in the field and can be changed drastically simply be changing the pulleys and cams on the bow. This makes it possible for different people to use the same bow at different settings based on their size and strength, and advantage that did not exist before the compound bow.
One drawback to the archery compound bow is that it is difficult to unstring and string. Where long bows and recurve bows are unstrung by the archer to release tension, the compound bow can only be unstrung or strung with the use of special clamps to hold the limbs in position. A person can be seriously injured trying to sting or unstring a compound bow without the proper tools.
In the sport of archery, the compound bow is currently the apex of the evolution of bows. A compound bow is often much more powerful than a longbow or a recurve bow, although that can be changed. The fact that the draw strength of compound bows can be adjusted is an incredible improvement over longbows and recurve bows that have only one weight. The release of tension brought about by the cams used in the pulley assembly makes it much easier for an archer to hold an arrow in the ready position for a longer time and take a steadier aim at the target.
For hunters, compound bows are often shorter than even a good recurve bow, meaning less chance of getting tangled in undergrowth and making a lot of noise getting it loose. This alone is an advantage when hunting wild game, especially whitetail deer, who are often aware of the hunter before he is aware of the animal. Since its invention, the compound bow has become the archery hunter’s best friend.