In modern archery, a compound bow is a bow that uses a levering system, usually of cables and pulleys, to bend the limbs.
In general, compound bows are widely used in target practice and hunting.
The pulley/cam system grants the user a mechanical advantage, and so the limbs of a compound bow are much stiffer than those of a recurve bow or longbow. This rigidity makes the compound bow more energy-efficient than other bows, as less energy is dissipated in limb movement. The higher-rigidity, higher-technology construction also improves accuracy by reducing the bow’s sensitivity to changes in temperature and humidity.
The pulley/cam system also confers a benefit called “let-off.” As the string is drawn back, the cams rotate. The cams are eccentric rather than round, and so their effective radius changes as they rotate. Each of a compound bow’s two cams features two tracks: an inner track which connects to the opposite limb or opposite cam through cables, and an outer track through which the bowstring runs. As the bow is drawn, the ratio of bowstring pay-out and cable take-up relative to limb-weight and leverage of the cams changes. By manipulation of the shapes of these cam tracks, different draw-stroke profiles can be created.
A compound bow can be soft-drawing with a slow build-up to peak weight and a gradual let-off with a long “valley” at the end. It can also be hard-drawing with a very fast build-up to peak draw-weight, a long plateau where weight is maintained, and a quick let-off with a short valley. The let-off itself is the result of the cam profiles having passed center and approaching a condition very similar to a cam-lock. In some compound bows, if the draw-stops or draw-length modules are removed, they will self-lock at full draw and require professional equipment to unlock safely. Many compound bows offer 70–85% let off once they are pulled to full draw. This allows the shooter to relax and concentrate on the intended target at which they are shooting.
The compound bow was first developed in 1966 by Holless Wilbur Allen in North Kansas City, Missouri, and a US patent was granted in 1969. The compound bow has become increasingly popular. In the United States, the compound is the dominant form of bow.
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