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Fact checked by Steven Lines, lifelong Hunter and Outdoorsman.
Archery is an age-old sport, and recurve bows are one of the original bow styles used by archers. When they were first in use, recurve bows were made using a single piece of material, usually wood. After hundreds of years of advancements, most recurve bows are now made using a modular design and can be taken apart.
The two major components are the riser and the limbs. If you have a recurve or have been looking at buying one, then you may have noticed that the limbs detach from the riser. You may be wondering: are recurve bow limbs interchangeable?
Yes, you can swap out recurve limbs, but not every bow uses the same attachment system. It used to be that every manufacturer had its mechanism, but in the 1980s, Hoyt created a system called International Limb Fitting (ILF). Most Olympic and competition style bows use this system. However, not every archer in competition, Olympic or otherwise, uses an ILF bow.
Not all manufacturers use ILF, and many still have their proprietary system.
That’s your basic answer, but let’s digger a little deeper into the issue. That way, you can make the best-informed decision when looking at which recurve bow, riser, or limbs to buy.
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If you have a recurve bow that is not a single piece, i.e., it is a takedown recurve where the limbs detach from the riser, then you can swap out the limbs as long as the new ones you are swapping in use the same attachment system.
If your bow uses the ILF system than any ILF limbs can be attached to the riser.
If your bow uses a proprietary system, then you have to make sure that your new limbs conform to that system. You will not be able to attach ILF limbs to a proprietary system or vice versa.
ILF has become so ubiquitous that it has essentially become an industry standard. Regardless of the brand, ILF limbs will fit onto ILF risers. So, if you have a riser from one manufacturer but have found ILF limbs from a different company that you like, you can use them on your ILF riser.
Now that you have some of the basics of takedown recurve bows, we can look at a few different attachment systems in more detail.
ILF (& Grand Prix) System
As you now know, ILF was created by the Hoyt Archery manufacturer in 1985. It was designed with a dovetail and detent slide to enable quick assembly and takedown. If you have looked at Hoyt’s product range, you may have noticed they offer risers and limbs that use the Grand Prix system. This is Hoyt’s name for their ILF line. ILF and Hoyt’s Grand Prix are the same system.
When Hoyt first conceptualized ILF, they had customizability in mind. The ILF system offers archers the ability to adjust the draw weight and tiller, which allows for some serious finetuning. In competition, where inches matter, this customizability is key to winning.
However, customization is not just suited to competitive shooters. It is also fantastic for those who shoot as a hobby. Buying an ILF compatible riser will give you long-term value.
Hobby shooters that have just started into archery, usually do not have the muscle strength and coordination to draw heavier weights when shooting without causing injury.
With an ILF system, new hobbyists can start with lower draw weight limbs and then purchase new higher weight ones as they build their strength and coordination. The purchase price for new limbs is a fraction of the cost of buying a new bow.
As you might imagine, this affordance of customization comes with a higher price point. ILF compatible risers and limbs are more expensive than their proprietary counterparts. However, for those archers who know that this will be a long-term hobby, the higher starting price will pay off in the long run.
If you are unsure about whether archery is a hobby you will enjoy, start with a less expensive, entry-level bow before paying the higher price for ILF. You can get decent entry-level recurve bows for $100 or less.
Limbs & Risers ?
If you are ready to plunge into the world of ILF, there are three broad categories for the limbs and risers:
- Olympic: These are designed for competition. Olympic risers are typically longer than the others. They start at 21 inches, but most are 25 inches in length.
- Barebow: A barebow riser can be combined with any pair of ILF limbs for a nicely customized setup.
- Hunting: It is best to match hunting ILF limbs to an ILF riser also designed for hunting. The total bow length is usually shorter, and the draw weight is higher to offer more penetrative power for taking down wild game.
There are also three price ranges for ILF that determines the possible accessories that can be attached as well as the material and design/build quality.
- Entry-level ($200 or less): You can generally attach sights and stabilizers, but not much else. They are made from aluminum or wood. They have been designed and machined to offer some weight reduction.
- Mid-range ($200 – $600): Offers the same accessories as entry-level plus a few more options. Wood and aluminum or some other higher-grade materials are often combined and machined to offer improved performance and weight reduction.
- Top-range ($600 and up, can go into the 1000’s): You will generally be able to customize your bow with any accessories needed. These bows use high-grade aluminum, carbon fiber, or other materials that have been precision machined to offer maximum weight reduction and performance.
Unless you are looking to compete, you can stick with the entry-level to mid-range options. If you plan to hunt with your recurve, you do not want to take a $2000 bow out into the bush without plenty of training.
Here are two excellent entry-level options if you are looking to get into the world of ILF bows:
NIKA Archery Raptor ILF
SAMICK 25″ Avante X2 Olympic Style ILF
Remember that you need to check the handedness of your bow. Some bows are designed for right-handed, some for left, and some for either. The NIKA above can be used with either hand, but the SAMICK is right-handed only.
There is not as much to say about proprietary systems in general, because they are usually unique to each manufacturer.
If you have a riser that uses a proprietary system, then it cannot be used with the limbs from a different one, including ILF/Grand Prix.
However, you can generally buy any limbs that use the same system (limbs made by the same manufacturer) and install them with the riser you have from that manufacturer’s line.
These proprietary systems are usually, but not always, less expensive.
While many competitors use ILF, some champion-level archers use proprietary systems.
Hoyt has an attachment style that is newer than ILF called Formula. Because of Hoyt’s influence in the industry, a few other manufacturers have created limbs that fit Hoyt’s Formula system. However, most of the compatible parts are made by Hoyt Archery.
Proprietary systems limit your customizability to a single manufacturer’s range of products.
A Final Point
Not all recurve bow limbs are interchangeable, there are different systems. If you want maximum interchangeability, you should go with the ILF system (also called Grand Prix in the Hoyt line of bows) as it offers the broadest range of limbs and risers from multiple manufacturers.
There are proprietary systems, like Hoyt’s Formula, these are not interchangeable between ILF or other systems. You must ensure that the limbs and the risers use the same attachments, or else you will not be able to connect your new limbs to your riser.
Steven Lines is a hunter and outdoorsman from Safford, Arizona, USA. He has been hunting and fishing since a child, and has over 20 years of experience in the outdoors. Steven works as a hunting guide in Arizona during his spare time and runs a Youtube channel dedicated to sharing his outdoor adventures with others.