For a list of all bows, see Bow
Bows in general
Bows are the main option for ranged combat in Skyrim. By using bows the player can attack enemies from a distance, damaging them before they are within melee range, and by that increasing the odds of winning the fight significantly. The target of an skilled archer may never reach melee range. The bows consume arrows when shot, but the player can retrieve these arrows simply by picking them up. Archery is one of the skills of the warrior branch.
This link shows an Excel page on damage per second (DPS) done by the various bows. The Longbow shows 11.06 dps and the Daedric 15.85. However this doesn't take into account the perk points required to get the full potential out of Daedric weapons. If we invest those same points into Archery damage we increase Longbow by 100% to 22.12 which is almost as much as Karliah's Bow which is 22.39. Karliah's bow is Ebony however it is already enchanted meaning you still need 5 perk points to get this bow (one for Arcane Blacksmith) and you'll be stuck with those enchants.
Combat with a bow
First off the "running backwards while shooting" tactic that you may know from Oblivion, does NOT work in Skyrim. The reasons are that the bows now take longer to pull back, and that if you want a powerful and accurate shot, you have to stand still. Furthermore you will be running very slowly backwards while pulling or holding a pulled bow. But don't give up! The bows in Skyrim are very powerful compared to the other games in the "Elder Scrolls" series. Here's a few tips for using a bow in combat:
- Be prepared: With the bow you are given the chance to strike a suspicious enemy. Use it! By the time it takes for the enemy to react you can have an other arrow ready.
- Be Sneaky: If you hit an enemy that haven't seen you yet it does 3 times more damage! And after that the enemy will be looking around for you, for enough time to pull back another arrow.
- Be fast: Unless you are hidden, you should always fire as fast as possible. Aiming while pulling back the arrow can help here. The many perks for archery can also greatly increase your fire rate.
- Be precise: Being precise when using a bow is vital for you. With a bow its all or nothing, so make sure that you can still hit your target before taking the shot.
- "Know your range": Knowing how far a target is away from you is EXTREMELY important when using stealth, or just sheer distance. The aiming mechanics are very odd, and at extreme range it's very difficult to hit a target. Within roughly 50 feet, you don't need to compensate for any arrow drop, since the arrow by default goes a little above the crosshair. However, at close-mid range you'll need to aim low, whereas at far range (emphasis on far) you'll need to aim higher, although it's very difficult to do so.
Combat against an archer
(I - SimonHawk - am far from a pro, feel very free to add anything or change in this section if it worked in-game, especially the dual-wield part)
Being up against an archer can be a real annoyance, and especially when the archer has a warrior sidekick. Hunters with dogs aren't uncommon in the wild forests and the bold mountains of Skyrim, and bandits do often have an archer with them. The tactics against Archers is different from class to class, but here are a few of my favorites:
- Archer vs Archer: Take your shot when the archer is pulling back a new arrow. In that state, any unhidden archer is vulnerable because their movement is very limited. Remember that the same applies to you, so be tactical. In early game, it shouldn't be too hard because archers often have very limited hp, and again: The same applies to you.
- Hunters with dogs: The dog shouldn't be much of a fight, so you can take it out before the hunter finds out that you are attacking. However, if the dog runs around in curvy lines, it can be much harder to kill. By you kill it, hunter could easily have damaged you quite a lot. So try to get some objects between you and the hunter while killing the dog and then kill the hunter as well as any other archer. After the fight you should always take the hunters remaining arrows, and the bows are often worth a decent amount of gold so take that too if you have space.
- Archer with melee friends: Now this can be a tough situation if you're only good at bows. But my solution and favorite tactic is to get the archer to be downhill in comparison to you, and the melee guy in the middle, between you and the archer. In that way you will have cover from the archer behind the melee guy. then try to take down the archer first if you don't have anything but a bow and arrows. if you have a melee weapon like a sword and know how to use it decently, you should try and take down the melee guy first. But if you have the chance to be hidden while starting the fight you should nearly always take out the archer first.
- Shield vs. Archer: This type of fight shouldn't be too hard, if you've got the tactics right. Timed blockations help a lot, as the arrows then will do minimal damage. Right after you have deflected an arrow, you will have some time to get closer to the archer. Again remember that the archer is only dangerous, when he/she have an arrow ready to shoot. When you get close it will be harder to time your blocks, but you should be able to just charge attack the the archer when he/she is pulling an arrow. If he/she last long enough he/she will probably pull out a dagger or a sword, but that shouldn't be a problem.
- Dual-Wield vs Archer: As a Dual-wielder you are basically defenseless against an archer, and i would at all times pull out a shield or at least a bow yourself. But there might just come a situation where you don't have that option, or maybe your having a competition with your friends, to see who can pull it off. i don't know why you would do this, but here is my tactic against an archer: First off this fight is all about evasion, and by evasion i do NOT mean the tribute. No i mean pure movement and control skills IRL(Or at least on your keyboard and mouse :P). Try to dodge as many arrows as possible. Use any means: Jumping, crouching, running zigzag etc. Be aware of when the archer is ready to shoot. When you finally reach the archer the rest of the fight is easy, just hack him/her down, possibly by a skill attack.
- Hunter and Dog: Again i wouldn't take on an archer, with or without companions, with dual wielding. but the tactic/survival method here is to get something between you and the archer, while taking down the dog, which should be fairly easy to take down. Then fight the archer as you would with a normal archer. (see above)
- Archer and Melee Friend: Here you could use the "Downhill" tactic that i mentioned in the section about "Archer vs Archer with Melee Friend", but another option is to stay hidden and then attack the archer when the archer and the melee guy is apart. because you are a dual-wielder you should be able to take down the archer before the melee guy can reach you. This gets even better if you use an power attack while hidden on the archer, which will do 6 times normal damage! Then you will only have to deal with the melee guy but ill explain that in another tactic guide like sword or shield. (Note: i have not yet done these, but i think they will come soon :D)