Selecting a bow sight that you’re happy with begins by matching your personal preferences and deciding whether you’re going to use it for target shooting or hunting. While most hunters are using hunting sights, others are turning to target sights because they provide more precise adjustments.
The thing about innovation is, designs that appear perfectly sensible to one person may seem totally harebrained to another. Many years ago, as a teenager, I began shooting a traditional longbow. When compound bows became popular, I made the transition with a bow that had a sight with four brass pins. As age and failing eyes have crept up slowly, I’ve tried a number of other sights to overcome the difficulty of seeing those dull-colored pins when light levels are at their lowest. I’ve tried illuminated sights, designs with brightly colored plastic pins and several versions with fiber optics as well. What I’ve found is that they all have strengths and weaknesses, and even though most have more good points than bad, being happy with a sight is more about deciding what works best for you and your intended use.
Type of Area You’re Shooting In
Today, the selection of sights available is quite diverse, reflecting the individual nature of the sport. Although all sights are designed with the same intent – to increase accuracy and ease of use even under low-light conditions – the one prerequisite is sometimes overlooked: where do you shoot?
As a general rule, shooters east of the Mississippi tend to have fewer pins due to denser forest and undergrowth that limit the distance they can shoot, while western bowhunters have to deal with greater distances and much more open terrain. If the longest shot you’ll be making is 30 yds., do you really need four pins?
Pay Attention to the Construction
Although most designs are fairly sturdy, you’re still dealing with small points and thin material dictated by the need for pinpoint accuracy. If you tend to be rough on gear or maneuver in heavy brush, consider the importance of durability and make sure you have replacement pins. In addition, you should also consider the important issues of low-light usability and ease of setup and use, as well as simplicity of use under pressure.
Options for Low Light
The first innovation to hit the bow-sight market was basically a miniature flashlight that was used to illuminate pins when light levels were low. While it is a simple, effective tool, these illuminators do require batteries and need to be turned on and off. Forgetting to turn them off is a common problem, resulting in dead batteries that are undetected until the need arises again.
Fiber optics gather light and transmit it to the tip of the fiber, creating a bright point of light without batteries under marginal conditions and provide an even brighter illumination in full daylight. The brightest fiber-optic sights use long lengths of fiber wrapped around the sight numerous times to increase their light-gathering ability.
Another option to consider is tritium – a radioactive element added to paint that gathers light in the same manner as the luminous dial of a watch. You can even opt for a combination of tritium and fiber optics if you can’t decide which one you like best.
Ease of Use
Having a sight that is easy to adjust is an important issue. Sights have to adjust vertically and horizontally, in addition to the individual pins that need to be adjusted. Look for lock screws that are easy to access and large enough to stand up to the pressure necessary to stay tight under repeated vibration. Having a selection of properly sized wrenches to tighten all bolts and screws is a good idea. If a loose fastener is detected before it has moved, there is no harm. Left untightened, it will only work loose eventually, affecting your aim.
Another handy feature on many sights is the addition of a level to keep your bow aligned vertically. To me, this is an advantage during practice or target shooting, but not many shooters will remember to look at a level when they’re lining up on a big buck. However, if you use it routinely during practice, you should develop the habit of shooting properly, and by the time hunting season arrives, you’ll be in the groove.
One Pin, Two Pins or More?
I don’t care how many hunts or target shoots you’ve been on, when a big buck steps into view or a tie-breaking moment comes along, your brain does some weird things. Adrenalin causes us to go into overdrive with the hands and underdrive with the brain, and sometimes a shooter will forget which pin they have set for which yardage or simply release an arrow looking at the pin they use most when practicing. Single-pin sights eliminate the possibility of confusion during the moment of truth, but there are a few caveats to evaluate.
Fast bows that shoot an arrow with a relatively flat trajectory can usually set up one pin that will work for distances from 10 to 35 yds., with only slight adjustments up or down for variances from the optimal setting. You’ll find single pins that are oriented from different positions of the sight frame, vertical inline and multiple pins that are spread vertically.
If you don't have the luxury of shooting a fast bow, or need more options beyond 35 yds., you'll need either an adjustable one-pin sight or more pins.
Multiple-pin sights are configured in one of several ways. With vertical inline pins, you basically see a series of bright points stacked on top of each other. The other option is a series of vertical pins on the side of the sight, staggered at various distances determined by your setup process. With either design, you still have to remember which pin you have set for which distance and use the one that corresponds to your yardage estimate. Again, the decision on which way to go depends on what works best for you. Both are equally accurate, and the main difference is the sight pattern.
Another technology that is hitting the market is rangefinding bow sights that automatically measure the distance to the target so you know which pin to use. You can range your target at rest or at full draw, virtually eliminating distance estimation and archer movement. Rangefinder sights instantly provide the precise angle-compensated distance, taking the guesswork and human error out of ranging.
Adjustable One-Pin Sights
Moveable one-pin sights have a lever that moves the sight pin up and down to correspond with the exact estimated distance of your target. The virtues of adjustability eliminate the need for multiple pins. This sight is particularly useful for targets or game in between standard increments of 10, 20, 30 and 40 yds. Ease of adjustment is an advantage when an animal is moving toward or away from you at an angle. For example, you see a buck and quickly estimate his range at 33 yds., set your sight and get ready to draw. Just as you start to raise your bow, the buck starts walking slowly out of your shooting lane and doesn’t reach another opening until he’s cleared a 10-yd. stand of brush. Instead of having to hold high or in between pins, you can quickly slide to the exact distance of 23 yds., and hold dead on. Some sights even allow you to make the adjustment at full draw.
Pendulum sights are designed to automatically compensate for elevated angles from treestands. Bow sights with this mechanism swing to pre-calibrated adjustments that allow you to use a single pin and shoot without having to mentally correct for the degree of downward angle you are shooting.
Peep vs. No Peep
A peep sight provides a small aperture on your bowstring to look through and align your sight pin(s) for the correct distance. Since this establishes your anchor point, it’s an important part of your shooting package. Peeps come in various sizes and are sometimes aligned by a rubber cord attached to the bow frame.
Peep sights with small apertures are difficult to use during low-light situations. You can improve your sight picture by using a larger aperture, but that isn’t a cure-all. Larger peeps increase the margin of error. A new concept is to use an even larger peep with a sight that has a circular frame and align the circle with the peep.
Eliminating the peep altogether might be a better concept for you, especially if you wear glasses. If peeps are a pain for you, another concept that’s worth considering is electronic enhancement or Hind Sight bow sight. These sights feature a rear-mounted sight and an adjustable front sight. You might also consider using a kisser button, which allows you to have a consistent anchor point without using a peep.
Finding the perfect bow sight for the area you hunt or target shoot and the techniques you prefer may take some experimentation, but that’s part of the fun of shooting a bow. It’s a primeval sport with high-tech doodads that are designed to improve your ability to perform in the field, and it’s always interesting to try new concepts while searching for archery’s Utopia. Just keep in mind that there is no substitute, either mechanical or electrical, for practice. This is especially important when you have a new sight. Practice is by far the best investment you can make toward attaining that big-game animal or trophy.