Archery is a sport of accuracy. There is nothing more important than accurately shooting your arrow at the intended target. Whether you’re in a tournament setting or out bowhunting, hitting your target is all that matters. The great thing about archery today is the improved accuracy achieved through the use of bow sights.
What are Bow Sights?
Bow sights are an accessory used for aiming. Think of them as a scope on a rifle, although they are very different. While a scope uses magnification to help a rifle shooter, a bow sight generally does not. Bow sights are usually in a circular or square housing that hold multiple pins. These pins correspond to different distances.
For instance, you’ll commonly see archers with 5 pins. These 5 pins generally correspond to 20, 30, 40, 50, and 60 yards. Some sights have 7 pins, some have 3, and some have 1. It all depends on your intention and the rules of competition.
Benefits of Using a Bow Sight
Your bow sight is one of the most important elements to achieve consistent accuracy. Without any sort of sights, a shooter must rely on instinctive shooting. While this can be accurate as well, it requires extensive practice. Even then, it is not near as accurate as using a mounted bow sight on any type of bow.
Most bows will use bow sights in conjunction with a “peep sight”. This is a small hole that you look through on the bowstring and align with your bow sight. This keeps the overall alignment of your bow nearly perfect. You will easily be able to tell if your bow or shooting form is out of alignment.
Having a physical point of concentration can lead to better overall focus for an archer. Without bow sights, you mentally guesstimate where to aim at a target and where you might actually hit. With a quality bow sight, this guesswork is eliminated and you can simply focus on making a good shot.
Types of Sights on a Bow
The most popular type of bow sight is fixed pin, also known as multi-pin sights. As the name implies, these use multiple pins set for different distances. Archers typically use anywhere from 3 to 7 pins depending on preference. These pins are often different colors and built with fiber-optics for visibility. This is to allow the shooter to more easily differentiate the different pins/distances. Pins are enclosed by a round housing that is mounted to the front of the bow. At full draw, an archer will align the distance with a corresponding pin for aiming.
Fixed pin sights have plenty of great qualities, such as quick distance adjustments. For example, if you are shooting a target at 20 yards and decide to shoot a target at 40 yards instead, you simply use a different pin for that distance (40 yard pin). You do not need to move or adjust your sights at all, you simply aim with a different pin.
Of course, these sights are not without their potential drawbacks. If an archer is using too many pins, the sight picture may become overly cluttered. You will also have to estimate at in-between distances. For example, if the target is 35 yards, you have to split the different between your 30 and 40 yard pins in order to make an accurate shot. With so many different pins, it’s also very common to accidently use the wrong pin. This confusion can lead to making a bad shot. While not a deal-breaker, these are a few issues to be aware of.
- Many different options available
- Quickly shoot at any distance
- Simple design and use
- Very affordable (can be expensive for top quality)
- Too many pins clutter the site
- May accidentally use the wrong pin
- Guesswork on in-between yardages
Movable bow sights, also known as single pin bow sights, are another popular option. These sights have grown extremely popular in recent years. Many shooters seem to be making the switch. Although sometimes called single pins, these sights can actually have more than one pin. They function in a similar way as fixed pin sights. They have a single pin (or many) to use as an aiming reference. The difference is the entire bow sight can move and be adjusted for different yardages.
An obvious advantage to this is the ability to adjust for specific yardages. This eliminates any guesswork. If the target is 43 yards away, you can move the bow sight and set it to exactly 43 yards. The downside to this however, is that the bow sight must be adjusted before every shot. You cannot shoot a target at 20 yards, step back to 40 yards, and shoot again without making an adjustment to your bow sight.
Many shooters enjoy this adjustability and improved accuracy. Others may find it too much of an inconvenience. Another thing to consider is the number of pins you will be using and the cluttered sight picture. Movable sights are usually a single pin in order to provide a better sight picture. This helps avoid the problem that many fixed pin sights run into. Movable sights can, however, be used with as many pins as an archer wants.
I shot a moveable bow sight with a 2x power scope for a few years and saw my scores jump dramatically. I still enjoy shooting a scope, but it’s extremely competitive to shoot that style in tournaments. I’m used to shooting fixed pin sights and it’s an added challenge, so that’s what I’ve been using most.
- Open sight picture
- Exact yardage accuracy
- Quick target acquisition
- Have to adjust sight for every shot
- More complicated to set up and use
- More expensive
Pendulum bow sights are the least common types of bow sights found in archery today. These sights provide accuracy and adjust to shoot at extreme inclines or declines. Their pendulum adjustment system aligns with gravity. This compensates for shooting at extreme angles, usually from a treestand or steep hill. They can also be locked into place in order to shoot on even ground. Here’s a short video showing how a pendulum sight works.
If you are a bowhunter and will be hunting out of a treestand, a pendulum sight may be a good option. Thanks to its unique design, the pendulum will adjust the pin for the angle of the shot. The only downside is that they do require more knowledge of arrow velocities and angles. They are also not quite as accurate as a fixed pin or movable bow sights when on the ground.
- Excellent for shooting steep angles
- No adjustment needed for short distance shots
- Usually only 1 pin
- Not quite as accurate when shooting on level ground
- Harder to learn and use
- Faster bow speeds are making them more obsolete
Bow Sight Features to Consider
Every bow sight on the market today has a number of different features. When you are deciding on a new bow sight, there are many things you’ll want to consider before buying. Here are a few important features that some bow sights offer that may help you make your decision a little easier.
Ease of Use
If you are a complete beginner, ease of use may be one of the most important factors to consider. Some bow sights are extremely complicated to set up and use, while others are much simpler. Think about your skill level and what type of bow sight might better suit your needs. Then consider which brands and models will more closely align with your skill level. Archers upgrade their equipment over time as they progress, so don’t feel this is the first and last bow sight you’ll ever buy.
Number of Pins
Every type of bow sight can have anywhere from 1 to 10 (or maybe even more?) pins. The usual number for fixed pin sights is 3 to 5, while most movable bow sights will have a single pin. Think about how many bow pins you might want to use. Will multiple pins help you adjust on the fly? Or would you prefer a cleaner sight picture with a single pin? There are great options for both.
Bubble levels are small levels found within a bow sight housing. They provide a quick reference to help the archer keep everything perfectly level and balanced. This results in more accurate shots. While a bubble level isn’t absolutely necessary, they are a great addition to have and something to consider.
Line of Sight
Some multi-pin sights include a thin wire that connects from top to bottom, aligned with your pins. This wire allows you to stay in-line with your target while shooting distances further than your last pin. For example, if I’m shooting 80 yards and my last pin is set at 60, I’ll be estimating the height, but the wire will help me stay perfectly in line. This is a lifesaver during tournaments, so keep this in mind when shopping for a bow sight.
Sight Housing Diameter
The circular case that holds all of your pins is your sight housing. The diameter of this can vary greatly among bow sights. You’ll have to choose which diameter fits your needs best. It’s recommended that your sight-housing diameter matches the diameter of your peep sight. In theory, when looking through your peep sight, your sight housing should appear to be about the same. Keep in mind that it’s much easier to change your peep sight than it is to change your sight housing. You can always change out your peep sight later to match a new bow sight.
Sight Pin Diameter
The sight pin diameter refers to how large your pins are. The smaller the pins, the more accurate they can be at longer distances. On the contrary, the larger the diameter of the pins, the brighter and easier they are to see. Most sight manufacturers produce pins in a variety of sizes, with the most common being .010, .019, and .029 inches in diameter. Personally, I like thinner pins so I can aim with more precision. Thick pins, while easier to see, can obscure what you’re actually aiming at. Consider your goals and choose a pin diameter that works best for you.
Low Light Visibility
In addition to sight pin diameter, there are other ways of increasing visibility in low light conditions. Many bow sights use fiber optic pins that allow much greater visibility. They are designed to soak up available light and make the pin glow. This is extremely helpful and something I’ve used for many years.
Other sights even include a small light that shines down on your pins, increasing visibility. If you think you might be shooting in low light conditions, consider both fiber optics sights and lights to help increase your visibility while shooting.
3rd Axis Adjustability
An axis is an imaginary line that an object rotates around. To achieve the most accuracy, a good sight should be able to adjust around all three axes. Some sights will not, but many will allow for all three to be adjusted. The first axis runs from the left to right in front of the shooter, parallel to the ground. The second axis runs straight through the center of your sights as you look through it. Lastly, the third axis runs parallel to your body through the center of your sight.
When shooting on the ground level, the third axis has no importance as long as your second axis is level. When shooting up or downhill, however, it becomes extremely important. If your third axis is not level in these situations, it will negatively affect your shot placement. If you will be shooting on uneven ground with inclines and declines, you want a bow sight that has the ability to adjust its 3rd axis.
Bow Sight Pricing
Your budget will be one of the most important factors when deciding on a new bow sight. Bow sights can be found as cheap as $100 and go all the way up to over $1,000 for top quality competition grade sights. Most beginners, however, will be best suited by spending anywhere from $150 to $300 for a quality bow sight that will last you for years to come. My dad and I have shot Spot Hogg for years and love the brand. Check them out on Amazon, they have many different models to choose from.
Choosing a Sight For Your Bow
So at the end of the day, which bow sight is best for you? As you can see, there are many different things to consider before buying a bow sight. Getting your first sight might seem a little challenging, but don’t over think it. The most important thing to remember is your style, intent, and your budget.
What do you intend to use your bow sight for? Will you primarily be shooting targets or hunting out of a treestand? Do you have time to adjust your sights between shots or not? Such questions can help you narrow down on the style of bow sight to consider. Once you decide on the style you need, you can focus on pricing and brands that fit your budget to make a final decision.
Becoming as accurate as possible is the ultimate goal of archery. Having confidence in a high quality bow sight is paramount to your success. While there are plenty of different things to consider, hopefully you are now more prepared to find and purchase your perfect bow sight.