HOW TO SIGHT IN YOUR BOW
Ask a bowhunter what he or she likes about bowhunting and you’re likely to get a long list, including fun, challenging, exciting, demanding, rewarding, exhilarating, and on and on.
Ask a bowhunter what it takes to be successful and he or she will likely mention, among other things, preparation and practice, practice, practice.
You can’t just pick up a bow and expect to be an excellent shot, hitting bull’s-eye after bull’s-eye. That’s where practice comes in. And you can’t just pick up a bow and expect it to hit dead-on right out of the box. That’s where preparation begins.
Compound bows may look complicated, but they aren’t. They still apply the stick-and-string theory that’s been around for centuries; they just take the theory to modern, efficient heights unimagined by early bowyers. In short, compound bows use a system of cables and pulleys or cams to harness energy-efficient power to propel arrows.
The key is to get the arrows to fly where you want, which is where modern sights come in. Modern sights come in a variety of styles and designs, but for this sighting-in scenario we will address the fixed-pin sight, which features pins, or sighting points, one atop the other, which you adjust to shoot at different ranges.
Much like aiming an open-sight rifle, a bow should have a rear sight on the string through which you sight and align the pin (whichever is appropriate for the distance to your target) in the sight mounted on the bow. The peep sight and pin sight combination provides fixed points so you can be consistent with your aim.
Okay. That’s a general overview, but let’s talk about getting started. There are informative articles about bowhunting at missionarchery.com, covering topics such as becoming a bowhunter and introducing kids to archery. Another place to look for information on all sorts of hunting topics is huntershandbook.com. Just click on the “Articles” tab.
Now, getting back to the subject at hand—sighting-in your bow—let’s turn it over to a long-time bowhunter and expert in bow design and operation. Ryan Shutts is director of product management at Bear Archery (beararchery.com).
Before you can even begin to sight-in, you must be sure the peep sight and sight are mounted on the bow correctly—not only securely, but in the correct position so as to provide you with the correct view, Shutts said.
And, even before that, you must be sure your bow is correctly set up and tuned, and the arrow rest correctly mounted so arrows fly straight. If not, if your bow is flinging arrows in any manner other than straight, you’ll be hard-pressed to hit targets consistently.
Fortunately, you can count on a good bow technician in a bow shop to set you up correctly so you can begin to sight in.
Starting with the peep sight, of which there are different styles, Shutts said it is important it be installed to match you, the way you draw back the bow. “When I draw the bow, I like to be able to draw my bow with my eyes closed and then open my aiming eye and I am seeing straight through the center of the peep sight,” Shutts said. “If I’m not, then the peep sight is not on correctly, which means I either need to move it up or down, or in the case of using a peep sight that doesn’t have a tube on it, then I need to adjust my string so when I draw my bow it’s completely level and I can see through the circle squarely.”
The reason he closes his eyes while drawing is to ensure he is not automatically adjusting as he draws. It’s natural to try to self-correct if you’re watching the sight draw back. If eyes aren’t closed, many people move their head down, more than up, to adjust because they are sighting in their bows at an angle because they are shooting at a target on the ground “so your natural body posture will point your head down and not all hunting situations are downward shots,” he said.
Setting the peep sight will likely take some trial and error, he said.
With the peep sight correctly set, Shutts moves to the front sight. “When I look through the circle of the peep sight I want to be able to see all my pins and my level by just opening my eye,” he said. He’ll make adjustments to the front sight until he’s satisfied. A common mistake, he said, is setting the peep so it allows you to see only the level or only the sight pins, but not both. Don’t make that mistake. “You should be able to see both at the same time,” Shutts said. “I like to make sure that sight window is completely adjusted to where I can see the top pin, the bottom pin, and the level without eye movement.”
Adjust the sight to the proper sight picture. Do not move your head to obtain the proper sight picture. Let me emphasize. You do not want to move your head so you can see properly. “You never want to move your head,” he said.
“You want to be able to see it all at one shot,” he said. “Once that’s done, you can start to do the left, right, and up and down adjustments.”
Shutts said he starts with windage adjustments—the left/right—because much of the adjustment can be done without shooting the bow.
Again, a bow technician can help ensure you are set up correctly and should be able to start you out with the windage at least close to on-target.
Hold your bow straight out in front, close one eye and examine the bowstring from cam to cam, looking right past it to the front sight. The pins should be lined up with the string or close to it. Get it close but the string may not be directly lined up, Shutts said. He said because of the style of release he uses and the way he shoots, his pins tend to be lined up almost even with the string, but maybe just a little to the left. “But that’s different with each person,” he said.
That gives you a good starting point, and you will probably be close to having windage setting correct.
Now, Shutts goes to the shooting range and, using his top pin and large target, shoots a few arrows just to see how the bow is hitting, left or right. He usually shoots fairly close to the target, say, from 10 yards.
“You can shoot it at 20 yards, but this isn’t about setting the pin yet,” he said. “It’s about getting the windage right.”
Shutts said he prefers shooting three-arrow groups (or three arrows at three different spots on the target so he doesn’t hit and damage arrows) before making any adjustments to the sight.
Once he has the left/right adjustments set where he wants them, he’ll shoot groups and make up/down elevation adjustments, still at 10 yards. “I’m not saying at 20 or 30 yards you won’t have to fine-tweak it, but this gives me a good start,” he said.
Going back to the sight, Shutts said he wants to have the biggest sight window he can so he has maximum field of view of the target and surroundings. “What I mean by that is the sight picture,” he said. “I like to have the 20-yard pin as high up in my sight as I can. Not everybody likes it that way, but I like it because I tend to shoot sights with lots of pins or shoot a single-pin sight.”
If, shooting at 10 yards, his arrows are hitting within a couple inches of his aim point, he won’t bother with further adjustments. Instead, he’ll just move back to 20 yards and start the process again, making adjustment to the top pin so it is hitting dead on.
When adjusting the sight pins, remember the adage: chase the arrow. That means if you are hitting high, move the pin higher; if you are hitting left, move the pin left. It seems counterintuitive, but it works.
“I make very little adjustments at a time on my sight,” Shutts said. He said he prefers sights capable of micro-adjustments, with solid-set screws that lock securely in place once he’s sighted in.
He also likes sights that click with each adjustment, much like most riflescopes. “I guess that’s the gun guy in me,” he said, “so I can count the clicks much like a scope. Let’s say I’m within two inches of where I’m trying to hit, so I’ll start with four clicks, maybe eight clicks. And if you don’t have clicks you can count the lines. I might go one line and, like I mentioned, I don’t like to make adjustments without shooting three-arrow groups.” Some shooters “are good enough to get away with one arrow,” he said. “I like to shoot three.”
So, after counting clicks or lines, he’ll shoot his group again; make micro-adjustments and shoot another group. And again, and again, slowly adjusting until he’s satisfied he’s hitting his point of aim. If the group barely moves after an adjustment, he may increase the number of clicks or lines to speed the process, but still he prefers small adjustments rather than over-compensating.
Shutts said novice or new shooters may want to make fine adjustments at 10 yards, which may be a more comfortable distance. “There’s nothing the matter with doing this at 10 yards, then moving to 20, so you’re confident you’re going to hit each time,” he said.
That’s how he helped his oldest son, Aiden, sight-in his bow. Actually, they started at five yards, then 10, “just so he gets the confidence,” he said.
Shutts stays at it until he’s satisfied his 20-yard pin is set correctly. “I haven’t even thought about or touched the other pins yet,” he said. “I’m just trying to dial it in. Once I’m shooting groups I’m happy with—and this is important—I make sure everything gets locked down. I’ll lock the micro-adjust knob; I’ll lock the knobs that move the whole sight. I’ll make sure those are all locked so it won’t move anymore whatsoever.”
He said he’s witnessed other people sighting-in bows who forget to tighten the sight and it’ll move, throwing them off in the middle of a sighting-in session. “They don’t know what’s going on,” he said.
Once satisfied with the 20-yard pin settings, Shutts moves to the 30-yard pin.
“I basically do the same,” he said. “I’ll walk right back to 30 yards, aim at the same point I was using for 20.” Windage and elevation shouldn’t have changed, he said, and he’ll have taken an educated guess on where to set the 30-yard pin in relation to the 20-yard pin. He said on his bow the 30-yard pin is about an eighth of an inch below the 20-yard pin. A lot of factors go into that, he said, such as speed of the bow, weight of the arrows, and how sights are set.
Once his 30-yard pin is set, he moves to the next and, depending on the sight and number of pins, the next and so forth.
A good practice session to Shutts is shooting 20 to 50 shots. Some people shoot more, maybe 50 to 100 arrows a day, but it comes down to physical strength, he said. “If people can easily do that physically and not be tired, great; but if you can’t and you get tired, we all tend to make mistakes or not be at our best when we’re tired.” Shoot only as many as you can without getting tired, he said. “You don’t want muscles to repeat bad habits that they learned when you were tired,” he said.
During practice sessions, Shutts will up his shots from three to five, “based on my quiver,” he said. “I’ll shoot five arrows at five different spots. I usually don’t shoot groups after I feel I’m sighted in.”
Some shooters make the mistake of shooting too long. “What you’ll see, especially as they get tired, is they’ll drop that hand faster because they are tired of holding the bow and that’s something you don’t want to teach your mind and body to repeat,” he said.
Don’t feel you have to have your bow fine-tuned in one session. Stretch it out over days, as long as it takes to feel comfortable.
“I usually don’t consider my bow sighted-in until I’ve shot maybe five days in a row,” Shutts said. He said he might adjust the sight during those first few days, but once he’s confident in the settings, he’s hesitant to make any adjustments, more likely to blame errant shots on a change in shooting form or technique because of fatigue.
Shooting 3-D target courses is not only good practice, but it can help build your strength, he said. Shooting a 20-target course twice is not only good practice, it’s a good workout, he said.