Bowhunters change their sight more often than any other accessory
Modern compound bows are outfitted with many accessories, each serving to increase performance and/or accuracy. But the accessory that is most-individualized and most-frequently changed is the sight.
Bow sights are available in a mind-blowing array of designs. Although most work well, the design of many new sights is specialized. To get the most out of their sight, bowhunters should find the model that best suits their individual needs and hunting style.
In order to move forward, it is often helpful to glance back into history. The first bow sight was likely a matchstick or something similar taped to the handle of a recurve bow. Although crude and difficult to adjust, it served its purpose as an aiming reference point, allowing the archer to aim with more consistency.
Bow sights have come a long way, with machined aluminum brackets, fiber-optic pins, battery powered lights, and even rangefinders built in. But for the most part, they serve the same function.
To be effective, a bow sight needs only be clearly visible to the archer without obscuring the target, providing an aiming point that is adjustable to cause the arrow to impact the target in the desired spot consistently. All other features are a bonus.
That being said, many factors, including the age of the archer, hunting methods, terrain and species targeted factor into choosing the best sight for a particular situation. An eastern whitetail hunter in a tree stand overlooking a feeder in thick cover has different needs than an antelope hunter on the open prairie out west.
When choosing a bow sight, I find it easiest to simplify things by breaking sights down into four categories:
- Multi-pin fixed;
- Single-pin adjustable;
- Multi-pin slider;
- Electronic range-finding.
Multi-pin fixed sights are the simplest, with multiple pins and an immovable bracket. These sights are ideal for hunting dynamic situations such as trails in wooded areas and unfamiliar stands with unknown shot distances. Once the archer reaches full draw, there is no need to let down to adjust the yardage. The bow is simply elevated or lowered to place the corresponding pin on the animal. This reduces movement by the hunter. And it leads to less task-loading before and during the shot process.
Single-pin adjustable sights feature a single aiming point with an adjustable bracket. They are an excellent choice for hunting in thick cover with limited shot distances, over feeders or bait, and in open fields where game animals are feeding slowly. Single-pin sights offer an uncluttered view. This really helps when aiming, especially for the aging archer who has trouble with multi-pin sights “clustering” — blurring and making it difficult to focus when aiming. The disadvantage of a single pin adjustable sight is that the bow must be let down to adjust for different shot yardages. This can lead to rushed shots and even missed opportunities in dynamic hunting scenarios.
Multi-pin slider sights offer the best of both worlds, offering fixed pins with a less-cluttered view. The archer designates one pin — usually the bottom pin — and the adjustable bracket is used to dial this pin in for longer shots. This way, a 3-pin sight can be used to shoot far beyond 40 yards. These sights are gaining popularity. That especially true among western hunters who typically face much-longer shots but need fixed pins for surprise, close-range encounters. The disadvantage here is that the archer must have the presence of mind to remember to re-zero the dial. If not, a missed shot at point-blank range is inevitable.
Electronic range-finding for bowhunters
Last are the newest, electronic range-finding sights by Garmin and Burris. They incorporate laser rangefinders and use a ballistic computer to illuminate the correct pin for the shot yardage. Although they are deadly effective, they are very costly. And their legality varies from state to state. I have been shooting a Garmin Xero A-1 for the past several years and love it. It has made hunting fun due to less pre-shot task-loading and anxiety. If these are legal where you hunt and you can justify the high price, I highly recommend them.
Regardless of which sight you choose, learn to shoot comfortably with it. Also, be sure to learn all of its features and how to adjust your sight should the need arise. Familiarity with your setup and learning how to shoot it well are the single most important factors when it comes to being successful in the field.