Bowhunting is an ancient tradition that requires skill, patience, and the right equipment to be successful. Of all the gear a bowhunter uses, perhaps none is more important than the bow sight. A quality bow sight enables you to aim true, make clean kills, and bring home prized game.
As a longtime bowhunter, I’ve come to appreciate the value of a good sight. Early on, I used cheap sights that constantly needed adjustment and failed me when it mattered most. After missing some easy shots on beautiful bucks, I realized it was time to upgrade my gear.
In this definitive guide, I’ll share everything I’ve learned about bow sights over the years – how they work, the different types, pros and cons of each, and insider tips for choosing, setting up, and using sights for ultimate accuracy. Whether you’re a new bowhunter looking to get equipped or a seasoned vet, you’ll find plenty of useful insights here.
So let’s get started and delve into the world of bow sights!
Before we get into the nitty-gritty details, let’s review the basics of how bow sights work. Sights provide reference points that you align with your intended target to improve aiming accuracy. They are mounted on the bow’s riser and typically consist of the following components:
- Sight Housing: The main body of the sight that attaches to the bow. Usually made of aluminum or composite materials.
- Elevation/Windage Adjustment: Knobs that allow you to adjust the sight vertically and horizontally.
- Sight Pin(s): The actual aiming reference point(s). Made of fiber optic or glowing tritium.
- Scope: Multi-pin sights usually have a scope with magnifying lenses.
- Level: A bubble level confirms the sight is properly oriented vertically.
To take aim, align the suitable sight pin with the vital area of the target according to the distance. The housing, adjustment knobs, scope, and level all work together to provide a clear, accurate sight picture.
Having a quality sight makes a huge difference. You gain much greater precision and consistency compared to crude traditional methods like instinctive aiming. Sights transform archery into a true targeting sport rather than mere guesswork.
But with so many types, features, and accessories now available, choosing the right sight can be bewildering. Let’s break down the most common options on the market today.
Types of Bow Hunting Sights
There are three major categories of bow sights used for hunting: fixed multi-pin, movable single-pin, and pendulum sights. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses to consider.
As the name suggests, these sights have multiple pins in a fixed vertical alignment. The pins usually represent set yardages like 20, 30, 40, 50 yards. To aim, you simply line up the appropriate pin for the target’s distance.
- Provides multiple aiming references for different distances
- Simple to use – just pick a pin and shoot
- Durable, reliable, and affordable design
- Can be cluttered and confusing, especially for beginners
- Guessing between pins at intermediate distances
- Not ideal for ranging targets or moving game
Multi-pin sights work best for hunting from fixed positions like tree stands where distances are predictable. They remain the most popular style of bow hunting sight year after year thanks to their simplicity and affordability.
These sights feature a single pin in a movable housing, allowing you to dial in the precise distance to your target. The pin can be set anywhere from 5 to 100+ yards.
- Pin can be precisely matched to any distance
- Minimal sight picture provides maximum focus
- Excellent for ranging targets and moving game
- Requires adjusting between every shot
- More complex with more potential failure points
- Increased size and weight
Single-pin movable sights offer superior accuracy and versatility for skilled archers. However, the need to constantly adjust them can be a liability in fast-paced hunting situations.
Pendulum sights have a weighted pin assembly that pivots forward and back, automatically adjusting for uphill and downhill shots.
- Compensates for elevation changes on uneven terrain
- Quickly adapts as you shift angles; no manual adjustment needed
- Limited windage adjustment
- Not designed for level shooting
- More prone to breaking
Pendulum sights excel when hunting hilly terrain from tree stands or stalking game on steep slopes. They remove guesswork on angled shots where traditional fixed pins fall short.
In summary, multi-pin sights are simplest, single pin sights are most precise, and pendulums are ideal for angled shots. But it ultimately comes down to personal preference and hunting style.
Sighting In Your Bow
Before using your new sight, you’ll need to calibrate or “sight in” the pins so they line up accurately with your arrows’ trajectory. Sighting in is a precise process but essential for achieving consistent hits.
Here are some tips for getting it right:
Use a bench and target – Sight in your bow indoors if possible using a shooting bench and block target to eliminate variables.
Start close – Begin by shooting at 10 yards to establish your 20-yard pin, then work back to longer distances.
Adjust methodically – Note where arrows strike in relation to the bull’s-eye and adjust the sight incrementally until you’re dead on.
Use a vertical line – Align your pins so they form a straight vertical line through the housing.
Confirm consistency – Once sighted in, confirm by shooting multiple arrows at each distance. All should consistently hit the bull’s-eye.
Consider broadheads – If using broadheads, sight in with them since field points and broadheads may have slightly different trajectories.
Take the time to properly sight in your bow – your future shot accuracy and hunting success depend on it. Once set up correctly, a quality bow sight will enable you to drive tacks at any reasonable distance.
Selecting the best bow sight for your needs depends on several factors:
How and where you hunt will determine which sight excels. For treestand hunting, multi-pins are ideal. For spot-and-stalk hunting, single pins may be better. If you hunt steep hills, consider a pendulum.
Beginners will appreciate a simple multi-pin sight, while experts may prefer the precision of single-pin adjustables. Know your current skill level and room to grow.
Bow sights range from $50 to $500. Consider how much you can reasonably spend while keeping your performance needs in mind.
Assess whether a sight level, glow-in-the-dark pins, ultra-bright fiber optics, or other features will benefit you. But don’t overcomplicate what you truly need.
Research brand reputations and durability. A sight that constantly slips or fails is no good. This is one area where sticking with premium brands can pay off.
Factor in whether you want a clutter-free sight picture or multiple references. There are no right or wrong answers – go with what you’re most comfortable with.
My personal advice is to start simple and upgrade as necessary. A basic 3-pin sight will serve most hunters well. After gaining experience, you can always switch to a more advanced single-pin or hybrid sight.
Trust me, I learned the hard way after buying an expensive, souped-up sight as a beginner and ending up overwhelmed. Have realistic expectations, and match the sight to your current skill level.
Mounting Your Sight
Installing a bow sight is usually a simple bolt-on procedure, but here are some tips for getting it right:
- Use the manufacturer’s mounting guide – don’t risk improper alignment by eyeballing it.
- Ensure the sight is centered and straight on the riser for consistent windage.
- Mount it as far forward as possible for increased pin gap and sight radius.
- Make sure it’s tight – vibrations over time can loosen sights if not properly torqued down.
- Use Loc-tite 242 threadlocker on the mounting screws – don’t allow your hunting success to come loose!
- Confirm that the housing doesn’t contact the fletching – clear arrow flight is critical.
Take your time, follow instructions precisely, and ensure everything is properly squared and tightened. A crooked or misaligned sight will send your arrows askew in a hurry.
To achieve true accuracy, you’ll need to make micro adjustments during the sighting-in process and after mounting:
Windage – Adjust side to side so pins align vertically over the bull’s-eye at all distances.
Elevation – Adjust up and down so arrows strike level with pins at measured distances.
2nd/3rd Axis – Tilt or cant the entire sight housing slightly if pins aren’t vertically aligned.
Gang Adjustment – Adjust all pins up/down simultaneously after initial sight-in is complete.
Zero Reset – Return to “zero” if major impact shift occurs; re-sight-in from scratch if necessary.
Fine Tuning – Use micro-click adjustments for honing in pins precisely.
Having easy, reliable adjustment knobs is a key sight feature. Budget sights often have sloppy, inconsistent adjustments that can throw you off. Investing in higher-end aluminum or composite sights pays dividends for true precision.
Maintaining your sight ensures it will perform optimally for years to come:
- Confirm levels and secure mounting screws before each use
- Keep fibers and pins clear of debris and obstacles
- Avoid directly spraying sight with cleaners and lubricants
- Gently clean pins with rubbing alcohol and Q-tips if needed
- Wipe down sight housing and accessories to prevent dirt buildup
- Check sight tape markings yearly and reapply as needed
- Fine tune windage/elevation settings over time as impacts shift
- Replace broken pins, fibers, and worn parts when necessary
A well-cared-for sight holds zero through all weather conditions. Preventative maintenance gives you peace of mind that it won’t fail at the moment of truth.
Beyond the sight itself, accessories can enhance your setup and shooting experience:
Light Kits – Fiber optic and LED light kits make pins glow brightly in lowlight conditions. They are essential for dusk and dawn primetime hunting.
Lens Kits – Magnifying and clarifier lenses optimize target visibility, especially on dark game. Pick lens sizes and diopter powers to match your needs.
Sight Levels – Built-in bubble levels instantly confirm your bow is properly vertical. Don’t be fooled by tilted sight pins!
Rangefinders – Built-in rangefinders allow moving sights to instantly dial in the precise distance. Rangefinding arrows determine arrow speed for correct sight tapes.
Covers – Protect your sight and prevent fibers from breaking. Use clear lenses covers to keep optics pristine in the field.
Quivers – Accessory sight mount quivers position arrows within your line of sight for seamless access. Certain quiver brands double as bow vises for working on your sight!
Think through how accessories can complement your sight and overcome any shortcomings. But also avoid going overboard and cluttering your setup unnecessarily.
Issues with bow sights can be incredibly frustrating in the field. Here are some common problems and solutions:
Inconsistent arrow impact – Stabilizers and rests being loose or broken will cause erratic shots. Ensure everything is tightly secured.
Pins not aligned vertically – Confirm 2nd and 3rd axis are set properly. Realign or shim the housing as needed.
Can’t see pins clearly – Replace worn pins and fibers. Clean debris or lubricants off lenses. Install clarifier lenses if needed.
Pins won’t stay locked in place – Tighten pins firmly after each adjustment and use a quality threadlocker on threads.
Sight housing loose on riser – Overtighten mounting bolts and use threadlocker. Shim any gaps in mounting foot to prevent slippage.
Entire sight feels loose – Check that quivers, stabilizers and other accessories are tight and properly balanced. Consider heavier sight or more weight up front.
Don’t settle for a faulty sight – it will only lead to missed opportunities and heartache in the field. Correct any issues promptly to restore confidence.
A bow sight is one of the most vital pieces of archery gear. It literally enables you to aim true and make clean, ethical kills. After learning so much about sights, I finally invested in a quality multi-pin slider with all the bells and whistles. My groups instantly tightened at all realistic hunting distances, and I no longer worried about losing my zero.
While an expensive, cutting-edge bow sight isn’t mandatory by any means, a solid mid-range model makes a world of difference. At a minimum, it should have reliable adjustments, bright pins, and hold up through harsh hunting conditions.
Take the time to properly set up and dial in your sight. A few hours of careful calibration will reward you with a lifetime of pinpoint accuracy. After that, it just takes diligent practice and proper shooting form to drive tacks consistently.
Hopefully this guide has provided you with plenty of insights into choosing, outfitting, adjusting, and troubleshooting bow sights. They are truly amazing tools that can elevate your shooting abilities.
Trust in your sight, keep your pin floating on the sweet spot, and let the arrow surprise you. Before you know it, you’ll be a deadshot bowhunter dropping game cleanly and ethically. Happy shooting and enjoy the hunt!
Captain Hunter is a seasoned hunting mentor with over 20 years of experience in the field. His passion began as a young man on trips with his father and grandfather in the Colorado mountains. Today, he shares his unmatched skills in survival, tracking, and marksmanship through his website CaptainHunter.com. When he's not volunteering with youth hunting programs, you can find Captain Hunter providing expert hunting tips, gear reviews, and answers to your most pressing questions. His decades of experience make him the trusted guide to help any outdoorsman master the sport.