Buckmasters Magazine

How to Choose a Bow Sight

How to Choose a Bow Sight

By Bob Robb

What you need to know to make the right choice for your bowhunting style.

Few things in archery bug me more than crummy equipment. Tops on the list is a cheesy bow sight. A poorly constructed sight is difficult to dial in and can, and will, fail at the moment of truth. Fortunately, there are plenty of great sights out there to choose from.

Selecting a bow sight is a lot like selecting a bird dog. Many can do the job, but each breed has unique characteristics that make it more compatible with different styles and preferences.


A fixed-pin sight is the most common type used by bowhunters. Most have three to five pins, each of which can be set for a particular distance. The top pin is for the closest distance, the lower pins are for longer distances. Once set, the pins are tightened and remain in position during use.

For those who take their time and set each pin just right, fixed-pin sights yield excellent results, and are reliable and easy to use.

If you set your pins for 20, 30 and 40 yards, the most common configuration, you’ll have to split the difference and hold somewhere between two pins when your target is not at the exact distance the pins are set for — a relatively easy task.

With today’s fast, flat-shooting bows and targets less than 40 yards, the gray area between pins is less critical than it used to be.

Arrows drop much faster for archers shooting lower draw weights or heavy arrows, however. For those shooters, or anyone who wants spot-on precision, a sight with a moveable pin is a great solution.

These sights usually have a single pin that is adjusted before each shot. The moveable pin allows the entire sight housing to move up and down so the pin can be adjusted for any distance before each shot.

At the rear of the sight bracket, a small adjustable pointer indicates the yardage along a graduated scale or a series of hand-drawn marks on white tape. Each mark represents a known yardage.

If you come upon a target 30 yards away, move the pointer to the 30-yard mark and shoot. The moveable-pin sight can be adjusted to any distance by moving the pointer, but it’s up to the shooter to set the markings for various distances before bow season.

Most whitetail hunters set the moveable pin to be dead on at 20 or 25 yards, then hold a bit high or low as required on typical shots at deer.

The advantage of multiple-pin sights is there is nothing to move or go wrong. The disadvantage is you have to remember to use the correct pin for the distance to the target — not always easy to do under the effects of buck fever.

The advantage of a single moveable pin is you will never have to think about which pin to use. The disadvantage is you have to remember to move the pin to the correct yardage before the shot, or compensate and aim high or low according to the situation.

While both sight types have their proponents, far more archers choose multiple-pin sights than any other design.

How to Choose a Bow SightSIGHT PINS

Virtually all hunting sights employ fiber optics. Primarily designed to carry digital information over long distances, at the core of a fiber optic cable is a strand of optically pure glass or plastic. Surrounding the optical glass is a special coating called cladding, which reflects the light back into the core. When the translucent cable is exposed to sunlight or any other light source, light gets trapped in the core of the cable. At the end of the cable, where the core is exposed, the light is able to escape.

This creates a wonderful phenomenon that makes the tip of the cable appear to light up as if powered by a battery. The longer the fiber-optic cable, the more light it can gather and the brighter the tip becomes.

That, of course, makes them perfect focal points for bow sights.

Sight pins come in a variety of sizes, the most common being .010, .019 and .029 inch. Larger pins are brighter and easier to see but can cover the target when shooting long distances.


Many mid- to high-grade sights have an integrated bubble level. The level helps alert a shooter he’s canting the bow. If your bow leans to the right at the top, your shots will land a little right. If you cant to the left, your shots will land slightly left.

Many shooters cant their bows without ever realizing it, and a bubble level is a great solution to the problem. The only downside is aligning the bubble level adds an extra step to your aiming process. If you practice enough, you can use the level and correct your shooting form long before deer season. Then you won’t have to look at it when it comes time to take a shot.


A gang adjustment allows you to move all the pins at once. Gang adjustments can be for elevation or windage. Gang adjustments generally are made by loosening a screw and sliding the sight housing to a new position. Some sights have a micro-adjust feature, usually a simple gear that drives the motion of the housing via an adjustment knob. Instead of sliding the sight housing, you simply turn the knob or screw.

Micro adjust sights are precise and easy to work with. Gang adjustment is particularly handy for fine-tuning a setup. Because most shooters generally don’t change the distances for which their pins are set, it’s convenient to be able to adjust the entire set of pins up or down, or left or right after making changes to a rest or when adjusting for broadhead flight.


In states where it is legal — and not all states permit this — many bowhunters employ some sort of light to illuminate their pins in the fading light of dawn and dusk. Most lights are battery powered and can be screwed directly into the sight. There are also lights that can be taped onto the sight housing. The sight light either shines directly on the sight pins or the fiber-optic elements of the pins, causing the pins to be visible even in total darkness.

A few manufacturers take a more unique approach, infusing their sight pins with small amounts of radioactive tritium. Tritium pins glow softly for years without the need for batteries.


As in all things in life, you generally get what you pay for. You can buy an excellent sight designed for whitetail hunting for anywhere between $75 and $125, although some can be had for under $50 and some cost upward of $200. I recommend buying the best sight you can afford. A good sight will last many years, often longer than your bow.

How can you beat that?

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This article was published in the August 2011 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Subscribe today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.

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Copyright 2020 by Buckmasters, Ltd