Bowhunting Tech Tip: Choosing a sight for a compound bow

There are so many sights on the market today geared toward bowhunting with compound bows, that choosing one can be a daunting decision. In this video, LAS TechXpert P.J. Reilly runs through some basic factors bowhunters should consider when they are picking a sight for their bows.

The selection process starts with deciding if you want a sight with one adjustable pin that you set for the correct shooting distance before drawing, or a sight that has multiple pins fixed in place for predetermined distances. Each type has its unique pros and cons, which Reilly discusses.

Reilly then talks about the importance of pin size, and the lengths of the fiber optic and the sight bar. All of these sight features have different options from sight to sight and manufacturer to manufacturer.

Cara Kelly: How to use a sight tape for 3D archery

Precision is critical to success on the 3D course. The archer who is the most precise with arrow placement is the one who wins the day.

You could certainly say that about any archery tournament, but precision is especially important in 3D archery since archers only shoot one arrow per target. And the shot distances vary from target to target. So there is no time for making adjustments on a given target. You get one chance to be perfect, and then you move on to the next target.

Sight tapes are key to helping archers achieve that precision.

What is a sight tape?

sighttape4

It’s is a sliver of paper, plastic or metal on a bow sight that allows an archer to properly adjust the scope or single pin to shoot targets at varying distances. Sight tapes account for the arrow drop from a specific bow, so they are highly individualized. Arrow drop is affected by a host of variables, including an archer’s draw length and draw weight, and arrow weight and speed. And as you might imagine, those variables can change dramatically from archer to archer.

Basically, a sight tape features 1-yard, incremental markings from about 15 yards to 80 yards or more. When an archer approaches a 3D target, he or she will determine the distance to that target, and then use a sight tape to adjust the bow sight to shoot at that range. It’s a critical piece of equipment for aiming exactly where you want an arrow to hit, regardless of whether the target is 24, 32, 45, etc. yards away.

Pro archer Cara Kelly says she’s “one of the most (diligent) individuals you will meet when it comes to sight tapes. It has to be absolutely perfect!”

She must be pretty good at it, given her long list of world and national titles on the IBO and ASA circuits.

She is the ASA’s reigning, Women’s Pro Shooter of the Year, and the Women’s Pro 2015 IBO World Championship winner, and is working to defend both those titles this year.

Here are Kelly’s thoughts on sight tapes.

sighttape9

LAS: What is your 3D setup for 2016?

CK: This year I will be shooting the Elite Impulse 31 for 3D, with a CBE Vertex 3D sight. I will be running the Shrewd 600 series stabilizers, same as in years past, with a 24-inch front bar and an 8-inch side bar. I will be using a Spot-Hogg rest. For ASA, I will be shooting the Easton Light Speed arrows, and for IBO I will be running the Easton ACE arrows.

LAS: What is your draw length and weight?

CK: I have a 27.25-inch draw length. I joke around that my dad put me on an arm stretcher when I was young! For the first time in years, since my shoulder injury, I will be shooting 51 pounds out of my Impulse 31. The draw cycle to the Elite bows has been a blessing for my shoulder, allowing me to be able to pull more poundage and shoot a heavier arrow again.

Many pro archers use computer programs to make their own sight tapes. They input a host of information pertaining to their bows and arrows, and the program creates a custom tape with distance markings that should match the performance of a particular bow shooting a specific arrow.

LAS: Do you make your own sight tapes?

CK: Yes, we use Archer’s Advantage to make sight tapes. It is important when using the software to ensure that all your information in the program is accurate, measuring your bow, the weight of your arrows, speed, etc. It is all critical to making a correct sight tape.

There are other programs you can work with to print sight tapes, such as those provided by OnTarget2! and Rcherz.com. Or you can select one from a collection of pre-made tapes, or you can make your own by shooting various distances and marking your sight location accordingly.

LAS: If someone is bent on making their own sight tape, what process would you suggest for them to do it?

CK: If you absolutely insist on making your own sight tape, take the time to triple check your marks before moving on. For example, one of the biggest things I find is that I may aim one particular way on a dot, then when I walk over to a 3D target, I may aim a little bit differently, causing me to hit maybe a yard to half-yard different. So make that 30-yard mark, then go check your 30-yard mark on a 3D target. It’s a pain to change your marks once you have laid out your entire sight tape.

sighttape5

LAS: Do you ever change sight tapes during a tournament? Or a season? If so, why would you change?

CK: Well, one time I got a new sight, and we forgot to adjust the sight tape to the clicks on the sight, making my entire sight tape off from 35 yards and out.

A competition sight moves by turning a dial that clicks to lock it in place. If a sight mark falls between two clicks, there’s no way to adjust the sight precisely to that mark.

I didn’t realize it until I was on the range – in a national tournament – because I hadn’t shot on the bales past 30 yards. Not smart. Lesson learned.

Always check your sight tape out to 50 yards after you put on a new one. I had to hit the breakdown bale and re-write out my entire sight tape. It worked out because I came back and finished second.

The breakdown bale is an area where archers can fix equipment issues that arise during competition.

I honestly have never thought about it until now, but that’s probably why I’m so (diligent) about sight tapes now!

LAS: At some point, do you check every single marking on your sight tape to verify it is accurate by shooting at each distance?

CK: Yes. As soon as I put on a new sight tape I start at 30 yards, then 40 and end out at 50, ensuring it is on. I then circle back going to 20 and back out to 45 to make sure it’s all good and ready to run. But it’s never absolutely final till I aim at a 3D target to ensure I’m hitting right behind my pin.

LAS: Do you stick with full-yard markings, or do you have a way to account for half-yards?

CK: I stick to full yards. If I think I need a tick more or a tick less, that’s where I find the need to use the half yard increments. I may also put a half yard on to aim at an upper 12 or the opposite for a lower 12.

Targets used in ASA tournaments typically feature two 12-point scoring rings inside the larger 10-ring. One 12-ring is high inside the 10-ring, and the other sits low.

LAS: Are there tournaments where you find your sight tape just seems to be off?

CK: I wouldn’t say there are particular tournaments that I find that to be the case. It could be more of where I tend to be aiming, and I may need to add a yard or subtract one.

Don’t be afraid to move that pin. If you feel you aren’t hitting right behind the pin and have nailed the number, make the adjustments.

LAS: Do you ever get to a target and set your sight using your tape, draw back, get on the target and say to yourself, “No, that setting doesn’t feel right?” If so, do you let down and adjust your sight? Or do you hold high or low to compensate for what feels right?

CK: Once you pull back your bow, you can’t reset your sight (under ASA and IBO rules). You are committed to that number you have dialed up, even if you forgot to set your sight from the target before.

I pay attention to where others hit, and try to play my yardage off of other arrows to aim at. Or if everyone has hit low, why not aim center and add a little for comfort?

LAS: Do you cover your sight tape during competition, so others can’t see how you’ve judged the distance to a target?

CK: It is an ASA rule that your sight tape is covered during competition. As a result, I have my sight tape covered for all 3D events.

sighttape6

Chance Beaubouef checks his sight tape, which is hidden behind a piece of Velcro tape.

I think it’s a respect factor. No one wants someone to see their sight tape, nor do I even want to catch a glimpse of one! What someone may shoot a target for could be 3 yards different from what I need to hit it, so keeping it covered is just a common courtesy.

LAS: Is it common for archers to try to look at someone else’s sight tape?

CK: It without a doubt happens, unfortunately and sadly! Just to keep everyone honest, keep it covered. It comes down to a sportsmanship factor. Be a true sport of the game and follow the rules.

How to set up your compound bow sight

As we near the end of the Nocked and Ready to Rock series, John Dudley talks about setting up a bow sight in this 11th installment. Dudley notes that simply attaching a sight to your bow and then sighting in does not insure consistent accuracy.

Dudley walks through the process of leveling the second and third axes on a sight. Doing this will allow you to know that your sight is is perfectly level, whether you’re shooting on flat ground, uphill or downhill.

If you don’t set the two axes, then your level can give you false readings. And if you cant your bow to move the level bubble to the middle while using a sight that isn’t properly leveled, then your arrows will hit wide of where you want them.

In this video, Dudley talks about a leveling tool you can use to help you with this process.

 

The three axes of a bow sight

Did you know your compound bow sight has three axes?

Did you know “axes” is the plural of “axis?”

An axis, of course, is an imaginary line around which an object rotates. To achieve a truly level sight – which is critical for accuracy – you have to account for all three axes.

Not all sights allow you to do this. Some are made to be simple, and so you have to hope that the three axes are level or darn close to it, based on the construction of the sight.

But many sights – especially those designed for target and 3-D shooting – do allow you to level all three axes. Do that, and you’ll know your sight is aligned for maximum accuracy.

You’ll know if you can level the axes on a sight because the manufacturer will proudly announce that you can. Or you might see set screws in strategic locations on the sight labeled with “2nd axis,” or something similar. If you don’t know if your sight can be adjusted to level the three axes, look it up on the manufacturer’s website.

Axis_Blog

The first axis runs from left to right in front of you, parallel to the ground. If you have a scope around your sight, then this axis would allow it to spin bottom over top.

The second axis, which many consider to be the most important, runs straight through the center of your scope as you would look through it. The scope would spin like the hands of a clock around it.

Failing to level this axis can lead to shots similar to canting your bow left or right. It might not make a huge difference at 20 yards, but the problems will grow the farther you shoot.

And the third axis runs parallel to your body through the center of your sight, so that your scope would spin around it like a top. When you’re shooting on level ground, the third axis means nothing, as long as your second axis is level. This axis comes into play when you have to shoot uphill or downhill. If it’s not level, the effect will be similar to canting your bow.

How do you adjust them all so they’re level? By using levels, of course.

There are many levels on the market made just for setting the axes on a bow sight. Most compound sights today have a level built into the scope housing, and you will use it in conjunction with others to get your sight straight. If your sight doesn’t have a built-in level, you’re going to have to find a way to attach one to your scope or sight housing through the leveling process. You’ll want it to sit on top or underneath the scope, perpendicular to the sight bar.

Use vertical and horizontal levels attached to your bowstring or riser to level your bow. It’s best to do this by clamping your bow into a bow vise. Once the bow is level, you can lock it in place.

new axis4

Next place a level on top of your scope housing, so it’s parallel to the sight bar. If it’s possible for you to do so, spin your scope until the bubble is centered. Now you’ve set the first axis. (Many sights won’t have an adjustment for this axis, and will already be leveled by the manufacturer.)

Next, attach a level to your sight bar so that it’s perpendicular to the bar. If your bow is level, this one should be too.

axis2

 

And so look at the level that’s in the scope housing, and which is also perpendicular to the sight bar. Assuming your sight has the capability, adjust the scope using the second-axis adjustment screws until that bubble hits the center, too. When it does, you’ve leveled the second axis.

new axis2

Now, tip your bow 45 degrees as if you’d be shooting at the ceiling or the floor, while keeping the bubble centered on your sight bar level. If your third axis isn’t level, you’ll notice the bubble inside your scope housing will shift to one side or the other.

new axis3

Make adjustments to the scope using the third-axis adjustment screws, until the bubble in the scope housing is centered. Your third axis is now level.

Now your sight is perfectly level, and you’re ready to sight in.

Sight-Pin Sizing: 6 things you need to know

Archery sights come in all shapes, sizes and configurations. One of the most common sight features you’ll see is fiber-optic pins. There’s a reason for that.

The fibers gather light all along their lengths, and that light makes the ends glow. So when you take aim with your bow, you’ve got a small, glowing light that you can paste on the target.

Years ago, before fiber-optic sights existed, archers used to dip the ends of their solid, metal pins into bright-colored paint to try to make them easier to see. The tiny plastic fibers work much better.

If you look closely at today’s fiber-optic pins, you’ll notice they come in different sizes. And so you might ask yourself, “What size should I have?”

pin size1

(This sight shows pins of three different sizes. The top is .029 inches; the next two below it are both .019; and the bottom two are .010.)

Ultimately, it’s a matter of personal preference, but as you make your decision, here are six things you need to know about sight-pin sizes.

  1. The most common fiber-optic pin sizes are .010, .019 and .029 inches. That’s 10, 19 and 29 thousandths of an inch. To a lesser extent, you can also find pins in .015, .040, .060 and .125 inches. The lower the number, the smaller the pin.
  2. The larger the pin, the more light it transmits. The smaller the pin, the less light it transmits. (That’s assuming the fibers for both are the same length. See No. 3 for the effect of length.) So big pins will still glow in low light, where the small pins could go dark. This could be important for bowhunters and 3-D archers, who each might find themselves in dark woods. Older archers, whose eyes maybe aren’t as sharp as they used to be, typically can see the .029 pins well in normal light; they can see the .019 pins with the aid of a battery-powered light; and they usually have trouble seeing the .010 pins under any conditions.
  3. Generally, the longer the fiber strand, the more light it’s going to absorb. You’ll see sights where the fiber wraps all the way around the scope – sometimes multiple times. All that fiber surface area is catching light, which is transmitted to the end you use to aim. A pin with 2 inches of fiber is gathering comparatively less light to transmit. It’s going to go dark well before the other one. (Take note that a crack in the strand breaks the light transmission. The pin head will only receive light collected between the crack and the head.)
  4. Many fiber-optic sight housings allow you to add a battery-powered light to make your pins glow regardless of ambient lighting conditions. Understand that, unless you can control the intensity of the light, it will make the pins seem bigger. So a .019 pin might seem like a .029 when you turn on your battery-powered light.
  5. The smaller the pin, the more precise you can be with your aiming. Large pins will cover more of the target than the smaller ones. So where a large pin might completely cover the 10-ring on a target, a smaller one might allow you to aim at spots within that 10 ring. The more precisely you can aim, the more deliberate you can be about where you want to place an arrow.
  6. The farther away from your eye that you move the pin, the smaller it’s going to appear. The closer it gets, the bigger it will appear. This is relevant when you consider the length of your sight bar. A .019 sight pin is going to seem smaller on a sight that sits 6 inches beyond the riser, as compared to one that’s 2 inches out.
    There’s a similar effect as you back up from a target. That target and your desired point of impact are going to shrink in your sight picture as you back up. The size of your pins, however, remains constant. That’s why some sights feature pins of varying size. They’ll have the largest pins for the closest distances, and then smaller pins for shooting longer distances.
CBE Tek Hybrid

(The sight above has a longer mounting bar than the sight below, which means the pins on the sight above will sit farther away from the archer’s eye than the pins on the sight below.)

 

HHA Optimizer Lite Cadet

Axcel Achieve RXL Recurve Sight

Lancaster Archery Supply TechXPert Dan Schuller describes the features of the Axcel Achieve RXL Recurve Sight in this video. There are two versions of this sight – one is made of aluminum, while the other is carbon.

Schuller demonstrates how to adjust the sight for windage and distance, as well as how to break it down for packing while you’re traveling. Take note that the sight does NOT include an aperture. That’s something that is sold separately.

CBE Target Scope Housings

In this video, Lancaster Archery TechXPert Randy Groff runs through the features of the CBE Target Scope Housings. These housings would have to be attached to a sight body in order to be mounted on a bow. Mounting hardware is included in each package.

CBE offers its target housings in two sizes – large and small. They also come with and without light vents. Choose one with the light vents if you want light to get to your pin, or without the vents if you don’t.

These housings come with a fiber-optic sight pin in one of three sizes – .010, .019 or .o29.

Groff also talks about the CBE lenses that can be used with these housings.

CBE Tek-Target Sight

Lancaster Archery Supply TechXPert Randy Groff describes the various functions of the CBE Tek-Target archery sight. Groff walks through all the windage and elevation adjustments the sight offers, and discuses how you can customize it for the bow you’re shooting.

The Tek-Target does not come with a scope, so you’ll have to add your own. It will accept just about any scope on the market.

Aperture, scope or pin: Which one for my sight?

So you’ve decided you want to shoot with a sight on your bow, and now you’re going to have to choose an aiming device. There are only three choices – aperture, scope or pin. You attach one of these to a sight body, and then use it to direct the bow so your arrow hits where you want.

Sight-Diagram

Take note – not all sight bodies come with an aperture, pin or scope. You might have to buy one separately, but you need both parts for the sight to function. So if you’re looking at buying an HHA Pro Scope, for example, understand that you would still need a sight body to attach the scope to your bow.

The aperture, scope or pin extends out in front of the bow, above the arrow, perpendicular to the riser. It must be adjusted to reflect the flight path of the arrow at the distance you’re shooting. At full draw, the archer places the aperture, scope or pin on the target to take aim. It’s imperative the archer’s eye and aiming device are on the same plane for every shot, to promote consistent accuracy.

APERTURE

These are small circles or squares primarily used by Olympic-style, recurve archers. The aperture might have a pin or a dot in the center, which is pasted to the bull’s-eye as the archer aims.

Spigarelli Black Aperture

SCOPE

This is a large round housing that mounts to the sight body, and it’s used only by compound archers. The scope might have a lens in it, which can magnify the view of the target anywhere from 2-8 times its size. That lens might have a dot in the center, which is pasted to the bull’s-eye, or there could be a fiber-optic sight pin or set of crosshairs in the center of the scope housing.

CR Apex Scope

PIN

A pin is a simple piece of metal or plastic, with a rounded end that serves as your aiming point. These days, the tip usually is the very end of a fiber optic strand. The strand gathers light, so that the aiming point glows. Sight pins can be used by recurve or compound shooters. A sight body might have just one pin, or several, which can be set at different yardages. Pins are especially popular among bowhunters.

TruGlo Pro Dot Pin

What’s better? A single-pin or multi-pin sight?

It’s possible to start a debate akin to “Ford vs. Chevy” when talking with a bunch of archers about whether a single-pin sight is better than one with multiple pins. We certainly don’t want to launch such a dust up here. But opinions aside, there are some factual differences between the two.

multi-pin sight

 

Here’s a quick rundown of things you’ll want to consider when choosing between a single-pin sight and a multi-pin sight for your bow.

FUNCTION

Multi-pin sights typically come with three to five pins that you set for specific yardages. For example, you might set a five pin sight so you have one pin each for 20, 30, 40, 50 and 60 yards. You’ll have a pin to hold dead on your target at each of these distances, and then you’ll have to aim high or low with the appropriate pin for distances in between. Those pins are fixed in place, and can only be adjusted with tools.

Trophy Ridge Volt

With a single-pin sight, you have one pin that’s movable. You adjust it up and down by hand to set it in the right spot for the distance you’re shooting. Such sights typically feature a “sight tape,” which is a strip of paper or sticker marked with different yardages. There will be an indicator pin on the sight that you move along the sight tape to the distance you want to shoot. As you adjust that indicator, your sight pin moves accordingly.

PROS

With a single pin, there’s no chance of choosing the wrong pin when you take aim. You adjust the pin to where you want it, and then there’s only one choice to make as you take aim. Also, many archers say the single pin gives them a cleaner sight picture, which makes it easier to concentrate when aiming. And no matter what the distance is, you can always paste your one pin directly on the spot you want to hit. There’s no need to aim high or low.

Trophy Ridge Drive SLider

Multiple pins allow you to adjust to different yardages without having to physically adjust the sight. Let’s say you’re bowhunting and a deer is at 20 yards when you come to full draw. Suddenly, the deer hops away to 30 before you have a clear shot. All you have to do is aim with a different pin.

Also, in situations where you can’t use a rangefinder to determine the exact distance to a target or animal, the multiple pins can act as a rangefinder. Through repeated use, you will learn how targets look at different distances in relation to your pins. Maybe a 3-D deer that’s 20 yards out fits neatly between your 20- and 30-yard pins. If you see air between those pins and a deer, then you know it’s more than 20 yards away.

CONS

Single-pin sights give you just one reference point for aiming. If your target moves when you’re at full draw, then you have to let down the bowstring and adjust your sight. Or you can gamble and try to aim high or low with only one reference point.

Some of these sights employ large knobs for making pin adjustments, and those knobs can make it difficult to attach a quiver to your bow. If you can attach a quiver, then it might be tough to access the knob to make sight adjustments.

With multiple pins, it’s possible to choose the wrong one. That is, your target is 30 yards out, but you accidentally take aim using your 40-yard pin. Also, you’re going to have to “shoot the gap,” which means you’ll have to paste a pin high or low of the point of impact when your target is at a distance other than the ones for which your pins are set. Any time you don’t put your sight directly on the spot you want to hit, there’s a chance for error. And some archers think having multiple pins gives their sight picture a cluttered look, making it hard to focus on just one pin.

COMPETITIONS

Take note that some tournaments might restrict to certain classes the use of sights with movable pins. At National Field Archery Association events, for example, several of the Bowhunter classes require fixed-pin sights with up to five pins, making sights with movable pins legal only for some Freestyle classes.