Best way to sight in a bow: A Sight master-guide

Sight is a sighting tool, a reference point that an archer uses to aim at a target.

Sight is a manual device you attach to your bow. You set it up either with trial and error or with experience, to give you a picture. Sight has a dot on its aperture which you then align with the target, and take a shot.

Related Articles:

1. When to use a sight

Sight is just a reference point. It gives you an idea where you need to align your bow to shoot a good shot. But there are two parts to the story, as always.

First is the aiming and sight itself. If you are aiming right, then naturally you will be shooting right.

But the second part, which is more important part is the shooting itself. Your stance and form, if compromised anywhere in the shot will lead to a bad shot no matter how good your aiming is.

Especially for the beginners, usage of sight can be more of a distraction rather than an aid. Unless you have absolute control over your shots, know for certain what a good shot looks like, and how you should execute a good shot, you will not be able to use the sight for its intended purpose.

Sights in that case will be more of distraction than anything else. Because a lot of your energy will be going into making micro adjustments to your sight, which may not be necessary. It might be the shot execution that is at fault.

So, you should use sights only when you are absolutely certain and in full control of your shot process. When you nail down that part right, you can think about using a sight.

Read: Improve Your Aim: Using a Sight

2. Is using a sight cheating?

There is a very popular opinion that using sights in archery is cheating, and lot of people will criticize modern archers for using sights.

It comes from 2 groups of people. First group is traditional purists who think any more than a bare bow is a blasphemy. Archery has traditional roots and these people like to keep them and keep the archery as natural as possible.

Traditional English Longbow

Other group of people who say this are non-archers. They probably don’t know what the sight actually does.

Sight may look like a fancy gadget, but it is in no shape or form a crutch or replacement for aiming. Archers holds the bow in their hands and sight is mounted on top of it.

Read: How to Sight in a Bow the Easy Way

i. What exactly do you see when you use a sight?

What they actually see is a shaky and moving reference point, and that’s it.

If you want to replicate a the same feeling, make a dvd size hole on the wall. Move back about 20 meters while holding a laser pen and point it on that hole. That’s what happens when you use a sight as well.

Just like the laser is shaky and fidgety, so is the sight picture. It is not a high tech aiming device that augments reality AND you don’t see the path and trajectory of arrow mapped out, and the bow does not calculates what you need to do.

The sight is just a static reference point. You look at it, overlay it on the target, and that’s your sight picture.

What you see when you’re aiming a compound bow

ii. Is sight an autofocus tool or automated in some way?

There is a common misconception that sight tells you where to aim. It doesn’t. No sight tells you where to aim. You tell the sight where to aim at.

The sight doesn’t magically guide the arrow onto the target. Nor does it guide the archer or the user to aim at the right spot. You can point the sight at the target and aim at a completely wrong spot.

To make the sight work for you, you need to have fundamentals of form nailed down. If you don’t have the necessary skills to use the bow properly, sight will not do it for you.

If you give Ferrari to a really bad driver, he/she will not become an excellent city-driver just because of it. Even a good driver with normal 1990’s Ford will drive much better than a crappy driver with the state-of-the-art technology equipped in a modern machine.

iii. What it takes to use a sight?

Once you have a good handle on the form, which might take months, then you can start doing sight settings. Even while doing so, getting a grouping at long distances is not easy. Many archers cannot do a good grouping at long distances. Being able to do so already requires skill.

Archery requires practice, with or without additional accessories

This is the part which people don’t see and appreciate is the hours people spend practicing and training. To get the sight settings you have to go through this process. There is no shortcut behind this.

It takes lot of manual effort to get it right. And a lot of experience to do so.

Read: How to use compound bow sights

iv. Is sight a modern invention to replace skills?

For the non-archers who are so critical about the sights. Let’s look at the traditional shooting or barebow shooting.

People who do use barebow, still sight.

Four ways people used to sight in the past:

  • Gap shooting: Gap shooting basically is how much gap the arrow head should have in reference to target to hit it accurately. How lower or higher from the bullseye your arrow should be pointing for hitting it.

    People used to use arrow head as the reference point. Just like we use adjustable sights now, people of the past used to use arrow head and measure the position they need to aim at.

    If the arrows were flying above their enemies, they used to aim the arrowhead at their legs to get a chest hit.

    This is called gap shooting. It is most natural and obvious way of aiming used by archers that any new archer develops instinctively, whether today or in the past. People of the past after lot of experience had lot of reference points for different distances only using their arrow.

  • String walking: You always keep the tip of the arrow pointed at the center of the target. You change your sight settings by holding the string of the arrow from a different place depending on the distance.

    You might hold the string from lower or higher point depending on where your target is located.

    This is done by spending hours practicing and writing down the reference points.

    Modern archers who use this technique generally use stitches of their gloves or multiple nocking points on their string corresponding to the distance they want to shoot at.

  • Face walking: Similar to string walking, you aim the arrow at dead center of the target but you change the anchor point on your face.

    For example, instead of jaw, you may go to chin, or neck depending on where your target is.

    Same as string walking, people spend hours practicing and noting the reference point for face walking.

  • Markings on the bow: making markings on the riser of the bow which you can align with the bullseye was a very common method to aim.

    Depending on the target distance, either with experience or physically scratching or marking on your riser acts as a reference point which you can use to aim in a more precise way.

    In a way this is physical representation of gap shooting which provides more certainty and accuracy in comparison.

    It took lot of practice and experience for them to know where to mark the bow.
Sight in use

This is exactly what the sight do as well.

Any of these methods used by traditional and contemporary archers provides a reference point to aim at your target in a more precise way.

You spend hours practicing with a perfect form, you record each reference point, and you adjust based on the distance and conditions on the day.

Read: How to Aim a Bow without Sights

v. If we already have methods like these, why use sight at all?

Where these things differ, is the level of precision with which you can record your reference point. Gap shooting is a bit murky because even a little variance can mean your arrows going off by a wide margin.

In string walking and face walking you keep your arrows at the dead center of the target. However, even a little error in moving down the string or your face, or even a little variation in your form due to this practice can have some deviation at the target.

Sight is more measurable in comparison. You just need to move the sight to the number you know for that distance, and you are set to go while keeping your form and shooting process exactly the same each time.

Except for instinctive shooting, sight is a good and precise replacement of any of the method you can or will use to have a reference point.

vi. I thought all archers in the past were instinctive shooters

Not all archers are or were instinctive shooters.

In fact, most of the archers, who had some practice, relied on some method to aim more accurately. It was their job, their lives or food depended on it.

As a soldier or a hunter, you can’t afford to miss because of wrong judgement.

A lot of people have this perception that historically archers shot instinctively. After all, there was no “high-tech” equipment to aid in their aiming.

It is true for some regions and styles where you required faster and/or mobile warfare, where aiming and sighting would get you killed, but in many other styles we actually do have documentation for sighting methods. By and large, archers aimed.

Instinctive archery, because of our media gives them a certain charm and allure, is hard to resist. It feels like a supernatural power. However, most of the good archers in the past had good training, skills and techniques like sighting to aid them.

Basically, wherever speed was or is required, instinctive archery is used. While where precision and accuracy are in question, archers have used, or do use a method for aiming.
Instinctive Shooting Techniques from Striker Bows

3. How to use a sight

There are various kinds of sight in the market. We are going to look at sights commonly used in Olympic tournaments, those that go with recurve bows.

Sights may wary in their design, however the basic principles discussed here remain the same. You can adopt what we discuss here to your own sight even when it is different one.

Archery & Bow Hunting : How to Use a Sight on a Bow

PART I: Basics

i. Olympic recurve bow sight

Olympic recurve bow with sight

Sight consists of a long horizontal bar, attached to a vertical bar that typically has the sight markings. The sight block itself is removable. Sight block has an aperture.

Aperture is either a plain glass, or just a hole, and some form of pointer. A dot on a glass, or pins. Sight block has methods to change its elevation and windage. The exact method depends on the model.

Some have wheels for micro adjustments, others have screws which you loosen and adjust by hand. Sight is mounted onto a block that you screw to the riser. The bar is inserted into the block and secured by a large screw.

ii. How far should you fix your sight on your bow

The closer the sight, the bigger adjustments you have to make for it to work. The farther it is, even small adjustments are going to produce large changes onto the target.

If you want to have fine control over your adjustments, have your sight placed farther out on your bow. But that will also mean that even a small adjustment can take your shot way off.

Farther out the sight is fixed on bow, the more pronounced the effect will be for every minute adjustment

It allows more precise adjustments, especially when shooting at long distance targets.

Vertical bar can be adjusted as well. You can loosen the screws on it and move it up and down. This is useful when you need to adjust for very close or very long distances. You only do that in case your sight block cannot accommodate that distance range by its movement.

While setting your sight’s horizontal range, you should also keep in mind that sight can obstruct the target. So, check before you leave it mounted on the bow as to whether you are getting a clear view to the target.

iii. Measuring your sight settings

Principally, how sight works is you measure and record all the settings you make for a given distance. In the future when you are required to shoot that particular distance, you refer to your records and set your sight for the particular distance and take a shot.  

So, when you are setting your sight, make sure to mark down all the measurements and notch settings. Any small variation in it will affect your aim on the target.

The vertical bar on which the sight block moves is the main adjustment you are going to make to tweak for the distance. It is also the adjustment that you make when your groupings are coming above or below the target.

The Best Way to Sight in Your Bow

iv. Sight picture

Sight picture should also be consistent.

Sight picture should always be consistent

So, the view you see, and the sight in reference to your bow should be consistent.

A good way to do it is to have string as the reference for the sight. This is also sometimes called string picture.

Because you see both the string and sight when you are in draw position, having a consistent alignment of string in reference to sight will take care of horizontal axis deviation, while consistency in your posture takes care of the rest.

Whichever method you use, it is essential to use the same picture or point every single time, or, regardless of the sight you’ll see variation in your shots.

Consistent practice will ingrain the string picture in your mind and your brain will start to recognize the alignment before you take the shot.

To shoot the arrow on the target, you need to focus on the rest of the shot process, and sight provides you a point of reference only.

Read: Anchor Points and Sight Picture

v. Rules for setting a sight properly

Rule 1: Sight should be adjusted for a grouping rather than a single shot.

Adjusting for a grouping allows you to ignore bad shots

This removes the possibility of a single bad shot affecting your sight picture.

It may not be the problem of the sight but a bad shot, and adjusting based on that will lead to wrong or inaccurate results.

Thus, grouping is a better indicator to gauge how you should adjust your sight.

Rule 2: Adjust the sight is to follow the arrow.

Adjust the sight to follow the arrows. In this, move the sight upwards

That means, if your groupings are coming above the target, move the sight upwards. If groupings are below the target, move the sight downwards. If it is on the left, move left, if it is on the right, move right.

Why so? When you adjust the sight for any particular deviation, your bow moves in the opposite direction.

For example, if you adjust the sight up, you will be pulling the bow down to aim using your sight. This moves your arrow down as well, hence correcting its path.

PART II: Recording your sight settings for different distances

In order to use the sight, you need to know what exact settings you need to do on your sight for any particular distance.

To do this properly and efficiently you start at a distance that you know you’ll be able to hit the target from.

vi. Walk-back technique

Say you start with 20 meters. Shoot a group of 3-6 arrows using the sight. If it is a good grouping and on target, note down all the settings of the sight.

Things you need to note down:

  • Groove of the horizontal bar you set your sight
  • The marking number where your vertical bar is set
  • The marking number the sight block is set on

In case you have a good grouping but deviated from the bullseye, then make necessary adjustments to the sight by following the rule above.

That is, if arrows are hitting:

  • above the target: move the sight upwards
  • below the target: move the sight downwards
  • Towards the left of the target: move the sight towards left
  • Towards the right of the target: move the sight towards right

If you are not getting a good grouping, move closer to the target for more accuracy. Also check your form, because this is more of a shot execution fault than sight adjustment issue.

Now you walk back. Do the same thing for 30 meters, then 40, 50, 60 and so on.

Mark all the readings for the sight for all the distance ranges.

Now you are all set. Whenever you need to shoot for any particular distance, you know where to set your sight accurately.

vii. Recording aid

While adjusting the sight, you will often need to check on the target and see where your arrows are landing. You can walk to the target after every grouping and see where your arrows are landing. But that can be tiresome.

For about 10 meters, if your eye sight is good, you can check where your arrows are landing by naked eye. But things become problematic when we move back. You can’t accurately see your arrows, and walking to and from the target can be a big waste of time.

You can use binoculars (like this one) or monocular (like this one) to see where your arrow has landed from where you are. This will help you to make adjustments where you are standing and is much more efficient way of doing it.

The other thing that you can use is spotting scope (like this one). You can place it on the tripod near you and do your adjustments.

If you are going to go out and about for hunting, then a range finder (like this one) doubles as magnifier and for finding the distance to your target on the go.

These tools are also useful not only when you are adjusting the sight, but also when you are doing long distance shooting. It saves many trips to your target during your archery session.

4. Things to keep in mind when you use a sight

  • Measure your sight as accurately as possible. If your sight is a bit off, or you have to compensate it in anyway, then it defeats the purpose.
  • Don’t become fixated on the sight. Sight is only a reference point. And you may start developing target panic because you become too obsessed with getting your sight on target.
  • Get the rest of the shot process down perfectly well. Where to aim, and how to get it there are different things. If you are not shooting well, then it doesn’t matter where you aim.
  • Sight should not be the focal point of the eyes. The eyes should be focused on the target with sight overlays on the target.

5. In case you are not getting accurate results with your sight

Although you may have the accurate settings of your sight for any given distance, but on a different day, or in a different place the sight may not provide you the most accurate results. This can happen due to the weather and wind conditions.

Arrows are light and they are easily affected by high/low atmospheric pressure due to heat, or because of the blowing wind. This may land your arrows a bit off.

In that case, you need to make slight adjustments to the sight to compensate for those conditions. But if you have done your homework right and your sights are set properly, then these new adjustments will be very small just to offset the effect of wind and weather.

If you like this article, please share it with your friends on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.


2 thoughts on “Best way to sight in a bow: A Sight master-guide”

  1. Having looked at all these expensive sights I thought why not make my own ,it turned out very simple and very effective using a plastic card cut size with a guide hole . I simply velcrowed it to the front of the riser . Practice began at 10 metres ,having reached 40% accuracy I then moved on to 20metres carefully marking the position on the bow riser as a ref point again after shooting 100 arrows I can hit bullseye 30% Not bad for a piece of plastic , cost ZERO


Leave a Comment