When Do Bowsights Work Best?

Last Updated on May 11, 2023.

In archery, there are two main methods of aiming - with or without sights. Humans have been using bows without sights since the first crude arrow was launched from a primitive bow thousands of years ago. Sometimes called instinctive aiming, shooting without bowsights is an ancient style of archery that is rapidly gaining a modern following.

Instinctive aiming works well for a wide range of shooting applications. However, aiming with bowsights is a more precise method. 

So, when do bowsights work best? 

This question commonly shows up on Hunter Safety tests and internet searches. 

The short answer: When you are shooting a target at a known distance (or can accurately estimate the distance). 

Like most things in the world of shooting, the answer is actually a bit more complicated. Let’s delve a little deeper into aiming a bow, so we can find out just how and when to use a bowsight.

What is Instinctive Aiming?

Usually used in traditional archery with a longbow or recurve, instinctive aiming is a way of “aiming without aiming.”

With this type of archery, you don’t need any pin sights, scopes, or peep sights. 

Instead, you look at your target and “aim” instinctively using eye/hand coordination.

The practice is a lot like throwing a ball. Plenty of athletes and non-athletes alike do that each day without the aid of any fancy aiming sights.

While this style of archery comes naturally to some (just like some people are better at tossing a baseball), it takes a while for most people to reach proficiency.

Although proponents encourage instinctive archers to “let the shot come naturally,” it takes hours of practice to master hitting your target at various distances. 

Experience is the best teacher when it comes to instinctive aiming. Just like parents play catch with their kids to help them master throwing a ball, instinctive archers will need to spend some time “tossing” arrows to really get good at it.

When to Use Instinctive Aiming

As interest in more traditional forms of archery continues to grow, more shooters are choosing not to use a bowsight. Archers in this category use instinctive aiming every time they shoot. 

However, some situations call for instinctive aiming whether you have a bowsight or not. 

For example, bowfishing often requires instinctive snap shooting. Quick, instinctive shooting is necessary to snag a fish that may dart away at any moment.

Instinctive aiming also works well for any fast-moving target. Lining up a pin and peep sight isn’t practical when you’re trying to stick a bolting animal. Instead, you need to point and shoot. Draw a quick line from the tip of your arrow to the target and release. This is instinctive aiming.

Instinctive aiming also works well for up close targets. When shooting arrows at point-blank range, pins and peep sights complicate the process and a point-and-shoot method will be more effective

Using Bowsights

Shooting a bow equipped with a bowsight is the alternative option to instinctive aiming. Most archers who choose to shoot a compound bow choose to use a bowsight to help them aim effectively. 

A bowsight mounts to your riser and is designed to improve shooting precision. Most modern bowsights are used in conjunction with a peep sight.

What is a Peep Sight?

A peep sight is basically a hole in your bow string. When you look through the hole, you will get a clear line of sight to your sight pin and your target. 

Peep sights really burst into the archery scene when compound bows gained popularity.

Today, every archery shop worth its salt will install some version of a peep sight on a new compound bow, although it isn’t uncommon to see a peep sight installed on a recurve as well.

The Advantages of Using a Peep Sight

A peep sight ensures an adequate line of sight that runs from your eye to your sight pin to the target. Peering through a peep sight also helps you focus on your target. It helps prevent you from being distracted by objects or movement around the periphery when you are aiming. 

A peep sight can also help you hit your anchor point more consistently. In the world of archery, consistency is king. A peep sight helps ensure consistency in line of sight while also helping you hit the same anchor point each time you draw your bow.

The Disadvantages of Using a Peep Sight

Once you learn to shoot with a peep sight, it can be difficult to shoot without one. Once you sight in your bow with a peep sight, you become dependent on it to shoot accurately and consistently. If something should happen to your peep in the field, your bow becomes practically useless. Sometimes a peep can pop out of place and become lost, especially if it was installed incorrectly. 

A peep can also fail to rotate properly. Even high-quality bowstrings stretch over time, and the process speeds up if you are a high-volume shooter. As the string stretches, it can affect your peep rotation and ultimately your accuracy.

Some hunters also claim aiming with a peep sight is more difficult in low light shooting situations, because it allows less light into the sight area. This can make seeing your target difficult near dawn and dusk, when game tends to be most active.

Types of Bowsights

There are a ton of different bowsights on the market. Some are better suited for target shooting, while others are designed with bowhunters in mind. Finding one that works for you will depend on your budget, style of shooting, and personal preferences. Here are some of the most common types of bowsights and what they are used for.

Fixed Pin Sights

Because fixed pin sights are the most versatile and affordable type of bowsight, they are also the most common. They are simple to set up and, when used properly, are highly accurate. 

A fixed pin sight features several multi-color pins. Depending on the model, the sight may have as few as three pins or as many as five (or more).

Some sights may come with a few pins, but allow you to add more if you need them. However, having numerous pins can be a hindrance as they clutter up your sight picture. 

Having multiple sight pins also makes it easy to mix up which pin should be used for a specific distance. It is best to limit the number of pins in your bowsight if possible.

The pins can be adjusted for certain yardages and then locked into place to prevent them from shifting. Adjusting the pins for the proper yardage can take some time and patience.

Once they are set, they deliver precision accuracy (when used with good shooting form) at the distance for which they are set. However, you will have to learn to compensate for the in between distances, which can take some practice.

Moveable or Single Pin Sights

Unlike a fixed pin sight with multiple pins for multiple distances, a moveable sight has one single pin. You adjust the pin housing by sliding it up or down to dial the pin to whichever distance you’re shooting. Most single pin sights have a white tape along the back side of the sight with marks indicating the right spot for known distances.

Adjusting the pin is quick and easy, but you will need to adjust the pin for each shot. This can be a hindrance for hunters, especially when a target animal is on the move. However, single pin sights are very effective for competition shooting, especially 3D archery tournaments.

Pendulum Sights

Although most pendulum sights use a single pin, they have one additional feature. These bowsights have the pin mounted on a pendulum inside the sight bracket.

Perfect for the deer hunter who hunts from a treestand, a pendulum sight provides a more accurate shot when shooting a downward angle. 

As the bow angle drops, the pendulum swings up outside of the bracket to compensate for the odd angle. 

Properly setting a pendulum sight can be complicated. Calibrating them properly requires an understanding of arrow velocity, which may be problematic for novice archers.

Competition Sights

Also called target sights, competition sights offer a ton of features. Designed for high-stakes competition, target sights allow for wind and elevation adjustments. Depending on the model, you may be able to incorporate a laser or other technologically advanced aiming tool. 

These bowsights are extremely accurate. They also tend to be bulky and impractical for hunting. Expect to fork out some serious cash for a competition sight. You might also need an advanced degree in archery sights to use one. These are pretty complicated and definitely aren’t intended for new shooters. 

Judging Distance

Bowsights work best when you know the exact distance to the target you are shooting.

There are two ways to judge distance. You can either use a rangefinder or learn to judge distance yourself.

Learning to judge distance takes time and practice. 

However, rangefinders sometimes malfunction and bow mounted rangefinders aren’t legal in all fifty states. Therefore, learning to judge the distance for yourself is a handy skill to master. 

Final Thoughts

Whether on the competition field or hunting in the woods, most modern archers have a bowsight mounted on their weapon. While a bowsight will help you make more accurate shots, they work best when shooting known distances. 

Even the fanciest bowsight is no substitute for practice. The best way to gain proficiency with your bow is to spend time sending arrows downrange, whether you’re using a bowsight or not.