LAST UPDATED: May 1st, 2015
There is no denying that bowhunters are extremely lucky given the equipment choices we have these days. All you have to do is step into an archery shop or do a quick search online and instantly you will be taken back by the vast amount of gear to choose from. With summer coming to a close and hunting season opening up I thought it might be a great time to discuss a few of the bow sight options that are available and why I stand behind one particular method.
The two main types of bow sights are fixed pins (usually a stack of pins ranging from 20-60 yards) and a moveable slider type (allows the pin to be adjusted to the exact yardage) that could either be set up as a single pin or multiple pins with a “floater” pin (which enables you to adjust for yardages past the bottom pin). Right away there are a lot of advantages to each variation.
Not only are moveable, single-pin sights useful for big-game, they are also very effective when hunting small game.
It goes without saying that the market is dominated by fixed pin sights. Fixed pin sight popularity is rightfully earned due to hunting shows, magazines, and the vast number of bowhunters accustomed to hunting in the Midwest and East coast. I guess I am one to buck the system, since I have always tried to find the perfect means to pumping out accuracy and improving my chances for a clean kill each year, even if it means modifying a product to better suit my needs. Needless to say, I am a huge fan of moveable sights. I will do my best to explain why I choose them. Even long-standing fixed pins users may see the benefits of using a moveable slider type sight. If not, that’s ok, just remember you should always shoot what is the most comfortable to you.
When setting up a fixed pin sight, pins are normally set for 10 yard increments. But how often have you had a deer stop or bedded down at 20, 30, or 40 yards for a shot? I can’t think of many shots that I have had while bowhunting that have been easy whole number yardages. It is for this reason that I normally practice at varying distances- I can adjust my moveable sight to any yardage and can know what my setup does at each location.
Choosing the right pin in the heat of the moment is one of the major disadvantages of the multi-pin bow sight when compared to a single-pin model.
For odd yardages that don’t exactly fit on your pins, it is easy to say that you will just hold over or under your 40-50 yard stack of pins if a deer was at 44 yards. But can your mind truly grasp the concept of selecting the right pin and which one to hold over or under when you are already shaking with adrenaline with that trophy of your dreams in front of you? What I would guess (and have experienced myself when I used fixed pins while hunting) is that you will be so drawn into the moment that you will forget to hold your 40 yard pin high enough and you will possibly shoot under the deer or select the wrong pin.
Let’s take this example and stretch it out a bit. You’re spot and stalk hunting for antelope. You have crawled on your stomach for hours and are now at 65 yards from a buck that is bedded parallel to your location with no wind and the buck is facing away from you. You have been practicing out to 70 yards all summer and are fully confident with this type of shot. Your pin gap at this distance is increasing. Can you effectively hold between the 60 and 70 yard pins and get the correct yardage for the shot? Also, this pin gap will be magnified if you’re shooting a slower bow.
I really dislike the idea of gapping pins for the mental aspect and difficulty of getting pins gapped correctly when you start increasing in yardage. This is a perfect situation where a moveable sight would have been valuable because the antelope was unaware of your presence, and you had time to range and set your sight to the correct yardage.
Fixed-pin sights come in many different variations, with configurations of pins in a vertical line coming from the top or bottom, or coming from the right or left side of the scope housing. However, they all have one thing in common…..clutter!! With the increase in the number of pins you will create blind spots due to the pins obstructing your view. I prefer to keep my entire sight picture as clear as possible, which is why I choose to use a single pin moveable sight over a fixed pin or hybrid fixed pin moveable sight. Also, when you have four, seven, nine, etc. pins in your scope housing, it can lead to confusion when you’re trying to decide what pin to use. From a clarity standpoint, the best situation here would be a vertical stack of pins or a single pin. Difficulty can arise during these situations when you’re looking to find that fourth pin from the top, or that red pin next to the orange pin. Even numbering your pins with tiny pieces of paper is confusing and further adds to cluttering up your sight picture.
More pins not only lead to confusion but a cluttered sight picture as well; making it hard to see the target in certain conditions.
While shooting at archery shops or outdoor ranges, I can usually count on eventually hearing something like this while someone is practicing: “dang…I just used my 50 pin instead of my 40 pin,” as I watch their arrow sail beyond the target. Another thing to consider with today’s bows reaching speeds upwards of 340 fps is that pin gaps are going to be extremely small. This means that your 20, 30, and 40 yard pins might be stacked next to each other making it tough to decipher which pin to use. This would also be further emphasized based on how close your sight housing is to your riser. The closer your sight housing is, the smaller the yardage gaps will be; the further your sight housing is from the riser, the larger the yardage gaps.
Moveable sights are too slow?
I often hear people say that moveable sights are too slow, and they will cost them a shot if they try to range an animal, move the sight, and then come to full draw and release. It is a common misconception that you only have a few seconds to draw back and release an arrow. If you have time to range an animal, then you have time to adjust a sight to the correct yardage. With practice it becomes second nature to range and adjust your sight. Surprisingly you can do all this with minimal movement.
Downsides to moveable pin sights
Let’s say you have a buck at 30 yards, you draw your bow back, and he busts you. The deer spooks and runs out to 40 yards, stops and turns back to give you a another chance at a quartering away shot. With a multiple pin sight you can just raise your bow up to your 40 yard pin and release. With a single pin adjustable sight you would either have to guess on the 40 yard shot, let down and readjust your pin, which will most likely spook the deer, or develop a pin to use for close encounters and know the drop or rise of the arrow.
How to beat those situations
For those situations when you cannot move your sight on an approaching animal while using a single pin adjustable, you can set your sight ahead of time. This is determined by your bow’s speed. This yardage mark is set to optimize your high and low marks for a set of distances. This is where having a computer software program will aid in what yardage mark to use. You want to find the optimum pin setting to use that will lead to being a few inches high at your low mark and a few inches low at your high mark. This will enable you to get a shot off if an animal comes in really fast (elk hunting), or if you’re at full draw and an animal spooks and stops at a reasonable distance away.
For an example, a bow shooting 311 fps, based on how the bow is setup, the optimum pin setting would be 34 yards. At this setting, it will be 1.75” high at 10 yards, 3.69” high at 20 yards, spot on at 34, and -3.96” low at 40. Each setup is different, and you can select what pin to use based on what you are comfortable doing. After using an archery computer program, take your mark export and take it to a range and practice to visual inspect if the marks the archery software gave you are accurate.
In order to overcome close range and long range shots that happen too quickly for a change in pin setting, become intimately familiar with where your arrow impacts at varying distances prior to the hunt.
Since this can be a difficult task, you are going to want to practice taking shots with your single pin setting at various distances, to avoid guessing your hold over or under for a single pin set at a close yardage. Practice using your pin at 40, 27.5, 10, 20, etc. Once you have figured out the optimum pin and know what it does at various distances you can be prepared for those fast situations when you cannot move your pin. If you practice effectively, there is no guessing.
Do not just hold your pin at a given distance and expect to be low or high and still in the kill zone. The mentality that a speedy bow can have one pin to 40 is clearly not true. It just isn’t the smartest thing to assume. With such a small vital area of any species, there are just too many possibilities for error to blindly say “I will hold a little high or a little low depending on the yardage”. This optimum single pin setting that I spoke of is the one instance where a single pin acts like a fixed pin since you are holding over for in-between yardages. Take the time to practice at each distance, even if you use a computer program to calculate your arrow drop to verify where you need to hold your pin to make a clean shot in a quick situation. Remember, if given the time, you can always just move your pin.
A Different Option
Another method would be to utilize a multiple pin adjustable and only use a few pins to avoid clutter. So you could set your pins at 20, 30, and 40 yards and have your 40 yard pin be your slider. Doing this will have your sight tape going from 40 yards and continue to your end distance. This is a great way to cover the short yardages for those quick scenarios when you can’t adjust the sight.
Through personal experience, I have found that if you are about to take a longer shot, you will have time to range and move the pin, simply because you are not going to rush a longer shot. Also, the animal will most likely be relaxed and unaware of your presence.
Advantages of a moveable sight:
Clear sight picture (better view of target with less clutter)
Won’t use the wrong pin
Precise aiming (micro dial pin to correct yardage)
Single object to focus on
More field of view
Faster target acquisition
No pin gapping
Advantages of a fixed pin sight:
Quickly move to a different pin if animal moves to different yardage
Less perceived movement (game might not see you)
Author Brady Miller recently harvested this incredible antelope with the help of a single-pin adjustable bow sight.
While utilizing a moveable sight may seem like a daunting task, once you get used to it you will have a reliable setup that can cover any situation you are presented with. Whether it is treestand hunting, spot and stalk, or calling in animals during the rut, once you learn how to operate a moveable sight, it will be difficult to go back to fixed pins.