Sighting in a Bow
Learning to sight in a bow is an easy but crucial skill you need to master. This step-by-step guide will help you get your bow zeroed in on the bulls-eye in no time.
Please note that this guide assumes your sight is already mounted to your bow. If it’s not, follow the manufacturers installation instructions. In most cases, the sight just mounts to the bow’s riser with a few screws.
Tools and Equipment Needed
- Depending on the sight you’re using, you may need a set of allen wrenches. The sight I use doesn’t require any tools but the process is the same either way.
- An archery target
- 3 arrows with field tips
- Elevation – the up/down adjustments on a bow sight
- Windage – the left/right adjustments on a bow sight
Before shooting your first arrow, make sure the top pin (if using a multi-pin site) is close to the center of the sight housing. It should come out of the box close enough but just make sure it hasn’t come loose and moved drastically from the center. This will help make sure your first test arrows actually hit the target.
The first shots will be taken at a distance of 10 yards. The reason for this is that at 10 yards, even if the sight is off, it’s more likely that you won’t miss the target completely. Plus, it’s easier to see the bulls-eye from this distance.
A lot of people recommend taking one shot, seeing where it hits the target, and then start adjusting. I recommend, especially for newbies, or if it’s been a while since you’ve shot, to shoot 3 arrows at a time.
A caveat to this is if your first arrow misses the target completely from an otherwise good shot. Then you’ll want to adjust (and maybe consider getting someone to help you watch where the arrows miss the target – high, low, right, etc.) Arrows ain’t cheap and are hard to find if you’re shooting outside!
The reason for 3 arrows is that you’ll know for sure that if all 3 arrows hit close to each other it’s a sighting issue and not just an errant shot. Even if 2 out of 3 hit close, that’s a good sign you need to adjust the sighting pins.
After you’ve shot your first 3 arrows, unless you’re really lucky, it’s time to make adjustments.
On a bow sight, you ALWAYS move the pin the same direction of where the arrow is hitting in relation to the bulls-eye. If your shots are high, adjust the pin upwards. Likewise, if the shots are left, move the sight to the left.
On some sights, including the one I use, the height and direction can be adjusted by moving the entire pin housing up, down, left, and right. My pins can be adjusted up and down depending on the distances I want to use but the overall sighting in adjustments are done moving the entire housing. This will likely be the case on yours if you have a tool-less sight with micro-adjustment capabilities.
After the moving the pin the direction/height of where you missed the first 3 shots, repeat the process. Do this until you are consistently hitting near the bulls-eye.
After sighting in at 10 yards, move back to a distance of 20 yards. This is the most common distance to sight the top pin in at. The purpose of the 10 yard shots was to get you close enough to hit the target consistently. Now we’re actually sighting in for use in the field.
Shoot 3 arrows at 20 yards just like we did at 10 and make the exact same adjustments depending on where you’re arrows hit. Your left/right (windage) adjustments shouldn’t need much adjusting with the change in yardage. But, you will likely need to adjust the elevation of the pins.
As you get closer to getting zeroed in on the bulls-eye you can start shooting fewer arrows at a time if you feel good about the shot. Once you hit near the bulls-eye, go ahead and shoot two more arrows and make sure they are close as well.
After you finish up at 20 yards, you’re almost done. Now, just repeat the process for the remaining pins. Most people will start the next pin at 30 yards, then 40 yards, and so on.
Paper tuning a bow is beyond the scope of this article but is something to be aware of.
Basically, paper tuning your bow will help make sure all components of the bow are optimally set. You basically shoot through a piece of paper (with target behind it, obviously). After shooting through the paper, you look at the type of hole that was made. This will tell you how straight your arrow is shooting. From there, any number of adjustments can be made. Your arrow rest, cams, knocking point, etc. may need adjusting.
Below is a great video explaining paper tuning basics. I highly recommend going to an archery store to paper tune your bow, especially if you’re a beginner. Ideally, you’ll have your bow paper tuned before sighting in but it’s not completely necessary at the start either. But, if you can’t get consistent groupings after sighting in and practicing, you may want to seriously consider carrying it in for a paper tuning.