I have been accused of a lot of things, but never of being kind to my equipment. Don’t get me wrong, I do not intentionally abuse it, but things just seem to happen. I slide down a hill on a hunt, the baggage monkeys at the airport toss it around, or it magically ends up on the bottom of a gear pile in the back of my truck. Maybe it’s just me, or perhaps I am just a victim of Murphy’s Law, but I have learned over the years to look for certain qualities in my equipment. With the arrival of summer comes the signal to work the kinks out of my equipment. I call it my R&D phase. If a piece of equipment is going to fail, I want it to happen before I cross state lines for a premium elk hunt or when I am staring down a monster whitetail. When choosing a new bow sight, here are a few must-have features to consider for function and reliability.
3 or 5 Pins
When deciding it’s time to purchase a new bow sight, I start by narrowing it down to a half-dozen quality models. Whitetails, like most game animals, will have to be within 30 yards for an ethical shot. Shooting a farther distance is not a problem; however, there are too many X-factors that could result in a less than perfect shot. I would rather let a buck walk than unnecessarily wounding it.
Therefore, a three-pin sight would fit the bill, if I were only going to hunt with it, and then only hunt short-range game such as whitetails. However, I love shooting 3D and NFAA competitions, where I am regularly required to shoot out to 80 yards, so I always prefer five-pin models. (Five is the maximum number of pins allowed for the NFAA’s Bowhunter Freestyle division).
I also consider a level to be a must-have for competition and hunting. Shooting targets and blacktails from California’s hillsides taught me the value of the bubble level. Many times, I lined up the sight and felt oddly out of place. However, the bubble does not lie and my brain does, so I learned to trust the bubble. I also prefer the level to be on top. Most hunting shots will be with a shorter-range pin. Having the pin on top keeps it in the sight picture.
I like fiber optic sights, but not too much fiber. I need it to collect enough light to provide a bright aiming point under any conditions, but not so much that it halos and blots out the target. The problem used to be the fragile nature of pin designs and more broken pins than I care to admit replacing.
Today’s best designs feature several inches of fiber optic cable making the pins bright enough to see easily without the halo effect. These designs also feature housings and clear acrylic covers that allow light in, but protect the fragile fiber optic. The last feature in this category a sight must possess to ride my bow would be stainless steel tube pins. These pins provide plenty of strength and protection to bust through brush or be raised and lowered safely from a tree stand.
A few decades ago, when I started shooting a bow, we centered the pin in the middle of the peep sight. This favored smaller peep sights for better accuracy and the mantra, “aim small, miss small.” Limited light transmission was the biggest problem with the smaller peeps and compounded by constantly having to change your anchor point. To center a different pin in the peep, you had to raise or lower your anchor point.
A round pin housing with an alignment ring allows archers to use a bigger peep for greater light transmission. This creates a clearer sight picture at distance and during low-light conditions. Round sights, with an easily identifiable ring, also make centering the entire pin housing a snap. The extended distance of the peep centering the sight housing prevents torque by showing small alignment errors.
A sight light is not an absolute must have and may be illegal in certain areas, so always be sure to check local laws before heading out. Most shots at game happen in the first few minutes of legal shooting light or the last. Typically, there is plenty of natural light to power the fiber optics during this time. However, on occasion when hunting under a dense canopy or in inclement weather, a little artificial boost is sure nice for old eyes.
Sights these days run the gamut of prices. Many high-end models are worth every dollar and others are overpriced and riding the coattails of quality models. Do your homework, check out the features that best support your type of hunting or shooting and check with archers at a local range. After all, nothing beats first-hand knowledge.