Switching from a Pin Sight to a Target Sight

This is going to be a long post, so I apologize for that but if you are looking for help on this topic most of what you’ll need can be found here.

Some archers have a pin sight as a first sight because that was what was available or they bought their bow second-hand and it came with a pin sight. It can be bewildering even to experienced sight shooters when a target sight is adopted for the first time. Here are some tips for getting off on the right foot.

Target sights are preferred over pin sights by most target archers because they allow for a great many more sight settings. With a pin sight, you set up each pin for one specific distance and then for any others, you must estimate where the pins of the sight need to line up on the target. For example, a field archer with a 50 yard pin might put that pin on the bottom of the spot (instead of the center) when shooting a 48 yard target. This can be confusing, even for experienced archers; it is commonly heard that “I used the wrong pin!” when a mistake is made.

Target sights typically have scales on them that can be graduated in one yard (or 1 meter) increments. So, on that 48 yard target, you set the scale index on the “48” mark and then center up the aperture as usual. Every shot is made the same way and the sight picture is almost always with the aperture centered on target center. Of course, you can mis-set the sight and make a poor shot that way, but you can learn to not do that.

Target sights also allow for telescopic apertures (compound only). Telescopic apertures (“scopes”) magnify the target face making it easier to line up the aperture with the target and more exact, too.

Because of these features, there can be more to getting a good sight set up properly. Here are some suggestions for getting a sight properly installed and set up. (We assume the bow is properly tuned and shooting well.)

Installing and Setting Up a Target Sight
There are two holes in most risers to receive small bolts to mount sights. The piece of a target sight that gets mounted there is called a “Mounting Block.” Gently screw the bolts supplied with the sight through the mounting block and into the riser. We say “gently” because there is a possibility that the bolts are too long for the holes and you could damage the riser if you tried to drive home those bolts that are too long. If they screw all of the way in, fine. If they do not, consider putting a spacer between the mounting block and the riser. Some people say you should do this anyway, to protect the finish of your riser. (You can make one of these out of blister packaging plastic you were going to throw away anyway. Simply outline the mounting block on the flat plastic with a marker and cut it out. Be sure to cut out holes for the bolts to go through.) If you have to make multiple spacers to make your bolts fit, you probably need to go to the hardware store and get the next shorter bolt with the same threads.

Once you have the sight attached to the bow, there are some important adjustments necessary. One is that the sight bar (the vertical bit) must be parallel to your bowstring. A simple way to check this is to attach a Post-It note to the sight bar (lining it up with a vertical edge) and then sighting from behind the bowstring to see if the other edge of the Post-It note is parallel to the bowstring. If it is not, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for adjusting the angle of the sight bar relative to the extension bar.

You will also note that the entire sight bar can be moved up and down at the end of the extension bar, through the use of different sets of holes in the sight bar. If you need more room at the top of the bar, you can raise it or if you need more room at the bottom, you can lower it. If you do this, you will have to recheck whether the sight bar is parallel to the bowstring.

The last thing to do is to place an arrow on your bow and lower the aperture down until it almost touches the arrow. Then move the aperture in or out in the sight block until the center of the aperture is exactly above the center of the arrow.

This completes the basic set up.

So, is it now perfect?
In a word, no. What you have is a basic setup at this point. A number of companies make jigs by which you can make fine adjustment to the sight to make it near perfect. Even those jigs don’t make your sight perfect. For one, if the spot you attach the mounting block to isn’t perfectly parallel to the plane the string moves in, it may become necessary to adjust that fitting. For now, assume that many more fine adjustments may be made. Whether they are necessary is determined by how good your archer gets. The very fine points almost never present problems for new sight shooters.

Now what?
Now it is time to sight in.

Once that is done, your archer needs to shoot with your new sight until they are comfortable with it. New aspects of form and execution become necessary. For one, if they are using a “scope” it probably has a bubble level in it. At full draw and after finding their anchor, then, there are a number of checks to be made:

1.   Is the bubble in the level centered? If it is this should indicate that the bow is straight up and down, that is it is plumb. Of course if the bubble says it is but it isn’t really there is an adjustment to make the bubble agree with reality.

2.   Is the outside of the scope housing visually lined up with the circular opening of the peep sight? This is a step that makes sure that the peep and scope are centered on your line of light to the target. It is also part of the answer to the question: how far out should I extend the sight? The answer to this question is somewhat lengthy so we cover it in the next section.

Scope Concentric

How far out should I extend the sight?
Extending the sight bar out farther or in closer to your bow is a way to match the outer diameter of the scope with the inner diameter of the peep hole (you want a gap between the two circles). But extending your sight affects everything else, too. All of the sight marks will be changed. The magnification of the scope will change (a little). Your archer’s ability to aim will be affected. (For example, would a rifle shooter rather have the sights of a rifle at opposite ends of the barrel or one right behind the other? The farther apart they are, the better the aim; same is true of peep and aperture.)

Anything else your archer needs to know?
Actually, there is lots. For example, if you find that their arrows land to the left at short distances but to the right at long distances, do you know what is wrong? (The sight bar is at an angle to the string.) If at the farther distances arrows hit low but at the shorter they hit high, do you know what is wrong? (Sight bar was moved closer to the bow.)

There is lots more to learn, but it all doesn’t need to be learned at the start. These have been mentioned so you know that “things you don’t know can go wrong,” and that your archer will need to ask for more help.

Now As to the Coaches Part
The message we have for you coaches is this: you can learn a lot from books and magazines, like ours and “Simple Maintenance for Archery” by Ruth Rowe and Alan Anderson (which we have recommended quite a number of times) about how sights work. In the back of the Coach’s Guide to the AER Recreational Archery Curriculum we have instructions on how to install and use pin and target sights . . . but (you knew that “but” was coming, didn’t you), there is no substitute for experience.

You need to install one of these sights on your bow. Set it up and sight it in and spend a number of weeks shooting with it. You can get older, quality sights on eBay for very little money or beg, borrow or . . . (we aren’t going to say “steal”) acquire one of each type.

You can set up one sight and then set up the other and alternate using them: pin sight one day, target sight another.

Potential Hassles
If you have never shot with a peep sight, they can be a problem, a bunch of problems, actually. They are tricky to install. They are tricky to set up. They are tricky to use. Let’s look at this in more detail.

Acquiring a Peep Sight First of all there are two large factors you need to know before you can even buy one of these beasties: you need to know what diameter hole you want in the body of the sight and you need to know the angle the string makes with your eye. You don’t need to know the actual angle just whether the angle is flat or steep. Small axle-to-axle (ATA) bows (like the Mathews Genesis and shorter bows) need a peep that will have it’s hole vertical at full draw for that rather flat string angle, these bows require a 37° peep. Longer ATA bows get the old-fashioned 45° peeps. So, just put a tape measure on your bow and measure from axle to axle and if it is under 36˝, get the 37° peep. If it is longer, or your test bow is a recurve, get the 45° peep.

Peep Sights - SpecialityThe size of the hole through the peep sight determines a lot. One manufacturer has peeps with these hole sizes: 1/4˝, 1/8˝, 3/32˝, 1/16˝, 3/64˝, and 1/32˝. For beginners we recommend a fairly large hole—1/8˝ or 3/32˝. As you gain experience you may choose differently. If the hole is too large, it is hard to align it with the housing of the aperture; ditto if it is too small. Additionally, peep holes that are too small are hard to see through in dim light (dim indoor ranges, deep shadows under trees, etc.).

You can buy a brand new peep sight for just a few dollars. Some actually come with a little hood on them to keep the sun off of the inner surface.

Installing a Peep Sight Tools are made to aid you in this task but there is only so much out of pocket expense that one can abide in short order, so we will show you how to do this with no special equipment.

You need something to be able to separate the strands of the bowstring to allow the peep to be inserted between them, with roughly half of the strands on each side. If your bow is a recurve bow, you don’t need anything; just destring the bow and insert the peep when the string is slack. Then carefully rebrace the bow, maybe with someone else holding on to the peep so it doesn’t fall out during the process (or you can temporarily keep it in place with a piece of masking tape).

If you have a compound bow, the string doesn’t come off, at least not easily. (If you have access to a bow press that can press a compound bow safely so the string goes slack, you can use that but most coaches don’t have one of these laying around the house.) What you need is a popsicle stick or tongue depressor. A soft, flat wooden stick. Rub one end on a piece of sand paper until it has an edge, a dull edge, with no sharp edges or snags, etc. This can be use to open up the fairly tight bowstring. Push the wedged end (Gently!) between the strands of the bowstring. Be careful that you go between the strands and not through them. (The strands are made of plastic and they can be cut, this is why the edge has to be dull.) Once the stick is through, turn it sideways and a hole big enough to insert the peep into will be formed. Hold the peep in place as you gently remove the stick.

Where to Install the Peep This is a dicey bit. Since bowstrings have twists in them, if you don’t get the peep positioned correctly, if you try to adjust its position up and down on the string it will twist around the string and be facing in the wrong direction when you move it. The peep needs to be placed so that at brace the hole is aimed forward and upward at an angle (either 45° or 37°). When the bow is drawn straight back, the peep tips up so that the hole becomes horizontal, between the aiming eye and the aperture of the sight.

To get an idea of where to put the peep, draw your bow and look through your sight’s aperture at a target at a medium distance (if the bow is for indoors only, then the indoor distance most often shot). When everything is perfect have an assistant place a small piece of masking tape on the string in line with the pupil of your aiming eye and the aperture. Let down and draw several times to establish that this small bit of tape is right where you want the peep to be. (If you don’t have an assistant, you can do it yourself, but it takes a lot of trial and error to find the right spot (too low, too low, oops, too high, . . . ). As a coach, you will often play the role of “assistant” as you help students set up their peep sights.

Insert the peep and it is time to test it’s position. To do this, simply draw on a medium distant target with your eyes closed. Settle in at full draw with your most comfortable anchor. Then open your eyes. Your aiming eye should be looking right through the peep at the aperture. Hopefully there is a gap between the inside edge of the peep hole and the outside edge of the aperture housing. This is a checkpoint that helps you make sure your aim is true. If the outer edge is not visible, the peep hole may be too small (or too far way, or . . .).

Peep Tied InCompleting the Installation If you just proceed to shooting at this point you will run into a problem, namely the peep will more than likely pop out of the bowstring from the shock and or vibration of shooting. To secure it there are several methods, but we prefer the simplest. Simply tie on two nock locators, one above and one below the peep sight. Yes, this is done the exact same way you tie on a nock locator at the nocking point of the bow string. Once you have done this, slide the “nock locators” up against the peep. The tension from the spread strands will keep them in place as well as keep the peep from popping out. This method has the advantage that if the peep needs to be moved slightly, you can just spread the locators, move the peep, and then slide them back. A more secure system can be used when you have the peep exactly where you want it (involves tying the peep onto the string directly).


Practicing with a Peep
Once installed, it is a little hard to ignore, so it must be used. A basic rule of practice is to maximize the number of reps of the thing being practiced. The example we have given you before is if you are trying out a new stance, instead of taking your stance and emptying your quiver, you step off of the line after each shot, so that you get one repetition of taking your stance per shot instead of per quiverful. For peep practice, start by having your archer drawi to anchor, checking to see that the inside edge of the peep hole and outside edge of the aperture housing are concentric and then let down. Have them draw again, repeat the check, and then shoot. If their tolerance for boredom is high, they can do two, three, or four or more practice peep alignments before each shot. It will not take too many repetitions to establish this habit. Checking your peep alignment goes between “Find Your Anchor” and “Aim.”

Potential Problems
The biggest problem you will face is peep rotation. Whether the bow is drawn with fingers or with a release aid, the bowstring can have a tendency to rotate while it is being pulled (due to the twists and structure of the string). Your archer gets to full draw and, drat, can’t see through the peep because the hole is no longer lined up.

If shooting with a release aid, then the fix can be as simple as a D-Loop. If a D-Loop is tied on so that it lines up with the peep hole, when the bow is drawn it will rotate the peep into line.

If shooting with fingers, you need to see how much the string moves when they draw the bow, so watch the peep while they draw. If the peep moves 30° when the bow is drawn, the peep needs to be offset 30° the other way, so the rotation actually lines it up.

Emergency Fixes Sometimes during competition, a string stretches and the peep hole no longer lines up. Here is a quick fix. Simply slide the nock locators away from the peep. Figure out how you have to rotate the peep to get it to work and do this: take a strand from one side of the peep and swing it over to the other side:

  • If you take a strand from the right side and take it around the front of the peep it will point the peep to the left.
  • If you take a strand from the right side and take it around the back of the peep it will point the peep to the right.

If you already have too many strands on the left and not enough on the right:

  • If you take a strand from the left side and take it around the front of the peep it will point the peep to the right.
  • If you take a strand from the left side and take it around the back of the peep it will point the peep to the left.

When you are done slide the locators back up against the peep.

If you forget any of this, don’t worry, the peep will teach you what you are doing wrong!

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