Tag Archives: Sighting In

Should I Practice Right Before a Tournament?

I got another email from one of my favorite students. (My favorites are the one’s who work hard and ask really good questions. S)

Dear Coach Ruis,
Today during practice, I was scoring extremely well. I had also fixed everything we went through last lesson, so I ended practice after 55 minutes. When I perform really well, is it still necessary to practice 1.5 hours – 2 hours?

Also, I’m attending a tournament on the 18th. Would it therefore be counterproductive to have a practice on the 12th (to hold to the “don’t change anything two weeks before a tournament” logic)?


I have had practice sessions as short as five minutes (after set up), so 55 minutes should not be considered short. The champion golfer Jack Nicklaus said about practice “Achieve, then leave.” You need to have goals for a practice and if you have accomplished those, why would you continue? This, I think, is good advice.

Practice sessions are best when short and intense, but often we have only a little time set aside to practice during any week (which can involve travel to and from a range, etc.). So, if you have set aside 1.5-2 hours of practice time, then you should use it. Practice on one thing, intently and intensely for 10-15 minutes. Take a short rest. Practice on something else … same way. If you get tired, rest. There need to be longer practices to develop strength and stamina but not close to a tournament as that could lead to muscles being sore during a competition.

Regarding that five minute practice, it was the day before the travel day to a state field championship. I drove to my club’s range, set up at the practice butts, and picked the 60 yard target to shoot at. I shot one arrow, an X. I shot another right next to it and a third making a tight group of three arrows in the target. I walked up to the target, observed my rather good group, pulled the arrows and went home. I was prepared physically and mentally. All of my equipment and sight marks had been checked and re-checked. All I needed was some re-assurance that I was ready. I got it and went home.

There is lots to learn here. For example: should you shoot a practice round a few days before the tournament? The recommendation is “no.” If you shoot a good score, what does that tell you? Probably nothing you didn’t already know. If you shoot a bad score? Now you begin to doubt and wonder if you are prepared. Neither of these will help your performance at the tournament. If you tend to shoot a lot of practice rounds, stop doing those the week before an important tournament.

The admonition to not change anything isn’t an admonition to not practice. People show up at major tournaments a day or days before its start to practice on site. You are being encouraged to not change anything without reason. So, if your bow string or its center serving breaks, should you change it? Of course you should. But you must take care to “shoot it in” and check your marks/crawls, etc. Should you entertain a major change in your shot? No! major changes should be carefully planned and undertaken and will take quite a bit of time for you to make the transition from the “old normal” to the “new normal” forms. These are the kinds of changes you do not want to make close to an important tournament.

“Not making any changes two weeks before a tournament” is good advice but ask yourself “If something is really wrong with my shot, should I just ignore that and go to the tournament anyway?” I suggest not. Which is more important “shooting correctly” or “shooting in some tournament?” I argue that shooting correctly is vastly more important. I argue that you might just want to make that change and forgo the tournament. Think about this: tournament pressure raises your intensity and “burns in” what you are doing. If you truly believe that what you are doing now needs to be changed, why would you want to make it harder to change?

I hope this makes sense,



Filed under For All Coaches, Q & A

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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Q&A To Cant or Not to Cant, That is the Question

QandA logo Coach Kim Hannah of Chicago, IL writes in with a question one of her students came in with: “In my abundant free time (kidding) I have tracked down some DVDs on instinctive shooting. I have noticed that when explicitly or implicitly they all shoot with a slight cant of about 15 – 20 degrees or so . . . not the straight statuesque position of Olympic archers. What do you make of this?

I like inquisitive students and this is a good question! The answer depends on whether your audience is comprised of target shooters or bowhunters. Bowhunters tilt their bows, typically top limb to the right if right-handed for a couple of reasons. This technique, called “canting the bow” allows the archer to see more clearly the bowhunter’s prey, basically because the bow is no longer in the way. Most importantly, it allows both eyes to clearly see the target, providing the binocular vision required for accurate distance estimation.

Now traditional bowhunters, hunting this way (it is not really “instinctive” rather learned through repetition), are not estimating distance using formulas or schemes involving conscious thought but are doing it subconsciously. No matter how it is done, without binocular vision, aka both eyes wide open and able to focus on the target, our ability to estimate distance is very poor.

Now, the reason target archers do not do this is this: when you cant the bow, the bow is rotating in your hand. If your bow has a typical recurve style grip section, it is rotating around the “pivot point,” or the deepest point of the grip. This means that the arrow swings in a quite tiny arc during the cant because it is very close to the pivot point. But if you are using a bow sight, the bow sight’s aperture is swinging in a much larger arc (because it is farther from the pivot point) and you have now messed up both the windage (left-right) and elevation (up-down) connection between the arrow and sight. In other words, the sight only works correctly at the exact cant that you sighted in with. Any other cant introduces error. Since all techniques are subject to “normal variation” (sometimes the cant is more, sometimes less), we have introduced another source of variation into our shooting which makes our groups larger, not smaller.

Consequently target archers are taught to not cant their bows. Placing our bows straight up and down is a direction we can find with some accuracy and variations from it cause small errors. The more we cant the bow, the bigger the error we are talking about.

Traditional bowhunters can get away with a sizeable cant (as much as 90 degrees!), because they are not using a sight and the benefits far outweigh the tiny error introduced. This is further an acceptable technique in that bowhunters are shooting at relatively short distances compared to target archers. Back in the longbow era, typical target distances were 60, 80, and 100 yards. Most deer are taken, for example, well short of 25 yards. Shorter distances means larger errors produce smaller effects in that, once an arrow is off line, the longer it flies the farther off line it gets.

As far as instruction goes, we teach all beginners to shoot with their bows upright as we are teaching target archery. Should the student want to try traditional bowhunting, it is not so hard to learn to cant their bow.

Hope this helps!


Filed under For AER Coaches, For All Coaches, Q & A

Helping Them “Sighting In” A Pin Sight

A great many young archers elect to use a pin sight, often because that is what Mom or Dad shoots and they had one to “hand down.” Last time we addressed how to teach your students how to use a sight, focusing first on “target sights.” This time we will focus on pin sights and about the sighting in procedure.

Foam Tape and Pins Bow Sights 45%Be aware, though, that some of your students may feel left out in that they do not have a sight to learn from. This isn’t a problem, though, if you acquire ahead of time some foam backed tape and some dress makers pins (see photo). Cut the foam tape into 5-6˝ pieces and stick a pin sideways through the foam (see photo again). For those wanting to try a sight, peel one side off of the foam and press it along the back of the student’s bow’s sight window. The head of the pin should stick out into the sight window (if it doesn’t, take it out and stick it into the other edge!).

This, then, becomes a bow sight with the pin head being the aperture. Moving the pin in and out where it is makes windage adjustment. Pulling the pin out and sticking it back in at another point changes the elevation. (Ta da!)

Getting Ready
As with the target sight, pin sights need to be installed. As a first approximation, the pins should form a vertical line (when the bow is held vertically) and that line should be directly behind the bowstring when viewed from behind and the string is lined up on the centerline of the bow.

Learning to Use a Pin Sight
This procedure is almost identical to that for the target sight, so review the previous article for that procedure. It can help to move all but the top pin down and out of the way but if this is a complicated process, skip it.

Shooting with a pin sight can be confusing. Many archers make the mistake of “using the wrong pin” to aim with, so some practice is required to use them well. If the distance being shot corresponds to one of the distances of a pin, you just line up the head of that pin on to the center of the target when at full draw. If the distance is between pins, you have to “interpolate.” If the target is at 25 yards and you have your pins set for 10, 20, 30 yards, for example, you need to line the center of the target with “half way” between the 20 and 30 yard pins. If it is 24 yards, then sight a tiny bit closer to the 20 yard pin from half way. ImaginatioiPin Sight Interpolations 75%s required (see graphic)!Pin Sight Stacking

If you are over the distance your highest pin, you may have to “stack your pins.” For example, if shooting 60 yards with a 50 yard (maximum distance) pin, you set your “stack” of pins so that the 20 yard pin is on the center of the target. Then you look to see where the 40 yard pin is on the target (representing ten yards high), that provides an aiming spot (a point of aim!) to place the 50 yard pin when shooting the 60 yard target. This is called “stacking your pins. Again, imagination . . . and practice are required.

It should be obvious that having pins corresponding to the shortest and longest distances is an advantage, but sometimes this is not possible. Planning out what distances are needed is something to do when “sighting in.”

Sighting In a Pin Sight
The procedure for setting the pins to correspond to distances is exactly the same as for the target sight except that with the target sight the aperture pin is moved to new positions for each distance, where with a pin sight you move each pin to its own location.
Sighting in is simple, but there is a great deal of tinkering involved. The procedure for “sighting in” (assigning sight aperture positions to all (or most) distances to be shot) is:
1. Start up close to the target (10 yards) so you won’t miss. The aperture being set will be high on the sight bar (typically the top pin in the stack set near the top of its enclosure). Using best shooting form, three or more arrows are shot aiming dead center at the target. Obviously, if the first shot misses the target altogether an adjustment is in order!) And if the arrows don’t form a group, it is a “do over.”
2. Make adjustments according to the following scheme:
(all orientations are from the viewpoint of the archer behind the bow)
a. If the group hit high, move the aperture higher.
b. If the group hit low, move the aperture lower.
c. If the group hit left, move the aperture to the left.
d. If the group hit right, move the aperture to the right.
The rule of thumb is: the aperture follows the arrows. (This can be confusing as this is exactly backward from what POA shooting calls for, so be patient.)
3. Repeat for the other distances, adding the next pin below to the stack for each increment of distance.
Be aware it is not necessary to sight in every distance. If you find a sight mark for 30 yards and then one for 20 yards, the sight mark for 25 yards will be very close to (but not exactly) halfway in between. Most people get 4-5 sight marks and then interpolate the rest.

Peep Sights Increase Accuracy Peep sights increase accuracy, not simply because they allow archers to look right through the string! When at full draw, the circular hole in the peep sight is visually aligned with the circular housing of the circular pin guard on a pin sight (if there is one) resulting in consistent alignment of the sight (and hence bow) with the archer’s line of sight. Peep sights are not allowed in all styles, e.g. Olympic style archery does not allow peep sights.

Also see Simple Maintenance for Archery by Ruth Rowe and Alan Anderson for more help.

Some Fine Points
If you look at any stack of pins what you will see is that the top two are closer together than any of the others. Plus the gap between pins 2 and 3 is smaller than between 3 and 4, which is smaller than the gap between pins 4 and 5 (see diagrams). The reason for this is that shot arrows are continuously slowing down (due to aerodynamic drag). The arrow is at its fastest just as it leaves the bow and the farther it goes the slower it goes. So the time it takes to get from 10 to 20 yards/meters is less than from 20 to 30 yards/meters. Since gravity is acting continuously and constantly the arrow falls farther between 20 and 30 than it did between 10 and 20, so the bow must be held a tiny bit higher for the longer shot, and so forth.

The key point, Coach, is if a student’s pin stack doesn’t look like that, there is something wrong. If one of the gaps toward the bottom of the stack is smaller than one above it, there is something wrong. And nothing is more frustrating to a student to be shooting good shots and having them land in the wrong place because their sight setting is wrong.

There is a diagram that can be used to check a pin stacks spacings. Here it is (below). You just hold up the stack to the array of lines and you should be able to find a spot where all of the pin “heads” land on a line. If one of them doesn’t while the others do, then that one is a problem.

In Conclusion
If you find yourself having to coach students using pin sights and you have never used one, you are in a bad place. Borrow a sight (or buy an old one on eBay) and set it up on your bow. You will find the experience helpful. If you don’t have time to do that, remember the foam tape and pin?

Pin Sighting Graph

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