Your selection of a bow sight is a very personal thing, and various sight designs exist to match your needs and the way you shoot. There is slight overlap but generally you can split the sights into three main groups: Recurve Sights, Compound Target Sights and Hunter Sights.


Generally the recurve sights are very light, like the Shibuya carbon fibre solutions. Long dovetail bars because the general distances are pretty far. There are no peeps in the string, so the scopes are also pretty small. Adjustment is usually through adjustment knobs with click stops for elevation and windage and the various sights will have more or less click stops for a certain amount of adjustment. How much movement you want or like is very personal, but a fine adjustment is nicer as you get better.

The other side of the spectrum is the hunter sights. These are generally a lot shorter, have rougher adjustment settings and comes in al shapes and sizes and configurations.

The most basic has a line of pin sights (3 or 5) running in a straight vertical line inside the scope. The top most pin is set as your closest distance, and the pins below are then adjusted to match preset distances (20 yds, 30yds, 40yds, etc) the archer the simply choose the pin closest to the distance they will be shooting at.

Alternatively, you get a single pin sight that is moved up and down with the help of an adjustment system with a “sight tape” the distances are marked on a sight tape and the sight is adjusted to the distance that the archer wants to shoot. This is more accurate in arbitrary distances, but requires that the archer already know the distance they want to shoot at, before pulling the string back.

CBE makes a “TEK-Hybrid” sight, which is “best of both worlds” sight. It has three pins as well as the sight tape. The Sight tape is created on the middle pin, and the top and bottom pins is set 5yds shorter and 5yds longer. So when you go hunting, for instance, and you have the buck set out on 37yds, simply move your sight to the 37yd marker… If the animal starts to slowly graze away from you, you can switch to the bottom pin to compensate for the extra distance… If the animal moves closer to you, you switch to the top pin… Al this can be done on the fly, without needing to let down and re-adjust the sight.

The longer distances you need to be able to sight in, the further your sight needs to move away from the bow riser, so a 4″ bar (your sight head or scope sitting about 4 inches away from the riser) is adequate for most hunting situations but for target archers that shoot to 90m (about 100yds) the distance needs to increase quite a bit. The simple reason is that as your bow angle changes to compensate for the increased distance, the chance of hitting the scope with the arrow fletches increases.

Generally the target archers also has more adjustment vectors in their sights. The standard elevation and windage (left and right) but many also has a third angle adjustment (for shooting at angles) and the extension bar or v-bar can be extended or shortened to compensate for torque during windy conditions.

Most target archers will also shoot with a lens in their scope, ranging from 2x to 6x enlargement. The benefit is that you can see the targets enlarged, but the disadvantage is that although “bigger” the sight picture may now be blurred (depending on the target distance and enlargement of the lens) basic physics doesn’t allow a sharply focussed picture at all distances, so many archers will choose an enlargement and clarifier solution that matches the distance they shoot most (18m/20yds for indoor setups and 50m for outdoor FITA – 50m covers 25% of a 1440 round and 100% of a 720 round)

Scope with Dot on a 6X Lens
Scope with Dot on a 6X Lens

As for the actual sighting point, some people prefer a pin, some a dot, and some a donut (or a combination of a dot and donut) the size and placement depends a lot on the particular archer’s shooting style.

I mentioned clarifiers earlier. These are placed in the peep and are small lenses with a certain magnification to match the lens in the scope. Again, I need to stress that you can only get good focus for a single distance, acceptable focus decreases as the distance shortens or lengthens past that point. An alternative to a clarifier is just a very small peep. It functions exactly like a pinhole camera, but has the distinct disadvantage of not being able to see the whole front scope (and therefor, the bubble or spirit level) in bright light.

The advantage is that if you shoot in the rain, and the peep gets wet, you can blow the water out, and it doesn’t cloud your clarifier lens.


Aiming for compound bows are done circle inside circle… So the scope, centered inside the circle of the peep, with the spot or pin on the target.

You do get peep-less solutions like the IQ sights that has a small tube on the scope… The tip of the tube is colored and unless the sight is lined up perfectly, you cannot see the whole circle inside the tube. This works really well for shooting in the dark, like dusk and dawn, but takes a bit getting used to.

Recurve archers do not have a peep either, and their whole aiming solution is carried by effectively and repetitively having perfect anchor points.

Bugger me… Why does this happen?!

Why does the sight picture change during the day?
Your eye is completely dynamic. That means that the iris of the eye closes up in bright light and opens up in the dark, as it gets darker, you will notice that you see more and more of your front scope, and that is simply because of the angle of diffraction through the peep sight.

For this reason the higher end archers tend to change their setup to have different peep sights for indoor and outdoor competitions.

Why does the sight picture change as light angle change?
This has to do with the amount of light your eye has to work with, but also due to your brain trying to help you out and project depth and distance according to light and shadow.

Optical illusions from PurpleSlinky

Deeper shadow in between light shadows tells your brain there is a deeper space or longer distance without light reflecting into the spaces simple 3D. The problem is that more light on a side of a target, for instance, or the side of your scope or peep, makes your brain believe that the shape in front of it is oval, and not circular (Just like the staggered squares in the image to the Left, creates the illusion that the lines are bent). You will automatically adjust to the centre of the non-existent oval, generally leaving you aiming slightly left or right because of the perception created with highlights and shadows.

Frankly, your brain can’t be trusted, but years of training will be very difficult to override one minute, and use the next. You might find it easier to simply live with it and adjust your sight for this specific setting (or adjust your sight placement)

Adding hoods on your peep and over your lens/scope also helps for this.

Text and Images ©Sean Nel

Thank you to Archer’s Edge for supplying the Sights for this article. Please contact them if you need more information!

Recurve Sight from Shibuya
Recurve Sight from Shibuya
4-pin “Hunting” sight
“Sight tape” on a Quick adjust yardage wheel
Single pin for Hunting or Target Archery
Single pin for Hunting or Target Archery
CBE Vertex Target Sight
CBE Vertex Target Sight
Visual Allignment sight (no peep)
Visual Allignment sight (no peep)