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Compound bows can represent a step up for many archers once they’ve gained some basic experience. Others may start with a compound bow right from the off. Regardless of which stage of archery you reach before you begin to use a compound bow, you’ll need to know how to aim one.
So how do you aim a compound bow? Aiming a compound bow can be done with or without the use of sights, but most stock compound bows do come with some form of sight. These aids can be useful for lining up your shot, but they won’t do all the aiming for you. If you’re not using a sight, aiming is a more difficult proposition and relies on instinct and experience alone.
Let us now explore the art of aiming both with and without sights.
That way, you will know exactly how to approach it, regardless of what option you choose.
How To Aim A Compound Bow With Sights
This depends on exactly which kinds of sight that you’re using, and you can use multiple types of sight on the same bow. Many compound bows have a targeting sight on the body of the bow, usually with a series of pins that mark various distances. You can also find some compound bows with a peep sight – a small ring installed in the bowstring to provide additional aiming aid.
There are various types of sights that you can use to help aim your shot.
If you have both a target sight and a peep sight, you can line them up together to see your target.
The peep sight should be lined up so that you’re looking through both rings of each sight in a straight line.
A peep sight is a small ring that is set into your bowstring and will be level with your targeting eye once you’re at full draw.
A quick tip – if you have more distance between your peep sight and your larger sight, you may see your accuracy improve even more as you have more reference throughout the whole path of the arrow.
Some compound bows might also use a small bubble or spirit level within the sight to give you additional assistance.
Using the larger sight on the bow itself, you can gauge your aim using the set of pins protruding horizontally into the center of the lens.
These pins are used to indicate the distance to the target and are usually spaced to represent increments of about 10 yards.
The highest pin represents the shorter distance to the target, so take note of how far away you are and choose the right pin before centering it in the middle of the sight.
Now it will be tempting to release the shot as soon as you see the target line up with your sights.
While this is a natural instinct, it can sometimes not be the best way to aim the shot. Many archers do something known as “floating the sight.”
This means gently letting the pin move in a small figure of eight motion around the target, allowing you to relax correctly before firing.
Simply shooting as soon as you feel lined up can actually bring some unnecessary tension into your stance, which negatively affects your shot.
How To Aim A Compound Bow Without Sights
This is a much more difficult way to aim your compound bow, but it can be done. There are a couple of techniques that you can experiment with when trying to aim a compound bow without the aid of a sight, with the main two being gap shooting and string walking.
Gap shooting is a technique that focuses on refining the aim of your shots after you’ve fired each arrow or each round of arrows.
Essentially, it involves mentally recording where your arrow(s) hit the target on your previous shot and then adjusting the aim for your next shot accordingly.
Using your first shot as a marker, just draw and fire the arrow while aiming as best you can for the bullseye.
You might not hit the exact spot you want, but you can now work out where to place your next shot.
Let’s imagine that your first shot strikes the target about four inches diagonally down from the bullseye on the right-hand side of the target.
You’ve now got a clear indicator of several factors such as wind conditions, arrow weight, and so on. For your next shot, aim at the exact opposite spot to where your first arrow landed.
So in our example, we’d aim our shot four inches above and diagonally to the left of the bullseye. This is the basis of the gap shooting technique.
String walking is a method of aiming your compound bow without using a sight that focuses on the position where you are holding the bowstring during a shot.
By placing your fingers at different heights up and down the bowstring, you can influence and aim your shots.
In these instances, many archers who aren’t using sights on their compound bows will use a measuring device called a string tab to keep track of where they are shooting from on the bowstring.
So, if you want your shot to land lower on the target board, you would draw your arrow with your fingers lower down on the bowstring.
For getting your shots to hit higher, you’d do the opposite and draw the bowstring back at a higher position.
The trick is to keep your anchor point exactly the same throughout this process to keep your form consistent.
How To Be Accurate With A Compound Bow
There are several practices that you can use to help improve your accuracy with a compound bow. Some are relatively basic, like making sure that you have a good stance and that your bow is set up correctly for you. Others will depend on the individual, such as closing one eye during a shot.
The first step when trying to accurately aim a compound bow is to get your stance and draw position right.
This is especially important if you’re aiming without a sight.
You’ll need to set yourself up at a 90-degree angle to your target board, then turn your head towards it and draw your bow while getting into your normal anchor points.
If you’re using a kisser button, it might not work very well if you want to use a peep sight, so keep this in mind.
Religiously practicing these aspects of your shots pays dividends no matter whether you’re using a sight or not, so make sure you’re comfortable and relaxed before you start to aim.
Holding too much tension in the muscles of your upper body that aren’t directly connected to shooting your bow can throw off your shot.
Having your compound bow set up correctly for your individual needs as an archer is also very important for your accuracy.
You should always make sure that your draw length and draw weight are set correctly.
While compound bows don’t require as much strength to draw as standard bows, thanks to their network of pulleys and cams, you still need to be strong enough to work with your chosen draw weight.
When aiming with a compound bow, some archers find that it improves their accuracy if they close their non-dominant eye when shooting.
While this might not work for everyone, it’s worth experimenting with. It works on a similar principle to using a telescope, and most people will naturally use their dominant eye to look through a telescope or a camera.
If you’re using sights, it will be your dominant eye that lines up the shot through your targeting reticles.
How Hard Is It To Shoot A Compound Bow?
Compound bows are not as hard to shoot as they appear to be. While they can seem intimidating to beginners, these bows actually require less drawing force to shoot. That said, they can be more complicated to set up correctly, especially if they have a lot of assisting devices.
One of the main draws of using compound bows is that it actually requires much less upper body strength to shoot them compared to a longbow or even a recurve bow.
This is because of the intricate system of cams, cables, and pulleys on these bows, which help to draw the string back and keep the bow steady.
This is true even if the compound bow has the same draw weight as a competing recurve bow.
Compound bows can even be used by beginners right from the start because of their less demanding physical requirements.
Because of the lower amount of force needed to draw back the string, most archers can hold a fully-drawn compound bow for a much longer period than other kinds of bows.
This can be good when learning how to hold and aim a bow, especially for novice archers. This allows you to be more relaxed before shooting, leading to better results.
However, compound bows are more complicated than other types of bow when it comes to adjusting and setting them up.
Calibrating a compound bow can be a fair bit of work, especially if the bow has a lot of additional parts on it, like peep sights and targeting lenses.
The peep sight, for example, will have to be manually fine-tuned into the correct place on the bowstring to meet your eye perfectly once you reach full draw.
Compound bows can also be customized with various kinds of release aids to help make shooting easier.
These are external devices that an archer can use to pull back and release the bowstring more easily without touching the string itself by using a trigger.
In its basic form, a release aid consists of a simple ring of nylon cord attached to a plastic or metal tube that houses the trigger mechanism, with a slightly curved trigger jutting out from the side of the tube.
The mechanism clips onto and holds the bowstring until the archer squeezes the trigger and releases the bowstring to fire the arrow.
Learning how to aim a compound bow is all part of the game.
It should be enjoyable and something that you can take great pride in as you notice incremental improvements each time.
Hopefully, with those tips and suggestions above, such improvements are now a real possibility.
I live in Alberta, Canada where I enjoy indoor and 3D archery with traditional bows and compound bows. On this site, I share everything I’ve learned about archery along the way.