The Truth About Aiming a Bow

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Pin-float and sight-picture consistency are critical factors in accurately aiming a compound bow

One of archery’s most persistent misconceptions is the need for a rock-steady hold to shoot well. Archers often stress too much over this and ultimately shoot worse than if they let the pin float. Truth is, with solid shooting form, your pin doesn’t have to be stationary to hit the bullseye. Here’s why.

Finding a pin-float rhythm, and settling on a sight-picture process, will improve your accuracy. (Midwest Whitetail photo)

Floating the Pins

I’ve learned you can shoot very well by allowing the pin to float, eventually finding center. Sure, the less it moves, the tighter groups will be. Still, most bowhunters benefit tremendously when they stress less about shot timing, relax fully, float the pin, and squeeze off a surprise release.

Most archers use one of three float methods. Draw a figure eight pattern with the pin. (The center of it lines up with the aiming point.) Slowly circle the aiming point with the pin. Or, merely let the pin select its own pattern. All of these methods work. Seemingly, the only system that doesn’t work well is the one most archers choose, which is consciously trying to hold the pin completely still.

Delineating the Float

Don’t consciously move the bow. Done correctly, your subconscious will do it for you. Think I'm crazy?

Try this: Hold a paper clip at arm’s length. It dangles from a 5-inch string. Don’t try to move it. Simply visualize the paper clip moving in whatever pattern you wish. Soon, it will follow that pattern. It worked, but that was a fluke, right? Stop the clip and choose a new pattern. It will follow that one, too.

Back on the range, while at full draw, visualize the pin moving in a tight pattern around the aiming point, and it will soon do it. Don’t force it. Let it happen naturally.

Once this is programmed into muscle memory, it’s time to master controlling the sight picture. Again, choose one of three options. Aim with one eye closed. Aim with one eye squinted. Or, aim with both eyes open. All three methods have tradeoffs.

Closing One Eye

When I compete in 3D archery, I wear a blinder over my left (non-dominant) eye. I look like a character from a pirate film, and if it improved my shooting, I’d wear the sword too. Bad jokes aside, the patch reduces problems with the sight picture. This decreases field of view, but I don’t want peripheral distractions anyway. To me, losing field of view isn’t a negative.

Squinting One Eye

Some archers squint their non-aiming eye. This permits a fuller field of view and greatly reduces the acuity and possible cross-dominance of this eye. My only concern? A possible lack of squinting consistency. I’ve seen archers' aiming styles change as they fatigued, and accuracy falters when sight picture alters.

Opening Both Eyes

Aiming with both eyes open produces the greatest possible field of view, an advantage while hunting. But, unless the aiming eye is clearly dominant, this can produce visual conflict. Plus, under low light, the restriction of a peep sight further diminishes acuity of the aiming eye. It’s very common for the non-aiming eye to seize control of the sight picture, which isn’t good. You can learn a lot about visual acuity and eye dominance by practicing under low-light conditions.

My aiming style is but one of many successful models. Consistency is the key to all aspects of archery. Aiming is no different. Find the best aiming style for you, and keep it the same with every shot.