How To Sight a Crossbow

Important Note: if you are a rank beginner, we strongly recommend that you shoot 50-100 arrows before attempting to sight your scope. You will not be able to properly sight your crossbow if you aren’t capable of shooting tight groups of arrows from a 20 yard distance; “tight groups” means that arrows should be landing very close to each other – a spot around 2-3 inches across – regardless of whether they are landing in the bulls-eye or not.

The process of sighting a crossbow is very easy, though if you’re a beginner who’s never done it before you might assume otherwise. The exact procedure for sighting a crossbow will vary slightly from scope to scope, as different models can have somewhat different adjustment knobs. The basic procedure is exactly the same for any scope you get.

Understanding Dots & Reticles

Your goal is to “zero” the top-most reticle or dot for a specific distance (20 yards in almost all cases unless instructed otherwise by the crossbow manufacturer). By “zero” we simply mean that you must make sure the top dot or reticle is properly aligned for hitting targets from the 20 yard distance; once you do this, the remaining dots and reticles will be automatically aligned for their respective distances.

See pictures below to understand what distance each dot/reticle is for.

single-dot-red-dot-scope-yardage triple-dot-red-dot-scope-yardage

Optical-Scope-Single-Reticle-yardageOptical-Scope-Multi-Reticle-Yardage

 

Elevation & Windage Adjustment Knobs

There are two knobs on every scope which you’ll be using to sight your crossbow:

Windage adjustment knob: this will be located on the side of your scope, and allows you to adjust arrow point-of-impact left and right.

Elevation adjustment knob: located at the top of your scope, it allows you to adjust arrow point-of-impact up and down.

These adjustment knobs are covered with protective plastic caps, which you’ll need to remove to actually make elevation and windage adjustments. Once you remove the caps, you’ll see this:

Scope Adjusters

As you can see, there are markings on each knob signifying the direction you need to turn the knob to achieve adjustments in a particular plane; the left-most picture shows elevation adjustments, and you will need to turn it clockwise (as the “up” arrow indicates) to raise the arrow point-of-impact, and anti-clockwise to lower it. The picture on the right shows windage adjustments, and you’ll turn it clock-wise for “right” and anti-clockwise for “left.”

Keep in mind that you’ll need a screwdriver or a coin to turn the knobs, so make sure you carry one with you in the field. Once you are finished making adjustments, don’t forget to put the protective caps back on.

Adjustment Knob “Clicks”

As you turn the elevation/windage knobs, you will hear a “click.” Each click represents a certain unit of adjustment being made (measured in M.O.A, or Minutes Of Angle). For the vast majority of scopes, it is as follows:

1 click = 1/4″ adjustment at a 100 yard distance.

or, in other words:

1 click = 1/20″ at a 20 yard distance.

Should your crossbow scope use different values per click, it will be clearly mentioned in the instruction booklet that came with your package.

Sighting Your Crossbow (With Pictures)

It is recommended that when you attempt to sight your crossbow that you use some form of shooting aid. A shooting aid is basically anything that “fixes” your crossbow so that the weapon does not move at all as you pull the trigger. This will allow you to sight your crossbow perfectly, and most decent shooting ranges should have such aids available. However, if you do not have access to one, then it’s not a problem at all; your results might be a little less accurate, but it will still be more than enough to get excellent performance out of your crossbow.

Crossbow Shooting Aid

Basic crossbow shooting aid

Shooting aid or not, let’s get down to business.

Step one:

Stand exactly 20 yards away from your target. Cock the crossbow, seat an arrow, and align the top-most red dot or reticle in your scope with the bulls-eye. Squeeze the trigger quickly but use only the tip of your index finger to do so (don’t move your entire palm or arm as it will ruin your accuracy). Repeat these steps 3 times, shooting a total of three arrows.

When finished, approach your target. Suppose this is what you see:

first-bullseye-image

As you can see, the three arrows landed in a pretty tight group, but they are a little to the left and bottom relative to where they should have landed (the bulls-eye).

Step two:

Approach your target and estimate how many inches your arrow group would need to move up and to the right for all the arrows to have hit the bulls-eye. Suppose in the example above, you determine that the arrows will need to land 1″ higher and 2″ to the right for a perfect bulls-eye.

You will remove the protection cap from the scope adjustment knobs and make the appropriate changes. We stated earlier that a single “click” of your adjustment knob will move arrow point-of-impact by 1/20″ if shooting from a 20 yard distance (as you are doing now). We have also determined that we’d need to move the arrows 1 inch up, and 2 inches right. So here is what you do:

Turn the elevation adjustment knob clockwise (move arrow point-of-impact “up”) using a screwdriver / coin until you hear a total of 20 clicks. Since 1 click corresponds to 1/20″ of adjustment, 20 clicks will be exactly 1 full inch.

Turn the windage adjustment knob clockwise (move arrow point-of-impact “right”) until you hear a total of 40 clicks. This will correspond to a 2″ adjustment in point of impact to the right.

Step three:

Line up again for another series of shots (remember to stand at exactly the same, 20 yard distance from the target). Align the top-most dot or reticle of your scope with the bulls-eye again, and fire a total of 3 arrows.

Suppose the following happened:

second bulls eye target

 

As you can see, the three arrows landed much closer to the bulls-eye this time. They are still landing a little bit too high though. You approach the target and determine that arrows would need to land half an inch lower for a perfect bulls-eye. You therefore make some more scope adjustments using the elevation knob, and move the arrow point-of-impact half an inch downwards (counter-clockwise, 10 clicks).

Again, you line up for the shot, align your top dot/reticle with the bulls-eye, and shoot three arrows. This time, the following happens:

third bulls eye target

 

A perfect bulls-eye. Congratulations! Your crossbow is now properly sighted, and the remaining red dots / reticles in your scope are now also automatically sighted for their respective ranges.

Four Things to Keep in Mind

  1. The actual sighting procedure might take a little longer than in our example above, and you might need to make a few more knob adjustments to achieve perfect accuracy. As your skills as a shooter improve, sighting a crossbow will become much easier. Also, keep in mind that if you use a shooting aid, the whole process will be completed much faster. On average, sighting a crossbow will take 10 to 30 minutes.
  2. Make sure not to lose the plastic protective caps of the scope adjustment knobs; if you take them off, always keep them in your pocket and never place them on the ground or on a table, as they have a nasty habit of disappearing without notice :)
  3. If your scope has only 1 dot / reticle, you can sight it for any distance you wish (20, 30, 40 or 80 yards if you want). If it has more than one dot / reticle however, you will need to stick to specific values, as there is a very strict relationship between the different dots and reticles in a scope; a relationship that will be broken if you try to sight the crossbow for an arbitrary range. That’s why for multi-dot and multi-reticle scopes, you’ll always want to sight the top dot/reticle for a 20 yard distance exactly (unless instructed otherwise in the instruction booklet).
  4. Remember that in order for your crossbow sighting to be accurate, you must be able to shoot tight arrow groups first. Whether the arrows land inside the bulls-eye is a matter of sighting your scope; whether they land in tight groups however is entirely a matter of your aim and technique. Below are two images:

scattered arrow groupstight arrow groups

 

The image on the left demonstrates scattered arrows, while the one on the right demonstrates a tight 3 inch group. While the person who shot the arrows on the right-hand image simply needs to have his crossbow sighted in order to consistently hit the bulls-eye, the person who shot the arrows on the left-hand image simply has bad aim and technique, and he will not benefit from sighting his crossbow until he can shoot tighter groups, like the ones on the right-hand image.

So please make sure to work on your arrow grouping a little bit so that your crossbow sighting procedure actually makes sense.

We hope you’ve found this guide helpful. If you did, we’d really appreciate it if you would share this page with your friends – it would mean a lot to us. Thanks and happy shooting!

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