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. Also, please see our arrow drop interactive chart to get a feel for how differences in arrow weight will impact trajectory.

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, although you should check out our best crossbow recommendations to make sure the scope that comes with your crossbow has decent optics.

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



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.

Step By Step: 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 using a rope or crank aid (if you don’t have one, I recommend the Jandao extra-long rope), 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:


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!


Add a Comment
      1. Great tips and info!! I’m very confident in what to do. I have one question…i have centerpoint 415fps patriot, what site has all the parts, case,slings and strings, hunting points, required for this crossbow. And where can I get a safe hand crank for it

  1. I have red dot scope. It won’t turn on. I have replaced battery an still won’t turn on . Any suggestion.

    1. Hey scope came loose I tightened it up shot it the up and down is perfect but it shoots to the right it’s maxed out to bring it to the left it’s off by 5 in i can’t bring it over anymore what do I do

  2. just got a truglo multi recticle (no light) scope, mounted it on my Horton brotherhood and its shooting 2 feet low, can anyone help? thanks

  3. I have a barnett 4×32 scope I can see the cross hairs but after that it’s a cloud can’t see nothing but cross hairs I can see perfect.

  4. I have a ST sports fever with the stock multi reticle scope. I have had many years of archery experience so I’m not a complete FNG. My first group was low and about 3ft right. I slowly adjusted it all the way left. Now I have it turned all the way left and I just hitting the far side of the target. I need at least 30 more clicks to bring it center. Any ideas?

    1. Joshua sounds like one of two problems first check the scope rings make sure they are seated on the rail. Second check to make sure your scope is mounted true. I check this using a rest and hanging a weighted string from a ceiling hook. Make sure the crossbow is level, then look through the scope and make sure the vertical line of the scope matches the string. It sounds like you have a problem with the scope mounts though for sure.

  5. I just purchased the Tenpoint shadow with scope. The bow is shooting 4″ high at 20 yards. the scope adjustment is maxed out. How do I adjust it further?

      1. Thanks for the reply Mark. I bought it as a package from Gander Mountain. The scope was supposedly installed at the factory. It’s supposed to come approximately sighted. The windage was very close, but, when I attempted to adjust it down, the adjustment maxed out at 10 clicks.

  6. Have had the Excailbur Axiom Kit For this third season starting Oct 1st here in West Michigan.
    Crosshair at 20 yds, one elevation hash above for ten yds…with 30 40,50 hash below the 20 yd zero
    Easy to use rope pull, especially should you want to download “safely” with out having to fire a bolt into a bag.
    A wider beam than other mechanical systems though travels well through even through the thickest cover.

  7. Make sure you shoot practice hunting broadheads. I’ve had a few different broadheads both mechanicals and fixed float. Tuning the broadhead to match the bolt is easy with a few lock washers. Don’t think that since the practice tip is zeroed you’re ready to drop a deer at thirty yards. Shoot those practice broadheads as much as possible to get acquainted with the bolt flight while hunting. I like NAP Hellrazors and I use the Easton XX75 2216 bolts. I use a Barnett Penetrator, soon a Vengeance.

  8. Trying to site in xbow scope. It’s shooting 6 inches low but I’m maxed out on the up adjustment. Any ideas?
    Thx Rob
    Barnett 4×32 multi reticle scope

  9. Anyone have any solid yardage numbers for the Barnett 4×32 reticles? They list approximations and I don’t have a range finder. Shooting a Wildcat C6 BTW.
    Thanks in advance

  10. I bought an HHA Optimizer for my excaliber matrix 380crossbow. Haven’t shot it yet.I plan to use the tac zone scope that came with it, at least for now. Will I have problems with the multi reticle type scope?

  11. when installing my scope to my excalibur matrix grizzly, is it ready to shoot.what im saying is will i hit my target somewhere without losing or breaking arrows

  12. Ashley, I bought the 335 and out the box it took me all of about 10 minutes to have that HHA dialed in and shooting bullseye out to 70 yards. Very well made and if you follow all the directions you wont have any problems

  13. Bought a recruit crossbow,sighted in at 20yards shoots perfect.Move to 30 yards and shoots 4 inches high.Move to 40 yards and shoots 8 inches high,move back to 20 yards and bullseye.What is going on.

  14. hi guys just bought a secondhand horton legend hd has a horton red dot on it but the dots are not vertical but off on a slight angle is there a way to fix this?
    cheers Lloyd

    1. I am betting your scope is not sitting square in the rings. Loosen top rings and adjust scope till dots are vertical and tighten rings.

      1. its a horton redot mate it doesnt mount in rings the problem is in the actual scope…ive replaced it with a picatinny rail and mounted a horton mil dot recticle scope

  15. Shooting a Barnett wildcat C5 using red dot three dot scope
    20 yards is perfect 25 yards using the twenty yard dot is perfect
    Go to thirty yards and using 30 yard dot it shoots 3 inches high I have tried everything
    Can you help?

    1. My wildcat c5 also uses the 3 dot scope. I am having somewhat of the same issue. I am looking for the manual for the scope later today. The spacing between the dots is pretty even, have you tried 20/40/60? I’ll have the info in roughly 4 hours as to what the specs are.

    2. If it is not a radical distance, just aim lower for that point. It works for me. What isn’t mentioned here is matching a red dot sight to a particular poundage or fps consideration.

  16. I want to change the string on my carbon express covert 1 but I’m not sure how long the string is any help is appreciated thanks. Mike

  17. Most sight in descriptions suggest that the initial sight in is at 20 yard. I did that as carefully as I could and then tested it at 50 yards, where the impact was three inches low. I was wondering if I sighted the crossbow in at 50 yards and then checked it at 20 yards, what pitfalls would I run into? Seems to me there is more of an error transition going from 20 yards to 50 yards than there would be from 50 yards to 20 yards. Any thoughts on the matter?

  18. Was just reading your article. Awesome info, love the ballistic charts. When using an assistive device to maintain equipment position, I find it helpful to fire my group, then, adjust my crosshair onto the group. Then I move the weapon so that crosshairs or for are on bullseye and fire another group. So, instead of estimating the clicks, I adjust the scope to reflect where the weapon is firing. Kind of backwards, but either way is fine. Thanks for all the info though, I really enjoyed it.

  19. broke quiver on Ghost 385 cant find it at any place. Email Barnett 10-15-2017 NO REPLY
    Called help line Been on hold 30 minutes
    At this point might have a ghost for sale great bow but service bites.

  20. i have 5 sets of cross hairs on my scope, bought crossbow used so i dont know what bottom 4 are set at yard wise. top one is set a 20 yards. barnett recruit combo but i think scope is after market. can someone help?

  21. If you only have one dot, set at 20 yds , how much will it drop at 30 or 40 yds. Am shooting a 16 inch arrow with 100 gr .

  22. Upgraded to a Barnett Whitetail with 4X32 scope. Shooting quarter size groups at 20 yd. but then moving to 30yd dot, I shoot 4″ high. Have not tried the 40 yd. will not til I have the 30 yd problem solved. I saw where another archer was having same situation. Any thoughts?

    1. i have the exact same issue-my second reticle is tits on 35yds to 40yds. but kinda leaves u guessing from 1st reticle at 23yds to 35yds!

  23. Thank You for this info. I have this exact same crossbow, but black in color. I had a hard time signting this in today at 10 yards. I had the center dot aimed on the bullseye. After reading this, I cannot wait to re try sighting in my scope tomorrow. 👍

  24. Shooting a SA Empire Aggressor 390 Xbow package with Victory Xbolts 20″, 425 gr (includes a 100 gr field point). The bow is very tight at 20 and 30 yds. When I switch to my 100 gr. Muzzy Trocar broadheads (3 fixed blades) and shoot of a rest, I am 1-1/2″ low at 20 yds and 2-1/2″ low at 30 yds. Is this normal? Is this a situation I just need to learn to compensate for? Or is this a simple reset / resighting of the scope? Should I sight it in at 30 yds? Looking for some good advice. Thx.

  25. So I have a empire fever pro. It came with a scope. I am shooting low. I have raised the scope all the way up and it won’t click anymore to go up..but its still shooting low. Why?

  26. I have a barnett whitetail hunter II with a 4×32 mult reticle scope. the manual says to sight the first reticle to 15yds-23yds(which ive done and works great) but the second reticle is only on at 35yds to 40yds…any help here? ive sighted in rifles and pistols my whole life but this is mu first bow

  27. Hi I like your explanation of how to zero the scope for a crossbow. Thanks!

    I noticed one variable you left out of items needed to improve accuracy. The arrows are very important. It has been my experience that most over the counter arrows aren’t going to group very well. However if the archer sticks to the same arrow while setting zero he will take the arrow variation out of the sighting in process. Then after the zero is set try other arrows to see how they group. If they group well your are finish. If not you have more work to do or get better quality arrows.

  28. I can’t get the red dots to come up and I dont know if there is a battery in these or noy,its my first time owning one.

  29. Whatever you do make sure if you plan to use this to hunt at distance and/or elevated. Best is a RangeFinding Multiplex Reticle with optional illumination(intensity settings) with BDC60.
    I love the Etched 4x & 5×32. The 3DOT REDDOT scopes are no good for serious hunting where your prey could be between 10-40yards away. Zero rest turret option makes sighting at 20 yards a breeze. Just a few things I’ve learned throughout my research hope it helps some. I am no expert Hunter, but I hope to be with time and effort.

  30. I just purchased a LiteRite 3 Dot for my Horton 150 Crossbow, What is the best way to sight it in for around 20 yards. Thank you for your help.

  31. Hi guys I want to buy a crossbow but i am a beginner can any one guide me which crossbow is better for beginner. Thanks

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