How many pins should the ideal bow sight have?
A lot of shooters ask this question out of curiosity, for advice to upgrade, or perhaps they're thinking about downsizing.
Is there a definitive answer? A rule of thumb?
We'll get you drawn up and nocked away with our take on how many pins you may want or need for a variety of bow shooting activities.
- 1-Pin Bow Sight Pros & Cons
- 3-Pin Bow Sight Pros & Cons
- 5-Pin Bow Sight Pros & Cons
- 7-Pin Bow Sight Pros & Cons
How Many Pins Should a Bow Sight Have?
We'll get straight to the point. The gist of the matter is, the number of pins that should be in your bow sight is highly subjective. What may work for one shooter may not suffice for another.
For example: a tree stand shooter in the thick of the timbers has unique distance limitations and bow sight demands than that of a Western bow hunter.
You have various bow shooting activities where a one-size-fits-all bow sight just won't make the cut. On top of this, can your draw weight, bow speed, and arrows of choice take advantage of your bow sight's maximum potential?
- Are there pins you never use?
- Are you constantly holding over and risking a fly away arrow?
- Can more pins help to improve your groupings?
- Does pin size matter?
Let's discuss the scope and function of how and when the number of pins you have can help you or inhibit you in your archery endeavors.
1 Pin Bow Sights
Single pin sights offer the most clear and uncluttered field of view compared to 5+ pin sights. This may be the number one reason a shooter would opt for a 1-3 pin bow sight - clarity.
A single pin sight offers the clearest sight picture and can provide the most accuracy since you can dial in for an exact yardage. This comes in real handy for those extreme long shots in the field or for small targets like turkeys.
However, the constant adjusting can be a drawback for close encounters. What to do? Don't adjust.
Many hunters using an adjustable pin sight set their pin for a fixed distance of something like 25 yards and then hold over or under for the rest of their shots. This works for hunters who shoot within 30 yards. But, for longer distances, a method like the Trick Pin system can help you take full advantage of your bow and bow sight system.
The only problem with this method is it will require work and practice. It's not unlike shooting the gap with a multi-ping sight, except we say it can be harder since you only have one pin as a focus point to judge the shot.
You must become proficient with your system to know how it will perform down range with every arrow you release. This means being willing to get out there and practice especially if you're an ethical hunter and expect to make clean shots.
When you have decent distance between you and your target, there's little excuse to rush your shot. You have cover and time to range the distance, dial it in, and come to a full draw.
- Most clarity; clearest field of view
- Possible to set pin or use Trick Pin system
- Longer range capability
- Dial in for exact distances
- Requires proficiency to learn optimum pin setting
- Can't adjust at full draw
3 Pin Bow Sights
2 and 3 pin bow sights may not have as clear field of view as single pin sights, but they still provide a very unobstructed sight picture.
Hunters typically like the uncluttered view of 1-3 pin setups, and 2-3 pin sights are common in the field. Pins yardages are typically set to 20, 30, 40 or 25, 35, 40, or other very similar variations.
Depending on the type of hunting you do, you may never need anything more than a 3-pin system. Additionally, 3D archery shooters also like their 3 and 4 pin setups. They can quickly make shots at various distances without having to stop or pause to make a sight adjustment.
Back to the hunt, mainstream shots within the timber or in tree stands are between 15-30 yards, and even out in the open field a 40 yard pin can serve you well. Many hunters admit they hardly ever, if they have at all, used their 40 yard pin.
A 3 pin bow sight fits the rule of thumb of not having more pins than you actually need. You have enough space between the pins to adequately shoot the gap. This can become harder to do when you have multiple stacked pins and you start shooting longer distances. It's also less likely you'll accidentally choose the wrong pin to take down your trophy bull.
If your eyes are older or you need a little more help with seeing your pins come low light, .029" pins will be more than appropriate since they won't be too big for your shots up to 30 or so yards. However, .019" pins are the norm for today’s standards, and if you're making use of that 40 yard pin, it's an ideal size.
- Uncluttered field of view
- More than adequate for many hunting scenarios
- Less chance of choosing wrong pin to shoot
- Allows for quick, multiple shots at various distances
- Not set up for long range capability
- Doesn't easily allow for follow-up shots on game
5-Pin Bow Sights
5 pin sights are quite popular among a variety of bow shooters. Target shooters and 3D archers may appreciate the flexibility of having multiple, fixed distances even out to long range.
Because they're not subject to live targets getting spooked or leaping away, they may have the time to carefully choose the right pin to make a shot. This is important since the more pins you have, the higher chance there is of picking the wrong pin in the heat of the moment and possibly sending an arrow into next week. The video below offers up some helpful tips to help you avoid that scenario:
You'll also find hunters in the field with 5 pin bow sights. While bow hunting encourages a hunter to get as close to game as possible, sometimes you don't want to risk spooking your trophy elk when it's happily unaware of your existence at 50 or so yards. The longer distance a 5 pin sight can offer may be just what you need.
More than that, these multi-pin bow sights allow for follow up shots when you spooked the herd at 15 yards and they took off to 50 yards and generously they pause to give you a second chance at filling your tag. These are the moments your practice at the range with those bottom pins will come into play.
However, while it's nice to know you have this capability, many hunters still don't use their bottom pins out in the field. Some strictly use their 20, 30, and 40 yard pins in the hunt while preserving their 50 and 60 yard pins for target practice only.
What's the point of that? It only makes sense that having fun or practicing at 60 and 50 yards makes way for more proficiency at closer shots. Many a time, you might find that your 40 yard groupings are even tighter and your 20 yard shots seem too easy to make when you're consistently nocking off broadheads at 60 and 70 yards in practice.
.019" pins are the standard size even for 5 pin sights. However, you may want to consider .010" pins for the bottom two pins if you're making use of them for longer shots.
- Allows for longer range shots
- Increased chance of taking follow-up shots
- Can improve groupings for closer distances
- May require more attention to pin size for longer distances
- Gap shooting error increases at longer distances
7 Pin Bow Sights
Things get controversial when you start adding more pins into the mix. 7 pin bow sights are not as popular as 3 and 5 pin sights, but they can serve a purpose.
Target practice with broadhead and field tip arrows are most likely where you'd get a lot of use with a 7 pin sight. When you're not under a lot of pressure to quickly choose the right pin, you can take your time and be intentional about which pin will hit the bull's-eye.
7 pins can definitely be over-kill for the hunt, but there are some hunters who are proficient with the system. The hard part comes in with accurately shooting the gap at these extreme long distances of 70+ yards.
Stacked pins make it difficult to gap shoot, and you have significant arrow drop at these distances. At 50 yards, you will start to see tuning and form issues which are only magnified beyond this distance. Multiple pins in this range of 7 or even 9 pins are not needed to make a good kill on game.
Additionally, sight picture is extremely cluttered. You will need a staggered pin size system or .010" pins in order to adequately see and aim at the correct point of a target for these distances. A large sight housing may help to spread the pins. Lens systems may aid with target acquisition.
Some say you if you make a bad hit on game at, say, 80 yards, and then come up on it at 65, it’s a win-win because you obviously have a pin for it. However, deer can sprint off another half mile before you'll get that chance to come up on it to make that follow-up shot.
Bottom line: if you can't make that ethical kill-shot the first time at such a long distance, don't do it. The consensus among many bow shooters is that 7 pin sights are excellent and a lot of fun for target practice, but not so practical for hunting.
- Long range capability
- Distance flexibility
- Magnifies tuning and form issues to allow for correction
- Excellent for target practice
- Improves groupings for closer distances
- May not be practical for hunting
- Cluttered field of view
- Must have smaller pin size
- High risk of choosing wrong pin
- Various issues with bottom pins for longer distances (gap shooting, arrow drop, etc.)
How Many Pins in Your Bow Sight?
As you should have discerned by now, the number of pins in your bow sight is very personal. What may work for you might not for someone else.
Because of this, it's practically impossible to put an iron-clad rule down on how many pins you should have. Even the pros have differing opinions and preferences, and neither should you duplicate a system just because your idol uses a particular one.
Find the setup that serves you best. It's the one with the number of pins that you can make use of, hit the bull's-eye with, and make a clean kill. So, tell us, how many pins are in your bow sight?
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Simon is an avid outdoor enthusiast and the owner of Target Tamers. He is passionate about bringing you the most up to date, accurate & understandable information on sports optics of all kinds and for all applications. When not glassing the local wildlife, you can find him in the garden with his German Shepherd.