Understanding Aim & Shooting Focus – Blurry Sight or Blurry Target?

Where is your visual focus when you are at full-draw, ready to release an arrow? Are you looking at you bow sight’s pin, or at the target?

Most bowhunters shooting a compound bow have three objects to their visual aiming system – the peep sight, the bow sight, and the target. The human eye will use these objects for alignment and aiming, but the eye cannot focus on all of these objects equally. It is natural for the human vision to have limited focus – If I stretch out my hand to arm’s-length I cannot focus on my fingertips, while at the same time focusing on a wall that may be 10 yards past my fingers.

Looking Through A Peep Sight

But before we get to the bow sight’s pins and the target, it is worth noting that the peep sight further affects our eyes’ ability to focus at particular distances. “Diffraction” is a scientific principle that has to do with light, vision and focus. What you need to know is that because of diffraction, a larger peep sight will have a shallower depth of field (the ability to simultaneously focus on objects at different distances is lessened), whereas a smaller peep sight will have a larger depth of field (the eye will more easily be able to focus across objects at various distances).

At this point you might be thinking, “I’ll just use a smaller peep sight and focus on both my sight pins and the target.” A small peep sight will lessen the focusing disparity, but you’ll likely still have some difference between the clarity of the sight and the target. Additionally, a smaller peep sight limits your field of view, and allows less light to your eye, making it harder to see the target some lighting conditions – two things that you don’t want to deal with in a hunting scenario.

Alright, science lesson over.

So what do you focus on – the bow’s sight pins or the target downrange? Have you ever paid attention?

Sights Pins In Focus

I just returned from Indianapolis. I was there with Elite Archery, assisting people in taking the “Shootability Challenge”. Over the course of three days I talked with dozens and dozens of shooters. I informally asked numerous shooters what they focused on when they shot a bow, and while the results were mostly split, I would say a slight majority said they focused on their sight pins. That’s how I used to shoot, too, but now I focus on the target and my shooting has improved.

Why Focus Matters

I think it’s often natural to focus on a sight pin. The mental process of, “Put this pin on the target, and that’s where my arrow will go,” can lead us to focus on the pin.  But…

That’s like trying to drive a car by looking at the steering wheel.

Don’t drive by looking at your car, don’t walk by looking at your feet, and don’t shoot by looking at your bow. Focus on the destination (the target) and your arrow will follow.

Another pitfall of focusing on the sight pin is that the minor movements in your bow are amplified, which can lead to target panic.  You inevitably end up trying to over-correct the movement and quickly fire off a shot as the pins intersect with the bull’s-eye. However, when you focus on the target’s bull’s-eye, it’s easier to let the pins “float” and you have less anxiety about being “on target”.

It Works, Try It

When you combine the old driving lesson “you go where you look” with the fact that less pin-focus = less apparent movement = less anxiety, then I feel that you have the most accurate and comfortable way to shoot.

Focus on the target, allow your pins to be blurry, don’t fight the “float” of the pins, and your arrows will go where you are looking. It may feel odd at first, but try it for a few weeks and see how it works out for you.

Other Considerations

Target focus is great, but you do have to pay attention to other visual indicators on your bow. You want to make sure that your bow is being held level, so you’ll need to check your sight’s bubble-level, and you also need to ensure that you are lining up your peep and sight consistently each time. Thankfully, while the human eye is only capable of focusing on one thing at a time, the human brain can interpret what is in the periphery of that eye. I can focus on the target, while almost subconsciously lining up my sight housing in the peep sight, keeping tabs on my sight’s bubble-level, and noting where my pin is on the target.

Finally, all of what I have proposed is what works for me. I know that there are plenty of extremely accurate shooters that focus on the sight’s pins. I also wonder certain levels of vision impairments – nearsightedness, for example – affect these different aiming philosophies?

What’s your take?

The Author

Mark Huelsing is a regular guy with an irregular passion for bowhunting and the outdoors. Learn more about Sole Adventure or get in touch with Mark...

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  • Al Quackenbush

    Now here’s an article that every archer should read. Well done and to the point Mark. Your analogy is great and you are ‘on target’ <– couldn't resist – with your description. I used to focus on the pins and I'd be all over. Once I switched to setting the pin on target and then focusing on the target itself my shooting and confidence has improved greatly. This is an article the masses should see. Thanks Mark!

    • SoleAdventure

      Thanks, Al! I’m not sure that the article is all that great, but like you, I do think that as many archers as possible should at least consider the topic.

  • Mark Johnson

    Its funny you should mention this as I was just talking with my bow shop the other day about this, as well as a few people I shoot with. I find that if i focus on the sight housing and peep alignment as well as making sure my bubble is centered with my non dominant eye closed it helps me come into focus fast, then I open my non dominant eye and am able to focus on the target with the pin being slightly blurry and the housing-peep alignment being even more blurry. For me this is the best way to keep everything lined up while keeping my bow level. At first it took me a bit of time to let my eyes adjust to the different ranges, now its second nature and I am able to move fluidly through the tasks and get my shot off quickly. I shoot better than ever now using this method/ Thanks for the great article Mark, i always look forward to reading what you put up. Have a great day!

    • SoleAdventure

      Thank you for sharing, Mark. I can see how your process could work out well. I’m still struggling to shoot with both eyes open on a consistent basis.

  • DK

    Mark, another fine Article. Well done. I wanted to ask about the Sight (MBG) in the picture. 3-pin with Tape. How is that set up, and how do you like it? I am loking to “de-clutter” my 7-pin. Thank you.

  • Rob McConnell

    Oh man! I was just working on this today. I have two distinct groups depending on which focus point i use. I was hoping you were going to say “focus on the pins!” sigh.. But as usual your point is backed up with insight and logic. Ill work on it. I will say that i am LOVING my new E32. I have started using a thumb trigger release, and now have a very consistent anchor point, wow what a difference it has made.

    • SoleAdventure

      Maybe target-focus isn’t right for everybody, Rob. But I suspect that if you stick with it, you’ll be better-off in the long run. Glad the E32 is treating you well! And you’re right about the handheld release – one of the main reasons I use one is because of the consistency of my anchor point. It makes a HUGE difference for me.

  • P. Barber

    At 50 years young I can use all the help. Ill give it a try tomorow. Thanks

    • SoleAdventure

      It might feel different at first, but try it for a few sessions and let me know how it works out for you.

  • RainMaker71

    This is pretty timely. I just served in a larger peep because I wasn’t able to see my bubble, pins and target without moving my eye/anchor all over the place. I haven’t shot yet but it should be interesting being able to see all the animal/target instead of just a brown patch.

    • SoleAdventure

      Good move. I try to size my peep so that I can perfectly center my entire sight housing within the peep’s view. That way it becomes easy to see the target, pin, and level all at the same time.

  • Jordan J

    Great article, Mark. I started shooting like this a few years back and it becomes second nature. The tricky part is to let your pins become blurry and let them “aim themselves.” I try to just focus on the spot and let my subconscious do the work of keeping the pin on target, then watch until the arrow covers up that spot. Great read. By the way, what release are you using in the first picture?

    • SoleAdventure

      You’re spot-on, Jason. It is all about letting the subconscious take over the pins. That release is a Scott Longhorn Hunter, which I absolutely love.

  • http://www.davidsemosaerchery.com Bermuda Archer

    Its works for me, Thanks

  • deepwoodsdruid

    I shoot with both eyes open and let the blur of the pin superimpose over the combined view of the target. I’m having to get used to a standard peep. I was using a String Splitter but it didn’t provide as nice a frame for the sight housing and turned out to be a “string exploded” as many shop guys around here call them. The edge of the groove was too sharp and was wearing the string. Anyway, letting the “phantom pin” hover on the target with both eyes open works well for me until really low light. The light is too bright to turn it on because it drowns out the target. I’m thinking of using marker to dim the bulb so try and get just enough light.

    • deepwoodsdruid

      That should read “string exploder.” Good ol’ WordPerfect.

      • dwd

        GRRRR.. WordPerfect = autocorrect.

  • HMOS

    I just began learning with the compound and having a horrible time with
    peep and site. I do have issues with my eyes, though do manage with the
    scopes that are on my crossbow as well as rifles. I don’t know what
    else to try and fell across this while looking for tips. I am going to
    try this next chance I get. Thank you for taking the time to share

    • SoleAdventure

      Hope it works out for you!