To make accurate shots, it’s essential to hold your bow level. Fortunately, the sights on most modern crossbows and compounds come with a level in the scope housing or on the sight bar. Still, you have to make sure the sight is adjusted properly in terms of its three axes—the imaginary lines around which an object rotates. If your bow doesn’t have an onboard level, on the other hand, there are some handy tricks for staying level in the field.
Today’s quality compound bow sights are made to shift, rotate or tilt on three different axes that you can adjust to make sure you’re always shooting on the level. While you can bring your bow to an archery shop to get the sight properly adjusted, you can also do it yourself if you have a bow vise and the right tools (see “Tool box” below). It also helps to watch videos showing how to set up the first, second and third axes.
The first axis is the level of the sight-mounting bracket in relation to the bow. It runs from left to right in front of you, parallel to the ground, and needs to be perfectly perpendicular with the bow’s riser before the second and third axes can be levelled. The second axis is the one most archers pay attention to when sighting a bow. It refers to the level of the sight head and pins, and runs on an imaginary line straight through the centre of your scope or sight.
As for the third axis, it refers to the pitch of the sight head, either away from you or towards you. It runs vertically through the centre of your sight and comes into play when you’re shooting up or downhill, especially at a distance of more than 40 metres. If the third axis isn’t level, your arrow will fly like it was launched from a canted bow.
Sight adjustments aside, it helps if you can tell if your bow is level just by feel, rather than by what you see. That’s because your eyes can play tricks on you when you focus on things downrange—a hillside, tilted tree or even a target that is not level can cause you to improperly align and level your bow with what you see.
When you can’t see things that might deceive your brain and alter your sense of balance, on the other hand, your mind and body will often keep your bow level on their own. To test this, close your eyes, draw your bow and try to level it at your target. Then open your eyes, hold the bow steady and check your sight—it should be level. Of course, only do this on a closed range, where it’s safe.
Shooting from a sweeping right or left slope can also play tricks on your brain. If you focus on the target and bow limbs, however, it’s easier to maintain level with every shot.
Practice is also essential for consistent accuracy. To test this, sight-in your bow for various distances, then shoot at those distances, but with your bow held off level. Also, try shooting with the bow canted to the left and right. In all cases, your arrow’s trajectory and point of impact will be off the mark, reinforcing the need for proper form.
An experienced archer will automatically feel if the bow is level, or if the limbs are tipped to one side. To confirm the bow is level, the arrow rest can provide a visual indicator. You can also look through the scope or sight to see if it lines up with a straight edge, such as the side of a structure or a utility pole, in the background. Of course, not all objects in your surroundings are guaranteed to be level, but if you continually strive for it, maintaining level will become second nature—and your shots will be accurate.
Alberta contributor Brad Fenson always keeps his bow on the level.
BONUS TIP: TOOL BOX
If you’re planning to adjust your bow’s first, second and third axes yourself, you’ll need the following tools. And to help guide you through the process, check out the videos at www.outdoorcanada.ca/bowaxes.
- Bow vise
- Allen key set
- 12- to 36-inch carpenter’s level
- Plumb bob
- Third-axis level
- String level