How To Sight In A Crossbow – Learn How To

How To Sight In A Crossbow
Written by Joe

Whether you're a veteran x-bow shooter or a beginner, you may find that the most challenging part of handling a crossbow is sighting in it. Getting it done right is very important if you intend on taking home any game. It can be frustrating not to know how. The good news is that comparing to a compound bow sighting in a crossbow is extremely easy if you know the basics.

It’s important to note that sighting with a crossbow will vary depending on the scope you use. The reason is that different models of hunting scopes come with different adjustment knobs. Nevertheless, the basic procedure is the same regardless of which scope you use.

Sighting accurately isn't an accident. The goal when sighting in a crossbow is to dot for a specific distance, usually 20 feet unless stated otherwise by the manufacturer or ‘zero’ the cross reticle. Zero means that you should make sure the reticle or cross aligns properly to hit targets from a distance of 20 feet. The remaining reticles and dots are automatically aligned for their respective distances if you do that.

Terms to know when sighting in

  • Point blank range: The first point at which the line of sight intersects with the path of the arrow
  • True zero: Second point at which the arrow’s path intersects with the line of sight
  • Mid range rise: The highest point in the arrow’s trajectory between the point of true zero and point blank range
  • Maximum point blank range: Height of the arrow drop beyond true zero and mid-range rise. Both are equal.

What you should keep in mind when sighting in

There are four important things you should remember when sighting a crossbow. These include:

  • Take care not to lose the protective plastic caps of adjustment knobs. Always ensure that they stay in your pocket and not on the table if you take them off. They tend to disappear without a warning.
  • The actual sighting procedure may take a little longer than described here. It depends on how many times you need to make knob adjustments to accomplish perfect accuracy. Sighting your crossbow will be much easier as your skills improve. The average sighting process takes about 10-30 minutes and is faster if you use a shooting aid.
  • You can sight your crossbow for any distance if the scope only comes with one dot/reticle i.e. 20, 30, 40 or even 80 yards if you desire. You will, however, need to stick to the specific values if it comes with more dots or reticles. The reason is that the relationship between the reticles and dot is a very strict one that breaks if your try to sight the crossbow in a random range. This explains why for multi-reticle and multi-dot scopes, you always sight the top dot/reticle for a distance of 20 yards unless stipulated otherwise by the manufacturer.
  • You should be able to shoot tight arrow groups in order for your crossbow sighting to be accurate. While landing in the bull’s eye is a matter of sighting the scope, it takes good aim and technique for a group of arrows to land in a tight group. In simpler words, you cannot benefit from sighting your crossbow if you have a bad aim and cannot shoot in tight groups.

Understanding windage and elevation adjustment knobs

There are two knobs that you will use to sight in a crossbow i.e. the windage and elevation knobs. The former is usually located on the side of the scope and allows the user to adjust the arrow’s point of impact right and left.

The elevation adjustment knob, on the other hand, stands at the top of the scope and enables the hunter the point of impact of the arrow up and down. Both of are usually covered in protective plastic caps, which have to be removed to make any elevation or windage adjustments. Keep in mind that to turn the knobs, you will need a coin or screwdriver.

You will hear a click as you turn the adjustment knobs. Each click is a representation of a specific unit of adjustment, made in Minutes of Angle (MOA). For most scopes, one click equals a ¼” adjustment at a distance of 100 yards or a 1/20” adjustment at a distance of 20 yards.

Sighting with your crossbow

If you are attempting this for the first time, it is advisable that you use some form of sighting aid. An aid is basically something that helps ‘fix’ your crossbow, thus preventing your weapon from moving when you pull the trigger. This allows for perfect sighting with your crossbow, and many shooting ranges offer such aids.

Gather what you need

To increase your accuracy, some of the items you will need when sighting in a crossbow include spotting scope or binoculars, at least four arrows, targets, a chronograph, screwdrivers for adjusting the windage and elevation knobs, crossbow with the scope mounted and aligned, crossbow rest and the instruction manual that came with the scope.

Step I

Standing 20 feet from your target, use a crank aid or rope to cock your crossbow then seat an arrow and align the top most reticle or red dot in the scope with your target. Use only the tip of the finger to squeeze the trigger quickly. Moving the entire arm or palm will risk your accuracy. Repeat this at least three times with three arrows.

Step II

Supposed what you see once done are the three arrows in a tight group and a little left or bottom of where they should have landed. Approach your target and estimate how far right or up the arrows would need to move so as to hit the bulls eye.

Let’s say that you determine that they will need to move 2” to the right and 1” higher for the perfect bull’s eye. Your next task is to remove the protection cap of the adjustment knobs so that you make the appropriate changes. We know from before that one click will move the arrow point of impact 1/20” if shooting from a distance of 20 yards.

We also know that the goal is to move the arrows 1 inch up and 2 inches right for a perfect shot. Use a coin or screwdriver to turn the windage adjustment knob clockwise until you count a total of 40 clicks to move the arrow point of impact right. Likewise, turn the elevation adjustment knob until you hear 20 clicks. This will correspond to a 2 inch and 1 inch adjustment respectively.

Step III

Line up for another series of shots as before and remember to stand exactly 20 feet from the target. Align the top most dot or reticle with the bull’s eye and fire three or four arrows. Suppose they land a little closer but not exactly in the bull’s eye. You approach the target and find that they need to land half an inch lower for the perfect shot.

As before, you make more adjustments of the scope, using the elevation adjustment knob. Turn the knob counterclockwise until you hear 10 clicks to move the arrow point of impact half an inch downwards. This time you hit the perfect bull’s eye. Congratulations! Your crossbow is now aligned perfectly and the remaining reticles or dots are also sighted for their respective distances.

Calibrating the range compensation reticles

While many after-market scopes come with range compensation reticles; it is important to note that such models have to be well calibrated. If this isn't done, they won’t be of any use. Calibrating these models requires one to program them in the crossbow’s velocity with the preferred arrows.

The scope’s internals will do the rest. Don’t rely on the velocity stated by the manufacturer as you risk not getting the desired level of accuracy. To calibrate range compensation reticles, adhere to the procedure outlined below.

  • Set up the chronograph as instructed by the manufacturer in the manual
  • Fire an arrow through the chronograph then note the velocity
  • Repeat this step 3-4 times and be sure to note the velocity every single time
  • Calculate the average velocity by summing the velocities and dividing by the number of shots taken
  • Dial in the velocity setting of the scope, while following the manual that it came with

Your range compensation reticle markers should be calibrated properly if you follow the above procedure. You can test this by shooting at various distances. Re-calibrate the velocity and recheck the sight at 20 yards using the chronograph if you have not achieved the perfect accuracy.

Keeping the scope sighted in

If you are an avid hunter, you probably know that if properly sighted in; a scope will hold zero for at least one hunting season. Some scopes hold zero through two hunting seasons, sometimes longer, unless subjected to damage or a fall. Regardless, it is always advisable to check your scope’s zero at the beginning of every hunting season.

About the author



I'm Joe, I run Nature Rated. I love spending time in the outdoors. Whenever daily life gets me down I head to the nearest lake or river with my kayak and my camera and I spend time recharging my batteries. I hope you'll love my no fluff to the point reviews and that they'll help you choose the right gear for your next adventure!

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