Disclaimer: I am not a fan of movable-pin sights for whitetail hunting. I have hunted a ton over the years and can think of very few situations where a moveable-pin sight would have helped me. I will try to write this column objectively, but in the end I fear my bias will show through.
Movable-pin sights allow you to dial in your pin for the exact distance of your shot. However, it can become confusing when an animal moves after you have set the pin and come to full draw.
Movable-pin sights have a lever that pivots around a central point. Typically, you move the lever down and the sight pin goes up, positioning it for close-range shots. If you move the lever up, the sight pin goes down, perfect for longer shots. There's a pointer and a scale that permit you to set the lever to the exact yardage of the shot. In this way, you are always aiming with a single pin on every shot distance, never having to guess where to hold or placing your target in the gap between pins.
Movable-pin sights have their place in bowhunting. But like every other piece of gear, they aren't for everyone. Here's a rundown of the strengths and weaknesses of these sights so you can decide if they are right for you.
Here is a situation where a movable-pin sight would be a good choice. You've just stalked up to the last piece of cover that stands between you and a bedded mule deer.
Now it is a waiting game. The wind is perfect; you'll just sit him out. During the two hours you kneel there, you range the bush he is bedded behind 20 times, just to be sure.
You know he's two yards behind it, exactly 46 yards away. You twist a knob and slide a lever until the pointer on the scale reads just over 45 yards.
Finally, the buck stands. In a rush of excitement, you hit full draw and burn the pin into his side. No guesswork is required, nor is there anything you have to remember to do as the intensity of the wait finally comes to an adrenaline-charged end. With just one pin, you simply aim and shoot. The shot is perfect.
There is nothing more precise, nor simpler, in this situation than a single, movable pin. By eliminating as many variables as possible, you give yourself the best possible chance for success.
Nearly all archers are more accurate when they can hold their aiming pin dead on the spot. It is more intuitive and precise than having to figure the proper holdover with one of the pins or the need to bracket between two adjacent pins. It's a lot easier to make a 46-yard shot if you have a 46-yard pin than to try to bracket between your 40- and 50-yard pins. The only way you're going to have a pin for every possible yardage is to use a sight that has a movable pin. This is the most accurate system possible.
I was hunting moose and bear in Newfoundland when I learned my first lesson on the downside of using movable-pin sights for hunting. Another bowhunter named Mike was in camp. Mike was not a very experienced hunter. On the third day of the hunt, Mike was following his guide through a large area of thick pine cutover when the guide suddenly stopped, put his hand out, backed up a few yards and then crouched down. Mike took his cue and dropped to the ground. After waving Mike up, the bowhunter was soon at the guide's side.
"There's a big bear eating partridge berries just on the other side of that little pine tree," the guide whispered very lightly. "He's only about 30 feet away. Ease out around me and take the shot."
Mike couldn't believe the range could be only 30 feet. The guide must have meant 30 yards. So, he set his movable-pin sight for 30 yards and slowly sneaked past the guide until he could see around the tree. What a shock! The bear was right in front of him, still totally preoccupied with his lunch. The excitement was more than my friend could handle, and he completely forgot he had preset his sight for a much longer distance.
Mike drew back, settled the pin on the bear's chest and promptly shot right over his back. The bear beat a hasty departure as Mike and his guide watched in stunned disbelief. That's how you miss a 300-pound bear at 10 yards!
The situation Mike encountered is a classic downside when using movable-pin sights for hunting. Because the pin was preset, Mike didn't have to think about which pin to use. In the excitement, it is doubtful he could have figured out where to aim with his 30-yard pin even if he had remembered it. Adrenaline has a way of snuffing out clear thinking during the moment of truth, and all too often we aren't able to make good, fast decisions. Having to move a sight pin after hitting full draw is more than I want to deal with.
Another situation that puts movable-pin sights at a disadvantage occurs when the animal is approaching or departing. Suppose a buck is approaching your stand and you decide to draw while he is still coming in. That is what I usually do. That way I'll be ready for the shot as soon as it's presented. If he keeps coming, the shot will be short. If he turns off, I am ready to take advantage of any pause to squeeze the trigger.
Too often, you get one fleeting opportunity. You have to be at full draw and ready to release the string or the animal gets away. Now, here is the big question. As you are preparing to draw in anticipation of a later shot, for what range are you going to set the pin?
Obviously, if you pick the wrong distance when setting the pin, or fail to make the right correction once the shot opportunity arrives, you're faced with a tough moment of truth puzzle. I'm not cool enough under fire to do a lot of intelligent thinking on the quick. It's about all I can do to stick with my normal routine: estimate range, pick a pin and focus on the spot. If you throw additional challenges into the mix, I'm likely to crater. I don't want the added variable of a movable pin to confuse my life.
The Multi-Pin Option
There is a way you can benefit from the advantages of a single, movable pin without giving up the flexibility of multiple pins. Several companies make movable-pin sights with compact sight bodies having more than one pin. In fact, most have three pins. With this system, you can set the movable-pin sight to its closest range setting and then sight-in the three pins for 20, 30 and 40 yards. Further, you can then use the lever to set the top pin for five-yard increments from 20 to your maximum range. Now, you have a valuable option during the moment of truth. You can use the top pin and move the sight for exact distances, or you can leave it at the 20-yard setting and use the three preset fixed pins.
If you see a buck approaching your sta
nd, you simply leave the sight at the 20-yard setting and draw. When he finally offers a shot, you'll have three pins to help you make the proper aim. However, if you have time to use your rangefinder and know the exact distance to a stationary target, you can opt for maximum accuracy. Move the lever until you've set the top pin for the shot's exact distance. Now you can hold dead-on.
As a word of caution, if you are going to aim this way (with multiple movable pins), you need to center the pin when aiming. You can't center the pin housing like you might with a fixed-pin sight, because its not always in the same place.
Movable-pin sights are not for everyone. However, if you think your way through your hunting situation, you can make an educated decision. Under the right conditions, movable-pin sights are extremely accurate. However, under the wrong conditions, they are a problem without a solution.