The Oft-Overlooked Peep Sight

When I first started shooting compound bows back in the Pleistocene era (OK, this was back in the late 1970’s but it seems that long ago) peep sights were rarely seen on a hunting bow. Those that you did see were awkward to use, as they never seemed to rotate during the draw cycle so that they were perfectly aligned. Then a company called Fine-Line, Inc. came out with a peep that was attached to the cable system with a small-diameter rubber tube that stretched when you came to full draw, rotating the peep so that it was now perfectly aligned with your eye at full draw. Voila! Quality peeps were now both inexpensive and easy to use, and bowhunters coast to coast began discovering how using a peep sight can make you a much more consistent shot than shooting without one.

What Does a Peep Sight Do?
A peep sight is nothing more than a small ring that is served into the bowstring so that it is positioned to align with your shooting (dominant) eye when you are at full draw. Here it acts much as the rear sight of an iron-sighted firearm does, giving you two references points (the peep and sight pin) to help you precisely place your arrow on target.

In essence, what the peep does is give you a more consistent anchor point, which of course leads to more consistent shot placement. It does this by forcing your head position to be in the same place shot after shot, or you will not be able to clearly see your sight pins.

Two Basic Styles
Today there are two basic styles of peep sights. The first is the aforementioned self-aligning peep that uses the rubber tube to ensure that the peep rotates into perfect position every time. The second is a peep that does not use any type of tubing, instead sitting “freestyle” inside the strands of the bowstring. With this type of peep you have to take care when installing it to make sure it is in the proper position from the get-go. There are advantages and disadvantages to both styles.

With self-aligning peeps, it seems you are constantly looking after the rubber tubing. This seemingly innocuous piece of equipment can get snagged on brush or other obstacles, which can pull it off the peg of the peep. Over time, both heat and the UV rays from the sun will slowly destroy the rubber to the point that it will eventually break when you draw the bow. The tubing also adds a bit of weight, which can slow arrow speed down slightly, though I have never felt this was a factor. Add, the tubing can add noise and vibration at the shot. On the other hand, unless the bowstring is drawn back exactly the same every time, standard peeps can stop a bit sideways when you come to full draw, meaning you are only looking through a portion of the hole. This makes aiming difficult, especially in low light. This was more of a problem a decade ago, before advances in bowstring materials reduced string stretch, and when most shot with fingers. Using a release aid and string loop significantly minimizes this problem.

Setting Up a Peep
Proper setup on a peep sight is one of the easiest and most overlooked aspects of bow tuning. After installing my arrow rest and string loop, what I do is draw my bow and anchor with my eyes closed (this helps me get my head into the proper position with cheating.) Then I have a friend take an indelible ink pen and mark my string where it appears my eye would look through the peep if it were already installed.

Next, using either a bow press or, if you don’t have one, a small string separator, I install the peep in the center of the bowstring fibers. Above and below the peep I tie pieces of serving material (In a pinch, unwaxed dental floss works fine for this.) At first I leave the serving material loose enough so I can slide the peep up or down. Once done, I draw the bow back again with my eyes closed, and anchor solidly. When I open my right eye, it should be looking directly through the center of the peep without my having to move my head at all. If I cannot—and rarely am I able to the first try—the peep is slid slightly up or down the bowstring until the position is perfect. Once it is, it must be tied securely in place to keep it from sliding up the string, which it will do without fail over the course of time.

Last but not least, I mark the position of both the upper and lower edges of the peep with the indelible pen so I can tell at a glance whether or not the peep has shifted.

How Big an Aperture?
Peeps come with many different sizes of holes, called apertures. As a general rule, for hunting a larger aperture of about ¼-inch is preferable, since they let in more light than smaller apertures, which makes seeing the sight pins easier in the low light of dawn and dusk, when most deer and other big game animals are taken. Smaller peep holes—those of 1/8- to 3/16-inch—are used by target archers, who shoot under controlled conditions with plenty of light.

Mating Peep & Bow Sight
Most bowhunters use a sight that has a pin guard with a round pin guard today. Once you have installed your peep in the proper position in the bowstring, adjust your bow sight so that when you are anchored solidly at full draw, the sight pin guard matches the round peep hole in such a manner that it disappears from view. This is one more check mark on your sighting list that tells you that your head is in the proper position and you are anchored in exactly the right spot. Taken together, this all adds up to consistent shot-to-shot accuracy.

Bowhunting with a Peep
Most new archers begin shooting compound bows with a peep sight, and thus know no other way to shoot. With lots of practice centering the sight pin in the peep’s center—which is where you need to put the pin every time—becomes second nature.

Before heading afield every day, and then every time I get into my stand, I check my bow over carefully. I make sure my peep has not moved by checking it against the marks on my bowstring. When using a self-aligning peep I check the rubber tubing closely. I also carry a spare piece of tubing in my hunting pack, “just in case.”

In rain, snow or bitter cold conditions you need to periodically check the peep to make sure no water, snow or ice has clogged the aperture. I remember one bitter day in the upper Midwest when a really nice buck approached my stand. When I came to full draw I could not see out of my peep thanks to a fat water droplet that had crystalized right in the aperture. While at full draw I simply put the peep in my mouth and sucked the moisture out, then re-anchored and shot the deer.

It will also behoove you to learn how to make the shot using the top edge of the peep sight and your top sight pin. That’s because, sooner or later, a really nice buck is going to be in bow range when there is enough light to see the sight pin clearly through the peep sight. In that case, if you look over the top of the peep and align the sight pin with that top edge, you can still make the shot—if you know where to hold.

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1 Response to The Oft-Overlooked Peep Sight

JP wrote:
April 17, 2014

Thanks for a great article, Bob. Very helpful. (Note: I think you meant there 'is NOT enough light' in that 2nd to last sentence.)