Garmin just released the newest iteration of their Xero electronic bow sight. The Xero A1i Pro offers significant updates to the original. While many archery talking heads are making noise about this technological leap forward, not many are asking the most fundamental question: Is it ethical to use bowhunting?
Garmin’s electronic bow sights incorporate two archery technologies in one unit: a laser rangefinder and digital pins. When the archer comes to full-draw, they simply click a button mounted on the bow’s grip. The sight takes a laser distance reading of the target and then instantly presents an LED dot on the glass screen in the housing. This placement of this electronic “pin” is generated by that range reading.
That means if a bowhunter using this sight ranges a deer at 40 yards at full draw, they will see one and only one pin, which will be perfectly oriented for a 40-yard shot. Hold the glowing dot on vitals and send it. Garmin says it will take a reading and generate a pin on game animals out to 100 yards and reflective targets out to 300 yards.
The 2018 model and the new A1i Pro feature:
- Customizable arrow profiles so arrows with different weights can be configured in seconds. This makes for easy switching from fast and light 3d darts to heavier hunting arrows without sighting in the bow again.
- A “laser locate feature” pairs with a compatible Garmin GPS device to display the target’s exact location when the shot or range was taken on the device.
- An ambient light sensor controls the pin brightness per the user-set preferences, so pins appear consistently sized and not too bright or dim, regardless of lighting conditions.
The new A1i Pro also brings to the table:
- Micro-adjust (0.35 MOA) fine-tuning to tweak sight elevation, windage, pitch, and yaw—allowing for both faster first-pin setup and laser alignment when sighting-in.
- A two-position dovetail mount.
- An auto-calibration feature: after mechanically setting a 20-yard pin, the archer can input their bow’s speed and the sight will auto-generate a pin stack.
- A real-time built-in accelerometer that acts as a digital level and alerts the shooter if the bow is canted or not sufficiently level enough to execute an accurate shot for the distance.
- The “Flight Apex” feature displays the max elevation of the arrow in flight to help a hunter know if their arrow will fly above or below a potential obstruction like a hanging tree branch.
- MSRP: $1,300
Is this new Garmin Xero A1i Pro bow sight cheating?
Divisions in the bowhunting community are many, and nothing divides bowhunters more than technology: traditional vs. compound, compound vs. crossbow, electronic rangefinder vs. range estimation. Bowhunters even argue about whether or not it’s appropriate to use plastic fletchings vs. real feathers. It’s no surprise the introduction of an electronic auto-range-finding bow sight has some bent around the axle.
Bowhunting is considered a “primitive weapons” season in many states, which generally allows for the use of archery equipment and muzzleloading black powder rifles. As a result, many states regulate the amount of technology you can use during that season.
For example, some states do not allow crossbows during archery season unless you are a youth or have a medical exception. States also restrict electronics on bows, including pin lights, lighted nocks, and some even prohibit using mechanical broadheads. A few states — primarily western states — strictly forbid the use of electronic bow sights.
Since the invention of the compound bow, few technological advances in archery have been more widely debated than the introduction of the electronic bow sight. Those against them argue the following points:
- Hunter success rates will go up, resulting in fewer hunter opportunities. If a technological advance results in more hunters successfully killing their quarry, the tag numbers or bag limits will eventually decrease.
- One of the most significant challenges in bowhunting is getting close enough for a shot, followed by moving to draw the bow while knowing the target distance. Moving to either range an animal with a handheld range finder or to draw your bow are the two most significant hurdles to overcome before releasing an arrow. Electronic bow sights eliminate one of those movements, and even if the animal moves, you can have an updated range and aiming point displayed for you at the click of a button.
- Reduction of necessary practice and effort: Archers spend a lot of time working on things like range estimation, proper form, and sighting and tuning their bows in the offseason. Electronic bow sights don’t eliminate the need for practice, but they shorten the time required to figure long shots. Archers with traditional sights spend countless hours and hundreds of arrows sighting in and ensuring their equipment is as precise as possible. A good archer can be sighted out to 100-plus yards after firing 10 arrows or less with this new Garmin bow sight.
Bowhunters who support electronic bow sights have some valid arguments in their corner, too. The flip side of the hunter success argument is just that: bowhunters will generally be more successful using electronic sights.
When we say hunter success rates will go up, we’re also saying there will be fewer misjudged distances and fewer instances of bowhunters accidentally using the wrong pin when taking a shot, both common mistakes that have caused many animals to be missed or wounded.
As hunters, the goal is always a quick clean kill. The new Garmin bow sight helps eliminate this kind of human error.
Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Essentially, that will come down to personal choice, and in some states, the hunting regs. But no one can argue that this new Garmin bow sight isn’t a giant technological leap. Whether it’s a leap forward or backward will be a debate had over archery shop counters through this season and many more after. This tech isn’t going away. It’s here to stay, and it’s making bowhunters deadlier.
Read Next: More stories from contributor Michael Herne.