Draw First

By Christian Schauf

He came in from above me and to my left. 

The dense aspen forest provided very few shooting lanes, so I searched ahead of his trajectory and found a small 18-inch gap between two trees, drew back and waited. The bull’s face emerged from behind the tree and I pressed the button taped to the grip on my riser, put the red dot on his face, and released the button. A green dot instantly appeared slightly higher in my peep and I quickly lowered my aim by positioning the new green dot behind his front shoulder. I let out a cow call that froze the bull, then released my arrow. Moments later, I was standing over a great public land 6×7, and my archery season was complete.

If that sequence felt off to you (normally bowhunters range the animal then draw) it’s because this past year I switched to Garmin’s Xero A1i Pro rangefinding bow sight. Despite working with Garmin for the past several years, I’d been hesitant to use the original Xero. My dad mounted one when it first launched, and to be honest, we never felt fully comfortable with it. Alas, I decided the updates to the new Pro model were worth consideration, and I mounted it up last spring to give it a fair try. 

With nearly a dozen kills and thousands of arrows through it, I feel confident in providing this spoiler alert: I love it. 

From setup to shooting, it’s a completely different experience than a traditional sight. And for someone like me who primarily hunts alone, removing one step from the shooting process can be the difference between success and failure. Several times while using the Xero, I’ve been at full draw, slow-walking around a target animal, and re-ranging without the need to let down. 

The A1i Pro provides two options: a single illuminated dot as a pin once your target is ranged, or a stack of pins in 10 yard increments, from 20 yards to your bow’s max (mine goes to 90). The latter is used if you know the range and want to have a more traditional sight picture. 

It’s full of features like a level, flight apex (to check for branches your arrow may hit during flight), Xtra distance mode for 3D competitions and long-range shooting, and auto-calibration that allows you to enter a small handful of measurements and create a pin stack based on your 20 yard pin without the need to adjust each pin. You can also enter multiple arrow profiles, so with the click of a button you can go from your lightweight setup to your heavy arrows, for example. 


Once you get used to the Xero Pro, it’s pretty freaking incredible. As with my bull this past season, I didn’t have to guess a range, adjust my pin, or anything else. I just drew my bow and waited. Once the bull was in the right spot, it was the simple click of a button—and no motion to be sensed—and I had the exact right pin on his shoulder.  For guys using heavy arrows, an exact range is a win when a few yards can make a big difference.  

My initial concern was battery life, but the battery isn’t an issue because it’ll last somewhere near 25,000 ranges. And when it’s time to replace, it’s a common lithium AAA.

I’ve set mine up to give me a couple red lights above and below my pin if I’m tilted, almost guaranteeing that I’m level before I pull the trigger. 

The biggest win for me, though, is the ability to re-range at full draw on an animal that is moving. I may range a bull at 25 and he spooks and runs to 36 yards. No worries. Simply push the button again and re-range, then release.


Because the Xero is electronic, it’s not legal in some states. So be sure to make sure you’re on the right side of the law before shelling out the cash for this baby.

The sight is also prohibited equipment when it comes to most record books.

While it has an auto-adjust on brightness, you do have to remember to turn your brightness up or down in certain conditions, like standing in bright light while shooting into shadows. If not adjusted properly, the illuminated pin can create a halo that prohibits you from being exact in your placement. 

It’s expensive.

But the only real complaint I have is in a situation where there is moving grass, or a very tight window to get a range. Like plenty of handheld rangefinders, the Xero can have the propensity to jump around distance-wise, grabbing the waving grass in front of your intended target. That said, if you’re experienced, a simple click over to the fixed pin stack is a great way to overcome a situation like this.


How much technology is too much? That’s up to you. But for me, the Xero Pro is an awesome addition to my setup.  I often hunt alone, generally on public land where opportunities are few and far between. What’s more, the odds of making the record books are slim. In these situations, it’s a critical piece of gear that I fully trust and recommend. $1,300

Editor’s note: Christian most recently put the Garmin Xero to work on his PSE Mach 34 Carbon Compound Bow while in Africa with the FE crew. More on that adventure in the coming weeks.

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