New bowhunting technology — like the Garmin Xero A1i Pro bow sight — is always met with skepticism, and rightly so. Technology is one more thing to fail in a chain of gear that we rely on to make accurate shots. There’s already a lot of things that can go wrong with a modern compound bow. For example, your drop away rest could fail to drop, your sight pins can bend, and your release aid’s sear can fail. All those things have happened to me at major tournaments or while hunting. Not to mention how screwed you are if you get to your hunting spot and realize you forgot your release, which might have happened to me too.
The point is, we already have a lot of points of failure in our system, and we need to have absolute confidence in the equipment we take hunting. Is the newest Xero bow sight worthy of that level of confidence? I field tested a pre-production model for about a month at my home range and during my state’s early bow season. Here are my thoughts on the Xero A1i Pro.
Garmin Xero A1i Pro Specs
- Weight: 18 ounces
- Battery life: 25,000 ranges or one year
- Power source: Two AAA batteries
- Max ranging distance: 100 yards on game, 300 yards on reflective targets
- Waterproof rating: IPX7
- MSRP: $1,299
Garmin Xero A1i Pro Overview
The Xero bow sight came out in 2018 and was one of the biggest archery product launches of that year. Garmin took that — now time-tested — design, and updated it with some great new features in the Garmin Xero A1i Pro.
The Garmin Xero is an auto-ranging bow sight. It has a built-in rangefinder and automatically displays an aiming dot in the exact position for the distance to the target. You don’t have to think about which pin to use or dial your sight to the correct distance. You don’t even have to take out your rangefinder. Simply press the pressure pad attached to the front of the bow’s grip and place the reticle on your target. When you release the pressure pad, an aiming dot will appear. Stick the dot on the bull’s-eye or kill zone and shoot. That’s the headline feature that made the Xero newsworthy in 2018, but the A1i Pro has advanced features that are worthy of excitement.
With anything that takes batteries comes the fear that those batteries will die at the worst possible moment. But, it’s not something I’d worry about with the Xero. The A1i Pro has up to one year of battery life or 25,000 ranges. When the sight is on, it doesn’t draw much power and can be left on without concern for the battery life. It does have a 24 hour auto-shutoff. What draws the most power is ranging targets, but you can still range 25,000 times before the batteries die. The sight will also warn you when the battery is low and it’s time to add two new AAA lithiums.
Auto calibration makes sighting in from 20 yards to your max distance a breeze. You sight in at 20 using the sight’s mechanical adjustment. Then you input your bow’s speed and arrow diameter. A few more shots at 40 yards or farther, and you’re sighted in from 20 to your max distance.
Most sight levels are located at the bottom of the sight and require you to look down to check your bubble. The pro level displays a level within the sight housing where you can easily see it. There are several configurations to choose from so you can decide what works best for you. The pro level is also more sensitive to cant at farther distances, where just a few degrees of cant will affect arrow impact. It’s also less sensitive at closer distances where you don’t need to be concerned with one degree of cant to make an accurate shot.
Deflections are one of the most heart-wrenching ways to miss an animal. Flight apex helps you avoid glancing off obstructions and shoot through tight windows by displaying a dot at the highest point of the arrow’s arch.
If you like practicing at 80 or 100 yards, the original Xero would not allow you to reach that far. But, the A1i Pro allows you to slide the scope housing down. Most archers get an extra 10 to 15 yards of distance with the feature. So, if your max range inside the scope housing is 60 yards, you’ll be able to shoot 70 yards in practice. It’s important to note that this feature only works for practice because it’s too slow to use for hunting.
Testing the Garmin Xero A1i Pro in the Field
Before we get into the review, I need to get some context out of the way. First, I did not pay for the sight. Garmin sent me a pre-production model to review, with no other expectations other than writing a review on the new sight. The other disclaimer is that I’ve only had the sight for three weeks. In those three weeks, I’ve shot it daily, in everything from bright daylight to heavy rain. I also took it out for a weekend of Virginia’s early doe-only season.
Taking the Xero A1i Pro from the box to dialed in was incredibly easy. The best part is you really don’t need to read the instructions to get the sight set up and sighted in. When you turn the Xero on, instructions appear on the screen that guide you through the process. Most of the steps are very easy to follow, but one tricky — yet important — step is aligning the sight to your eye.
Take your time during that portion of the setup because getting it set perfectly will optimize the sight’s capability. This is also the one step that I found frustrating because of the way the sight is built. There’s just enough room in the tolerances that when I tightened the lock screw, to secure my adjustment, the sight would move a small amount and throw off the adjustment I had just made. I had to anticipate how much the sight would move to account for the eventual slip when I tightened the lock screw.
For sighting in, you can choose auto calibrate, or manually sight in your bow. I tried both. In the manual mode, you sight in as you would with a normal sight. But, the Xero A1i Pro will still estimate the locations for the 30 and 40 yard pins. I found the estimate to be within a few inches. Going from close to the bull’s-eye to dead center is intuitive. The sight asks if the arrow hit high or low and then how many inches it was off. If you were two inches off it adjusts for that exact amount, no guess and check like a normal bow sight.
As easy as manual mode was, the auto calibration was even easier. The sight uses your arrow speed and arrow diameter to map your arrow’s trajectory. After sighting in at 20 and 40, the sight dialed me in at all distances to my max range of 60 yards. It put me within two inches of the bullseye at 60 yards and after that quick adjustment, I didn’t have to make another. Sighting in a multi-pin or shooting in a sight tape usually takes a lot of time, but the Xero made it a 15-minute job.
On the Range
I like shooting with the Xero A1i Pro. The clean and clutter-free sight picture, combined with a bright crisp aiming dot, is ideal. For my setup, my max range is 60 yards. I could gain more distance, but I like my 20 yard pin to be close to the center of the scope housing. So, what I get is the equivalent range of a five pin sight, but with no pin gapping at odd distances and no pins blocking my view. If the target is 53 yards I don’t have to worry about needing to hold my 50-yard pin 6 inches high. The sight is dialed in to exactly 53 yards and I aim where I want the arrow to hit.
The sight also has built in form checks, which I think are the sleeper function of the sight. When you get to full draw there’s a circle and there should be a dot aligned within that circle. If it’s not, you’re probably torquing the bow and need to adjust your grip. On my other sights, I rarely look at my level unless I’m shooting on a side hill. But, with the pro level there’s no reason not to check because it’s so easy to know if your bow is level. The feedback I got from both of these functions revealed form and equipment adjustments that I needed to make.
Another cool feature is the shot dynamics and odometer. The shot odometer tracks how many arrows you’ve shot in a practice session, much like a Garmin Fenix 6 would track how many miles you ran. The shot dynamics measures the shot reaction, which is a very cool feature for tuning stabilizers if you really want to nerd out.
While a backyard isn’t the best place to test the durability of a hunting sight, I did get a chance to address one of the top concerns people have: wet weather. We had a significant rainstorm roll through my area and I took the opportunity to shoot the sight. While shooting in the rain, water droplets collected on the lens, but it didn’t impede my ability to see the target, shoot accurately, or interfere with a crisp dot. To see if extended exposure to rain would do anything, I left the sight on, and left my bow in the rain for a few hours. When I went out to shoot my drenched bow, the sight ranged accurately and worked as it should.
The Xero A1i Pro worked as advertised in the yard, but the real test is how it works in hunting. Our regular bow season didn’t open until October 2, but certain parts of the state have an early doe season. So, I loaded up the car and took a road trip to northern Virginia to hunt with friends in the area.
My first sit with the Xero I had two bucks come into bow range. Of course, it was doe-only season, and no shots were fired. But, I did get to test out using the Xero as a rangefinder. The process is the same as ranging a target at full draw. You’ll look through the sight, put the reticle on the target and squeeze the pressure pad. It’s a handy feature for ranging your surroundings.
For my second hunt I was on a property dubbed “the meat factory.” I sat in a walnut tree that overlooked a trail that led straight to a persimmon tree. The stand was positioned at the edge of a wide-open field. It’s a pretty hard to beat stand for September and I was covered up in deer before shooting light as they fed under my stand.
After shooting light, action was slow until a doe stepped out from the edge of the field to my left. She started walking toward the opposite end of the field where one of my friends was positioned in another persimmon tree. She paused for a moment as she walked out and I came to full draw on the doe, and ranged her at 40 yards. I thought about sending it, but decided not to. My patience was rewarded when for no apparent reason the doe made a button hook and headed straight for my stand. At 20 yards, she turned and started walking toward the persimmon tree to my right. That turn put her broadside. I came to full draw, ranged her at 17 yards, and squeezed off a shot that resulted in a double lung hit.
The scenario that played out was a great test of the Xero A1i Pro. I was overlooking an open field without obvious range landmarks. The deer did something unexpected, and there was a short window of opportunity to make the shot. It’s not that I couldn’t have killed that deer with a fixed pin sight, it’s that the Xero reduced the chances of making a costly mistake. The process of ranging and then aiming the sight was intuitive. I don’t recall even having to think about it in the moment, which is exactly what I want in a piece of gear.
What the Garmin Xero A1i Pro Does Best
The ranging function of the sight is fantastic, but my favorite feature of the sight is that it makes you a better archer. The ranging reticle that doubles as a torque check and the level displayed in your field of view, act as reminders to stay focused on your shot process.
The aiming experience is also a favorite feature. The clean unobstructed view of the target with a crisp aiming dot, is unmatched in ease of aiming. Whether you’re shooting at last light or in bright sun, the aiming dot is always bright and never bloomed out.
I think the auto-ranging function is the biggest benefit to archers using extremely heavy arrows because the speeds shot with those arrows make yardage more critical. It could also benefit hunters in a dynamic environment: like hunting during the rut, or spot and stalk hunting.
What the Garmin Xero A1i Pro Does Worst
This isn’t a sight for new archers. If you’re brand new to archery, stick with a fixed pin or slider sight. If you torque the bow often the reticle alignment will drive you crazy, and while the setup is easy, I can see it tripping up a new archer.
The mechanical adjustment is not refined. If you’re coming from a premium slider like an Axcel Landslyde you’ll notice a lot of wiggle and slop when making adjustments. The good news is, once you dial in the adjustments, you won’t have to use the mechanical adjustment unless you dial the elevation for extra distance. With that said, I find the Xtra Distance feature to be useful on the flat range and useless for hunting. The issue is that the adjustment isn’t toolless. You could use it on a 3D course, but it’ll be slow. The A1i Pro could significantly benefit from a refined slider adjustment.
Is the Xero A1i Pro right for you? That’s the $1,300 question — yes, this sight costs as much as a premium hunting bow. In my opinion, the answer to that question depends on how you answer these three questions:
Is it legal to use in your state?
The Xero is legal in the majority of states, but any state that doesn’t allow illuminated sights or electronics on sights won’t allow the Xero. Check your regs and check them again before buying the A1i Pro.
Can you afford it?
If you’re buying one of the best rangefinders, you’ll spend $300 to $600. A top-of-the-line sight will be in a similar price range. At the top end of the combined cost, you’re pretty close to an A1i Pro. Then, if you take into account the added features, you can justify the cost. But, if you already have a top-end rangefinder and just need sight, it becomes a more difficult decision.
Do you need it?
The Xero A1i Pro offers a lot of advanced features and does things that no other sight on the market does. But, it won’t be right for everyone. If you are a high-level archer capable of taking hunting shots beyond 40 yards, a believer in heavy arrows, or someone that wants the most sophisticated sight on their bow, then the Xero A1i Pro might be your huckleberry.
Is it right for me? I don’t like complicated things, and I’m not usually an early adopter of new technology. The Xero A1i Pro might be an exception to my otherwise tech adverse outlook. For now, the Xero is staying on my bow because I enjoy shooting the sight, and the feedback it provides has already helped me be more accurate. I find it to be very easy to use and it actually has simplified my shooting, instead of making it more complex. With more time and many more successful shots, I could see it becoming a permanent fixture on my hunting rig.