/  Gear   /  RANGEFINDERS – AN ARCHER'S BEST FRIEND by David Long

While rangefinders are becoming more and more common, there are still a good number of hunters who venture afield without one in their pack. Although there was a day when my pack lacked a rangefinder as well, nowadays, it is an essential piece of equipment that I wouldn’t even consider traveling into the high country without. Over the past several years, I have come to rely on my rangefinder very heavily for multiple tasks while hunting, which is why it has earned it a permanent place in my hunting pack.

When most people think of rangefinders, they simply think of them as a single duty instrument that is only good for giving you an accurate distance to your target for a precise shot. While this may be the rangefinders most important purpose while hunting, it should not be the only time you put it to use. Following I will discuss the top three reasons why I pack a rangefinder with a built-in inclinometer and why you should as well.

Reason 1 – Increase Your Ability to Judge Distances Accurately

As the sun gradually crept higher, the midday temperatures began approaching the 70 degrees mark. All of the animals that we had been watching feed all morning had melted away into the shadows of the nearby pines, leaving both Victor and myself sitting there on our vantage point trying to find ways of entertaining ourselves as we waited for our evening hunt. It wasn’t long before Victor said, “how far do you think it is to that lone tree on the opposite side of the basin?” With one quick look, I blurted, “200 yards.” Victor dug into his pack, retrieved his rangefinder and got a reading on the tree. He casually turned to me and said, “350.”

I shook my head in disbelief; I couldn’t believe I was 150 yards off! Being the nice guy that I am, I didn’t have the heart to tell Victor that he must have purchased a defective rangefinder, because I knew there was no way I could be that far off. After continuing to range several more objects, both close-up and far away, it was becoming more and more evident that there was clearly nothing wrong with Victor’s rangefinder. Yep, as bad as I hated to admit it, my ability to judge distances definitely needed some refining.

At that particular time I didn’t even own a rangefinder. I always figured I could guess the yardage close enough, but I have to admit, that was a real eye opener. For the next hour and a half we both sat there and had somewhat of a contest to see who could best judge the distance to various objects. Needless to say, the heat of the day flew right by as we enjoyed our new found rangefinder game.

After returning home from that trip, I immediately began researching rangefinders. I knew that if I didn’t get one, sooner or later, a poorly judged distance was going to cost me a monster buck. Just as I was getting ready to order one, I received a package in the mail from Victor. I immediately opened it only to find a Bushnell 800 yard rangefinder. I guess after our contest on the mountain, Victor came to the conclusion that I needed one as well.

Since that day, I pack a rangefinder on all of my hunts and am constantly ranging objects during the middle of the day. Not only is it a great way to pass the slow times, it is a great way to better your ability to judge distances in the high country more accurately and I would highly recommend every hunter do this on occasion. With rangefinder in hand, try to guess the distance to an object such as a tree, rock or hillside, and then range it to see how close you were. Be sure to range close objects, as well as objects that are far off in the distance. Range uphill, downhill and across canyons. The varied terrain, especially across canyons, can increase the difficulty in judging distances. This can be a very fun game to play especially when done with a hunting partner.

If you do this on occasion, not only will those slow times on the mountain go by quicker, but you will also be amazed at how much better you get at judging distances more accurately. I know it has helped me immensely. Trust me, you will be thankful you did when that buck of a lifetime presents that shot where you don’t have enough time to drag out the rangefinder from your pack, but thanks to all of your rangefinder games, you will now have the ability to pull off the shot with confidence.

Reason 2 – More Precise Stalks

I am different than most bowhunters in the fact that I prefer to stalk animals, especially mule deer, while they are in their beds. Because all of their senses are at full alert while bedded, stalking within bow range can definitely be an extremely tough task. Believe it or not, this task can be made much easier by using your rangefinder during all stages of your stalk. How? Let me explain.

Rangefinder Photo 2

Although archery is an up close, short range sport, I begin using my rangefinder once I am within 800-1000 yards of the bedded animal I am stalking. Not only am I ranging how far the animal is, but I am also ranging objects such as trees and rocks near the animal. By doing this from several different angles as I approach the animal, I then know the approximate distance of all surrounding objects to the animal. Obviously the more direct line the object is with the bedded animal, the more accurately you will know the distance between the object and your quarry, but keep in mind you don’t need an exact distance, just an approximate one. Knowing this information is critical and it allows me to pick the exact rock, tree or object that is within bow range where my stalk needs to end. If I don’t do this, I feel as if I am going in blind. Here’s an example of what I am talking about:

This past year while pursuing high country mulies in Colorado I used my rangefinder on just about every stalk. I can still remember very vividly my second stalk which was on a lone, 180 class buck which was bedded in a small cirque of stunted pines in the bottom of a rather large basin. There was a steady 5 mph wind going down the basin, so I knew that I needed to approach the buck from below. Once downwind, I ranged the buck at 756 yards. After ranging all of the surrounding objects, there was one set of small pines to the bucks left that I ranged at 712 yards. Because the small patch of trees were pretty much in a direct line with the bedded buck, I knew that I would roughly have a 44 yard shot if I could make it to the trees. Now that I knew exactly where I needed to be, I could focus entirely on how to best get there.

Approximately an hour and a half later, after using all available cover and a small ravine, I found myself about 30 yards from the small patch of trees. There was no available cover between me and the trees so at that point I was forced to slowly crawl across the grassy open area, keeping the trees between me and the buck. A few minutes later I reached the small group of trees and dug out my rangefinder. I didn’t have a clear view of the bedded buck, but I could see his antlers move occasionally behind the tree where he was bedded. I ranged the tree; 46 yards. My plan had worked perfectly. By using my rangefinder I was able to know the exact spot that would offer me the best shot. Although my stalk was perfect, as happens so often while hunting the high country, the wind swirled shortly after and the last I saw of the buck was him disappearing in a cloud of dust heading over the small ridge.

Using my rangefinder on my stalks is one of my best techniques for getting in close. To me, the advantage of knowing exactly where your stalk needs to end is huge and should not be underestimated. Think about it, rather than just winging it as you close in, you know exactly where you are going. This allows you to use all of the available cover and terrain to get you to that precise location. If you make it a habit to use your rangefinder on your stalks as I have mentioned, it will drastically increase your odds of getting within bow range of the animal you are stalking.

Reason 3 – Built-In Inclinometer

If you hunt in the high country as I do, not very many of your shot opportunities present themselves on level ground. The majority of time your shots will be at very steep uphill or downhill angles. On theses type shots, it is imperative that you adjust the yardage of the shot for the extreme angle of the slope. When shooting uphill or downhill, the thing to remember is that the only distance that gravity has an effect on is the horizontal distance between you and your target, not the total shooting distance. The new rangefinders on the market today with built-in inclinometers make quick work of this process. With one simple click of the button, the rangefinder will adjust for the slope and give you the corrected distance to the target. If you don’t have a rangefinder with the inclinometer capability, not only will you need to use a cut-chart in conjunction with the range finder, but you will need to either be fairly accurate at guessing slope angles, or you will have to pack a slope inclinometer as well. Here’s an example of a hunting situation using a rangefinder without an inclinometer:

Let’s say you spot a deer directly below you and your rangefinder gives you a reading of 50 yards. Although that is the total distance to the deer, you now need to figure out the adjusted distance for the slope. After estimating the slope at 45 degrees, you will now have to look at your cut-chart. As you look at the 50 yard column of the chart and follow it over to the 45 degree slope, your chart gives you an adjusted distance of 33 yards. While this system works with a reasonable amount of accuracy, it does take precious time and is highly dependent on judging the slope accurately. Keep in mind, if you are 10 degrees off on judging the slope, it can make 6-8 yards difference in your shot. This can mean the difference between a clean kill or a total miss, or worse yet, a wounded animal.

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If you had a rangefinder with built-in inclinometer in the previous scenario, you would have the adjusted 33 yard reading with one simple click of a button. In certain situations it may make the difference between getting a shot or not, but even more importantly, it will increase your odds of making a fatal shot by eliminating all of the guesswork.

Conclusion

As you can probably tell, I use my rangefinder often while hunting. It is every bit as important as my bow, binoculars or spotting scope. I need them all to maximize my chances of success. I would urge every hunter to invest in a rangefinder with a built-in inclinometer and use it often. It will better your ability to judge distances, make more of your stalks successful and can adjust for steep angles in a single click of a button. Once you begin to use your rangefinder as I do, you will never look at it the same again.

Comments

  • May 3, 2013
    reply

    Harold

    Great tip! And might I add, rangefinders can also be useful in game retrieval after the shot by simply ranging where you saw the animal fall. I primarily hunt in areas with thick ground cover and this method has helped immensely by giving me a general radius to look when going to put my hands on that buck of a lifetime.

  • May 3, 2013
    reply

    Harold,

    Great point! When my youngest daughter Nicole shot her first buck, we dropped off the ridge looking for it and couldn’t find it. I ranged back to the point where she shot from and it was a little over 400 yards….knowing that her shot was only 350 yards (because we ranged it prior to her shooting), we knew we were too far down the hillside….a short 50 yard walk up the hill and we found the buck.

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