Monday, July 22nd, 2024

Breaking News for

Sportsmen Since 1967

Monday, July 22nd, 2024

Breaking News for

Sportsmen Since 1967

Laser rangefinders — the trusty tool helping hunters make better shots for 25 years

It might be hard to believe, but laser rangefinders have been around for 25 years. Most hunters use rangefinders to confirm shot distance and then decide whether or not to take that particular shot. (Illustration by Outdoor News staff)

Hey all you hunting and shooting grandpas (even you grandpas-to-be) take it from this grandpa – laser rangefinders aren’t new fangled, high-tech, or unethical. The first successful consumer model came out in 1999.

You don’t have to use a rangefinder to set up for ridiculously long shots you have no business taking. Used correctly, one of these “cheaters” could prevent you from crippling and losing a deer.

Wouldn’t you rather know you can hit it than hope you might hit it? Sure, it’s fine to brag about how you will never, ever, take a shot unless you’re 100% positive you can make it – and then that tantalizing buck stands broadside at oh-how-many-yards and your crosshair is so steady on its shoulder and you just know he’s in range and … your resolve breaks.

Been there done that. I’m sure there really is the perfect hunter out there, a man or woman with a permanent halo glowing round his or her ears, but I haven’t met him or her yet. More power to you, but for the rest of us mortals, a laser rangefinder can keep us on the straight and narrow. And keep our beloved deer, bear, elk, antelope, etc., from suffering from errant shots launched from unknown distances with good intentions.

Use a rangefinder to confirm estimated distances. (Photo courtesy of Eric Morken)

Owning and using a laser rangefinder doesn’t mean you have to, or ever will, launch a bomb from 600 yards. Or even 300 yards. It merely gives you the means to positively know how far you are from your potential target. And if it’s too far, you don’t risk the shot.

Of course, there is the old time “maximum point blank range” zero set-up that pretty much precludes the need for range-finding, but, good though as it is, it isn’t perfect either. The way it works is you zero your rifle so that your bullet’s trajectory never rises more than 2 or 3 inches above your point of aim, and when from it falls below that point of aim, you’ve reached your maximum point blank range.

Most of the grandpas in the mid-20th century used this to good effect. Many of us still do, especially out West where we spot and stalk our game and often find we’ve run out of cover when Mr. Deer is still way out there at an unknown distance. But 200 yards looks like 100 yards one day, 400 yards the next. Hills, trees, flats, grasslands, brush, clouds, sunshine – conditions conspire to confuse us. Laser rangefinders do not.

Now if you insist on sitting in the same treestand or ground blind looking over that same 100-yard long field and that set up never varies, you truly do not need a rangefinder. So you’re free to skip the rest of this lesson. But if you ever plan to try something new, to travel and sample new venues, to perhaps encounter a black bear on the far side of a clear cut or lake – please use a simple laser rangefinder.


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These devices are fairly simple. Battery powered, they send out a beam of light, read the reflection when it bounces back, times the round-trip, using an internal computer to do the math, and coughs out a distance accurate to within a few feet. Some are accurate to 2,000 yards. But a 1,000-yarder should be more than enough.

Ha! Lest you laugh at the ridiculous idea of shooting to 1,000 yards, you should know that a 1,000-yard rated instrument means it’s truly effective to half that distance. Like most commercial products, the sales pitch gives you a best-case scenario, a highly reflective subject in good light.

Good light, by the way, means low light, not bright light. A white barn on a cloudy day or at dusk represents a highly reflective, best-case scenario for reading 1,000 yards. A brown deer in brush under full sunlight – you might be lucky to read to 500 yards.

So buy more than you think you’ll need.

Now, with a basic unit like this, you will be ready to measure the actual distance to that tantalizing buck at the edge of that power-line cut you’ve always assumed was way too far away and discover that it’s actually 230 yards, easily within the point-blank range of your old .30-06 or .270, or even your scope-sighted .243 Winchester. If you’ve practiced shooting at that distance and have a solid hold – why not? Millions of heads of game have thus started their way to the dinner table in this manner.

But if this goes against your personal ethics, don’t shoot. At least you’ll know for sure it was beyond your limits – not just wonder and doubt your decision.

Another reason to own and use a laser rangefinder is training. Some folks are remarkably good at estimating distances because they do it regularly and check their guesses, usually by walking, sometimes by knowing a quarter-section square of farm ground fence-to-fence is 440 yards, sometimes by stepping off their estimates, etc. But the easiest method is to guesstimate, then check yourself with a laser. Doing this while hiking or even just strolling fields and woodlands really trains your eye.

But that’s not all! If you really want to sparkle, check out a rangefinder that also reads up and down angles and coughs up data to compensate for what will be a bullet strike higher than when shot on the level. Oh yeah, steep uphill and downhill angles change bullet drops significantly as distances increase beyond 150 yards or so. Knowing “how much” is another way to prevent poor shot placement.

Honestly, rather than cheating by making shots too easy or encouraging excessively long shots, a laser rangefinder – used right – can help you maintain your highly ethical shooting skills. You might want to give one a try.

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