Accurate shooting starts with your understanding of the distance between the target and your position. Knowing this measurement allows you to make accurate shots that are more ethical and humane. Plus, it means you can have a cleaner harvest. A rangefinder is an ideal accessory to help you confirm your shooting range with a simple look through its lens.
Ironically, a rangefinder is typically the last item a hunter will purchase after their spotting scope, binoculars, and scope. And although you may think it is a luxury item, this couldn’t be further from the truth. No matter what level of experience you have, we can all make bad distance judgments. Here we will look at how rangefinders work and how to use a hunting rangefinder to make sure you never go home empty-handed. So without further ado, let’s get right into it.
Rangefinders – How They Work
Before we look at how to use your rangefinder, you need to understand how they work. The most common type of rangefinder used for hunting is a laser rangefinder due to its accuracy. It works by hitting your target with a laser then measuring how long it takes for the laser to return.
The laser’s set speed in relation to how long it takes to return determines your target’s distance. Laser rangefinders are typically accurate to within 1 yard or less. Once measured, the range will be displayed in either yards or meters on the LCD, usually in 1 second or less.
How Does a Rangefinder Help?
Depending on your model, a hunting rangefinder is accurate within 600 to 1,200 yards, sometimes even more in high-end models. For reflective or hard objects, like rock, you measure them at even greater distances than what you could measure softer targets such as game animals. Semi-hard targets like trees are somewhere in between.
Most rangefinders will have a spec list that indicates the maximum range you can measure for various targets. Every manufacturer has a name for it, but most rangefinders will have a feature that offers true horizontal distance, which compensates for variations in angle and terrain.
Rangefinders are very helpful, especially for long downhill or uphill shots or shots at an extreme incline or decline. This is because the distance to the target is different from what it would be at ground level. Using the rangefinder will allow you to include ballistics and gravity compensation.
How to Use a Hunting Rangefinder
Now that you know how your rangefinder works, let’s take a look at how you go about using a hunting rangefinder.
Before Staring, Check the Rifle Scope
One of the most vital uses for your hunting rangefinder happens before you start your hunt. When unpacking your gear, you should do a test shot to ensure that you are sighted in properly. You can do this by ranging a target in the distance and check if the bullet hits the mark with where your scope says it should. Things as small as jostling in transit or using a different bullet brand can throw it off by up to an inch. This could result in a messy kill or missing the target entirely.
Don’t Wait Until the Last Minute to Range the Target
The time for figuring out distances is before the target shows up. The last thing you want is to have a big buck walk into your line of sight, and only then do you reach for the rangefinder. From your position, scan the surrounding area to get a sense of your potential shooting lanes. Make a note of the distances so you can save precious time when your prey appears.
If possible, it is even better to mark various landmark trees earlier in the day. From the position you will be during the hunt, use your rangefinder to measure the distances to trees and spray paint them with dots – 2 for 20 yards, 3 for 30 yards, etc. By doing so, you don’t have to remember the yardages mentally. This preparation before can pay off big time later.
If You Must Wait Until the Last Minute to Range the Target
As mentioned above, it is best to range your target beforehand. Still, sometimes the prey moves differently to how you anticipated… or you just forgot. When you have a target on the move, rangefinding works a bit differently. Your instincts may tell you to place the reticle on the target, but by the time you’ve packed away the rangefinder and lined up the shot, the target will be at a different distance.
Rather, take a few seconds to work out where the animal is moving to. Look at the predicted location and plan the shot’s distance based on that estimation. Hopefully, this will give you enough time to put your rangefinder away and get your shot ready and steady before the prey gets to the kill zone.
Using the Holdover Calculator
If you are hunting from a treestand, you will be at a steep angle to your prey, which can easily lead to misjudgments in distance. This is because your brain can better sense distance over a flat field than at an angle.
This is where a holdover calculator comes in. Most higher-end hunting rangefinders have this calculator, which ranges the path your bullet needs to take to hit a target taking into account the added elevation required to counteract gravity.
For the holdover calculator to work effectively, you must program your shot velocity based on your ammo. Once calibrated, you can use the calculator to give you the information you need to shoot your target accurately.
If you are new to hunting or are looking to increase your accuracy game for better precision, a hunting rangefinder is a must-have item. As you can see from the above discussion, they have numerous benefits, including better shots, cleaner kills, and more humane hunting overall. By following the above guide on how to use your hunting rangefinder, you will experience better hunting than ever before.