Rangefinders are often the last piece of optics a hunter will buy after a scope, binoculars, and spotting scope. It can seem like a luxury item, especially when you believe that you’ve got a pretty good eye for distance. Nothing could be further from the truth though, no matter how experienced of a hunter you are, we all make bad judgements and that can be the difference between filling your tag and going home empty-handed. The tips below will guide you through how to use your rangefinder most effectively.
Check Your Rifle Scope Before the Hunt
One of the most important uses for your rangefinder comes before the hunt even begins. As you’re unpacking all the gear, it’s a good idea to do a quick test shot to make sure you’re still sighted in correctly. Range a target out in the distance and see if your bullet hits where the scope says it should. Something as simple as using a different brand of bullets or some jostling in transit could throw it off by an inch, which could mean a not-so-clean kill.
Don’t Range Your Target at the Last Minute
You’re sitting in your treestand and that big buck walks into your line of sight. You reach for the rangefinder and as you get the distance, he wanders out of the clearing. The time to figure out your distances was before a target showed up.
From your treestand or blind, scan the area, get a sense of where your shooting lanes might be, and then make note of the distance to those landmarks. When your prey finally comes, you’ll save precious seconds by not fumbling with your rangefinder.
An even better practice is to mark the trees that you’ll be using as landmarks. Two dots of spray paint can indicate twenty yards, three for thirty, and so on. If you’re bowhunting, mark on a tree for every pin on your sight. This way you won’t have to keep a mental map of all the yardages. Repeat the process at each location that you’ll be hunting. A little preparation now will pay big dividends later.
(If You Must) Range Your Target at the Last Minute
It’s much better to get your distances down before the target comes within range, but we all make mistakes and forget. The rangefinding process works a little bit differently when you’ve got an animal on the move though. Instinctively, you’ll put the rangefinder’s reticle right on the target, but that would be a mistake. By the time you get the rangefinder packed away and are lining up the shot, it’ll be at a completely different distance.
Instead, take a second to figure out where the animal is going. Looking to the animal’s predicted location, plan where you will be able to make a shot on it. This is where you’ll want to calculate a distance for. With any luck, you’ll have time to put the rangefinder away and steady your shot before the animal reaches the kill zone.
Use the Holdover Calculator
Shooting from a treestand puts you at a steep angle to your target, which can lead to serious misjudgments of distance. Your brain is much better at sensing the distance across a level field than it is at determining an angled path through the air. Fortunately, many of the higher end rangefinders have what is called a holdover calculator. It ranges the path that a bullet or arrow would need to take to reach its final target, which takes into account the extra elevation necessary to counteract gravity along with the angle of the shooter to the target. For this to be effective, you’ll need to program in the velocity of your shots, which will fluctuate as you change ammo or bow limbs.