For those hunting at ranges longer ranges, be that 40 yards with a bow or 400 yards with a rifle, no piece of technology has been more beneficial than the rangefinder. While the early models were only marginally accurate, modern rangefinders can nail down a target is less than a second, ensuring you have a precise distance to aim for.
While some situations may be trickier than others, rangefinders are fairly easy to use. To avoid running into any issues with any difficult situations, here are some tips and tricks to help you along!
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Pick a Rangefinder that Suits your Needs
This cannot be overstated! Sure, there are generic ‘do anything’ rangefinders but you will have much more success if you use a rangefinder suited to your needs. A proper rangefinder will have specifications and software intended to help you use the unit and provide data that is most useful for you.
So, if you hunt with a rifle get a rangefinder meant for ballistic hunting. If you bow hunt, get an archery specific model that has angle compensation. The amount of difference this makes is huge!
Have your Rangefinder Ready
If you keep your rangefinder in a pocket, make sure that pocket is easily accessible and can be done with a minimum of movement and noise. My hunting vest has a D ring on the left side above the pocket and I keep my rangefinder there on a long lanyard. It is easy to get with minimal movement and is out of the way of my bow when I shoot.
A rangefinder you can’t get to when you need it is just added weight you don’t need to carry.
Keep it Steady
Modern rangefinders are very accurate and have software that is intended to make them more accurate. Don’t make the cause of inaccuracy your shaky hands. Steady the rangefinder on a tree, limb, shooting stick, or anything you can get your hands on to keep it steady.
It’s just like shooting a rifle and you don’t want to miss. If nothing else use a supported stance with your elbow tuckeEverything you Need to Know About Rangefindersd close to your body. Whatever you can do to keep the rangefinder steady while you range.
Range Before you Have a Target
When you get to your stand or hunting location, start picking out areas that deer are likely to travel. I make a written list and then use my rangefinder to get ranges on all of them and note the range. If a deer comes through faster than I am comfortable getting to my rangefinder, ranging it, then moving on to my bow, I have a good idea of the ranges around me.
If you are on a deer trail, place markers. I usually do this on a tree with some trail tape. If you are really serious, you can use different colors for different ranges but I usually place one around 20 yards and one about 30 yards.
Range Deer you Don’t Intend to Shoot
This piggybacks off the last idea. If you are in your stand or blind and a doe walks past, range it. If it’s a buck to young or small to shoot, range it. If a turkey happened to walk out of that same area, I would range that too.
The idea is that wildlife follows game trails and if does are coming out of an area, a buck will likely come out of the same area. I want to know that range just in case I have to make a quick shot and don’t have time to go to the rangefinder.
Range the Brighter Areas
Whether you are ranging locations around your hunting area or a deer, aim for the brighter colored spots. The idea is that the brighter an area is, the more reflective it will be. Because of the way that rangefinders work, this will give you a quicker and more accurate reading.
When I say bright, I don’t mean areas that are lit by the sun, I mean brighter colors or more reflective areas. While it is unlikely that a sunlit spot will cause any issues with your rangefinder, it doesn’t accomplish the goal of getting a solid reading.
Range Targets Twice
Just to make sure you are hitting what you think you are hitting, range it, lower your rangefinder off target for a second and then range it again. Compare your results. They should be close, within a meter or so.
This doesn’t apply if ranging twice could lead to missing a deer. If you pre-ranged the area, you should have a decent idea of where your buck is and are just using the rangefinder to confirm.
Scan for Targets
I like a rangefinder that has a scan mode. I will frequently use this just to keep ranges in my head but it can also be a great tactic to get that whole ‘Range it Twice’ thing done. If you are scanning, the rangefinder may not be as accurate but if a deer approaches, hit it with scan and then change over and quickly get a pinpoint range on it. Compare the two.
Learn Proper Trigger Control
We already compared the rangefinder to a rifle. To continue on that trend, learn to trigger your rangefinder the same way you would if you were making a long-distance shot. The steadier and more accurately you can hit a target with a rangefinder, the better your results will be.
Don’t get sloppy or you won’t get the best results from your rangefinder.
Know your Rangefinder
Just like any other hunting device, you have to know how to use it or why did you spend money on it? I take my rangefinder on hikes, when I am scouting, or just out on the back porch and practice with it. Use it at ranges you know to make sure it’s getting a good reading. Learn to be consistent in how you hold and use it.
Use -Your- Rangefinder
When I say your rangefinder, I mean the one you used when sighting in your bow and the one you carry. If you have a buddy calling ranges out, make sure he is using your rangefinder. While most rangefinders are accurate to within a meter or so, different rangefinders may show different ranges.
This means they will consistently show the same range but how precise that range is measured on a tape may differ. If you sighted in using your rangefinder, make sure it’s the one you use when ranging your target for real.
Keep a Spare Battery
The second most important lesson I have learned when using a rangefinder is to always keep spare batteries. I have had one die on the way to the stand because it kept getting activated in my coat pocket. Any number of things can cause it to run low on juice, including colder temperatures.
A rangefinder without a battery is just an expensive and pointless scope
Learn to Shoot Without it
There are times, even with a spare battery, that your rangefinder will not work. They have trouble in thick fog and rain for example. While it’s great to have a rangefinder and be able to dial in exactly on your target, learning to get close enough by eye may make the difference between a trophy buck and an unfilled tag.
Also be cautious about ranges in the snow. Some units handle it better than others, do some testing with yours before you take it in the field.
Of all the tools available to the modern hunter, I would rate the rangefinder as one of the best and most useful. It goes with me every time I am out. Don’t get stuck in a situation where you are counting on it and it doesn’t produce the results you need. If you bought a decent unit, it’s up to the task but user error may defeat it.
Take your time, read your manual, and practice! You are likely to be spending a lot of time together, might as well develop a strong working relationship.