To be honest, I had mentally checked out for the morning and was just going through the motions of putting one foot in front of the other to get back to the truck. It was just by pure chance that I spotted the silhouetted muley buck before he picked me off. I dropped to the ground and risked a sharp whistle at my hunting partner, who was behind me on the trail and walking as obliviously as I was.
It looked like a slight depression leading to a clump of sagebrush might cover my movements, so I started pushing my bow forward as I slid along the ground. Since the buck was within 200 yards when I spotted him feeding, it didn’t take long until I was able to lift my head enough to see clearly that he was within range.
I jettisoned my backpack and ranged the buck at 51 yards. He needed to take a step forward to clear his vitals from the cedars. That’s when movement to my left caught my attention and I realized that a larger buck was part of the scene, something that I’d missed completely due to my tunnel vision. I guessed the buck at 30 yards, but knew better. Being a born-and-raised Midwesterner, my yardage estimation suffers greatly in mule deer country, and I’d made that mistake before.
I eased my rangefinder out of my pocket and realized there was too much brush in front of the 4×4 to get a good reading, so I checked the distance of the likeliest shooting lane. What I figured was maybe 30 yards ended up being 38, and when the buck walked through the opening I was ready and he never made it out of sight.
Derivations of this situation play out for Western hunters each season, and they prove time and time again that a quality rangefinder is one of the most important pieces of gear you can carry. However, that doesn’t mean rangefinders are only valuable in mule deer and elk territory. Whitetail hunters would do well to carry a laser rangefinder on every hunt. Some argue that their average shot distances are so close that a rangefinder is unnecessary, and if you’re honest enough to stick to truly close shots, that’s fine.
However, what if you’ve shot enough to be extremely confident out to 40 or 50 yards and then a shot situation occurs? Many pass; some don’t. If there is a chance of your giving in and shooting, the only ethical situation is to know the exact range. I’ve gotten to the point where unless it’s a pointblank shot, I almost always try to get an exact reading on any animal I intend to shoot. Although this can be unnecessary, there is nothing better for shooting confidence than knowing without a doubt how to aim based on a known distance.
A rangefinder belongs in every self-respecting bowhunter’s pack, but it won’t earn its whole value in the fall hunting season alone. In fact, one of the best benefits of rangefinders is through their off-season uses. Carrying a laser rangefinder with you when you target practice allows for quality target shooting at all distances, not just 10-yard increments. Knowing how to aim through gapping or holding specific pins high or low is crucial to in-the-field success, and the best way to gain that knowledge is to spend a lot of time target shooting at all distances.
This also builds in a process for the shot that can alleviate panic when a bruiser buck steps out into the soybean field at last light. Instead of quickly loosing an arrow on a guess and a prayer, you can carefully range his exact distance, and then immediately start to think about what you need to do to make the shot—just as you’ve practiced all summer long.
Following are the newest rangefinders on the market that are sure to help you quit guessing and start killing.