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 4x4 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.
Bushnell Scout DX
The new Bushnell Scout DX
1000 Laser Rangefinder provides accurate distance readings from 5 — 1,000 yards by utilizing the new E.S.P. processor. If the object you're ranging is within 125 yards, the Scout will display yardage in one-tenth-yard increments. Angle Range Compensation (ARC) Technology is standard on the Scout, so you'll know the true shot distance no matter how steep the terrain. To further enhance your hunting experience, the Scout offers three modes of operation — Scan, Bullseye, and Brush. The Scout DX 1000 is waterproof and functions as a 6X optic.
300 or $320 (camo)
Zeiss Victory PRF
Hunters looking to outfit themselves with a top-of-the-line rangefinder couldn't do much better than choosing the Zeiss Victory PRF
Laser Rangefinder. Since the Victory PRF is produced by Zeiss, you know that it's built with high-performance optics and uses the LotuTec lens coating to prevent precipitation from interfering with your ability to pop a reading that takes less than a half-second to show up once you release the one-touch measuring button. The Victory PRF is water and dustproof, and is further guarded against the rough-and-tumble nature of hardcore bowhunting through its rubber armor coating.
If your hunting budget is a bit lower than you'd like but you still need a new rangefinder before opening day, consider the Halo X-Ray 600
. The Halo X-Ray has a range of 600 yards, offers a scan mode, and uses AI (Angle Intelligence) Technology to guarantee that you get accurate readings while ranging at all of the uphill and downhill angles commonly found in the bowhunter's world. Each Halo X-Ray 600 is water resitant, weighs only 5.3 oz., and is designed with 6X magnification.
For most of us, simple is good when it comes to rangefinders, meaning an intuitive menu and clean display are greatly appreciated, as are angle compensated readings and options like a scan mode. If that describes your ideal rangefinder choice, it would be wise to check out the Ranger 1000 from Vortex Optics
. Capable of accurate readings out to 1,000 yards, the Ranger 1000 was clearly designed by hunters, which is evidenced by the little things like the battery indicator display that lets you know when it's time to pop in another CR2 battery instead of surprising you at the worst of times.
Nikon Archer's Choice
Earlier versions of the Nikon Archer's Choice
laser rangefinder have accounted for a pile of filled tags. The latest version of the Archer's Choice is destined to keep that trend alive and well. Designed specifically for bowhunters, the Archer's Choice provides quick and accurate distance readings in one-tenth-yard increments. To ensure you're spot on when you draw down on a mountain dweller, the Archer's Choice features Nikon's ID (Incline/Decline) Technology. Other notables include Tru Target Technology and an easy to read LCD display with LED backlighting for quick mode selection.
Designed specifically with bowhunters in mind is Leupold's new RX-FullDraw
. The RX-FullDraw uses Leupold's True Ballistic Range (TBR) technology to accurately read out to 1,000 yards. Three user-selectable aiming reticles, a fold-down eyecup, and 5X magnification are all notables of the RX-FullDraw, although arguably the coolest feature is its Trophy Scale. Trophy Scale works off of a width/height measurement baseline you input to accurately judge the width and height of a target. For example, if you're hunting moose in Alaska and are only allowed to shoot bulls with antler spreads of 50 inches or greater, you can use Trophy Scale to help determine whether the bull is a shooter before ever nocking an arrow.
Leica Rangemaster CRF
A rangefinder that can read accurately out to 1,000 yards might seem like overkill for most archery hunters, but that's not always the case. I've used rangefinders like Leica's Rangemaster CRF
1000-R to take multiple landmark readings while stalking Western game so that I know how close I'm getting to a marked buck without showing myself. The Rangemaster CRF 1000-R features 7X magnification, an easy-to-read LED display, a scanning mode, and turn-down eyecups.