Any bowhunter who has spent a few seasons in the woods has missed. The reasons for whiffing are many, but by far the most common mistake is misjudging yardage.
In this day of laser rangefinders and flat-shooting compounds, that shouldn't be the case, but it is. To remedy this, we need to ask ourselves why mistakes in judging yardage happen in the first place.
The first reason is events can unfold at a speed that simply doesn't allow the bowhunter to reach for a laser rangefinder and zap an up-to-the-second reading. Animals, with their ability to turn a 25-yard shot into a 33-yard poke by taking a few steps, don't give a rip you're used to shooting at fixed ranges with all of the time in the world to execute the shot.
It's also quite common to use the wrong pin when a change of locations (or a rush of adrenaline) has your internal rangefinder messed up. Many whitetail hunters in the Midwest and East have learned this the hard way when traveling out West to pursue mule deer, elk and antelope. What looks like your typical 30-yard shot back home may be something entirely different on the side of a mountain or when you're lying belly-down on the prairie.
This leads to a fingers-crossed-for-good-luck shot. Not good. Instead of joining the misjudged-yardage crowd each season, commit yourself to something else entirely. Here's how.
Range Every Shot
We think of using a rangefinder largely while we're hunting. Using one during practice sessions is often an afterthought. This is a mistake.
To get better at guessing, which you might have to do when that buck cruises by on Halloween, you need to range every single shot. Don't range only when you're in the field. Get in the habit of ranging during all of the practice sessions leading up to your hunt. Every time you draw your bow, you should know the exact range for which you're aiming.
Range When You're Not Shooting
When you're hunting and you've got downtime, range landmarks. This serves to not only solidify your knowledge of how far away certain rocks or trees are, but it also keeps your mind sharp. There is nothing more eye-opening to me than when I travel out West and start zapping readings off of the far side of washouts or straight uphill at lone cedar trees.
What my mind believes those distances to be and what they actually are is often the difference of at least two pins. While this can help you get better at judging distance on your own, it will serve the equally important task of reminding you to use your rangefinder every single time you can.
Keep It Close
A rangefinder that is stuffed deep inside your jacket is not going to be much use when an elk suddenly walks into your corner of a mountain basin and looks in your direction.
Countless animals have been missed over the years not because a bowhunter didn't have a rangefinder, but because using it would have resulted in game-spooking movement. If your laser rangefinder isn't easily accessible, then you've got to rethink your system.
Fully Embrace The Technology
Some folks feel that a good rangefinder provides an unfair advantage to the hunter. That's fine; I'm just not one of them. If a situation comes up where I'm going to try to kill an animal with archery equipment, I want to know that I can to do it as efficiently as possible. For me, this involves using a quality rangefinder.
Going cheap is not an option, because you need one that accounts for shot angle and can provide nearly instantaneous readings. Add in a scan-mode, and a display that is easily readable and you're on to something. If you're going to opt for a laser rangefinder, pick a good one. There is nothing more frustrating than trying to get a reading on an animal with a rangefinder that won't provide a readout because of tall grass or some other reason. When that happens, the extra money you saved going the inexpensive route will seem like a poor financial decision.
There are so many things that are out of our control once we decide to step into the woods and start hunting. Weather, hunting pressure and the whims of the game we pursue can all unravel our best-laid plans. When events do happen to go in your favor, don't sell yourself short by using your red, 40-yard pin, when you should be using your green 30-yarder. At that point, the responsibility for making the shot rests squarely on your shoulders. Take it seriously, get a current distance reading and make it happen.
The Best Rangefinder Option?
To my knowledge, there is only one rangefinder option that allows you to range at full draw — the Vendetta 2 from Leupold.
I spent a considerable amount of time messing around with the original version of the bow-mounted Vendetta and can safely say it is a game-changer for certain bowhunters. I say "certain" bowhunters only because the Vendetta 2 is not a beginner's product.
Instead, it's perfect for dedicated bowhunters who will set it up correctly and spend some time practicing with it so that they become comfortable to the point that the Vendetta 2 simply becomes part of their shot sequence.
The Vendetta 2 is simple to mount to your compound or crossbow (it is legal in 33 states) and is designed with a push-button activation that attaches on your bow grip. This, combined with its One Touch Continuous Scan, allows you to see constant range readings while at full draw.
This is the only rangefinder out there that offers this feature, which means the bull elk that comes to your cow chirping and suddenly cuts 17 yards uphill will be at a known range every second - even after you've already drawn. Having a bow-mounted rangefinder like this also cuts down on excess movement and noise.
What I found to be perhaps the most beneficial aspect of shooting with the original Vendetta, is that it was always there when I practiced. My confidence at odd yardages went sky-high because I always knew exactly what distance I was shooting at. That meant that I shot more of the odd, middle distances, and I had a constant reminder of how my pin gaps looked during each shot.
That type of practice will make anyone more lethal in the woods, which is especially true if you use a product that offers up exact, instantaneous range readings during the moment of truth the way the Vendetta 2 does.