Great Tips for Using a Laser Rangefinder

Rangefinders shouldn't be a secondary or last minute "oh, yeah" piece of gear, but something you use regularly. (Photo: Bushnell)

By Bob Robb

If you’re a serious whitetail hunter, you probably already own a laser rangefinder. If you do not, you need to put one on the top of your wish list.

It doesn’t matter if you hunt with a bow, rifle or muzzleloader, a laser rangefinder will make you a better deer hunter above and beyond telling you how far away the target is.
In terms of technology, today’s laser rangefinders are light years ahead of the units available even five years ago. Contemporary units are much more rugged, use far less battery power and can withstand more physical and environmental abuse.

As an example, I was recently speaking with an Army special forces sniper. He told me he and many of his contemporaries buy the same laser rangefinders you can buy for hunting and use them on their missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“After about a year of using one of them, I started having some problems with it,” he said. “So I opened the unit up and dumped about a shot glass full of sand out of it. It was still working, though. It just started working a bit faster once the sand was gone.”

That said, there is more to using a laser rangefinder than meets the eye. Here are some quick tips on how to get the most out of yours.

First, never buy a unit without an angle-compensating feature that helps tell you the distance to aim for, not the line-of-sight distance to the target. All the top-end units today have this feature. If your old unit does not, it is worth spending the money and upgrading to a new unit that does.

Many models and brands are available at different price points to fit a variety of budgets.

Many units today also give you the ability to focus the eyepiece, something not possible several years ago. Even if your eyesight is 20-20, this is a valuable feature.

Easy Modifications
The first thing I do is pad my entire rangefinder with stick-on moleskin, then wrap the whole thing again with the same tape hockey players use to wrap their sticks.

Hockey tape is sort of like duct tape, but it remains flexible when temperatures go below freezing. This wrapping helps protect the unit. It also helps muffle any inadvertent clunks or clanks should you accidentally bump it on something hard, such as a release aid or tree stand railing.

When I’m bow-hunting, I wear my rangefinder on a long cord looped over my neck and under my right armpit. It hangs about belt level, which means I can tuck it into a coat pocket. This makes it easy for me to quickly grab the rangefinder without looking at it, focus on an approaching deer, and let it drop out of the way while I hook up my release and turn an arrow loose.

However you choose to wear it, put some thought into how you will use it. Make sure you have a way to easily access and put it away so you can shoot quickly.

This tip sounds simple, but it’s often overlooked: Always have a spare battery. What good is a rangefinder if you can’t use it?

One time I was changing my battery in a tree stand when I dropped the battery compartment cover to the ground. It was gone forever.

To keep my unit functioning, I placed a small wad of aluminum foil on top of the battery and held it in place with duct tape. When I got home, I called the company, and they sent me a new cover.

For spot-and-stalk hunting in open country, rangefinders perform another valuable function. It’s not uncommon to see a buck you want to stalk and wonder, “How far do I have to go to get in range?”

First, take a reading off the buck. Then take a reading off a rock, bush, tree or the lip of a gully between you and the deer. Subtract that reading from the deer and you can choose your destination point.

Don’t Make It a Crutch
Of course, don’t become too reliant on  a rangefinder. It is often not possible to use your rangefinder when a deer sneaks up on you.

That means you need to be able to “eyeball” the range. I use my rangefinder to train myself to do this.

One of my favorite drills is to “stump shoot” using a judo or bludgeon-type point. While walking around, I pick out a tuft of grass, leaf or some other soft target and shoot at it without using my rangefinder. After the shot, I take a range reading that tells me how close I was at guessing the exact range.

I do the same out of my tree stands, often shooting one practice arrow into the ground before getting down after a morning shift.

Bob Robb is a professional outdoor writer and accomplished whitetail bow-hunter from Arizona.

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