Whether you're a recreational shooter who goes plinkin' in the woods with a trusty ol' .22, or a hunter whose intention is to provide your family with game meat, the ability to judge distance plays a vital role in whether or not you hit your target.
If you're a shooter, or have spent any amount of time with one, you've probably either felt or been exposed to the frustration that results from missed shots. Often those misses seem unexplainable.
Any responsible shooter knows precisely where a weapon-be it a rifle, a handgun, a bow, or whatever-will deliver a projectile at a given distance. In case you didn't know, a bullet or arrow never flies straight along its path, so shooters must adjust their aim to allow for trajectory.
For instance, say you're a rifle shooter and plan to take a .30-06 on an upcoming deer hunt. You take the gun to the range and sight-in so it's dead on at 200 yards with Winchester 165-grain Fail Safe bullets. Under those circumstances, that bullet, given its ballistics, will hit two inches high at 100 yards, but 3.4 inches low at 250 yards.
Granted, that's not a tremendous variance (the .30-06 happens to be among the flattest-shooting cartridges). On a big-bodied game animal, such as a deer, you can be relatively sure the bullet will strike within 5.4 inches (high to low) of your aim at those distance parameters. However, guess what happens if you estimate the deer is 250 yards away, when in fact it is 300 yards away. Instead of dropping 3.4 inches from where you hold the crosshairs, the bullet will drop a rather significant 8.6 inches. That could very likely result in a miss that leaves you frustrated and confused. Or worse, it might result in a wounded animal, a situation no responsible hunter wants.
Because an arrow's trajectory is far more dramatic than a bullet's, archers have to be more meticulous when estimating the distance of their targets. Bowhunters are famous for their tales of clean misses at proximities of 20 yards (or closer), and you ought to hear them lament about how frustrating and embarrassing a 10-yard miscalculation can be.
No shooter or hunter will always be 100 percent accurate when estimating the distance to his target, but there's plenty of help available in the form of quality equipment. Several reputable manufacturers offer rangefinders using sophisticated laser technology to determine shooting distances with amazing accuracy.
Today's rangefinders vary in price from simpler $250 units to highly intelligent $3,000 models. Available makes differ in function and effective range, but are as easy to use as a pair of binoculars. Just lift them to your eyes, aim at your target, and push a button. An LCD display will instantly show the distance to the target.
Leica's Geovid 7x42 BD ($3,000) and Swarovski's RF-1 ($2,900) anchor the elite-but pricy-end of the spectrum. The Leica unit, which gives readings between 25 and 1,000 meters, is unique in that it functions as a pair of binoculars as well as a rangefinder. Weighing nearly 3 pounds, it's rather large and bulky-but its quality is absolutely flawless.
Among the more-affordable makes, Bushnell's Yardage Pro 400 ($250) has emerged as a dependable performer. Weighing just 18 ounces, the unit features a 4x monocular and measures from 20 to 400 yards with an accuracy of 1 yard. Its newly introduced sibling, the Yardage Pro 800 ($450), measures out to 800 yards and has a neat scan feature that lets you measure several different targets within a 10-second period.
A fourth model worth considering is the Brunton Laser 70 ($300), which weighs a mere 9 ounces and fits in the palm of your hand. In fairly open terrain it measures out to 70 yards; admittedly, that's a rather limited range, but it's fine for bowhunting.
Outdoorsmen who've used the units mentioned here not only appreciate their performance but have found that using them enhances their ability to judge distance with the naked eye. That's a talent that's bound to come in handy.