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Rangefinding Bow Sights are a Game Changer

In case you still haven't explored laser-rangefinding sights, let's go over all the important features!

Rangefinding Bow Sights are a Game Changer

(Photos courtesy of Burris Optics)

Truly revoltionary, new equipment is rare in the archery world these days. Sure, plenty of novel gadgets pop up every year, but very few of these gizmos significantly and fundamentally change the way we engage our equipment to harvest animals. The laser-rangefinding bow sight, however, is absolutely a game-changing device. It‘s a quantum leap forward in both rangefinding and sighting.

Laser-rangefinding sights such as the Garmin Xero A1i Pro and Burris Oracle 2 are a relatively recent advent. So, just in case you have been hiding in a cave for the last few years, let me explain what they are and how they work.

The Basics

These sights have two unique characteristics. Obviously, they incorporate an internal laser rangefinder to determine the distance to the target. They also have a heads-up LED sight reticle that projects an “electronic pin” onto the glass lens in the sight aperture (viewing window). This pin is usually a red or green dot projected onto the glass. It is positioned to shoot the exact distance the laser rangefinder measured to the target.

Once mounted to the bow and calibrated properly, this sight allows you to range the target while at full draw by merely pushing a small button with one of your bow hand fingers. The button can be attached anywhere on the bow you’d like. Most hunters place it so it is directly under a fingertip at full draw. Very little motion is required to push the button and acquire the range.

The Benefits

The advantages of this sight are instantly obvious to anyone who has ever bowhunted using a traditional rangefinder and sight. These pluses are very simple but very important — the sight greatly reduces the time and the motion required to range the animal, dial in a sight pin and shoot. It also allows you to range the animal again if the animal happens to move while you are at full draw.

When using a traditional rangefinder you must pull the device out of its pouch, lift the rangefinder to your eye, range the animal and then put the rangefinder back into its pouch. Then, if you are using a movable-pin sight, you must reach down and adjust your sight to the proper distance before you draw your bow.

All of these processes take time and, more important, they require a lot of motion. If the animal happens to change positions while you are at full draw, you must either guess how far it has moved and compensate by aiming high or low, or you must let the bow down and repeat the rangefinding process and sight adjustment all over again.

Ulmer-Rangefinding-Sights-inline-1200x800.jpg
Laser-rangefinding sights such as the Burris Oracle 2 shown here significantly reduce the time and motion required to range an animal, aim and shoot.

Laser-rangefinding sights reduce the number of steps involved in these processes. So, once you come to full draw, you will not have any more significant movement that an animal has the potential of seeing. And, even if the animal moves while you are at full draw, all you need to do is push the ranging button again. The sight will automatically move the electronic pin to the correct shooting distance.

If you choose, you can easily turn off the single-pin feature of this sight. The single-pin feature can be switched instantly to a fixed-pin system with pins at say 20, 30, 40, 50 and 60 yards, just like a traditional bow sight. The sight will display the pins in the positions that you’ve previously sighted them in for.




So, the process is extremely simple — you point the sight at the target, push the button, aim and shoot. When you point the sight at the target and push the button, it shows the LED yardage, then displays a digital LED pin for that particular distance. You aim and shoot; no guesswork.

The viewing pane is much like the scopes used by target archery shooters. It is a single plate of glass that the digital pin is projected onto. One of the cool things about this system is that your sight picture is completely clear of any obstructions. All you see is one small dot, and you can change the brightness and color of the dot.

Programming the Sight

Some people who are unfamiliar with the new laser-rangefinding sights may be concerned with the installation and fine-tuning of the sight, as the process is unlike setting up any other sight. Of course, there are instructional videos online for all of these sights that walk you through the process. It’s quite simple once you become familiar with the sight setup. When you sight in with one of these devices you are literally programming the sight’s computer to your form, the bow and your arrow’s flight characteristics.

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Some of these sights can be programmed for different arrow profiles. This is a nice feature if you want to switch between a heavy arrow for big-boned game such as elk and a lighter, faster arrow for smaller game such as deer. The arrow profile is set for a given arrow weight and fletching pattern and determines the yardage settings for each of your pins. You must always shoot your bow to verify that each of the pin settings is “field tested.” Once you have sighted in for each arrow profile, you can toggle between these profiles depending on which arrow you are shooting.

A Few Cons

In ideal conditions laser-ranging sights are a no-brainer; however, they do have their real and perceived issues. First of all, they are very expensive, and they’re also quite heavy. As with any glass sighting system, they also can get wet or dirty, making visibility challenging. Plus, when sighting directly into the morning or evening sun you may encounter a light flare, making it difficult to see your target. Finally, on occasion, the glass lens may produce a reflection that might spook your quarry.

Because these sights use a more diffused laser than a traditional handheld rangefinder, and because they are harder to hold steady, it is much more difficult to shoot the laser through a small opening in the bushes to the target, or to range a small object such as an antler tip. They also violate one of my overriding commandments when it comes to my bowhunting equipment — K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Stupid).

It’s also worth noting that laser-rangefinding sights do add more “things” to an already long list of things that can go wrong while bowhunting. In my case, Murphy’s Law — anything that can go wrong will go wrong — seems to be proven on each and every hunt!

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