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Selection and Use of Your Rangefinder

There are a few important considerations for precision operation and accuracy.

Selection and Use of Your Rangefinder

Field Editor Randy Ulmer often prefers using rangefinding binoculars such as the Leica Geovid Pro when bowhunting, because it allows him to obtain distance readings without needing to lower his binoculars while glassing. (Photo courtesy of Leica/Tweed Media)

As I mentioned in the past few columns, it is important to use a rangefinder with a built-in tilt compensation program so you can make an accurate shot whether shooting uphill or downhill. Also, the higher the magnification of the rangefinder and the smaller the reticle, the more precise the instrument will usually be.

I will now give you some practical advice on the selection and use of your rangefinder in order to be the most accurate bowhunter you can be.

Collimation Is Important

The general assumption is that a rangefinder is a rangefinder and they are all created equal; however, that is far from the reality. Each rangefinder has its own unique personality, flaws and limitations, and spending a lot of money on a rangefinder does not guarantee you will end up with a quality instrument.

The most expensive rangefinder I ever purchased was not accurate. To test it, I put out a tennis ball held up by an extremely thin, stiff wire mounted on a tripod, and I mounted said rangefinder on a second tripod.

I placed the rangefinder about 40 yards away from the tennis ball, with a 3-D target at 70 yards behind and aligned with the tennis ball. After pushing the rangefinder button to activate the reticle (the red or green dot, square or circle), I placed it on the center of the tennis ball and then pressed the button again to get the range.

The rangefinder registered 70 yards. In other words, the rangefinding dot was not aligned with the actual laser. The rangefinder was actually showing the distance to the 3-D target behind the tennis ball, rather than to the tennis ball itself. Think of it as a scoped rifle that is not properly sighted in — the bullet will hit somewhere other than where the scope is aimed.

On a riflescope, you can adjust for this problem to align the flight path of the bullet with the reticle. Not so with a rangefinder. In the above example, I discovered that I had to aim below and to the right of the tennis ball to get a proper range.

Armed with this knowledge, I could confidently range an antler tip above the brush, or range a piece of deer hide between two closely spaced trees. Without knowing the laser was not aligned with the reticle, I would get false readings. Hence, it’s important to know where your laser beam hits in relationship to your rangefinder’s reticle. You must test the rangefinder to determine where the laser is compared to the reticle.

Perfect Your Setup

I prefer using rangefinding binoculars (the Leica Geovid Pro is a very good option) because as I am looking at a deer with my binoculars I can merely reach over and touch the rangefinder button and get the yardage without needing to take my binoculars down. Otherwise, as I am glassing, I also need to reach for my rangefinder and take a reading. This extra work takes extra time and, more important, it requires twice as much movement so you're much more likely to be detected by game while range finding.

I have tried nearly every pair of rangefinding binoculars on the market and, unfortunately, I have found that the very best binoculars (optically speaking) do not always have the most accurate rangefinders inside them. I always want the most accurate rangefinder available, and I also want the best binoculars available, but they do not seem to come in a combination set.

This is what I do to solve the problem: I buy the very best binoculars on the market and then I buy the very best and most accurate rangefinder on the market (both tilt compensation and line-of-sight accuracy). I then take my favorite, most dependable and accurate monocular rangefinder and tape it to my favorite binoculars. I position it in such a way that the ocular lenses (the eyepieces) of the binoculars and the rangefinder are on the same plane and in such a position that the button on the rangefinder is in an ergonomically correct position to push the ranging button with my right hand.

When glassing or ranging, I use my left hand to hold my bow firmly against my body to steady it. I then place the binoculars on top of the bow’s cam. This allows me to be very steady when ranging. It is important to be steady, especially when ranging small objects or ranging through a hole in the brush or between two trees.


Without moving my hand, I can move my right eye from the binoculars to the rangefinder and push the ranging button easily. So, I have the best of both worlds — an accurate rangefinder and optically superior glass.

I currently use what I consider to be the very best binoculars available on the market: the Swarovski NL Pure 12x42 binoculars. Then I use duct tape (once a redneck, always a redneck!) to attach what I consider to be the very best rangefinder on the market firmly to the binoculars: the Leupold RX-FullDraw 5. The take-home message here is to:

  1. Test your rangefinder against measured yardage.
  2. Test it to determine where the laser beam is located compared to the reticle.
  3. Test its angle-compensation accuracy by shooting your bow uphill and downhill using the “shoot-for” ranges it provides.
  4. Test its laser for divergence by ranging objects through small openings.
  5. Test it in the rain and fog.
  6. Make sure it works well on dark, nonreflective objects.

Most online retailers and brick-and mortar-stores will let you return an item if you're not satisfied with it. I have returned many a rangefinder if it did not suit my needs, so don’t hesitate to try several models.

Though it seems like a lot of work and effort, test as many rangefinders as you need to in order to find one that you're fully satisfied will do the job.

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