Shooting a bow takes a lot more skill than merely aiming and letting the arrow loose. First, there’s the physical skill involved in nocking the arrow then drawing the bow. Then, there’s the yardage judging – the decision to aim based on the curvature of the arrow’s path. Technology has made both of those feats more accessible. Compound bows deliver and arrow with speed and force, while archery rangefinders show us exactly how to aim.
Perfect practice equates to precision, and rangefinders help with this. In target shooting, that might win us the competition. In hunting, that means a humane harvest.
We use optics to improve our chances of that successful hit. When correctly used, rangefinders become an invaluable tool for archers. Here’s what to look for when choosing one, and how to get the best value out of whichever model chosen.
Getting the Most Out of Optics in Bow Hunting
The right optics – whether rangefinders or binoculars – give an edge to a knowledgeable hunter. Here’s what we recommend in order to get the most out of optics in the field this season.
1. Balance long-distance range finding with focus up close.
Many rangefinders on the market boast reflection distances of up to 2,000 yards, and the ability to adequately gauge the distance of a game animal up to 700 yards within an accuracy of plus or minus one yard. That’s great for a rifle, but archers don’t need this in most scenarios – bow hunting typically occurs between 30 and 60 yards. Likewise, they need increased accuracy from the rangefinder itself. An archery rangefinder can return accurate measurements that are often within half a yard.
As archery rangefinders become more common, it’s getting easier to buy rangefinders with a shorter maximum distance. Be careful with this. Long maximum distances have their use in situations such as spot-and-stalk hunting. Opting for a smaller maximum distance might restrict overall visibility. Therefore, it is recommended to select a rangefinder which focuses well at the desired shooting distance but delivers the power of visibility at greater distances.
If it’s not possible or desirable to find this middle ground, consider investing in a pair of archery binoculars instead. For instance, the Nitro binoculars provide a field of view up to 340 yards.A good set of binoculars for bow season is better than a rangefinder which cannot be used when it’s needed most.
2. Use magnification wisely.
Magnification allows a hunter to see a target more closely and to pick up details like a small branch that’s interfering with a distance reading. It’s also one way to identify rangefinders and binoculars that work well at the distances which archers need.
It’s possible to find laser rangefinder binocular combinations with magnifications above 10x. However, higher magnification values reduce total visibility when they’re used at distances more common for bow hunting. They also require a steadier hand, as shaking magnifies too.
To counter this, look for a rangefinder with magnification under 8x. For example, the Prime 1700 Laser Rangefinder’s 6x magnification setting means hunters can use this rangefinder both to spot game at a distance, but still gauge at a much closer distance for a shot.
3. Master the target priority settings.
Rangefinders for bow hunting come with priority settings, a simple but critical concept for archers to master. In a nutshell, priority settings are targeting modes that change what the laser targets when finding a range. Understanding these settings take on extra importance when combined with angle compensation software, one of the most crucial features in an archery rangefinder.
Targeting modes are useful because they let hunters do more in a wider range of conditions. It’s rare to attain a clear, horizontal shot from a standing position. Likewise, the sensitivity of laser rangefinders means they’ll pick up and reflect off any surface in their way. That includes cover the eye might not see without binoculars. These features create the perfect opportunity to return an inaccurate reading which leads to a missed shot.
Targeting modes help correct this, making them mandatory for hunting with a bow. All of our rangefinders come with brush and bullseye targeting modes:
● Brush Mode: Ignores foreground objects such as brush or tree branches and focuses on distances to background objects, such as the animal.
● Bullseye Mode: Measures the distance of small objects in the foreground rather than the background.
Get comfortable with using targeting modes to avoid accidentally referring to the wrong number when it matters most.
4. Understand angle compensation.
The angle at which the shot occurs is important in archery – if a rangefinder doesn’t have angle compensation capabilities, pass it up.
Like other hunters, those hunting with bows quite frequently find themselves in in steep mountain terrain or within an elevated stand. Such a position brings the advantage of visibility, but it creates an extreme angle which affects the true distance to the target. That might not matter so much for a rifle, but it can – and will – result in a miss with a bow.
The angle will influence the arrow’s trajectory because of its arching path. It’s a matter of simple geometry. However, since rifle hunting has always been more common, most general rangefinders are oriented towards this technology and aren’t designed to detect angles. Aiming it directly at the animal will return the horizontal distance to a target, resulting in a high shot from a bow.
5. Don’t rely solely on technology.
Technology is amazing. It has completely changed the way we hunt from merely a decade ago – and it’s still constantly evolving. For instance, the newest rangefinders and binoculars, like the Prime 1300 and its related Prime Binoculars, introduce a lens brightness twice that of anything previously seen to make it even easier to hunt between dawn and dusk.
However, technology is not infallible. While it’s easy to spot blatantly wrong readings, what does it look like when a rangefinder returns an inaccurate reading that’s only three or five yards off? For a bow, that’s enough to cause a missed shot, but identifying that reading takes experience and the honed gauging skills which have long been associated with archery. Technology should never replace perfect practice with gear.
Binoculars can help spot game under dense cover, but sharp eyes will spot movement with the advantage of a wider field of vision. Likewise, get the most out of a rangefinder or binoculars keeping yardage-judging skills sharp. Technology enhances skills. It doesn’t replace them.
Improve Your Hunt with the Right Archery Rangefinder and Binoculars
What is the most accurate archery rangefinder? The one that’s correctly used. Optics have transformed archery and bow hunting to help us achieve better shots and quicker kills. Yet, the explosion of devices on the market today can make choosing the best rangefinder or binoculars an overwhelming task. Ultimately, the choice comes down to a few key details – magnification, priority settings, angle compensation – and personal preferences regarding hunting styles or needs. There’s no one best rangefinder, only the one which delivers the best value by serving its purpose exactly at a price with which you’re comfortable.