Home Blog Laser Range Finders For Hunting – Friend or Foe?

Laser Range Finders For Hunting – Friend or Foe?


soldier looking through the rangefinderThere can be no doubt the ability to correctly range your target is critical to proper shot placement. However, before the advent of modern electronics, gaining this ability required a shooter to fire thousands of rounds from his favorite rifle at targets of various sizes at varying distances in order to gain an understanding of where to hold the sights on a given game species at a given range.

But, fortunately for the modern hunter, this is no longer necessary due to the invention of compact, highly portable, laser range finders. In fact, these devices have become so prevalent amongst hunters that most hunters will not enter the field without one!

However, while these devices are extremely accurate when they work, they do have significant limitations and thus, there are situations in which they simply fail to do their job.

The Problems With Hunting Rangefinders

The reason for this is that laser range finders depend on the ability to send out a narrow, tightly focused, beam of light which is then reflected by the target back to the range finding unit.

Then, in order to accurately determine the range, the unit measures the amount of time required for this beam of light to leave the unit, reach the target, and then return to the unit (similar to radar) and then, an integrated computer calculates the distance based upon this time lapse.

However, the key word here is “reflect”. If the target is dull, drab, or dark in color, it may very well absorb the beam of light instead of reflecting it. Also, weather is a determining factor in a laser range finder’s ability to accurately measure distance.

For instance, both fog and rain can adversely affect the unit’s ability to accurately measure distance because both rain and fog refract (scatter) light and thus, during periods of heavy rain or fog, the laser’s beam may not even reach the target or, it may fail to be reflected back.

In addition, most laser range finders require an unobstructed path between the hunter and the target and thus, intervening tall grass or light brush can prevent the laser from reaching the target or reflecting back to it. Furthermore, like all electronic devices, laser range finders require some source of electricity which is supplied by batteries and, as we all know, batteries can fail at the most inopportune moment.

big laser rangefinder
They can look small & compact or like THIS!


Reasons Why Hunters Still Use Them

On the other hand, when it comes to accurately measuring the distance to a distant target, there is simply no other device available to hunters that is as compact, lightweight, and simple to use. In fact, under the right conditions, a laser range finder can accurately measure distance to within plus or minus one foot (or less depending on model). Thus, they are an invaluable tool for hunters; especially when on the hunt of a lifetime where the hunter may only get one shot at that coveted trophy and thus, that one shot absolutely must be accurate.

Therefore, laser range finders designed specifically for hunters often feature both a First Priority mode and a Second Priority mode.

In First Priority mode, the laser range finder will measure the distance to the first object that reflects the laser back to the unit which is very helpful when hunting in open terrain. But, when hunting in dense woods, some laser range finders can be placed in Second Priority mode which uses a “pinpoint” or “bulls eye” reticle to ignore intervening objects and thus, only measure the distance to distant targets.

In addition, many models are also available with additional modes such as Horizontal Mode and San Mode.

The Horizontal Mode is particularly useful when hunting in mountainous terrain because it uses Trigonometry to calculate the correct distance to a target at both inclining and declining angles and thus, it provides an accurate distance measurement even when aiming uphill or downhill.

Scan Mode, as the name implies, enables the hunter to range the distance of multiple objects by holding down the Scan button and then moving the rangefinder back and forth across the viewing area.

Last, some models even have integral ballistics tables that enable the rangefinder to calculate not only the distance to the target, but to also calculate the amount of “holdover” for a given caliber and bullet weight at a given muzzle velocity!

Thus, while many hunters consider their laser range finder to be their best friend, you should be aware that they do have disadvantages. Consequently, you may be forced to rely on other methods of determining the correct range to a target under adverse conditions. But, when they do work, there is simply no better method of determining the range to a given target!