Rangefinders have become part of the standard kit for big game hunters, especially bowhunters. They take the guesswork out of range estimation leading to more well-placed shots and speedier kills. Win, win, and win!
Hunters using slugs for deer and turkey hunters were some of the first shotgun sportsmen to open up their daypacks to range-finding optics. In those pursuits, rangefinders play the same role as they do in the rest of big game hunting. However, smart wingshooting hunters find many uses for rangefinders, too, particularly in waterfowl hunting.
It’s old wisdom that even if you can’t call and you don’t have good decoys, it doesn’t matter as long as you beat the birds to the place they want to be anyway. That means scouting, marking the exact location the birds are using, then being able to find that spot at o’dark thirty. Today, the combination of a rangefinder and handheld GPS makes it almost too easy.
Find a flock in a field you want to hunt in the morning. Roll up on them, and pause at a safe distance that won’t spook the birds. Punch in a GPS waypoint. Range the center of the flock in the field, and note the exact compass bearing on which you’re ranging. Roll up the window and move on. As soon as you’re out of sight of the birds, stop and manually put a waypoint into the GPS that locates the distance to the birds on the same bearing. You’ve just marked the center of your decoy spread for the next morning. Then, roll on to at least a couple more flocks and do the same so you have backup fields. Ranging these sites saves tons of time and frustration the next morning; you have an exact spot to drive to.
With today’s high-performance non-toxic loads, it’s up to each hunter to determine his reasonable shooting range based on patterning, experimentation, and practice, but the rangefinder is an invaluable aid in assuring birds are within that self-imposed range.
In the field, use the rangefinder to establish preset ranges on specific, easily remembered objects. For example, when you’re setting decoys, range back to the blind from the farthest decoy and note the distance. I like to set distinct confidence decoys like egrets or blue herons at the edge of my maximum shooting range. These are easy for me to see and remember—the ducks must be inside the herons if I’m going to shoot. However, keep it simple or you’ll end up second-guessing yourself, and the greatest detriment to good wingshooting is distracted focus.
If you’re hunting in a group, another way to boost success and gain instinctive range estimation skills is for each hunter to take turns with the rangefinder calling out distances as the birds approach. Lock the rangefinder on a bird in the flock and call out 20-yard increments—“140, 120, 100, 80, 60, 40, take ’em!” If all the hunters will work within this arrangement, you’ll be amazed at how much everyone’s shooting will improve! This system works especially well in field goose hunting scenarios. For this purpose, be sure to select a rangefinder built for golfing that locks the laser in on small, moving targets. On the golf course it’s the flag stick; in the field it’s a specklebelly moving through the sky.
On popular public hunting areas, multiple sets in a small area are a fact of life. The closest I like to set to anyone else is 300 yards, and farther if possible. It’s always bothersome when someone else’s spread encroaches closer than that to mine. Too many guys don’t know what 300 yards looks like on the marsh. With a rangefinder you can prove it if you have to.
Finally, a rangefinder is invaluable when pattern testing. Put up test targets side by side by side. Walk back up range and sight through the rangefinder back to the targets. You’ll know precisely the distance from which you’re shooting on each target. No more eyeballing it or forgetting and having to step it off all over again. Look through the rangefinder, hit the button, and bam—you know the precise range!
Opening day of duck season frequently combines shallow wetlands and warm weather—precisely where mosquitoes breed and live. While duck hunting is always fun, it’s more fun if you don’t have to swat bugs. A ThermaCELL and an ample supply of butane cartridges and repellant pads in your blind bag will handle the bugs so you can concentrate on the birds!
Image courtesy Bill Miller