column By: Lee J. Hoots | May, 18
Primarily a bowhunter during my teenage years, long before handheld laser rangefinders were common (and affordable), and those old, “split-lens,” dial-in-the-yardage rangefinders were too cumbersome for my taste, a great deal was learned about missing deer. Most important was the fact that knowing the exact distance to a buck was critical; back then aluminum arrows traveled much slower. An improper distance guesstimate, off by 7 or 8 yards, could lead to a miss – known from having gathered up my share of arrows with nothing on them but dulled broadheads sent sailing over or under any antlered deer to which I could get “reasonably” close.
By my early 20s, having become dedicated to hunting with recurves and longbows, it became clear that the best part of hunting was in getting as close as possible, and over time I was fortunate enough to fill a few deer tags with arrows loosed from no more than 30 yards away. Of course, riflemen hunters can reach out much farther, but it still takes a great deal of field experience and practice.
Estimating range also requires some amount of trial-and-error training, and not all hunters can afford top-shelf rangefinders. Those that cannot (or hunters who have mistakenly left their rangefinder behind in the garage, in camp or on the tailgate of a pickup) would obviously be wise to get as close as possible to any targeted buck or bull.
However, and particularly in the West, “getting as close as possible” might still lead to a shot of 350 yards or farther, a long poke for most hunters, which is why, when talking with Jack Ballard about content for his “Backcountry Bound” column, the idea of a “refresher course” (Jack having been a professor for many years at Montana State University at Billings) on estimating range seemed highly useful, considering he grew up hunting in the wide-open spaces of the Treasure State.
After more than three decades of hunting big game with a rifle, I admit freely to having walked out into the prairie or climbed to a ridgetop looking for game, only to discover a laser rangefinder had been left behind – a problem solved long ago with the advent of laser rangefinding binoculars. Forgetting a rangefinder has not yet cost me a shot opportunity, because getting closer is always the best consideration. In fact, I would much rather shoot an ordinary buck at close range (or pass altogether) than take a risky, extreme-range shot at game with eye-popping antlers.
Heck, with an oncoming adrenalin surge, which for some lost reason hunters have taken to calling “buck fever,” anyone can miss an even reasonably close shot. A rangefinder doesn’t help here, but they come in handy most of time and can even be used to let a hunter know how much closer he needs to get to the game when stalking.
On the rare occasion when a rangefinder is not available, the ability to estimate range by sight and experience is a worthwhile skill, and a practiced hunter may even find that a rangefinder is just another piece of equipment to carry in a pack.