Are Range Finders Ethical?

Bob Robb

Are Range Finders Ethical?

By Bob Robb

Sep 28, 2007 – 6:41:09 AM


Are Laser Rangefinders Ethical?

Mike and I had made a perfect stalk, and were 75 yards above the bedded mountain goat. In setting up the tripod for the video camera, though, he’d heard us, and began slowly walking off. As he ambled behind a knoll I knee-crawled over the sharp rocks, peeked over the edge, and saw him regally standing there, looking out over the glacier a half-mile below.

I took a quick reading with my laser rangefinder, drew my bow, selected the right sight pin, and released. The 50 yards was a distance I practice shooting at a lot and well within my comfort zone. The Gold Tip carbon shaft, tipped with a Barrie Archery Ti-125 broadhead, zipped cleanly through the billy’s chest. After the 60-day drying period, the billy officially scored 48 6/8 Pope & Young points, which would make him one of the top 25 ever taken with bow and arrow had I chosen to enter him in the record book.

I would never have taken that shot had I not known the exact distance, knowledge that would have been impossible without the laser rangefinder.

Without my Bushnell laser rangefinder I never would have taken the 50-yard shot at this tremendous Alaska mountain goat.

The use of laser rangefinders has grown rapidly in the past decade, and today most bowhunters view them more as standard equipment than a luxury. With that growth has arisen the question of ethics. Is using the same basic technology found in the most sophisticated military weaponry taking the challenge out of bowhunting?

Why Rangefinders?

As all hunters know, arrows and, to a lesser extent bullets, travel in an arcing trajectory. Part of the equation in making the shot is understanding the projectile’s flight path and compensating for it through the placement of your sighting device in relation to the target.

In bowhunting, such knowledge is crucial. Even with today’s fastest compound bows, mis-guessing the distance to a deer-sized animal at 40 yards by as little as +/- three yards means a miss. However, “eyeballing” distances accurately is extremely difficult. Tests conducted many years ago by the military showed that out past 35 yards, most people cannot consistently call yardage accurately enough to make the shot with even the fastest compound bow.

Even tree stand bowhunters, whose shots are relatively short, will get great benefit out of using a modern laser rangefinder.

This difficulty is what spurred the first rangefinders  At first all we had to use were ?coincidence? rangefinders, popularized by Ranging, which use the triangulation principal. That is, they feature two windows and a combination of prisms and lenses that produce two separate images the user sees when looking through the sighting window. As you view the object, you turn a dial with your finger until the images coincide and appear as one. You then read the distance on the dial. These units have to be calibrated before use, and in skilled hands can be reasonably accurate.

Compact, reasonably-priced laser rangefinder units have become standard fare for many bowhunters across the country.

Laser rangefinders took this to the next level. With the press of a button, these units send out an invisible, eye-safe Class 1 Laser beam (as classified by the FDA) which is “bounced” off distant objects with the press of a button. Then, the rangefinder’s high-speed digital clock measures the time it took for a laser beam to reach a target and return to the unit.

Next, using advanced digital electronics, the rangefinder instantly calculates the distance and shows the range in either yards or meters on a through-the-lens LCD Display. The entire process is so fast that less than a second elapses between the time you press the button to generate a laser beam to the time the exact range to your target is displayed. The best laser rangefinders are accurate to +/- one yard from as close as 10 yards to distances of a half-mile or more, and you can get an accurate reading in less than a second. Also, the latest units like the Bushnell Elite 1500 with ARC and new Scout 1000 with ARC feature a built-in angle compensator which tells you exactly where to hold on steep uphill or downhill shots.

This accurate knowledge of distance and angle lends one to ask two questions. First, by eliminating this limiting factor, are bowhunters prone to take longer shots than they otherwise should? And, by adding one more technological step, are sport hunters pushing the ethical envelope further than they should?

What P&Y, B&C Say

Pope & Young and Boone & Crockett clubs have built their reputations on their support of fair chase hunting. Neither club has an “official” position on the use of laser rangefinders. Both Pope & Young and Boone & Crockett Rules of Fair Chase state, in part, that no animal may be entered in their respective record books that has been taken with the aid of “electronic devices for attracting, locating, or observing game, or for guiding the hunter to such game.”

M.R. James, founder and editor-in-chief of Bowhunter magazine, is the former first vice president of the Pope & Young Club. “Pope & Young does not have a problem with laser rangefinders unless they are attached to the bow or the arrow itself,” James said. “While we don’t endorse the use of laser rangefinders, I will say that I use one, usually in tree stands to take a reading off an inanimate object so I don’t have to physically pace it off and leave my scent all over the place.”

What Outfitters Say

?Laser rangefinders are tremendously helpful,” said
George Taulman, head of  United States Outfitters, the West’s largest guiding operation. “Most people from back East have no experience estimating range over flat western ground. They think 40 yards is only 20. Modern laser rangefinders take all the guesswork out of the distance, and thus help my clients make the shot, not miss or, worse, wound an animal.”

Long-time Arizona guide and outfitter
DuWane Adams (520-385-4995 echoed Taulman. “While I usually discourage hunters from bringing too many gadgets into the field, I think a laser rangefinder can be a useful tool,” Livingston said. “I’ll have my bowhunters range a tree or rock before the animal shows up. Most of my clients come from areas where they never see a deer that’s over 100 yards away, let alone shoot at one further than that, so it’s impossible for them to judge the distance in the mountains.

?Just because my guides carry rangefinders, we don’t let our clients shoot any further than we did before we had them,” Taulman said. “They just make the shooter more effective.” Adams agrees. “I don’t feel they make better shooters, I think they help good shooters make a good clean shot the first time,” he said.

The Industry Responds to Demand

Laser rangefinders first became with the general hunting public back in the mid-1990?s, thanks to Bushnell, who brought the first reasonably-priced quality units to market and is still the market leader in terms of overall sales. Since that time many other companies have jumped on the bandwagon.

Today there are quality units ideal for bowhunting priced between about $150-$500, though some units can cost twice that. Companies like Bushnell, Leupold, Leica, Nikon, Opti-Logic, Simmons, and Swarovski all sell them today. For a  grand or more you can even buy a quality binocular with a rangefinder incorporated into it from Swarovski, Leica, and Bushnell.

When shopping for a new unit, take the time to examine the features of each. Some are water resistant and some are waterproof, which is the only way to go if you ever anticipate hunting in the rain or snow. Some are more compact than others, and some have a world of high-tech features others do not. Personally, I like units that have a minimum of functions that might confuse me in the heat of battle. To each his own.

So ….. Are They Ethical?

Webster defines ethics as “a set or moral principles or values.” Each individual must decide for him or herself whether or not the use of a laser rangefinder meets their own system of ethics. The bigger question is not are they ethical, but is their use sporting?

In 1995 I received one of the first Bushnell Yardage Pro 400 units on the market. And while I have used Bushnell units almost exclusively since then with outstanding results, I have also used units from many different companies, too. If anything, I’ve found that using one has made me more careful in my shot selection. I practice diligently with my bows, and know my own personal limitations.

My own personal hunting ethic is to try and get as close as possible before shooting at an animal that does not suspect my presence. A laser rangefinder has not led me to start shooting at game beyond the abilities of either myself or my bow-and-arrow set-up. Using one simply helps me be as precise as I possibly can be with each shot, which leads to more perfectly-placed broadheads.

Do laser rangefinders give me an unfair advantage?  I’ve yet to find the rangefinder that can read sign, climb a mountain, or pick the right tree for a stand. And when it comes to making the shot, I welcome their help. In my mind, they don’t violate the code of fair chase one whit. What do you think?


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