Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Distance Estimation for Archers

Photo credit to Mike Riela
via Flickr Creative Commons
Every bowhunter knows that properly estimating the distance to your target is one of the most important obstacles to a successful hunt.  With today's fast bows, this really isn't a big concern for shots within 20 yards.  When you start to approach 30 yards, 40 yards, or even 50 yard shots small errors in distance estimation can mean the difference between meat in the freezer and a busted hunt.
For years I have used a hand held Bushnell laser range finder to help with this problem.  Once I would get settled in my tree stand, I would try to range and identify trees to my right, left, and in front of me at approximate 20, 30, and 40 yard ranges.  If an approaching deer would step inside, outside, or next to one of those ranged-trees, then I would know the approximate distance and which pin I would need to shoot from.  
I've used this method in the past for two reasons:
  1. You are not always guaranteed enough time to grab your range finder and range an approaching deer on the move.
  2. It isn't always a good idea to try to range an approaching deer, because the extra movement involved in doing this is liable to be detected and spook your game.
This has worked well most of the time, but there has always been problems with this method of estimating distance.
  1. It is difficult to keep track of each of those trees that you have identified and ranged.
  2. You usually never find trees to your right, left and center at the same distances that you have your sight pins set to.  There may be a tree on your right at 17 yards, in front of you at 26 yards, and to your left at 24 yards, and so on.  Keeping track of the variations in distance out at 30 and 40 yards and knowing the adjustments required before taking your shot starts to get really confusing.
  3. Inevitably, a deer will follow a path in that doesn't near one of your ranged trees, so you are still left guessing at the distance.
One of the things that I have done in an effort to overcome this has been to look at some of the bow mounted range finders on the market today.  The Dead-On Rangefinder is a non-electronic version, and is very inexpensive costing around $20.00.  The Leupold Vendetta is a high-end, electronic version that carries a little steeper price tag of around $240.00.

The Vendetta is a laser range finder that mounts to your bow riser.  It uses a pressure pad for activation, which you mount to your bow grip.  You calibrate it to your 20 yard sight pin during the initial set up.  Then when you are hunting, you simply aim at the deer (or other game) with your 20 yard pin, depress the pressure pad on your grip to activate, and read the distance on the LED display.  Once you have that distance, you can instantly switch to the proper sight pin depending upon the range, and let that arrow fly!

The Dead-On range finder is a non-electronic device.  It uses the concept of bracketing to determine the range to your game.  This device attaches to your sight bracket, and has a series of pins.  The bottom pin is aimed right at the chest line of your game.  There are then pins above this that are spaced out at predetermined distances that will reflect the range to your target.  By placing the bottom pin on the chest of the deer, you then check to see which distance pin rests on the deer's back.  At 20 yards, the chest to back silhouette of a deer will be larger.  At 30 yards, it is a little smaller, and at 40 yards it is even smaller.  As the distance increases, the chest to back distance of the deer becomes smaller.  The concept is pretty simple, but it is actually very effective.

Both of these models have their advantages and disadvantages.
  • The one that jumps out at you right away is cost.  The Dead-On is very inexpensive compared to the Vendetta.
  • The Vendetta wins when it comes to precision.  It is a laser range finder that is incredibly accurate.  The Dead-On uses a concept of 'bracketing' to determine range based on the average chest to back size of a typical whitetail.
  • The Vendetta also wins out when it comes to hunting multiple types of game.  The Dead-On requires reconfiguration of its pins for each specific species of game you plan to hunt.  Since the Vendetta is a laser range finder, it will work with all species of game.
  • Eligibility for Pope & Young record books may also be a concern for you.  If you think you have an opportunity to harvest a record book buck, then you won't want to use the Leupold Vendetta. Pope & Young disallows the use of any electronic devices on your bow for any buck to be entered into their record book.  You won't have that problem with the Dead-on, as it is a non-electronic device.
  • Legality may also be a concern for you depending upon which state you plan to hunt in.  The Vendetta is legal in for hunting in about half of the 50 United States, but is legal for recreational shooting in all states.  There are no legality concerns with the Dead-On range finder, as it is legal in all 50 states for hunting.  You can see a list of the states where the Vendetta is legal for use at this website: .