A Measure of Truth

Last month I discovered that my instinctive range estimation powers were not what I thought they were. This month, I set out to discover the true state of things in my rangefinding world, and to find out if I need a bit of technical help with my hunting. The results brought me good news and bad, plus a decision to make.

First, I had to assess my own rangefinding abilities, compared to that of a laser rangefinder. I’d borrowed a couple of rangefinders from the editor and Terry wanted his own one back, so I got on with the Tasco VLRF 600. I liked its one-button operation and four-times magnification, and the LCD display pinged back at me with simple clarity. It’s an ‘aim, press, read’ device and just what I needed, so as far as hardware was concerned, I was sorted. Next job – work out the tests.

Again, I went with ‘simple’, and all I did was to find a series of objects, such as trees, fence posts, clumps of grass and even piles of horse dung, and compare my own estimation with that of the Tasco rangefinder. I chose ‘familiar’ objects at first, found on my favourite, and most used, shoot within walking distance from my back garden gate. I have to say, the results were spectacularly unspectacular.

Out to my usual hunting distances I found I was rarely more than a yard or so off target, and I was on the verge of thinking I had nothing to worry about. Then I repeated the exercise on unfamiliar territory, and everything changed … very much for the worse. My previous one-yard average error became five yards, and often more. This was a disaster; not to mention a bit of a shock.

So why the huge disparity? Easy. On my favourite shoot, I not only knew the ranges by heart, I’d actually shot quarry at, or very near, the objects I was ranging. In short, I’d educated myself on every feature of that shoot, so it held no surprises. When that education was removed, I struggled. As neat a solution as that was, it didn’t explain how I could turn up at a new shoot and put a decent bag together, and I’d done that more times than I cared to remember.

Then, the final piece of the puzzle fell into place. The fact was, my yards and the rangefinder’s weren’t the same. Of course the rangefinder was spot-on every time, but when I estimated, say, 32 yards, I may have been a few yards out but I knew exactly where to aim for my estimation, and that’s what really counts. You see, hunting effectively and humanely doesn’t depend on getting your range estimation yard-perfect in terms of actual yards. It depends on you knowing exactly where to aim for any given range. See the difference? I hope so, because it’s a vital one.

Now what?

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So, do I need a rangefinder or not? Actually, while I could probably get away without using one, my tests have shown me one aspect of using the laser that can’t be reproduced using judgement alone. I’m talking about those situations where your eyes are fooled into an error, usually one of over-estimating the range. Leafy tunnels, changes in shade and bright sunlight, and shooting under a lamp can absolutely wreck human range estimation, but not the unblinking eye of the laser rangefinder.

Having a rangefinder like this affordable Tasco unit will definitely improve my effectiveness in tricky situations, and even as a confidence booster it earns its place. Plus, I can use it to help me ‘map’ any new shooting grounds I find myself on.

Yes, from now on, that Tasco VLRF will be in the pocket of my hunting jacket, just in case I need a hand now and again. I don’t see this as some sort of defeat, either. I consider it sensible use of clever technology, and my hunting will be all the better for it.