December 12, 2012
Laser Follies: When Rangefinders Don't Agree
By David E. Petzal
I spent the past week in Kansas, a place of very little culture but very many whitetail deer, which is a better reason to go someplace than culture. I was hunting out of elevated blinds with a friend who is a highly experienced hunter and a very good spotter of cloven-hoofed ungulates. Each of us had a laser rangefinder. Mine was in my binocular; his was separate.
What we noticed pretty quickly was that neither rangefinder ever agreed…ever. Sometimes the difference was only a few yards, but sometimes it was 50 yards or more. In addition, my rangefinder also gave Weird Readings. It would say that a deer was 152 yards away when it was perfectly obvious the beast was way over 300. This may have been caused by fog, which we had, or by the beam bouncing off weeds and brush that I couldn’t see but which the laser could. It was, as Richard Pryor used to say, a nerve-shattering experience.
Before my friend bought his rangefinder, he asked the dealer for the five he had on hand, took them outside and tried them out. Not one of them agreed with another, so he bought the one that gave the middle reading.
I found that if I lased a deer and got a reading of 371 yards, for example, and then did it again and got 370, that’s probably what the yardage was. If I got 371 and then 275, something was wrong somewhere.
I like laser rangefinders, and use them a lot, but like any mechanical device they will screw you if they get a chance. Take what they say with a grain of salt. That’s the reason I always carry three compasses.