Laser Rangefinders For Outdoor Sports
Laser rangefinders at one time were bulky, expensive, and used primarily by the military. With advancements in technology, rangefinders have become so compact that most models will fit in your pocket, and prices are as low as a couple of hundred dollars. They’ve also become popular for hunting, golfing, hiking, and other sports where knowing precise distances aids in performance.
There are scores of rangefinders available for specific purposes, each with their own specialized features. All, however, operate on the same basic principle: the rangefinder projects a laser beam out to an object; the beam reflects off the object back to the rangefinder; and the rangefinder calculates the time between the transmission and the reception of the beam to establish the distance.
The distance a rangefinder can accurately measure depends upon the rangefinder itself, but also depends upon the reflectivity of the object being measured. For example, a shiny metal sign will reflect more light than will the bark on a tree or the fur on a deer. Thus a shiny object such as a metal sign can be ranged out to well over 1,000 yards, while a deer can be ranged out to 300 to 400 yards. The angle of the object being ranged affects the measurable distance as well. If the object is perpendicular to the laser beam it will reflect more of the beam back to the rangefinder, while an object that’s at an angle will reflect less of the beam back to the rangefinder.
When the object being ranged doesn’t reflect enough light for an accurate reading, an alternative is to range a more reflective nearby object as reference. Deer hunters will often scout an area the day before they intend to hunt, and range objects for reference in areas where they expect deer to appear.
Most rangefinders have features that go beyond measuring simple distances. Models made for hunting and golf will often include inclinometers that measure the slope of the terrain to the measured object, and use trigonometry to calculate the precise distance to the object.
Many hunting rangefinders feature a ballistics mode that calculates the bullet drop at a specific distance, based upon ballistics information for a particular caliber, bullet weight and velocity. Some of these models will display the amount of hold-over required for the target at the measured range.
Certain models of golf rangefinders have a feature that lets the user focus on the flag on the green while ignoring objects around the flag.
Many rangefinders also include features that allow the user to range an object through rain or brush.
Nearly all rangefinders have a certain amount of magnification for viewing, much like binoculars. After all, you need to be able to see an object before you can range it. The amount of magnification you require depends upon your particular needs. A varmint hunter who routinely shoots out to 1000 yards would find high magnification useful, while a golfer would find that a lower magnification allows him to view more of the course.
Another consideration that’s important when selecting a rangefinder is the unit’s construction. If your sport doesn’t entail harsh weather or rough terrain, a model that’s weather-resistant is probably fine for you. However, if you anticipate the unit being subjected to rain, snow, as well as bumps and falls, you’ll want to consider weatherproof housings, rubber armoring, waterproof optics and other features to protect the unit’s electronics.
When affordable rangefinders first hit the market, their use was regarded by some as cheating. Today, though, responsible hunters recognize their value in getting a clean, humane shot. And most rangefinders are now legal for use in PGA tournament play.
The times have changed, and for the better.
By: Richard A. Baker
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