Rangefinders have come quite a long way in the last several years. After tolerating the deplorable performance of the early optical rangefinding units for a couple decades, shooters had plenty of reason to rejoice once laser rangefinders started to become widely available in the marketplace. It’s not a stretch to say that few gear advancements have had quite as big an effect on long range shooting performance as laser rangefinders. Since their introduction, laser rangefinders have consistently offered more features, better performance, and greater durability. Often lost among the flashy ballistic drop compensators and wind calculators is one of the most beneficial of these new technologies: Angle compensation.
As any good distance shooter should know, gravity doesn’t care about angles. When it’s acting on a projectile, gravity pulls straight down and only “cares” about horizontal distance to the target. Most folks can grasp this concept pretty readily. When you’re taking on high-angle shooting tasks, though, understanding theory and correctly calculating a shooting solution are two very different demands. Guesstimating distance with the naked eye can be a chore. Determining shot angle and applying the appropriate correction factor to account for it can turn that chore into a real mathematical challenge. Once the pressure of putting eyes on a single trophy bull after months of planning and days of roughing it in rugged country is added, suddenly a small device that takes care of the hard math and saves time doing it seems like quite a handy prospect. Enter the angle compensating laser rangefinder.
By quickly and accurately sorting out the shot angle and perceived distance, these clever tools make easy work of high-angle shots and spit out an actual horizontal distance. From here, the shooter needs only to adjust his sights to match. If the device is equipped with a BDC, it will often even present the complete shot solution in the form of turret clicks or holdover. The Leupold RX-1000i TBR is an excellent example of a device with this feature. With accuracy to 1/10 of a yard, Leupold’s tagline for this rangefinder is “Never Guess Again” for a reason.
Rangefinders with angle compensation aren’t just for heroic rifle shots on elk or sheep hunts. Even for bowhunters, angle compensating rangefinders make a lot of sense. While a simple tree stand might not present a lot of opportunity for the angle compensation feature to shine, one hunt for mountain goats or other critters in steep terrain will prove its worth. The higher the angle, the greater the advantage. While not a device designed specifically for bowhunting, the Nikon Riflehunter 1000 will accurately range at angles up to 89 degrees. That’s a nearly vertical shot!
Most quality laser rangefinders are extremely quick to use. The Leica Rangemaster CRF 1000-R easily tops the list in this regard. In addition to the optical quality Leica is famous for, it is capable of turning on and ranging distant targets in less than a second. Try running your manual calculations that quickly.
Just like aiming a rifle scope, it’s important to hold your laser rangefinder steady when ranging a target. Most rangefinders will come equipped with a tripod mount for ultimate stability. A tripod might add a couple ounces to your gear, but can easily be worth its weight in gold by the end of a tough hunt. Some rangefinders, like the Vortex Ranger 1000, even keep their integral aiming reticles deactivated until required in order to allow for better target acquisition during aiming. This can slow down the ultimate ranging time by a second or so, but provides a lot of benefit when looking for targets that are hard to see due to heavy cover or low light conditions.
It’s obvious that angle compensating laser rangefinders fill a very necessary niche. The options available today are relatively affordable, extremely accurate, and quite simple to use. All this said, it is still important to consider the math and the concepts behind all this technology. Even the best tools are limited by the expertise and ability of their operator. Learning and understanding the fundamentals of high-angle shooting will allow for much more effective use of these precision instruments. Once you’re educated on the science, look for the features that you feel will best serve you on your next hunt. From there, you can hunt with the confidence that comes from knowing you’re doing the hunting and shooting, but with the help of some really cool technology. That’s the angle you should really be looking for.