If you’re shooting from an angle, the distance you think you’re shooting will not be correct unless you’ve compensated for the angle. If you want to know why and how to solve this problem, we’ll tell you here.
There is a lot of misinformation out there about shooting, especially when you are first learning how to do it. There is a common misconception that shooting is nothing more than pointing a gun and pulling a trigger. While those are certainly two steps in the process, it’s a gross simplification to say, “just point and shoot.” This is especially true when you are shooting from a distance. Past about 200yds, there are a lot of physics that come into play. Barometric pressure, windage, and gravity will all move your bullet off the path that you want to shoot.
Fortunately, if we know the distance of a shot, we can make some basic calculations and adjust for at least a few of those problems. For almost as long as guns have existed, humans judged distances by eye. While it’s not impossible to judge a close-to-accurate distance by eye, the average person is not that skilled at doing so. Only after years of practice will your eye gain the accuracy to account for a long-distance shot. Yet, if you’re looking to take up long-distance shooting or hunting, you won’t have time to spend years developing eyeballing skills.
The good news is, we no longer live in the days of our parents and grandparents. Technology has developed so much so that we have easy solutions to almost every problem, and shooting is no different. Using a laser rangefinder, you can find accurate distances in seconds. Not all devices offer the same rangefinder angle compensation and performance, though. Your basic entry-level rangefinder is fine if you plan to shoot at a nice, leveled target range, but if you are shooting from a tree stand or in mountainous and hilly terrain, you may have noticed that your shots aren’t quite landing how you want.
This is likely because your rangefinder is not compensating for the angle from which you shoot. A basic rangefinder is designed to read a horizontal distance, but the angle of your shot changes the distance a bullet travels from you to a target due to the physics involved with ballistics. To get truly accurate readings, you need to use an angle compensating range finder. In this article, we will go through some of the ballistic phenomena that affect your shots, how a rangefinder works, and also look at some examples of rangefinders that will help your shooting. Let’s dive in.
This might get a little science-heavy, but we'll try our best to keep it as simple and down-to-earth as possible. No one likes to sit through a lecture, but it’s essential to understand these processes if you’re going to make accurate long-distance shots.
Trajectory & Bullet Drop
Trajectory is probably the most straightforward of the principles we’re going to talk about. Simply put, this is the path that a bullet travels as soon as it leaves the barrel of your gun. To the uninitiated, it seems like common sense that bullets fly straight. You would assume that because they travel faster than we can see, the odds of a bullet falling off its path must be pretty low. At close distances, yes, bullets don’t drop that much but, the farther a bullet travels, the more it will succumb to the effects of gravity.
Imagine that a bullet is like a ball. You and your friend are playing a game of catch. Your friend is pretty far away, and if you don’t throw the ball correctly, it’s going to fall short. So, you throw the ball a little higher into the air so that it can fall back down into your friend’s hands. The same goes for a bullet. When you adjust your scope for a particular distance, you are altering the curve that the bullet travels. It will first make a slight upward curve into the air before being pulled back down by gravity towards the target.
Barometric Pressure and Drag
Gravity on Earth is pretty much constant everywhere. If you move to higher ground or you’re at the equator, it might be slightly different but not enough to change your shots. However, that’s not to say that everything on Earth is constant. From day to day, our local atmosphere changes slightly, thanks to meteorological events. When you check the weather, you’ll hear them talk about low-pressure systems and high-pressure systems coming through. Well, what they are talking about is barometric pressure or the density of the air.
Changes in air pressure will do more than bring in a thunderstorm to ruin your hunt, though. When you shoot a bullet, it has to travel through the atmosphere. If there is higher barometric pressure—the atmosphere is thicker—the air will create more friction or drag against the bullet, causing it to slow down more quickly. As a bullet slows down, the effects of gravity will take hold sooner, and your bullet will drop before it reaches where you’ve aimed.
Barometric pressure can also be affected by where you are. Generally speaking, the air is thinner at higher altitudes, so if you are at the top of a mountain, you will not have to worry as much about air density affecting your shots.
If you thought air pressure was bad enough, we hate to tell you that it’s only one of the ways our atmosphere affects a shot. You also have to consider the direction that air is traveling. We know it seems silly to think that wind can throw off a bullet traveling 1,800mph, but it can.
As with pressure and trajectory, the wind isn’t likely to affect your accuracy until you start shooting out past 200yds, but, past about that threshold, a 10mph wind can blow your bullets a full foot off target. If you’re hunting, that’s enough to mean that you’re not eating venison that night.
Fortunately, any sight more advanced than what you’d put on your 12-year-old’s BB gun has adjustments you can change to account for windage. This usually just means moving the scope a little to the left or a little to the right.
This is a tricky little equation to explain without getting all technical but suffice it to say that, when you’re shooting from an angle, gravity does not have quite the same effect on the trajectory of your bullet. Instead, it’s going to affect the velocity of the bullet. Therefore, you do not have to adjust that elevation as much as if you were shooting something horizontal to you.
If anything, you will want to aim lower than you normally would. Similar to all the other phenomena that affect your shots, the angle isn’t going to matter too much until about 200yds or if you’re shooting at a 45-degree angle. But, just as the human eye isn’t great at judging distances, it’s not great at judging angles, either. More often than not, you’re going to overjudge an angle. You don’t have to shoot like that, though. Just as rangefinders were made to judge distance accurately, they’ve been modified and updated to give accurate readings that compensate for your angle.
Let’s look at how this works.
Rangefinders work on the fairly simple principle of reflection. You take a laser, shine it at your target, the target reflects the laser, and the rangefinder measures the amount of time it takes for the laser to come back. It then uses the speed of light to do a little calculation and, presto! You’ve got the distance from you and the target. If you have a more advanced angle compensating range finder, it will also detect the angle made by a change in elevation and make the correct calculations to compensate for that. Therefore, the horizontal distance that it gives you is the distance you need to adjust your shot accurately.
Which Rangefinder Should I Be Using?
Hopefully, by now, you’ve realized that, after 200yds, just pointing and shooting your gun isn’t going to work so well. You might get lucky and hit your target, but odds are the effects of physics are going to ruin your aim. Don’t risk missing out on a successful kill when you could just invest in a rangefinder. We’ve gone ahead and found a few that we think you might be interested in. They all include the required angle compensation factor, but each has its own little differences.
TecTecTec ProWild S
The first rangefinder we wanted to show you is the ProWild S. This is made by TecTecTec, and it is a solid entry for your standard angle compensating rangefinder. It is a lightweight, waterproof and dustproof option that will let you accurately read distances up to 540yds away, with 6x magnification power. The optics on this rangefinder are multi-coated, meaning they have had an anti-reflective coating. This will keep the laser from bouncing off the lens before the rangefinder has a chance to read it.
The optics on this rangefinder are clear and bright so that you can easily read the distances. It also features a continuous scanning mode so that you can quickly get reads without repeatedly mashing the scan button. This rangefinder will cost you $149.99, which is about average for its specifications.
GoGoGo 6X Hunting Laser Rangefinder
If you’re looking for something a little more budget-friendly that doesn’t skimp on quality, we recommend you look into buying a GoGoGo 6X. This little rangefinder will only set you back $80. At that price, you get a lot of bang for your buck, though. The GoGoGo 6X has the same 6x magnification power as the TecTecTec ProWild S, but it can range farther! This rangefinder comes in two versions—a 1,200yd option and a 650yd option.
It also includes a wider array of modes, such as a bowhunting mode and a speed mode for capturing fast-moving targets. Whatever your needs, the GoGoGo 6X will have you covered. The optics are fully multi-coated, meaning that it is even more anti-reflective than the ProWild S, and the diopter is adjustable for if you wear glasses!
This is a great option if you want a lot of perks without top-quality money. It gets the job done whatever the job is.
AOFAR HX-1200T Range Finder
The final rangefinder we thought you ought to see is the HX-1200T from AOFAR. This is the best of the two previous options. It has all the quality of the ProWild S with the perks of the GoGoGo 6x.
The HX-1200T features a large 23mm objective lens, designed to take in more light. More light equals a brighter and higher-contrast image, making it easier for you to read the display. This rangefinder also makes use of 6x magnification power and can accurately range out to 1,200yds.
The HX-1200T features a range and bowhunting mode so you can take it wherever you go, however you like to hunt. Its upgraded pin-sensor technology makes it highly accurate. At 300yds, you can expect it to hold true to plus-or-minus one yard. This is more precise than both other options on this list.
It is also durable, waterproof, and dustproof, so you’re not likely to damage it by taking it into to woods on a hunt. And, with the HX-1200T, you get a carrying case, a lanyard, a carabiner, a microfiber lens cloth, and an included battery. For all of that, you’ll only pay $134.99!
If you’ve been wondering why your shots haven’t been landing where you want them to, you probably haven’t been accounting for the physics involved in a long-distance shot. To accurately put a bullet in a target past 200yds, you have to keep in mind the atmospheric variables, the distance, and the angle you’re shooting from. With a quality rangefinder, you can knock at least half of the problems out in less than a second.
With an AOFAR HX-1200T, you can get a read all the way out to 300yds before you lose some accuracy. Or, with a GoGoGo 6X, you can take it just about anywhere—bowhunting, range shooting, even to a sports game to clock the football players. Or, if you’re just looking for the basics, a TecTecTec ProWild S will have you hunting without a single missed shot.
At the end of the day, all that really matters is that you’re not just eyeballing these factors. A quality rangefinder is worth the investment!