The archery industry seems to be split.
Garmin debuted its Xero rangefinding sight technology for vertical bows in 2018 to strong opinions on either side. A few other companies have since launched some form of sight that incorporates rangefinding capability, and the debate over whether they have any place in fair chase bowhunting rages on.
The Pope and Young Club defines fair chase as “the ethical, sportsmanlike, and lawful pursuit of free-ranging wild game animals in a manner which does not give the hunter an improper or unfair advantage over the animal.”
Electronic devices attached to a bow that aid in rangefinding, sighting, or shooting fall outside those lines, according to the Club’s guidelines, and the Boone and Crockett Club takes a similar stance on rangefinding sights and scopes:
“Knowing the range to a target is a critical piece of information for the ethical harvest of big game animals. Rangefinders are a valuable and accepted tool, as are riflescopes. Combining the two into one device…, however, is a step too far. When technology becomes a substitute for using basic skills in the field (or a hunter is simply ‘buying’ skills), this is where technology undermines the hunting experience.”
But the Boone and Crockett Club also recognizes that the concept of fair chase is not always a black and white, one-size-fits-all standard:
“The Club acknowledges that Fair Chase is a subjective term that represents a spectrum of behavior shaped by personal choice. The Entry Affidavit requirements are intended to provide a baseline for ethical hunting—not limit the concept of Fair Chase.”
This is about getting bucks in the record books, though—not necessarily a universal judgment on ethical hunting practices. And the technology is now legal archery tackle in the majority of states, which according to Chad VanCamp, Xero Product Manager for Garmin, is more telling.
“There are only eight states that currently do not allow rangefinding bow sights, so that means that a majority (42 states) do allow them, which could be considered a better indication of whether something is considered fair chase,” VanCamp said. “As more people learn about, use, and understand what range finding sights like Garmin Xero are capable of, and more importantly, what they are not capable of, more people will appreciate range finding sights’ place within the context of fair chase.”
Proponents of rangefinding sights point out that they simply combine two pieces of archery equipment that aren’t controversial on their own, so the technology is not only fair chase but can actually make for more ethical hunting.
While those opposed to the technology say some bowhunters use rangefinding sights as a crutch, users claim it’s not about cheating the system but eliminating the guesswork for pinpoint accuracy—and ultimately more ethical kills.
“In its simplest form the Garmin Xero combines two technologies which are widely accepted in archery (range finders and fixed pins/slider bow sights),” said VanCamp. “The main advantage is that when you are sending an arrow downrange with a Garmin Xero, you know the pin you are shooting is exactly the right pin for the situation. In doing so, Xero solves the very real and fundamental problem of pin gapping or guessing the range altogether, which at its core is an imperfect system of aiming that can lead to misjudged distances and potentially wounded and lost animals.”
From in-the-field ozone generators to scouting apps, you’ll hear old-school archers complain technological advancements are ruining bowhunting. But VanCamp claims rangefinding sight technology enhances the outdoor experience rather than hampering it.
Some hunters have pushed the boundaries too far with other tech, like using wireless trail cameras to gain real-time intel in-season. But just as these cameras on their own aren’t unethical and could be innocuous pre-season scouting tools, a rangefinding sight can be as ethical and effective as the hunter on the other end of the bow.
They’re not intended as a replacement for consistent practice, a means to increase your maximum effective range with the press of a button, or a substitute for basic woodsmanship.
“Every bowhunter should know their own limitations and continually practice in order to remain competent. This is true with a rangefinding sight, the same as it is with a fixed pin or slider sight,” said VanCamp. “In short, the Xero doesn’t decide if you should take a shot. What it does is provide the archer with the most accurate aiming solution when they decide they can take a shot. The archer still must know their limitation, respect that limitation, and the only way to do that is through practice.”
Over the years, the Pope and Young Club has eased restrictions on lighted nocks, bow-mounted cameras, and high-let-off compounds—and all this once-taboo equipment is now widely accepted in the bowhunting community. Could rangefinding sights be next?
“Pope and Young does not currently accept entries into our records program for animals taken with a bow-mounted laser rangefinding sight. These sights are part of an ongoing evolution of technology,” said the Club’s Executive Director, Jason Rounsaville. “We continually evaluate these advancements to best represent today’s bowhunter while maintaining fair chase bowhunting. The technology today is laser rangefinding sights, but in the past has included items such as laminated limbs for long bows, compound bow let off and lighted nocks. Pope and Young is committed to Preserving, Promoting and Protecting Bowhunting and Fair Chase. At this time, we feel that omitting these sights from our records program does that.”