Laser rangefinder for shooting – why it can be valuable for airgunners

Lasers are very much a part of our present, not just our future, and a laser rangefinder for shooting can be a valuable tool for airgunners.

Lasers can be a handy tool for airgun shooters

A laser rangefinder for shooting usually produces a narrow beam that doesn’t spread out much as it travels away from the source, forming a pencil-like beam that appears as a small spot when shone against a surface, even at distances of 100 yards or so.

Unlike a pellet, slug or bullet, a laser rangefinder for shooting isn’t noticeably affected by gravity, and it’s this property that shooters can exploit, using a laser as a simple rangefinding tool, a basic aiming device and as a means of initially setting up a scope without the need to fire a shot.

Laser rangefinders for shooting are relatively inexpensive and I’ve been using two different types: a laser supplied by The Shooting Party for rangefinding and aiming, and a boresighter made by Bushnell for sighting in a scope.

Lasers do pose a risk regarding eye safety, and while it’s small, it’s a risk nonetheless. And they don’t work particularly well in all lighting conditions. But with those caveats out of the way, lasers can definitely be used to our advantage. I’ll look at a laser for rangefinding first.

Laser rangefinder for shooting – features and fittings

If you do decide you want to go ahead and grab one for yourself, take a while to examine the features of the laser itself, as well as the mounting options. The way they are adjusted for windage and elevation differ wildly.

The beam on some lasers is adjusted by turning in some tiny grubscrews, but this system can be a bit difficult to use as trying to make a horizontal adjustment can have a knock-on effect on the vertical too, and vice versa.

The model that comes with the PAO Airgunner’s Laser Sight set that I’m using here offers a better system that features two capped turrets to adjust windage and elevation, like a regular telescopic sight.

You’ll need to look at your setup and determine how and where to attach the laser – this will typically be to the body of your telescopic sigh

You’ll need to decide the best place to mount the laser, the most popular being above the telescopic sight, either with an adapter that secures the laser to the body of the scope, or one that attaches itself to one of the scope mounts.

The laser can be mounted to a rail, and I’ve even mounted a laser underneath a moderator using a scope ring from a set of two-piece mounts, appropriately sized to the body of the laser.

This time, I wanted to fit this particular laser to my Brocock Bantam Sniper HR, which has an MTC Viper Connect sitting on top. This is an unconventional zero-eye relief scope that uses a special mount that comes equipped with a small section of Picatinny rail over the front ring. 

Mike used a single Sportsmatch Picatinny mount to attach the laser to the rail section on top of the dedicated scope mount he’s using with his MTC Viper Connect
A laser needs to be aligned with the same degree of care as a scope, so bubble levels were used to ensure the device was perfectly level

The 1” PAO laser comes with a choice of mounting options, including Picatinny, but in this case I wanted to use a slightly shorter mount for the laser that would be a better fit to the MTC rail, so I ended up using a single 1” Sportsmatch mount with a Picatinny fitting. I don’t really see this as a waste as it means I now have a spare mount that can be used on another rifle.

Unlike a telescopic sight, there’s no need to worry about eye relief or head position when mounting a laser, but you do want to ensure that the device sits perfectly level and is not canted inside the mount.

Laser rangefinder for shootingadjusting the beam

With the laser fitted, it can now be adjusted. I wanted to set up the laser so the projected beam would coincide with my crosshairs at my chosen zero distance of 30 yards. The turrets worked well and it was easy to adjust the beam using a hex bit. 

The job was made far easier thanks to the damp, dark and dismal conditions we’d been experiencing when I was writing this feature. In conditions like these, the laser was clearly visible most of the time, especially when pointed at solid objects, although it did tend to get a bit lost when trying to range targets that were partially hidden by foliage.

If your laser gives you the option, now is a good time to think about how to activate it. The PAO laser seen here comes with two end caps. One has a simple on/off switch, while the other has a pressure-activated switch that can be positioned in a suitable place on the stock, using an adhesive pad. The latter system will prove invaluable to hunters as it minimises any movement that might spook quarry.

Laser rangefinder for shooting – how is it for rangefinding?

The main purpose of setting up a laser like this is to use it as a quick way of estimating the range to the target. If you turn the laser on and see the beam coincide with your crosshairs, you know you are at your zero distance, while if the beam appears above or below the crosshairs, you know you’re either closer or further away. How to work out which depends on where on the rifle you mounted the laser.

If you fitted the laser above the scope, as I did, then if the beam appears above the crosshairs when it’s shone onto the target, it means the target is closer than your zero. If it appears below, then it means the target’s further away. The opposite will be true if the laser has been mounted lower than the scope, underneath the barrel. 

But a beam coinciding with your crosshairs means you are at your set zero, so you only need to compose yourself, aim on and fire. If you’re not at your zero distance, the laser won’t be able to tell you by how much, so that will have to be worked out by a bit of trial and error by shooting over a series of known distances.

Laser rangefinder for shooting – what about aiming?

I’ve read how some police officers in the United States may train a laser sight onto a suspect in an attempt to de-escalate a confrontation and get them to surrender rather than having to use deadly force. But the police are reluctant to use a laser as an actual aiming device on a man-sized target, and this clearly means a laser is totally unsuitable for aiming at any live quarry.

However, a laser does make for some fantastic shooting at the plinking range, especially when the targets are set out at the zero distance and it’s then just a case of pointing and shooting – and you don’t even need to look through your scope to do this! And if anything, this system is even more fun when you’re shooting a handgun.

Want to read more about handguns? Read some of the latest reviews below:

Laser rangefinder for shooting – drawbacks

A laser will never replace a telescopic sight as an aiming device, but it makes a nice change to use it on something like a spinner and is great fun too

Whether you want a laser for rangefinding or for aiming, you’ll probably find one that’s not too dear to purchase and not too difficult to set up. 

But the big downer regarding the use of a laser is the fact that depending on the lighting and the type of target you intend to project the beam onto, you may not be able to see the beam at all. 

This means that the laser is a useful aid in some situations, rather than being something that can be relied on for any and all shooting scenarios.

Laser rangefinder for shooting – the laser boresighter

One other type of laser you may find useful is a laser boresighter, which will let you set a rough zero with your scope without firing any pellets

Some powder-burner boresighters are built into a dummy cartridge, which is then chambered like a live round, but there’s a different type that’s slotted into the barrel at the muzzle end, making this suitable for air rifles too.

My laser boresighter is made by Bushnell, and like many similar designs it uses a plastic spigot to hold the device central to the bore. A selection of spigots is included so you can match the right one to the calibre of your rifle.

Laser boresighters are traditionally used to save time and money when sighting in a centrefire, but they do work with air rifles as well
The device is held in place in the bore by a swappable calibre-specific plastic spigot – it won’t do any harm to the lands and grooves of the rifling

The smallest calibre this particular boresighter can be used with is .22, but other models are available that can be used with .177 and .20 rifles, so if you do decide to get one of these yourself, make sure it’s suitable for your chosen calibres.

With the boresighter correctly seated in the barrel, the laser can now be turned on at your desired zero range. Just like any other gun-friendly laser, it may be difficult to see the dot that’s being projected onto the target. You may have to experiment with different types of target in different lighting conditions to ensure the dot is visible.

When you can see the laser through your scope, all you then need to do is adjust the windage and elevation controls until the crosshairs are centred over the dot. Your scope has now been correctly boresighted. You’ll certainly need to make some more adjustments when you actually start firing some pellets, but your initial shots should now at least be on the target.

It’s up to you whether you think buying one of these for airgun use is justified, unless your time at the zero range is particularly limited. Boresighters used to be quite expensive, but prices have come down and you can pick one up for as little as £15 or so. 

But you can buy a whole tin of pellets for that much money – and you’ll need to fine-tune your telescopic sight by shooting some actual lead downrange in any case.

Nevertheless, there is definitely a place for the laser boresighter, which can save time and precious air if you’re shooting something like a big-bore PCP at FAC levels.

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