If you want to make your shots count, you have to know the range. Sure, we have all used ‘Kentucky Windage’ but that’s a guessing game. It works better with open sights but when you start dealing with magnification, it can throw everything off. If you want to be precise, you need the best rangefinder for hunting that you can get.
Check the links below if you are in a hurry!
- Bushnell Bone Collector Hunting Rangefinder
- TecTecTec ProWild Hunting Rangefinder
- Nikon Arrow ID Hunting Rangefinder
- Ballistics Hunting Rangefinder
- Nikon Aculon Hunting Rangefinder
- Simmons 801405 Rangefinder 4x20LRF 600
- Leupold Rx-1300i TBR Laser Rangefinder
We all want to be a great shot and that all starts with consistency. Most of us work hard to be consistent with our rifle or bow. We work to make each shot repeatable. If we want to make each impact repeatable, we have to figure range into the equation.
I am not condoning that we all carry bullet drop cards and act like snipers but if you want the best results, it starts with data. Matching a quality scope to a quality hunting rangefinder give you the perfect place to start for excellence.
- WHAT IS A RANGEFINDER
- TYPES OF RANGEFINDERS
- WHO USE RANGEFINDERS
- HOW TO CHOOSE THE BEST RANGEFINDER
- BEST RANGEFINDER REVIEWS
- 1. BUSHNELL BONE COLLECTOR HUNTING RANGEFINDER
- 2. TECTECTEC PROWILD HUNTING RANGEFINDER – BUDGET CHOICE
- 3. NIKON ARROW ID HUNTING RANGEFINDER
- 4. BALLISTICS HUNTING RANGEFINDER
- 5. NIKON ACULON HUNTING RANGEFINDER
- 6. SIMMONS 801405 RANGEFINDER, 4X20LRF 600
- 7. LEUPOLD RX-1300I TBR LASER RANGEFINDER
- 8. VORTEX OPTICS RANGER 1800 HUNTING RANGEFINDER
- 9. BUSHNELL SCOUT DX HUNTING RANGEFINDER
- FINAL WORDS
WHAT IS A RANGEFINDER
At its core, a rangefinder is just a tool to determine the range between two objects, usually between the person using the rangefinder and some point that needs a precise distance measurement.
The military has long used rangefinders as a means to work out telemetry to targets, either from long range shooters or for tanks and artillery. This use has translated very well into the civilian sectors that need the same technology to determine distance, notable golf and hunting.
Rangefinders also have applications in land surveying, engineering, and mapping sectors where very precise ranges need to be used to avoid legal or planning disasters. They are also used in plane mounted units to measure elevation differences which can be recorded and used for a variety of map and survey purposes
Rangefinders are also becoming more common in vehicles were automated rangefinders work as collision avoidance systems. This same technology has trickled into the world of drones where they are used to avoid obstacles and make soft landings.
The predominant rangefinders we will be looking at are those used in hobbies by sportsmen but having a good grasp of the breadth of rangefinder uses offers a greater appreciation for these small, handheld devices.
TYPES OF RANGEFINDERS
THE FIRST TRUE RANGEFINDERS
The first true rangefinders were coincidence rangefinders. These long tubes were often used on naval ships and with artillery. By adjusting prisms at each end of the device until they coincided in the view finder, you could measure the amount of adjustment of the prisms and determine range with fair accuracy.
Due to the size and time needed to find the range to a target, these have not been a viable option for decades.
Also called stadiametric rangefinders are a magnified optic that can use known or estimated object size alongside a measuring scale to establish range. These have been made popular by military snipers and are still used in that function today. Being a purely optical device, no batteries are needed which makes them very versatile.
These were a trade tool for a lot of early surveyors and cartographers in the past including those who worked on ordinance surveys and topographic maps.
There is a lot of skill and math in using an optical rangefinder which rules them out for most hobby professions where they would be too slow. However, in the hands of a skilled professional with a keen eye, range can be measured very accurately. Sometimes down to inches.
Using high pitched sound, much like sonar, these rangefinders are popular with contractors to measure the dimensions of flat surfaces. Unlike lasers, they are capable of reading at shorter distances where the error in other rangefinders would be an issue.
Though ultrasonic devices do exist that can be used in the outdoor environment they are expensive and large. For the most part, they have been replaced by laser rangefinders in almost every market.
Laser Rangefinders are still an evolving technology but they have proved their worth in most every hobby and profession using them. Even the military has mostly switched to laser rangefinders.
Some of the most powerful models can reach out to distances in excess of 10 miles by use of a tightly focused laser that will shoot at and bounce back from your target to be read by the same machine.
If you look into purchasing a rangefinder now, this is almost universally the one you will end up with.
WHO USE RANGEFINDERS
The largest current market for rangefinders is in the hunting community. This market is so large that it has dictated the growth of laser rangefinder technology. Where early rangefinders were marginally accurate at measuring distance, today’s hunting rangefinders have a variety of features which make them more accurate and more useful to the modern hunter.
Some hunting rangefinders are developed with specific hunters in mind. Some models have software that can calculate arrow drop and factor in angles to provide the bowhunter with the best possible information to make his shot. The more advanced models may have target differentiation that helps to see through leaves and brush, making the measurements all the more accurate
For rifle hunters, a rangefinder may have a built-in ballistic computer preprogrammed with common calibers and loads that can estimate the drop of his specific bullet out of his specific gun. Some are even matched with a rifle scope and can give adjustments in clicks rather than dimensions that may require math.
Many golfers, both hobbyists and professionals, have adopted a rangefinder as a part of their standard gear. Much like with shooting, golf is reliant on judging range accurately. A modern rangefinder can get a golfer to within a meter of the flag. At least in measurement, actually getting the ball there is still on the golfer.
Just like hunting rangefinders, a golf rangefinder may have features to help the golfer improve his game. The most common feature is ‘Pinseeker’ which identifies the flag rather than the ground around it, making the ranged distance to the target more accurate.
Some of the higher end models will have an adaptive slope mode that can help calculate the amount of elevation change on a hole, either uphill or downhill. They may also have a mode that will help the golfer with club selection.
The military has been a consumer of rangefinders for decades. All the way back to the time of coincidence rangefinders. The military moved to optical rangefinders as soon as they were proven worthy and have since gone on to using the very best laser rangefinders available today.
The only military profession that still uses exclusively optical rangefinders is snipers. Most other equipment intended for long-range engagements use laser rangefinders, often ones mounted alongside the gun.
Many of the military’s rangefinders are purpose built and are specially designed to fill a role. The rangefinder in a tank has the necessary programming to account for the main weapon on the tank. Even some handheld rocket launchers use a similar technology.
Most military grade rangefinders are beyond the price of what a consumer could reasonably pay.
MAP MAKER, CARTOGRAPERS, SURVERYORS, AND ENGINEERS
Specific rangefinders are used in a variety of survey and mapping-related activities including civil engineering tasks. These units are often mounted on a tripod to achieve the best results possible. While some still have an optical capability, the use of the laser on the rangefinder is almost universal.
The only feature specific to a survey type rangefinder is the extreme level of accuracy desired, sometimes down to inches or less. Occasionally the more expensive units may have the ability to calculate GPS coordinates at a distance using the laser.
While these are the most accurate units available on the market they are often larger than would be convenient for a sportsman. They are also far more expensive, costing thousands of dollars or more.
A subset of these rangefinders are those intended for use in forestry and logging operations that have features appropriate to those conditions such as leaf filters and tree height measurement.
HOW TO CHOOSE THE BEST RANGEFINDER
RANGE AND INCREMENT
Consider the maximum range that you are likely to need to use your rangefinder. A bowhunter doesn’t need to range 300 yards but a rifle shooter or golfer may. There is no reason to pay for range you are not using.
It may be recommended to add 20% the maximum range you plan to use the rangefinder as the laser does lose accuracy as it reaches the upper limits. This will also give you some leeway on days that aren’t so clear.
An increment is the smallest unit the rangefinder will display distance in. It is usually 1 yard or 1 meter in the latest rangefinders but some cheaper models may be 5 or even 10. Always buy a unit in a 1 yard/meter increment. The other units may be vastly inaccurate in their readings, especially at a distance.
Most rangefinders are either 4x or 6x power. The difference is minimal until you get out around 400 yards. I would always opt for the larger power just in case. More magnification can make sighting your target easier but be aware that it can make having shaky hands harder to deal with.
Very rarely do you find a rangefinder with anything other than an 18 – 22mm objective lens. Both of these work fine but the larger lens will let in more light and make the reticle (if you have one) easier to read. This is not a vital trait to worry over but one you should be aware of.
Any of these features are simply the point you use to line your target up with to get the range. Reticles have been the standard but aiming points are becoming much more popular. Each has their benefits.
In low light, a reticle will be harder to read unless you have a rangefinder with an internal backlight. However, a reticle may offer you more information such as optical range. Many people find the reticle easier to read.
An aiming point serves the same purpose but is generally LED powered for better low light visibility. They may wash out more in bright conditions though and if your LED is too bright, you may have trouble seeing past it in lower light levels.
Rangefinders can be broken down into two distinct types: Optical and Laser.
Optical rangefinders rely on a marked reticle to allow a shooter to accurately gauge distance. They are often lighter weight, more rugged, and don’t rely on batteries to function. For the majority of our history, a military rangefinder was a purely optical device, usually a spotting scope.
Laser Rangefinders are the new technology that has proven so effective that even the military has made the switch. They are essentially a small computer that uses laser pulses to calculate range. There are some complications in using them but most people feel the benefit outweighs any difficulty.
Once again, this is more a concern for laser rangefinders but some optical rangefinders may only be marked every 50 yards or so. The smaller the incident reading, the more accurate the rangefinder is. A rangefinder for archery should have a maximum increment reading of 10 yards.
Some rangefinders will be simple optics but the more advanced laser rangefinders may use an LED or LCD display. The LED tends to be a little brighter and better on battery life. LED displays also tend to be a little more adjustable, making low light conditions a little easier.
Any time you take something into the field, the weight will be a concern. You get what you pay for in weight or more specifically, you can get a rangefinder that light, powerful, or cheap; pick two.
There are a variety of features to make your life easier available on some rangefinders. Try to pick a rangefinder specific to your needs and it should have the features most helpful to you. Some features are a universally good idea.
WATERPROOF / WEATHERPROOF / RAIN PROOF
This a feature that is very handy considering the situations that a rangefinder will often be in. It is just one layer of protection that can help preserve your investment. Some rangefinders have an additionally thick rubber ‘armor’ to protect them from impacts.
Some rangefinders are set to ignore the first object they encounter. This is mostly used to prevent parts of a deer stand, netting, limbs, or brush from giving a false reading. If you are a golfer, get a first priority rangefinder and you will be happy in 95% of the cases. For a hunter, it isn’t so easy.
Choosing a rangefinder with second priority, sometimes called Last Priority, is helpful in making sure you are on target every time and aren’t aiming at a branch in front of your target.
Some rangefinders allow you to scan larger areas and pinpoint your target that way rather needing to try to push the button right when you are holding the rangefinder on the target. This is also good for getting a variety of readings on a deer trail or other area like a sand trap.
ANGLE CALCULATION / INCLINOMETER
If you hunt or golf in hilly terrain this is an amazing feature but it is most useful for those hunting from tree stands. Instead of having to rely on a faulty straight-line reading, you can have the rangefinder take into account the distance and angle to put you right on target.
Some companies have various names for this feature so read up on the device you choose to make sure you are getting what you want.
If you are a rifle hunter that uses a scope, this is the one feature you really want to invest in. Preferably one that is either customizable or has a large variety of loads. It beats having to calculate all of your bullet drop in your head and hope not to make a mistake while the pressure is on.
BEST RANGEFINDER REVIEWS
The needs of a bowhunter differ from those of a rifle hunter. You don’t need as much range but you need the best accuracy you can get if you want to get your shots on the mark. There are some features that can really help you out along the way of course. Mostly what you need is a small, lightweight option. One that is either easy to get the laser on target or one with some form of priority mode that will allow you to get an accurate reading through brush. Good, clear optics are always a bonus.
1. BUSHNELL BONE COLLECTOR HUNTING RANGEFINDER
\Staring with a simple but effective option, the Bone Collector from Bushnell is a great priced, easy to use rangefinder that should do well from a tree stand with whatever archery tool you choose to take into the woods.
This isn’t a complicated device, just sturdy and durable. It’s waterproof with a clear LCD display and small magnification to help see what is around the deer to make sure you aren’t accidentally getting your laser on a bush. The best thing about a 4-power optic is the ability to keep it stable where higher power ones seem to bounce all over.
Sure, it will see out to 600 yards but we don’t need that as long as we can get a solid range increment out to 30 yards or so. There isn’t a lot to the Bone Collector rangefinder, it just does its job well.
2. TECTECTEC PROWILD HUNTING RANGEFINDER – BUDGET CHOICE
TecTecTec is a company most well-known for golf rangefinders but their entry into the hunting world has proven to be a solid workhorse of a rangefinder. If you think about the goals of the two sports, the idea is still to arc your projectile into a target. It may be a silly name but it’s a quality unit.
The ProWild has one feature that is unlike any other rangefinder on this list. It has speed detection. This is of marginal use to a hunter but it is a fun addition for a rangefinder. It also has a scan mode so you can easily get ranges on a number of likely areas before the deer even enter your area.
As far as standard features, this is a pretty run of the mill unit. It has a 600-meter range in 1-meter increments and weighs about 6 oz. The glass is high quality and the laser is spot on. And you can get it without breaking the bank.
3. NIKON ARROW ID HUNTING RANGEFINDER
Of course, if you want a specially designed rangefinder for bow hunting, one with quality glass, good features, and a solid reputation you can always look to a Nikon hunting rangefinder. Much like the previous Nikon, the Arrow ID is a great unit in a small package that will help you get the job done in every way possible.
Despite the looks and price, this is not some cheap archery rangefinder but a quality unit with features to really up your chances. It has a target priority mode to help you get a good reading in the thick of the woods, it has Nikon’s incline/decline technology, it is water and weather resistant. Best of all, it is tiny and weighs only 4 and a half ounces.
Even with all that, it costs less than most other units and still has a 550-yard range in 1-yard increments. Sure, it may not be the best rangefinder on the market but for bowhunting, it’s the best rangefinder for the money, any day.
If you are looking for a general rangefinder for rifle hunting at a reasonable distance of under a hundred yards, you don’t have to spend your money on fancy optics and a powerful laser, you can focus on the features that will really dial in your shots. Alternatively, you can go with a rangefinder that will get you spot on with the best glass and have a very versatile tool that will work for most any hunting you could do. In essence, these are the finest in their class rangefinders 2018 has to offer.
4. BALLISTICS HUNTING RANGEFINDER
If you want a feature packed rangefinder that still won’t set you back a fortune, ATN has come up the just about the perfect option. It is a masterful piece of technology that uses your smartphone’s processing power to give you the most accurate and detailed calculations of any rangefinder on the market.
This rangefinder can take a range up to 1093 yards and communicate all the data to your smartphone to give you the calculations. You can use it without that connection and range manually or use the data it provides to precisely calculate your shot.
If you opt to add an ATN scope, this rangefinder can tell you in detail how much to turn your dials to get you dead on target. If you are a tech-savvy hunter, this rangefinder may be the best option on the market.
5. NIKON ACULON HUNTING RANGEFINDER
In the middle of the spectrum, you have the Aculon. Just like most of their optics, this Nikon rangefinder is known for pure, clean glass. It’s compact, lightweight, and effective at what you need to know without adding a lot of unnecessary stuff many hunters don’t want.
The range is lower than a lot of options at only 550 yards but with its super clear LCD display and 1-yard resolution, you will get good data back on the distance to your target. The Far Target Ranging technology only tightens up that data to the very best.
If you want a plain and simple rangefinder that will get the job done while being slick and lightweight enough to forget it’s even there, this is the top of the food chain. Very few optics have the quality of Nikon and the Aculon rangefinder shows it.
6. SIMMONS 801405 RANGEFINDER, 4X20LRF 600
If you aren’t a tech-savvy hunter at all and only care about the range to your target, Simmons is a solid choice. It’s nothing but great glass and a high-quality laser. It’s fast and easy to get on target and it will give you the range as accurately as any rangefinder on the market.
This rangefinder is a bit heavy at 9.8 ounces but not enough to notice. Its sturdy, weather resistant, and above all, easy to use. There are no strange calculations or readouts, just pure distance that leaves the calculating up to you.
If you want a simple as it gets rangefinder with no-nonsense, Simmons is a better choice than any other. It will do what you need and only what you need and do it well!
Most shots hunters take are going the be fairly short range with most falling under a hundred yards. For those of us who want a little more challenge, reaching out a little farther with your shots will definitely provide. Though some may argue, any shot beyond 300 yards is long range. You could probably shorten that but for sake of having a starting number, we will go with that. Once you start shooting this far, you have to be dead on to make an ethical kill shot. It isn’t for the faint of heart or those without patience. You have enough to deal with long range with the wind, movement of the animal, and just getting yourself into the zone. A rangefinder can at least take one of the variables out of long-range shooting.
7. LEUPOLD RX-1300I TBR LASER RANGEFINDER
Few names in the long-range shooting world are as prestigious as Leupold. They have made some of the best hunting and precision shooting scopes on the market for decades. Their optics are known for quality and clarity, you should expect the same from their rangefinders.
When it comes to features, Leupold has them in spades. Not only is it water and weather resistant but it features an inclinometer and scan mode. Best of all is the True Ballistic Range technology which takes all the guesswork out of the equation. The RX-1300i will calculate angle and distance to provide you with spot-on shooting data.
With a 1300-yard maximum range and an accuracy of +-0.5 yard, you can count on knowing your exact range, even at extreme ranges. It’s lightweight, fast, and affordable. You can never go wrong with Leupold.
8. VORTEX OPTICS RANGER 1800 HUNTING RANGEFINDER
Vortex is a newer company that is taking the hunting and shooting world by storm with their optics. When it comes to a rangefinder for long range shooting, not only do they provide a feature-rich, competitive model but one that is very cost effective as well.
Not only is the Vortex weather resistant, but it also features scan mode and a combination of Horizontal Corrected Distance and Line of Sight Distance to provide you all the tools you need to get dialed in for the long shots.
Unless you are shooting farther than you should the 1800yds max range with +-1yd accuracy is sure to be enough. This may be the best long-range rangefinder for the money and a solid bet if you want a 1000-yard rangefinder that can get you there accurately.
9. BUSHNELL SCOUT DX HUNTING RANGEFINDER
Let’s face it, Bushnell has never been known for the greatest products on the market. Some of the optics are flat out crap. But in the case of the Scout SX rangefinder, they have finally made a product worth owning.
The solid 1000-yard max range coupled with a phenomenal .5-yard accuracy is sure to get you on target and. With its bow and rifle modes, angle adjustment, and fully waterproof housing have no doubt that this is a solid rangefinder.
If the Vortex captured the best long-range trophy, the Bushnell may be the best hunting rangefinder for the money. Forget their past, if this is their future, it looks to be a good one. You won’t go wrong with this Bushnell rangefinder for anything out to 600 yards plus.
The world of rangefinders can be a little confusing. There are a lot of different technologies and each company has their own name for them. Some rangefinders see farther than the laser can read or at least read accurately. Selecting the right rangefinder is a challenge, that’s where we come in to help.
Long range shooting is a challenge, especially with a bow. A rangefinder is the absolute best way to take some of the guesswork out of the equation. The proper choice will work for you and make everything a little easier because the last thing you want when you get a deer in your sights is to start second-guessing.
Hopefully, you have found the rangefinder that is most suited to your chosen discipline. No matter how you hunt, we are confident that one of the above options will be a solid choice to help you in your next hunt.