Determining the exact distance to a target is a very important part of a successful hunt. Some people have a natural talent for working out distances at a glance. For the rest of us we are going to be dependent on an outside source.
For hunters (and golfers too) the use of a rangefinder is a great way of getting the exact distance to a target, or even coming up with distances to known objects in the area which can then be used to get faster distances when needed.
Some might say rangefinders are another key to hunting success!
These units are becoming increasingly compact and precise with the options of panning across moving targets and compensating for shot angles that cover steep ground or shooting from elevated treestands. Most rangefinders are weatherproof with a few completely waterproof and they are durable enough to survive rough treatment.
Long Distance v Short Distance Ranging
Rifle hunters are more likely to need rangefinders that are accurate over longer distances. The precision required is crucial because any variation from true measurement is going to be amplified.
This is why you're going to find that the more expensive rangefinders are capable of ranging over longer distances. Swarovski, Carl Zeiss and Leica provide expensive options, but they also offer products of outstanding quality.
For the bow hunter the price of laser rangefinders has become much more reasonable and even though the distances are not as far, the precision is spot on and the added features built into more expensive models are included.
To help get you started we have provided a brief guide to 5 of the most popular archery rangefinders.
In addition to the handheld rangefinders, which are the types that are predominantly used as electronic laser rangefinders, it should be pointed out that there is another option available and that is the use of bow mounted rangefinders. We have completed a guide to bow mounted rangefinders that highlight the different ways in which the same goal can be achieved. You can read all about the different options here.
Rangefinder Features - What Is Important?
As with all pieces of equipment there are many different variations that are used for the many different scenarios that a hunter or shooter might encounter. There is also a big range of price points that the rangefinders may be available at. In general, the better the quality of the components, the higher the price of the rangefinder.
So what features are important in a good rangefinder?
Any of the following variables might influence your decision:
- Maximum Range
- Effective lens diameter
- Field of view
- Angle compensation feature
- Quality of lens
- LCD display
- Unit dimensions
- Unit weight
- Speed of results
- Water resistance
This might make it a little more difficult to decide which rangefinder is the perfect one for your needs. And that is where the reviews that have been compiled here at Keys To Hunting come in useful.
Start with our Comparison of the Most Popular Rangefinders.
Directly below is a selection of rangefinder manufacturers displayed. Click on the company logo to be taken to the manufacturer page where further details about the various models are displayed as part of the various detailed rangefinder reviews. Further down the page is a presentation of brief rangefinder reviews of what are considered some of the better rangefinders available in each of the major price ranges.
Top Rangefinders by Price
At each price category you will find a selection of rangefinders that are equipped with features that make the process of distance measurement easier, quicker and more precise. A cheaper rangefinder doesn't necessarily mean inferior in quality and the ones that have been listed below all represent high quality products at reasonable prices.
As a quick means of getting an idea of some of the leading rangefinders that are available in a range of different price categories we have listed five models that have proven to be great value for money. The various price ranges will introduce greater reliability in distance measurements as well as better optical clarity leading to better results over longer distances.
Under $150 - Nikon Aculon Laser Rangefinder
This is a rangefinder that is most suitable for bow hunters with a maximum range of up to 550 yards. It employs Distant Target Priority Mode which means that it will ignore any branches or other unwanted targets that might return false distances. It is compact and lightweight and uses 6x magnification an effective objective diameter of 20mm. The longer eye relief of 16.7mm means that anyone wearing eyeglasses will find viewing easier. This is a very good low cost rangefinder that provides the bow hunter with a simple to use device that will operate in a wide temperature range and adverse weather conditions.
Under $250 - Bushnell The Truth ARC Bowhunting Laser Rangefinder
This is a rangefinder that is most appropriate for bow hunters, however the range is also significant at 850 yards with a “shoots like” range out to 200 yards. The unit is equipped with ClearShot technology which will ignore the overhanging branches and other obstructions that are usual when hunting in the woods. The Truth also comes with ARC which stands for Angle Range Compensation to give you the true horizontal range to the target no matter what incline the distance is returned over.
Under $500 - Leupold RX-1000i TBR with DNA Rangefinder
This is a hunting rangefinder that has a range of 1000 yards and is packed with all of the features that a serious hunter is going to appreciate. TBR technology, or True Ballistic Range, is the company's inclinometer technology that compensates for inclines and declines. Precision is enhanced thanks to its DNA technology (Digitally eNhanced Accuracy) to return accuracy to within 1/10 yard over long distances. The rangefinder also uses OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode) for crystal clear display. This is an outstanding mid-priced rangefinder that comes from one of the leading optical companies in the industry.
Under $1000 - Zeiss Optical Inc Victory PRF Monocular Rangefinder
The Victory Pocket Rangefinder is a particularly compact monocular that operates quickly in open country. It has the capability of measuring distances out to 1200 metres and uses a narrow field to measure small and moving targets with accuracy. It uses BIS (Ballistic Information System) to quickly and accurately correct the holdover point. Zeiss is known for its high-performance optics and it is this quality that is brought to the fore thanks to the LotuTec coating that immediately clears the lens. There is little doubt that you will get more than a simple rangefinding device for your dollar.
Over $1000 - Swarovski Optik EL Waterproof Binocular Rangefinder
This is clearly the epitome of rangefinding excellence with the optical clarity of the Swarovski lens backed by wide field of view. The rangefinder is available either in 8x42 or 10x42 magnification. The precision of the rangefinder over longer distances is the key to why this is priced at the top end of the scale. It has a range of 1500 yards with unparalleled precision. The multi-coated lenses decrease light deflection and increase detail.
To get the distance that is being measured a laser rangefinder will shoot an invisible laser beam, that is safe to the eye, at a target and then meaure the time it takes for the beam to return. The internal electronics in the rangefinder will then convert the data into either meters or yards which is then displayed on a screen.
You will always find a maximum distance that a model can achieve quoted by the manufacturer, however there are a number of factors that can affect the actual distance ranged. When the laser is emitted it can diverge or expand until it is no longer a pinpoint of light and this can shorten the maximum distance of the unit. Factors such as the size of the target, the light quality, the ambient temperature and even the steadiness of your hand will alter the maximum possible ranging capabilities of your rangefinder.
In general, the more expensive models will have a smaller divergence and will allow for more accurate readings at longer distances. While this is definitely a generalization the units with the higher quality components are inevitably going to be more likely to return you the better results.
If you are only planning on ranging short distances such as for bow hunting you can get very good results with a less expensive model of rangefinder. In fact, the shorter distance models are the best rangefinders for bow hunting. If you were planning on hunting with a firearm and needed to range over much longer distances it would make sense to invest in a more expensive model.
Additional and Must Have Features
There are a number of variable requirements that hunters my require depending on the type of hunting they will be engaging in. As such, there are differences built into the selection of rangefinders manufactured.
For instance, built-in angle compensation has been included in some models while others have improved image capabilities to be more effective in light conditions that are less than ideal.
You can expect that just about all rangefinders made today will be waterproof and fogproof and that they will automatically shut off to prolong the battery life when not being used.
Ultimately, the majority of the special features that are built into rangefinders are most likely going to remain unused.
Your main concern should come down to the maximum distance the rangefinder is capable of measuring and the clarity of the display. As long as you can range smaller targets out to a reasonable distance and get an accurate reading you are going to greatly appreciate your rangefinder.
Training With Your Rangefinder
It is not necessary to actively go out and practice with your rangefinder every day. The bottom line is, though, it will help. The more frequently you use your rangefinder the better you’re going to get, there’s no question.
What you are actually training for is to improve your ability to accurately judge distance. By using your rangefinder to confirm the accuracy or otherwise of your estimation you will find your ability to gauge distance will substantially increase.
A realistic goal might be to go out once a week for 5 - 10 minutes and try ranging random objects around the neighborhood.
A rangefinder is a great training aid for helping you to accurately judge distances. This is a skill that many of us really suck at. In fact, it might be quite surprising just how inaccurate your best guess at distance actually is.
The more often you go through the exercise of picking out an object, assessing its distance and then confirming by ranging it should greatly improve your ability to gauge distance.
The thing is, even if you’re only off by 5 to 8 yards over 60 yards, that’s going to make a significant difference to your shot. You don’t want to be off by that margin.
And you can bet your bottom dollar that the further away the object is, the further out you’re going to be when you estimate its distance.
If you’re a bowhunter you will appreciate being able to quickly judge the distance at a glance. Training with a rangefinder is going to fine tune your accuracy.
When you are going through your distance training processes you should make sure you range distances over different types of terrain. Some are harder to judge than others.
What am I talking about?
Try judging the distance from one side of a river to the other. Or across a pond or small lake.
It will be quite surprising to find out just how accurate (or otherwise) you turn out to be.
Another factor that will make it difficult is covering inclined terrain. Many people find targeting uphill or downhill objects difficult.
A third difficult situation that can be difficult to judge is measuring distance across a gully or deep depression.
Accurately Judging Distance Is Crucial For the Bowhunter
Although the distances that you tend to shoot over are shorter than for rifle shooters, accurately judging it is very important.
A humane kill will depend on it.
Getting your distance right first over 20 yards and gradually stepping it up to 30, 40 and 50 is an achievable prospect when using a rangefinder as your guide.