To the average person, hunting or long range shooting may seem incredibly simple. Put the lines or dots on the furry critter and pull the trigger. Easy, right?
Wrong! Any experienced shooter, whether that be with a rifle or a bow knows that range is a vital piece of information that can easily make or break that ethical kill shot and make for an entire day of tracking blood and wondering where your dinner went.
In this guide, we’ll talk about why you should be adding a professional laser rangefinder to your arsenal of tactical gear. Rangefinders can seem a bit complex since they shoot lasers, absorb reflected light, use complex algorithms to calculate distance and contain a plethora of other fancy features but I’m here today to try and simplify this piece of technology and talk about my favorite models!
I’ll try my best to make finding range as easy as possible with the best rangefinders capitalism has to offer! We’ll discuss what makes a specific model a good catch, what to look for and how to budget, and finally, where to find the best deals on the most rad rangefinders!
- Here Are the Best Rangefinders in 2019
- 1. Vortex Ranger 1800 (Editor's Choice)
- 2. Sig Sauer Kilo 1200 (Best Value)
- 3. TecTecTec ProWild (Best Under $100)
- 4. Vectronix Safran Terrapin X
- 5. Sig Sauer Kilo 2400ABS
- 6. Leica Rangemaster CRF 2400-R
- 7. Bushnell Elite Rangefinder with CONX
- 8. Nikon Rangex 4K
- 9. Nikon Forestry Pro
- 10. Leupold RX-1600I TBR
- 11. ATN LAser Ballistics 1500M
- 12. Bushnell Scout DX 1000
- 13. Nikon Arrow ID 3000
- 14. Bushnell Bone Collector
- 15. Halo XL450-7
The Short Distance Run Down on Rangefinders
A rangefinder is an electronic device that, through many years of engineering improvements, has been designed to emit a laser that then bounces off of its target and is absorbed by the lens, which then sends a signal containing data to its computer chip, does some computations and by using the time the light from the laser takes to complete its round trip gives the unit enough information to calculate several parameters which then spits out data you can use to make more intelligent shots.
To calculate distance, your rangefinder is using a dirty equation. D=RT where D is the distance we need to know. R is the rate, otherwise known as the speed of the laser (speed of light) which is multiplied by T. The time is automatically recorded and put into the equation by the onboard clock. T is truly the missing aspect your rangefinder is looking for and D is simply the result of its findings. The rangefinder is timing the laser from the time it emits the light to the time it is reflected back to the unit. The further the object, the longer the light takes to return, which in turn allows your device to afford you the exact distance.
Rangefinders can display information far more advanced than a simple metric of distance. Of course, distance is incredibly important, but high-end rangefinders can do a lot of the mathematics for your shot automatically, helping you dial in your optics and choose your lead without needing any mental computations or pen to paper.
These units can display ballistic data, such as bullet drop and compensation for wind, measurements for parallax, gauge slope, and curvature, and some of these units can even send over information to your GPS unit for highly accurate waypoints and navigational needs.
These futuristic pieces of tech used to only be found on Naval warships where they relayed data to a command center that was then used for targeting, planning, and utter Bald Eagle infused annihilation that could only be delivered by the US of A!
Lucky us, we now get this technology in a palm-sized battery-operated device that we can deploy from our pant pockets at a moments notice and instead of using it to destroy beachhead defenses, we can figure out how hard we need to swing our golf clubs or calculate bullet drop on our fancy new DMR.
Below, I’ll review some of my favorite rangefinders for hunting and shooting. These rangefinders are the top in their price ranges and yes, I know not all of you need all the bells and whistles so I’ll do my best to include rangefinders in every price range!
There’s range finding fun to be had for everyone and if you’re interested in learning more, you can read my in-depth guide after the reviews that will teach you how to use a rangefinder, what features to look out for, and how to find the best unit for your activities!
Keep in mind, there are hundreds of units available. It seems like every tactical gear brand out there is trying to come out with a “unique” rangefinder. While I can’t review each and every product that is and will be on the market, I will do my best to review the most popular units! If I’ve skipped over a long range heavy hitter, let me know in the comments and I’ll take a peek at it!
Here Are the Best Rangefinders in 2019
1. Vortex Ranger 1800 (Editor's Choice)
My review: The Vortex Ranger 1800 is without a doubt one of the best rangefinders for long range shooting and hunting. The number after the name can either be the 1500 or 1800, which simply stands for the maximum effective range of the unit. Incredible creativity!
The first thing you’ll notice is the belt clip screwed into the side of this unit, which at first, I thought was a bit awkward but you can always simply take that off if you don’t use it and you can even attach a lanyard to carry it with that instead, which is included in the package.
The rangefinder comes with a set of features that of course all have their own unique acronyms but actually mean pretty much the same as all the other brands’ acronyms. Horizontal Component Distance (HCD) means it has a display and software that are capable of calculating bullet ballistics based on multiple range points and angles.
Line of Sight (LOS) mode is basically an extreme version of HCD which enables you to focus the unit only on making extreme long range shots at harsh elevation changes and angles. LOS is compatible with slope correcting ballistic drop shooter cards, ballistic applications, and marksman PDA devices. LOS is primarily used for distances exceeding 500 yards against slopes exceeding 15 degrees. LOS is really for advanced marksmanship only and isn’t a feature you’ll be using to bring home dinner but more so to win that bet you made that you can hit a plate further than the human eye can see.
All that great Vortex tech is safely hidden away inside a very sturdy aluminum shell that is then rubberized to make for a good grip and excellent durability. The entire system is waterproof, including the lenses that are fully multi-coated to provide excellent light transmission and water-shedding.
Speaking of lenses, you’ll get a 22mm objective lens that, as I said before, is fully multi-coated. This particular set of optics is actually one of the best on the market and provides for excellent light transmission. The magnification of this device is 6x, as is the rest of the Ranger line.
Speaking of the Ranger line, there are 3 other units aside from this one that basically lack features as the number decreases, which also makes the units slightly cheaper. If you’re shooting extreme distances, you need the 1800 model. If you’re a casual weekend hunter with a basic hunting rifle, you may want to save yourself some cash and grab something like the Ranger 1300 or one of the cheaper rangefinders on this list.
Another great thing about buying anything from Vortex is their lifetime VIP warranty. If your rangefinder becomes damaged, they’ll fix or replace it at no charge to you, even if it’s your fault. The warranty is fully transferable, requires no warranty card to fill out, and they don’t even require a receipt. That makes this a truly buy once, cry once type of purchase. If you buy this rangefinder you’ll never have to buy another one again in your life.
2. Sig Sauer Kilo 1200 (Best Value)
My review: What’s this? A Sig Sauer product the average everyday person can actually afford to use and abuse? An effective range of 1600 yards? It can’t be.
Oh, but yes it can. The Kilo 1200 is a Class 3R rangefinder jam-packed with tons of features and a whole lot of bang for your buck. Firstly, let’s talk about the Sig Lightwave DSP engine. This is one of the fastest rangefinding engines available and is also the same engine used in the more expensive Sig Sauer rangefinders.
HyperScan allows for multiple scan-like data points to be obtained through a four-per-second update schedule. This sends highly accurate updated information directly to the super-fast LCD display which, I must say, is rather nice and almost as good as some OLED screens on the market now to the naked eye.
This rangefinder is jam-packed with features but yet it still remains incredibly easy to use. You can clearly tell the main objective behind this unit was to provide accurate data as fast and as simple as possible to allow you the freedom to enjoy the outdoors and take your prize without breaking concentration.
As with all of the optics that come from Sig Sauer, you’ll get Spectra Coated lenses, which basically increase the light transmission and decrease the glare off your unit. Covertness and crispy clear displays all in one thin film! The optics entail a 4x magnifier with a 20mm objective lens, perfect for both archery and firearm usage.
The Kilo 1200, although seemingly at a budget compared to what you’d expect from Sig Sauer does come with the AMR range technology, which uses a built-in inclinometer just like rangefinders that are far more expensive to obtain angular and elevation data to modify ballistic readouts.
3. TecTecTec ProWild (Best Under $100)
My review: Am I a fan of the brand name? Sometimes. Am I fan of a budget rangefinder with over 500 yards range and multi-coated 6x optics and great battery life? Yes, I absolutely am!
I’m including links and information regarding both the Prowild and Prowild S since they are very similar and really just have two distinct differences: price and whether it has angle measurement capabilities or not.
ProWild S: This model features two different modes: Slope or continuous scan.
Slope scan grants you access to data regarding angle compensation and continuous scan continuously scans stuff, pretty easy, right?
ProWild: A few bucks cheaper and without the ability to measure and take into account angular measurements for bullet compensation data.
On both models there is no exterior display so all of your data is accessed through the internal on-screen display, which is water and dust resistant and hidden away behind a light but durable aluminum shell.
These are Class 1 lasers, meaning our hunting pals in countries where Class 3R lasers are banned can safely use these!
4. Vectronix Safran Terrapin X
My review: You could buy your son a car when he turns 16 or you could buy the Terrapin X, they both cost about the same.
I am not actually recommending this as an everyday everyone should buy it and use it kind of product, but more so reviewing it because it is one of the best rangefinders available to consumers and some of my readers wouldn’t settle for anything less.
If money is no issue, you’ll be getting a unit that was used for several years and still is in some cases by the US Special Forces. This monster shoots a multi-burst laser up to 3000m with one of the most advanced optical light solutions the rangefinding world has ever witnessed.
I know this thing is ridiculous and I know, you don’t want to shell out hundreds in batteries to power this thing. Oh, wait, it has enough battery life for over 4000 measurements on a single CR123 3V battery? Nevermind then!
Paying nearly two thousand in cash for this thing grants you access to a very beautiful 8x28mm magnified set of optics and the ability to measure between two points that don’t include your current position.
That’s right, this thing can measure the distance to a specified point, measure another point, and then using its advanced software and a magnetic onboard compass can determine the distance between those two points.
It’s tough to really dive into this thing because I could write double the length here in this review than that of all the reviews in this guide combined. The Terrapin X is capable of so many incredible features that I find truly amazing, such as their “Range Gate” feature that essentially lets the user set a threshold in which the unit ignores all measurements less than the specified threshold.
Since this is really on here more to demonstrate what you can get by spending tons of money, I’ll let you read up more on the Terrapin website. https://www.terrapin-x.com/. Vectronix has a few other expensive top-notch military grade rangefinders as well that you can look into but I won’t be adding them to this list since I think most of my readers would appreciate affordable options.
5. Sig Sauer Kilo 2400ABS
My review: I’m always raving about Sig Sauer and for good reason, most of their gear is designed and field-tested by our military’s finest!
The Kilo 2400ABS is no joke and rightfully sits at second place in terms of price on my list of favorite rangefinders. This device utilizes the newest beam and scan technology, LightWave DSPTM, which has extended the range of the previous model greatly and hosts a 4 per second refresh rate in scan mode. Sig swears you can get over two miles of range with this unit and with its 7x25mm optical solution, I had my doubts.
It turns out, though, Sig stands true by their word as this device is fully capable of two miles and, in perfect conditions, perhaps even a bit further.
This rangefinder is one of the smartest on the list and comes equipped with Sig Sauer’s Applied Ballistics Elite module (AB Engine), which essentially contains information it can use to determine bullet compensation over distance. The engine can also take into account aerodynamic jump, Coriolis Effect, temperature, air pressure, wind speed, bullet drift, humidity, changes in expected muzzle velocity versus environment, and more!
This module will also integrate with your smartphone giving you the ability to calculate multiple bullet trajectories, save data based on specific gun profiles, tune your device for the environment, and even calculate target movement compensation.
Enough about the brains behind the device lets talk accessories! This is by far one of the coolest packages you can order as it comes with a tactical tripod adapter and a little windmill sensor attachment.
This particular device actually comes with an OLED screen, a screen option I did not cover in much detail in the guide as it is relatively new technology and you don’t see it on many rangefinders. If you do choose to opt for OLED technology, I guarantee that rangefinder is going to cost you several pretty pennies!
The OLED is a much more efficient and higher resolution screen than a traditional LED screen and this one, by far, is the best screen on any rangefinder I’ve ever reviewed. Not only is the screen beautiful, but it’s also ultra-bright too!
The optics are breathtaking on this rangefinder. The 7x25mm lens set up seemed a bit conservative to me, but as I mentioned in the guide, the real money is in the glass quality and its coatings, which come covered with that coveted Sig Sauer SpectraCoat which is anti-glare and helps with light utilization and the Sig Sauer Lenshield coating which is by far one of the best water and oil shedding coatings on the market of any optic.
6. Leica Rangemaster CRF 2400-R
My review: Speedy, sexy, smooth, and intelligent. That’s what Leica Sport Optics has given us in the 2400-R rangefinder!
It’s hard to figure out what features I’d like to discuss first, seeing as this is definitely one of my favorite rangefinders. I mentioned that it’s fast, so let’s start with that. This device on the automatic scan mode will retarget every 0.3 seconds, displaying all of the information including bullet compensation and practical angle compensation. This is almost as fast as the Sig Sauer 2400ABS at a much cheaper price point and is much faster than most other rangefinders on the market today.
The range capabilities you can expect from the 2400-R are roughly in the 1200 yard area, which is perfect for most styles of hunting. The 7X magnifier makes identifying targets at 1200 yards surprisingly easy and although it is much cheaper, the quality of the glass really does seem close to that of the more expensive units on this list.
I mentioned sexy and smooth and that’s important as you’re likely lugging around tons of gear with you when taking your rangefinders out. This unit weighs only 185 grams, making it one of the lightest full-featured rangefinders on the list. The LED screen automatically adjusts to the lighting situation, which was a huge plus for me and can save you some battery life as well.
Although I’d still consider this unit fairly expensive, I think this is probably a great place for most people to reach for. The price tag is hefty, but this rangefinder is more than capable of withstanding many seasons even when abused and comes with state-of-the-art beaming and calculating technology.
7. Bushnell Elite Rangefinder with CONX
My review: Bushnell had a dream. They set out to create the first smartphone integrated rangefinder and they accomplished that, but they weren’t exactly thrilled with just one major milestone so they took two instead, ensuring this device can reach out and gather intel all the way up to a full mile!
Alright, so you saw the “with CONX” thing in the title. CONX is just their fancy acronym for the smart device integration via their application using Bluetooth. CONX also has a nice little feature that really helps this unit stand out past its initial “being the first smartphone rangefinder” thing and that feature is the Brush mode. Brush mode works some magic and allows the device to completely ignore everything from falling leaves to full tree branches.
Bullseye mode is another handy feature and basically just narrows the search down for small critters without measuring things in the background. This makes for easy target data compilation in the case of hunting small game or even large game out a full mile!
Arc mode allows the device to automatically configure its calculations to include terrain contour. This feature essentially allows the rangefinder to display data accurate to elevation changes in your target instead of simply seeing the point of contact from the beam being on a horizontal plane. Looking at a potential meal 800 yards up the side of a mountain? The Elite will account for that elevation and display accurate information to make the shot happen!
Aside from a few firsts and some fancy modes, this device is backed up with some hefty hardware. The optical solution Bushnell chose was a very generous 7x26mm configuration coated with RainGuard HD several other coatings including anti-glare and light transmission coatings.
8. Nikon Rangex 4K
My review: Have you upgraded your computer monitor and/or TV to 4k yet? If not, upgrade your rangefinder first! The Nikon Rangex has a 4k OLED display that truly is the crispest and clear display on any rangefinder today. I’m not sure you need 4k, but it is pretty cool and it does look really impressive.
Aside from the fancy 4k deal, the unit is feature-rich with things like the Nikon Tru-Target Technology and Hyper Read functionality. In a nutshell, Hyper Read ensures the deliverance of data within 0.3 seconds over the full effective range of the device, which is roughly 4,000 yards.
True-Target features two different ranging modes that are situationally tuned to deliver target priority, whether that be a small object with larger things in the background or ignoring the small objects and delivering data on what’s behind that object.
Another great feature, similar to the Arc Mode found on the Bushnell Elite is ID Mode, which takes into account not only distance but grade and elevation changes when it delivers ballistic data to your display. This ensures you compensate for not just range but also elevation changes.
The unit comes with a 6x magnifier and touts a 3.5mm exit pupil, which seem to go hand and hand quite well. This magnification level is slightly lower than the other expensive models on this list but to a first time rangefinder buyer, the difference is negligible and since the Nikon Rangex is one of their top units, you can be sure you’ll be getting crystal clear glass that is, in my opinion, the best glass you’ll find on a rangefinder that’s under a thousand dollars.
The Rangex is full of fancy features and a crisp 4k display but don’t let its technological prowess distract you from its ruggedness. This unit is lightweight, however, capable of taking a beating in the field. It’s also completely waterproof and the lenses have several different coatings to ensure scratch protection and water-shedding. Nikon did well to protect all the fancy technology inside the unit and ensures it’ll work no matter the situation.
9. Nikon Forestry Pro
My review: If the Nikon Rangex 4K is the Lamborghini of rangefinders with its fancy OLED display, the Forestry Pro is like the Toyota. It’s tough, dependable, and ensures practicality at its finest.
This bright yellow box of awesomeness is capable of ranging targets up to 550 yards with the use of a 6x magnifier and some rather handy features such as the clinometer and hypsometer. In layman’s terms, this unit can measure several points at once to determine a more 3-dimensional measurement instead of just a distance unit.
The extra information this unit is capable of reading delivers to you a better way to calculate for compensation. Shooting down into a valley? Looking at an elk up on a ridge? No problem, the Forestry Pro is a pro at hunting and understands that you need something better than a simple distance number. So what does it measure? Actual distance, vertical separation, elevation change and ballistic compensation for angles. Furthermore, this unit is capable of target discrimination, meaning it can ignore objects in front of your intended focus.
Better yet, you’ll receive all of this vital information on both the inside heads up display and an external side LCD panel. This is useful mainly for when you have the unit attached to a tripod or sitting in a fixed position. The rangefinder has a 20 second continuous scan mode that will keep relaying information even without your intervention. This means you can set the rangefinder up next to you and still receive all the information you want with your hands-free to handle your rifle.
10. Leupold RX-1600I TBR
My review: Leupold is one of the most well known optical manufacturers in the world of sports and outdoors and of course, they continue with their legacy in rangefinders. The RX-1600I is one of their top-level rangefinders equipped with all kinds of goodies.
The TBR acronym in the name simply stands for True Ballistic Range technology. This feature basically creates a compensation profile based on wind, elevation, distance, and your specific ballistics characteristics and uses its built-in inclinometer to obtain data points from multiple range points.
This rangefinder, after making all the complex calculations necessary for modern ballistics in a fraction of a second, will display holdover points, MOA adjustments, Milliradian configurations, and horizontal lead points. Perfect for maximizing the effective range of your gear in hunting scenarios.
Leupold wasn’t about to be left behind in terms of display technology and the Red OLED technology infused in the 1600I is certainly bright and brilliant. The wide view 6x magnifier is also quite brilliant and that comes with fully coated lenses for maximum damage resistance and optical clarity.
Not a fan of the basic reticle? No problem, Leupold has given you three options to choose from: The Plus Point, Duplex, and Duplex Plus Point reticles. Not a fan of black? Again, Leupold has got you covered with a blaze orange camo and woodland country camo paint schemes.
The newest and greatest tech is awesome, but its no good to you if it becomes damaged out in the field. Leupold is well aware of this and has come prepared to protect all of that great technology and its beautiful OLED display with a rubberized aluminum shell that is fully waterproof! It’s light, it’s tough, and it’s brilliant!
11. ATN LAser Ballistics 1500M
My review: ATN always makes me smile because they are always doing crazy things with their devices, constantly looking for some weird irregular feature that no one really asked for to set their products above the rest. If you already have an ATN rifle scope, this is certainly a rangefinder you should test out as it has some ATN product compatibility functions that are absolutely killer!
Now, I don’t say that with any hate in my heart. ATN makes some solid products that are very much so usable for the everyday hunter and marksman. I wouldn’t say this is a top of the line professional grade unit, but for under three hundred bucks it does come with some pretty powerful optics and a lot of features that make shooting more enjoyable.
First and foremost, the Ballistics 1500 is compatible with your mobile device via Bluetooth connection and their ATN Smart App. This app does many things such as all the fancy bullet compensation calculations you can think of and one of the things I thought was pretty cool was that it shows you exactly how to tune your ATN Smart Scope optics based on the information the rangefinder relays to your phone. That’s some new-age field tactics for you, brought to you by ATN, it’s like having a firearms instructor there with you right on your phone!
The 1500M is built for long range shooting applications. The 1000M is a cheaper model made for a much shorter range, but who wants that? The 1500M is the way to go and isn’t that much more expensive.
I actually reviewed one of their smart scopes in my long range scopes guide, the ATN X-Sight 4K Pro. You can check out the scope by ATN here which supports compatibility for this rangefinder. I believe at the time of posting this that the scopes supported so far are the ATN X 4K Pro and the ATN X-Sight II HD with plans to support all of the ATN optics that have onboard ballistic computers.
12. Bushnell Scout DX 1000
My review: With a maximum range of 1000 yards and an optical configuration of 6x21mm, this purpose-built hunting rangefinder is more than enough for the average woodsman. The scout was specifically designed by hunters for hunters to be slim and simple, containing only the most important hardware and features that a hunter would need.
The Scout makes ranging easy with three primary functions: ARC, Scan, and Brush, which are similar to most of the rangefinders that Bushnell releases. ARC Mode gathers intel on angles, elevations, and the terrain to provide vital data in calculations for bullet compensation. Scan mode scans, pretty self-explanatory. Brush mode helps the laser penetrate thick forest obstacles like leaves and tree branches to reach the intended target and gather its range statistics.
The Scout DX is a happy medium in the Bushnell line. It contains the bare essentials with a high-quality build construction and optics but with a lower price tag than the Bushnell flagship devices.
This unit is waterproof in terms of protecting the inside electronics from rain, however, it will not survive full immersion and does not have water shedding coatings on the lenses. This unit also does not come with CONX. These two drawbacks are primarily the result of the price difference between the Bushnell Elite and this particular device and are two things that the average hunter probably wouldn’t need.
13. Nikon Arrow ID 3000
My review: Prefer to leave the gun powder at home when tracking down your own dinner? That’s fine, there’s a rangefinder for that!
Okay, fine, there are many rangefinders for that, but the Nikon Arrow 3000 is one of the best at a decent price. This unit is capable of up to 550 yards of laser ranging power using an ultra low power Class 1 laser. This laser can be shot out continuously on scan mode for up to 8 seconds, compiling hundreds of data points to provide the most accurate range data possible.
The Arrow 3000 comes with the Nikon ID which uses data regarding changes in elevation and angles to provide advanced ballistic data. Many rangefinders use a similar eye relief to what you’d expect from a rifle scope. This is not the case here, though, as they’ve given you an eye to viewfinder range of 20.3mm, which is quite a lot and is rather comfortable for a bowhunter to transition from. Nikon ID can show you both the straight distance and horizontal distance of your target.
Tru-Target Technology is also available on the Arrow 3000 which basically allows for the user to transition between two different ranging methodologies. The first option called first target mode just provides range data on the first thing the laser comes across. The second option, called distant target priority, allows the rangefinder to selectively control what points of contact provide range data, allowing the unit to ignore brush, tall grass, etc.
So long as you don’t plan to find the ranges of anything underwater, you’re good to go! The Arrow 3000 is rainproof, not waterproof, and comes in an ultra-lightweight aluminum casing.
14. Bushnell Bone Collector
My review: I know I know, this list is looking like a Bushnell sponsored advertisement considering this is like the third product from them I am recommending, but hey, if they make good stuff and they sell it at a good price, it would be a disservice not to talk about it!
This 4x20mm Class 1 rangefinder is an excellent deal, seriously, it’s great. If you’re a professional long distance shooter, it’s probably not for you as this has a maximum effective distance of 600 yards, but for everyone else, give this a real chance to prove itself.
600 yards is more than enough for the average hunter and sportsman. The LCD display is crisp and clear despite direct sunlight or low light conditions and the unit itself is rather tough, sporting rainproofing and an aluminum case.
The Bone collector is designed with a RealTree XTRA color scheme to be a bare-bones hunting unit sold at a great price. There aren’t many fancy features or advanced software included, but the unit simply works and gets the job done for cheap. It’s ultra-compact and utilizes a single button operation.
15. Halo XL450-7
My review: This is the lowest cost rangefinder product that I would recommend, however, that doesn’t mean its low quality and it’s easily one of the best cheap rangefinders out there. The Halo XL450-7 is an excellent value and competitively priced scanning 6x Class 1 with a maximum effective range a tad under 450 yards.
I didn’t expect this unit to blow my mind at under a hundred bucks but I am surprised to see a rather refined and elegant form factor with Angle Intelligence software that helps calculate true horizontal distance and factors these data points into ballistic compensation.
Using scan mode, you can lock multiple targets and display an array of range information on the LCD display using automatic acquisition.
I don’t recommend this product to someone shooting for sport, however, as a hunter or casual sportsman, this rangefinder works fantastic and helps to keep more of your money in your bank account so that you can spend it on other cool tactical gear instead! This rangefinder is perfect for hunting with a bow or a rifle and really makes a great range set up companion.
The rangefinder itself is actually one of my more favorite and ergonomic designs and feels rather lightweight and durable with its aluminum shell and rubberized hand grips. The unit is water and dust resistant and the lenses are coated for increased durability.
Golf, Guns and Beyond
Rangefinders, for the purpose of this article, are used for shooting and hunting, but rangefinders have been around for quite some time now and the technology has been adopted by a wide array of people doing many different things.
Golfing is a very popular use case for a rangefinder and if that’s your thing, you now have a multi-use excuse to buy a rangefinder! Yes, many rangefinders that are built for hunting or golfing will work interchangeably between the two. Some models are better suited for one or the other, but you get the point, most of them will work relatively well in both disciplines.
But wait, there’s more! Rangefinders can be used to plan for landscaping, architecture, photography, and gathering intel of an enemy location or high-value targets. Rangefinders have a very wide case of usage and are certainly a handy tool to have around.
I’ve personally owned a rangefinder that I’ve used to find the distance of thousands of different things and to this day that bad boy is still going strong, so I’d say it was an excellent investment!
Not all lasers are created equally and some rangefinders may excel in situations where others struggle due to several laser attributes.
The most important aspect behind a laser is the power being put into the creation and deployment of the laser in the first place. We’ve all had those cheap flea market laser pointers that aren’t usable in the sun. The same applies here, you need a very powerful laser to pierce through sunlight, bounce off of its target, and return to the receiver with enough strength to provide information.
Aside from power but almost equally as important is the beam divergence. The beam exits your rangefinder as it travels over distance, the light spreads out and becomes less concentrated. This means that the further the beam has to travel, the weaker and less likely it is that it returns properly. A wide divergence also creates the potential for a misread. Let’s say you’re targeting a deer on a ridge that’s really far out. The laser will be so wide that it may capture brush in front of the deer, it may measure the distance of the land past that ridge, or it may actually measure the distance to the deer.
On the flip side, a beam that is too narrow can be incredibly difficult to use. A beam that is ultra-narrow could be impossible to use without some sort of stand or tripod to keep it stable on a specific target. The smallest movement in your hand could send that beam flying off onto something else.
Beam divergence is the angular measurement in mils of how concentrated the beam of light is. The average beam divergence at 1000 yards is roughly 2.5×1.5 mils. Something high end would be in the arena of 1.5×0.5 mils. Feel like spending your child’s entire college fund on a rangefinder? You might be able to snag some of the militaries old toys in the $20k price range that would give you less than 0.3 mils of dispersion.
Some high-end units use bursting to collect information from several laser attempts. This means the unit is sending out hundreds, even thousands of laser measurements and then using an algorithm to try and select the most intelligent readings. The really advanced units can completely ignore outlying information.
If a rangefinder has a wide beam divergence but utilizes specialized algorithms to identify the best measurements, it may be a good buy, so don’t immediately discount units with a wide divergence as wide beams can be well supported and incredibly useful.
As a final bit of information you may find interesting, most rangefinders are utilizing a laser that is classified as 3R or Class IIIa. This classification refers to a low powered but visible beam of concentrated light that, under normal usage, does not require the use of safety features or eye protection. Class 3R lasers are permitted in the United States by the use of anyone, however, Class 3R lasers may be illegal in some other countries, such as the UK and Australia.
Despite most rangefinders having a maximum classification of Class 3R, the legal documentation of a Class 3R laser says they’re safe to use without eye protection, these lasers are still dangerous and could land you in deep trouble. Rangefinder lasers are still visible to the naked eye and, if pointed at an aircraft, can cause glare and interference for the pilots. Needless to say, using your rangefinder on an aircraft is illegal and will likely land you in a deep pool of fines (up to $250,000) and/or jail time (up to five years). Find out more by visiting the laser safety website here.
Lasers Versus The Environment
So you’ve spent dead presidents that your wife told you is designated to the kids’ college fund and you’re all suited up ready to laser some dinner. Cool. Remember to disengage the safety.
But wait! Your rangefinder actually sucks a lot more than you thought it would and that deer way out yonder isn’t providing a good point for your laser to return data. What gives? Well, as much as I am impressed by the current technology, lasers do have limitations.
The thing with laser rangefinders is that the laser has to come back to the unit for anything to happen. We can’t simply measure how far the laser reaches out without hearing back from it. This means the laser has to have something that it reflects back to the unit and unfortunately, deer refuse to take advantage of the Amazon Prime Day reflective vest promotions. Something to do with them loving Paypal and Amazon not accepting Paypal? I don’t know man.
So you’re sitting there lasering this deer trying to figure out what bullet compensation you’re dealing with but the information is either nill or incomplete. What can you do? The deer aren’t going to become more reflective over time, so instead, we can laser the rock right next to the deer that is much more reflective and get pretty darn accurate information! Get creative and learn how to laser things in the environment that provide the best data.
The best thing you can do if your rangefinder is failing in the field is to gather as much information as you can on the most brightly colored objects in the environment. Some people even preemptively set out bright colored plates they can laser down when they need to. Remember, dark objects absorb more light than brightly colored objects, so things that are black, brown, dark gray, etc are the enemy of your rangefinder.
Flat surfaces are also much more reflective than other surfaces, so if you’re having trouble, lock on to something as flat as possible. Hitting a round or jagged object may send most of the laser flying off in another direction.
Sunlight is a rangefinders kryptonite. Yeah, you kind of need light to create an image picture that you can use to spot your targets, but the laser and the sun don’t get along and it just so happens that snow also likes to play pranks on your laser beam.
Poor guy just wants to do his job but instead, the crystalline structure of snow can diffuse the laser, making it too weak and distorted to return to the device and too much sunlight can simply drown out the power of the laser, making the laser never reach its intended destination in the first place.
Glass or Pass?
As we’ve spoken about in our many blog posts regarding scopes and optics, rangefinders heed to very similar attributes when it comes to the glass they are equipped with! Not only is clarity important, but the actual act of finding your targets before you laser them also comes into play with some of the lower-tier rangefinders making initial target acquisition incredibly difficult.
Rangefinders nowadays are equipped with magnification to aid in target acquisition. If you are looking to target something so far away that you think it needs a rangefinder to make the shot more accurately, it’s likely that the range you’re dealing with is also troublesome for your own eyesight.
You can find rangefinders with all different types of magnification. Some come with 2x magnification, some come with 50x magnification. The “X” stands for a multiplier. At 2x, the target appears to be twice as close and at 50x, the target through your viewfinder appears 50 times closer! This is especially useful for hunting game that blends in well with the environment since you can clearly see much more detail and the contour of your target with higher clarity.
Magnification, though a great aid on its own, isn’t able to do all of the sightseeing heavy lifting on its own. The actual quality and clarity of the glass will greatly impact how well your rangefinder allows you to actually identify targets. In some cases, a rangefinder with less magnification but significantly higher quality glass may be better than a rangefinder with boatloads of magnification but cheap and shoddy glass.
Not all glass is created equally and, in most cases, the more you pay, the better glass you get. The idea is to get your hands on the highest quality glass possible that your budget allows for and then choose a level of magnification that is appropriate for your activities.
Your run of the mill average hunting rifle has a maximum effective range of less than a thousand yards. Obviously, we’d need a rangefinder capable of pushing that boundary so that we can reposition if our targets are out of range, however, in most cases, most hunters don’t need to visibly see the hair follicles on a deer that’s 4000 yards out.
I’m saying this because some people like to go out and simply purchase the unit with the most magnification and usually they think they’re getting a great deal because they buy a cheap unit that advertises something crazy, like 50x, which is “so much better” than a 10x, right? No, not at all. Stop it. Go home. Put your rifle back in the safe and throw away the key!
My point here is this, glass is probably the most important quality indicator of a rangefinder, much like how it is for a spotting scope, binoculars, rifle optics, etc. Glass is also likely the leader in determining the price of the unit, so if everything looks too good to be true at a super low price point, you can safely assume that the glass quality is probably extremely low and that particular manufacturer is looking to trick you into buying a unit that has cheap glass, since most first time rangefinder shoppers have no idea what to look for.
Okay, now that I’ve beaten that idea of high-quality glass into your brain, I feel like it’s my responsibility to tell you what to look for! I wish it were as easy as “look at the glass and if it’s clear, buy it” but unfortunately, it is far more complex than that.
I say glass a lot and I actually feel a bit guilty about that, because it’s not just the glass that determines the overall performance value of your rangefinding unit. Good glass is like a good foundation for your home, but your home still needs many more aspects to keep it standing and comfortable, such as UV blocking windows that lower your monthly cooling bill, right?
While high tech lens coatings on your rangefinder have nothing to do with your utility bills, they do have something to do with filling your freezer and ultimately, your belly!
The main issue facing rangefinder manufacturers is figuring out how to provide bright and valuable image quality throughout many levels and types of lighting. The lighting in the store you buy your rangefinder in is far removed from the light it will be subject to in the field.
Dawn and dusk also prevent major challenges since the lighting can vary greatly and the hues from that beautiful sunset can create terror inside your rangefinder. Rangefinders need to also work when you’re under the shade or under that massive rain cloud that’s about to ruin your day, meaning that they need to possess great ability in utilizing ambient light to brighten the picture quality, but they must also reflect some light in situations where the sun is beating down on you directly, otherwise you’ll go blind looking at nothing but light.
Too much light, too little light, reflections, glare, image light obstruction, etc, are all things a rangefinders manufacturer has to combat against. Creating the perfect lens with the perfect lens coatings is a lot like asking your girlfriend where she wants to eat. You never get a perfect answer but you might get a few no’s that narrow your search and finally you may end up with a rather unclear but in the middle of the pack idea of where you’re going.
No lens is perfect in every situation and when manufacturers design the units, they usually try and pick a situation and really hammer down on its performance in that situation, and then they try to make everything else the best they can, either by ignoring it and hoping for the best or by simply adding more layers of coatings.
There are several methods of coating a lens for ultimate image quality across different light spectrums.
When a manufacturer claims their lens is “coated“, they mean the lens has at least one layer of coating somewhere. This is very broad and is typically used by the lower quality units to trick people into thinking they have a similar level of coating as a multi-coated or fully-coated lens. For the most part, unless you’re on a shoestring budget, I’d opt for something with several layers of good quality coating magic and make sure those layers extend to all glass and not just one surface.
Multi-coating signifies the lens has been treated with several different coatings on at least one surface, but possibly more and also possibly all of them. They could tell you its fully multi-coated, by why do that when they could cause mass-market confusion instead?
A fully multi-coated system is likely what you want to opt for if you can afford it. Lenses that are fully coated are typically the most expensive but they offer a wide range of pretty decent performance across many light situations with the additional benefit of being durable and scratch-resistant. A lens that is labeled fully multi-coated should have multiple layers of coatings on all glass surfaces that make contact with the air, however, this is sometimes used in marketing jargon to mislead the customer, so be wary and really read up on their approach to lens coating.
There is no “lens coating” police force that roams around and hands out citations for lying and unfortunately for the consumer, we have little to no protection other than people writing about their good and/or bad experiences with specific models. I guess what I’m trying to say is that large corporations may lie to get your money. I know, this isn’t exactly mind-blowing new content you’ve never heard before, but it’s important to be reminded and take caution by studying up before you buy!
Let’s make things more confusing, shall we? Many popular manufacturers have their own “proprietary” coatings that are named something special they thought was Tacticool. Unfortunately, for us, these names are things like 3D Advanced Vision, Lotu Tech, CrispClear, PredatorVision, and so on, which don’t actually help us understand what it is they do.
Confusing? Yeah…. Imagine if every car had there own measurement of gas mileage and horsepower? That’s kind of what the optical market is like. No one knows whats going on, everything is named differently depending on the brand, and confusion is rampant.
If you come across these horrendously named obscure coatings, your best bet is to simply look it up and make your best judgment call. I wish I could be of more help, but trying to track down every “ULTRA SIGHT 3D” named special coating would take weeks and several pages to explain. Most of these coatings are actually very similar in nature and aren’t as special as they’d lead you to believe. After looking up a few of them, you’ll get what I mean by this.
So, what does a lens coating actually do?
Well, they started off with the sole intent of protecting the lens from the outside world. Many of the first lens coatings had one job: create a protective barrier between hard stuff and the soft glass lens and prevent scarring of the lens. No, anti-scratch coatings are not perfect and are still prone to damage, but the hardness threshold of what can scratch your lenses is raised significantly by using a protective coating layer.
Since we’re using rangefinders in hunting or tactical situations, I think it’s probably a good bet to set your minimum lens coating expectations to at least a protective coating layer. A highly scratched and damaged lens is pretty much game over for any optical device, including rangefinders.
Science enters the room and all of a sudden we have specialized lenses that can detect and reflect certain spectrums of light, effectively changing the light that is allowed to enter the optics and providing the user with “better” image quality. Furthermore, coatings help the lens to bend the light as it travels through the glass, helping to create a crisper and higher quality image.
As a final note, coatings are great in reducing glare. In a combat situation, you wouldn’t want your rangefinder giving away your location with this bright twinge of light, so the lens itself is coated in anti-reflective material that is supposed to kill off any glare. I’d imagine some animals may be spooked by a very unnatural glare off of your glass as well, but I’m not sure if that’s a proven fact. Makes sense? Maybe, let’s go with it!
In my experience, even the best anti-glare technologies aren’t completely perfect, but they do help a lot and can save you some headache from sending the rays of the sun directly into your cornea yourself.
As a last note, some coatings can shed water, making your unit much easier to use in the rain as it doesn’t allow the water to pool up and stick to the lens. If that’s your plan, make sure the unit itself is also water-resistant! In my opinion, some of these are gimmicks and truthfully, I’d opt for a unit that has a shroud over of lenses instead of relying on a water repellent coating.
Oh, you thought because I had a new header that we were done talking about glass? Nah, glass is so complex and important to a rangefinder that it gets two headings.
It’s easy to browse through Amazon and choose the first rangefinder that has a camo wrap to be your trusty hunting companion, but that may be a huge mistake!
There are actually two sizes that matter quite a bit and they are the size of the objective lens and the size of the exit pupil.
The objective lens points towards the stuff you’re going to kill, meaning the part that faces away from you and other human beings. The size of this lens is going to be the primary determining factor behind your image brightness, magnification capabilities, and overall image quality. The larger the objective lens, the lighter your optics have at their expense to show you the best image possible and the more magnification that is possible.
When shopping for rangefinders or really any other optical products, you’ll see something similar to this: 4×16 or 4 x 16mm or some configuration like that. This signifies magnification of 4x paired with an objective lens size of 16mm.
The exit pupil is what you’re looking at with your own eyes. The diameter of your peephole is going to determine how much light actually reaches your eyeball and is measured at a distance of 12 inches away from the eye itself.
Since I’m getting tired of writing and you probably won’t want to be bored to death with the lens size specifics, I’ll just give you this. Bigger is better. The larger your lenses, the more light they’ll be able to use to deliver to you your targets and the better you’ll be able to spot things rummaging through the valley.
Glass weighs a lot, though, so don’t just buy the biggest and baddest set of lenses if you plan on doing a lot of hiking with your particular unit. A good target for a rangefinders objective lens size is in the range of 18-28mm.
Even more talk about glass! Just kidding. Or am I?
Okay, we’ve hammered down on the glass that your rangefinder uses to gather light and create images for you to target with the handy dandy range-finding laser, but we didn’t talk about the glass on the back (sometimes on the side) of the rangefinder. In some cases, you won’t even get a display and instead, the information is displayed inside the unit right on your image. This is called a heads up display (HUD), meaning that the information is displayed overtop of what you’re looking at.
This glass doesn’t show you an image of the furry critter you’re about to strike down but it does show you how you’re going to do it by displaying the information you spent your hard-earned money to get in the first place. If this piece of the glass, let’s go ahead and switch to screen now if you haven’t already decoded my nonsense, isn’t any good, you won’t be able to access the data you need.
There are many different screens available to us in the world of rangefinders and, yes, you probably guessed it already, the more you spend, the better screen you get! For the most part, we can at least decide if we want LED, OLED, or LCD.
An LCD screen is the cheaper option and usually uses a black reticle that provides a very acceptable level of performance across high light environments but generally some pretty terrible user experiences in darkness. Of course, backlighting is getting better and the top units with backlighting generally cause little to no fuss in low light conditions.
So, if you’re going to cheap out on an LCD, buy one with powerful backlighting or put it away once the sun goes down.
The fancier more expensive options, the LED screen usually uses a red reticle and display that touts higher image quality and better low light visibility alongside a higher price tag.
OLED technology is simply the leader in current display technologies. With the highest resolution, brightest display, and most crisp detail, OLED is by far the industry leader for rangefinders displays, however, OLED technology is extremely expensive and is rather new still. I’m not going to say whether or not it’s worth buying an OLED screen, I’ll just tell you that any rangefinder with an OLED screen is going to be rather expensive compared to rangefinders with the same features and functionalities with, say, a regular LED display.
Going with an LED screen is always a good choice, but I’d recommend ensuring the unit you choose has an adjustable brightness option, as one of my LED rangefinders is far too bright to use in the dark. The things screen brightness nearly blinds me at night and ruins any chance of my eyes adjusting to the darkness.
The Relationship of a Rangefinder for Archery Versus Firearms
Most rangefinders, even ones designated for golf, operate on behalf of similar principles and even utilize a lot of the same technology. There are a few subtle differences that may change how you use a rangefinder for either hunting with a bow or a firearm but for the most part, high-end rangefinders will almost always work perfectly for both rifles and bows. The biggest determining factor here I think is cost.
Keep in mind the range you’ll need your rangefinder to actually deliver data from. If you’re exclusively bowhunting, you don’t need a rangefinder that utilizes top tier technology to gather data from thousands of yards out. Most people bow hunt under 100 yards, so going out and buying a rangefinder that is capable of 2000 yards is simply a waste of money.
On the contrary, if you’re a long distance shooter looking to press the limits of your high powered rifle, a rangefinder effective for a couple of hundred yards isn’t going to do you any good and instead, you’ll need to fork over some serious cash for top-performing rangefinders.
Some software included in rangefinders can lean one way or the other in terms of bows or rifles, but for the most part, most functions and features of the most popular rangefinders work basically the same for both styles of sport. Some rangefinders may include advanced bullet ballistic computations and profiles that you wouldn’t need if you bow hunt exclusively, but some software features like horizontal angle compensation are valuable for both.
Corporal Wabo is a former Infantry Squad Leader with 3rd Bn 4th Marines that specialized in Mortars. In his free time, he enjoys hunting, hiking, running, shooting guns, and reviewing gear. He started this website while transitioning out of the Marines, and since has recruited several other Marines to help him work on the Marine Approved website. We are currently looking for former Marines that like to talk tactical gear, survival gear, hiking supplies, etc. For more information about us or to join the team, check out the “About Us” tab.