10 Things To Know Before You Buy A Rangefinder

A good rangefinder can make you a more successful deer hunter regardless of your hunting weapon of choice.

A good rangefinder can make the difference between whether your next big game hunt is a successful one or you go home empty-handed. Truth is, many times hunters miss game animals with bows and guns because they miscalculated the range to the animal. Because of the phenomenon described by Sir Isaac Newton way back in 1687, the instant a projectile—arrow or bullet—leaves your bow or gun, it begins to fall. If you know the ballistics (amount of drop) for your weapon at different distances, all you need to know to be accurate is the exact distance. That’s where a rangefinder comes in handy. Here are 10 things to consider when shopping for a laser rangefinder.

Max Distance

Simmons rangefinder
This Simmons rangefinder will give accurate readings out to 600 yards.Walmart

Laser rangefinders have come a long way since they first came on the hunting scene about 25 years ago. Now, many can give accurate readings within a yard or two all the way out to a mile or even farther. Even at the minimal end, there are few rangefinders on the market that won't range accurately out to about 300 or 400 yards—farther than most hunters will ever shoot at a big game animal. If you're mainly a bowhunter, you probably don't need a rangefinder that'll tell you the distance of an object a mile or more away. But for bowhunters who think that there's an outside chance they might travel out West to chase antelope or elk with a rifle someday, opting for one that'll range out to 1,000 yards is probably a good idea.

Magnification

Protarget Rangefinder
This rangefinder has 6x magnification and a 20mm objective lens.Walmart

Another important consideration when selecting a rangefinder is magnification. This factor is critical since many times hunters range animals a very long distance away, and it's nearly impossible to see them, much less range them, without magnification. On a 6x rangefinder, the object you are trying to get a range on will look six-times larger than it looks with your normal vision. So, putting the aiming point on the object is easier. Note that some companies now make binoculars with built-in rangefinders. These are handy because they usually have a high magnification of 10x or more. Consequently, getting the range of an animal at a very great distance isn't as difficult because of the magnification. These units are typically very expensive, but since they take the place of two tools, some hunters find them worth the money.

Aiming Point (Reticle)

Leupold Rangefinder
This quality rangefinder from Leupold lets users select from three different reticles—Plus Point, Duplex and Duplex with Plus Point.Walmart

The aiming point, or reticle, is the object in the middle of your viewfinder that you place on whatever you are trying to find out the range in order to take a safe, accurate shot. For most rangefinders, while you hold the aiming point on the object, you depress a button to activate the laser. The laser beam travels to the object, then bounces off of it and back to your rangefinder, which divides that distance by two (distance to the object and back again) and displays the range on your screen. Some aiming points are easier to hold steady on the object to be ranged than others. Since choosing the best aiming point is largely a matter of personal preference, it's best if you can try a few rangefinders out before making a purchase.

Weapon Of Choice

Bushnell Scout Rangefinder
This rangefinder by Bushnell has separate bow and rifle modes, so is useful for whatever your preferred hunting method is.Walmart

Rangefinders are critical pieces of equipment regardless of what kind of weapon you use to hunt—bow, crossbow, muzzleloader or conventional firearm. But different kinds of hunting require different capabilities from your rangefinder so should be considered when making a selection. If you plan to rifle hunt in wide open country, a rangefinder with an extended range would be helpful—1,000 yards or more. If you mostly bow hunt, distance is not as important as features made just for bowhunters that take into effect the height of a tree stand and distance to a target to give you an exact yardage. Note that if you primarily hunt with archery equipment but plan to occasionally hunt with a rifle in fairly open country, a rangefinder that will range out to 600 yards is your best bet, since it will work fine for both applications.

Long-Range Shooting

Simmons rangefinder
This Simmons rangefinder will give accurate readings out to 600 yards.Walmart

With the increasing popularity of long-range target shooting—one of the country's fastest growing shooting sports right now—rangefinders must be able to really reach out there and give an accurate reading. That's because the farther away from the muzzle, the faster the bullet falls. And when it's falling several feet over 100 yards in distance, shooters need to know the exact range in order to shoot accurately. If this is the sport for you, look for a rangefinder with higher magnification, as more power is always better at longer distances. Also, some companies build rangefinders that pair with scopes from the same manufacturer to automatically read the distance and adjust the scope's reticle. If you're into long-range shooting, do some additional research before buying a rangefinder, as many companies are offering handy features to cater to these shooters.

Lens Coatings

Sig Sauer rangefinder
This rangefinder is coated with SIG Sauer’s SpectaCoat for better light transmission and clearer viewing.Walmart

Just as with binoculars, lens coatings are important for rangefinders because they help determine how clearly you see the object you are trying to range. If you can't see it clearly, it's hard to hold the rangefinder on it to get the distance. And if you can't get the distance, you're not likely to make a good hit. While not many rangefinders have fully multi-coated lenses (all glass surfaces have multiple coatings) like top-quality binoculars do, many models have multi-coated (at least one of the major optical elements has multiple coatings) or at minimum coated (at least one major optical element has a coating on at least one surface) lenses. The lens coating helps break the glare and increases light transmission through the lens, making it easier to see clearly through the rangefinder—always a plus, but especially in low-light conditions.

Size

Herd Sports Hunting Rangefinder
This small rangefinder is made to fit snuggly in your hand while giving you easy access to controls.Walmart

When rangefinders were first introduced, many were quite large and bulky. While effective, they were kind of a pain to tote around while hunting. Nowadays, most laser rangefinders are quite small, and some could even be considered tiny. Whichever you choose, just make sure it fits your hand well and places your finger right next to the button that activates the laser. If you have large hands, the smallest units might not be right for you. If you do buy a tiny rangefinder, be sure and choose a place in your pack, or wherever you carry your gear, and always put it back in that place. If you don't, you're liable to spend time looking for your rangefinder when you should be concentrating on other, more important things while out in the field.

Display

Halo Sports Rangefinder
Technology used in designing this rangefinder enables it to account for slope to the target and the scan mode allows for constant ranging.Walmart

The quality and type of the display in a rangefinder can make it easier or harder to use, depending on an individual's eyesight. Most rangefinders currently available have an in-view LCD display that provides the exact distance to your target within a few feet. Depending on how bright it is outside, though, some are easy to read while others are quite difficult. Some displays feature the range readout in red, which can make it easier to read in low-light conditions while still being quite visible during the daytime. Because viewing the display is so important, a rangefinder's eye relief (the distance you can hold the rangefinder from your eye and still see the whole picture) can also make a difference, especially for hunters who wear glasses. Eye relief in the 15mm to 17mm range is usually about right for hunting purposes.

Brand

Bushnell Bone Collector Rangefinder
A longtime player in the rangefinder sector, Bushnell still makes many quality units, like this Bone Collector model.Walmart

There are a lot of companies that make top-quality rangefinders and a lot of companies that make very low-priced rangefinders. And while the two categories can occasionally overlap, often very low-end rangefinders won't serve your needs as well as one that you spend a few extra dollars to acquire. It's best to avoid extremely low-priced rangefinders, which typically have a lower magnification, a smaller objective lens, uncoated lenses and are more fragile to rough handling. That's not to say that all budget rangefinders are bad. Just consider brand along with all of the factors when making a purchasing decision. Companies that have long produced quality rangefinders, and a few that are new to the sector but make great products, include Bushnell, Nikon, Vortex, SIG Sauer, Leupold, Leica, German Precision Optics (GPO) and Simmons.

Camouflage

Simmons Volt Laser Rangefinder
This Simmons rangefinder is camouflaged to keep from spooking nearby game animals.Walmart

While this might sound unimportant to most hunters, if you're bowhunting and trying to get a range on a deer within 40 yards of where you are sitting, it's better to not have a shiny, reflective rangefinder in your hands. While not an absolute necessity—matching camo type to the background isn't a factor, in fact—if you don't get a camouflaged rangefinder, make sure whatever model you choose has a matte finish to limit light reflecting off of the unit. You'd be surprised how far away an alert deer can notice a small flash from the sun reflecting off a shiny surface. Oh yeah, don't forget the cool factor! Nothing looks quite as good as a camo rangefinder that has all of the other features required to be the perfect model for your style of hunting.

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