Gear Test: 10 New Rangefinders for Hunters and Long-Distance Shooters in 2017
A buyer's guide to the best rangefinders available on the market for 2017
Anyone who shoots a bow or a gun and must know the exact distance to a target relies on laser rangefinders to provide shooting solutions. But the attributes of a rangefinder intended for bowhunting differ greatly from those configured for target shooting beyond 1,000 yards.
Our test of 10 of the most popular rangefinders was designed to evaluate those attributes. We measured a wide range of capabilities, not only in power and precision, but also in display, computation, optical clarity, and customization—to help you choose a rangefinder for three typical, but fairly distinct, purposes: bowhunting, general rifle hunting, and long-distance precision shooting.
We also learned that laser technology is changing fast. So if you need a rangefinder now, by all means use our test as a buyer’s guide. But if you can wait for next year, look for a new generation of more powerful and capable laser rangefinders to reach the market.
How We Test
Laser rangefinders are really just intricate timepieces, designed to measure the length of time an emitted beam of light takes to return to the unit from a reflected surface. Because the speed of light is constant, the time lapse reveals the distance to the target.
Our test determined each unit’s sensitivity and maximum range capability by lasing three types of targets: reflective (steel barn roofs from 1,200 to 2,400 yards), non-reflective (a bear hide at 100 yards), and a series of shrubs anywhere from 400 to 1,200 yards. We also measured each unit’s minimum-distance capability. Then we judged accuracy by lasing a series of targets at known distances in various light conditions.
We measured speed of scans by lasing moving vehicles on a highway at 1,200 yards, and we measured the clarity of the image and visibility of the display in different light conditions. The other half of our test assessed more subjective attributes: the features and amenities offered by each unit, its ergonomics, versatility at a range of tasks, and how well the unit performed the job for which it was intended.
The unit with the highest score won our Editor’s Choice award; the best value score was named our Great Buy.
Did You Know?
The beams emitted by Class 3R lasers, which include most in this test, are hazardous to view with unprotected eyes.
You can fool a rangefinder by scanning between white and black surfaces at 30 yards. Most units will display different values.
Rangefinders for shooting and hunting have optical coatings that diminish light transmission but boost visibility of the display.
Editor’s Choice: Sig Sauer Kilo 2400 ABS
Score: 95.67 | Price: $1,500
Sig Sauer Kilo 2400 ABS Rangefinder Bill Buckley
This extremely powerful, precise unit is in a class by itself. No other rangefinder in this year’s test could touch the Sig’s speed, accuracy on a wide variety of targets, or ability to offer nearly instant solutions to almost any shooting situation. It’s also quite expensive—for a consumer unit, at least. Its nearest competition are military-grade rangefinders that sell for two and three times the price of this $1,500 Sig.
The Kilo2400ABS is sold as a system, with a wind meter and tripod adapter that are designed to be used with a phone app to calculate holdover and holdoff for shots out to 2 miles. Is never missing again worth $1,500? Will you ever attempt a 2-mile shot? If those questions are not rhetorical, then this sophisticated and elegant piece of technology might be for you.
The Sig’s accuracy and speed derive from a processor that uses advanced signal-processing algorithms and a more precise and powerful laser diode than others in its category. Other attributes include a lightning-quick scanning mode that returns four readings per second, sharp optics in the 7X viewfinder, a choice of reticles, and a dimmable red LED display.
Great Buy: Leupold RX-Full Draw 2
Score: 91.34 | Price: $200
Leupold RX-FullDraw 2 Rangefinder Bill Buckley
This rangefinder, configured for archery use, is fast, accurately responsive out to 900 yards, and fairly priced. Its polycarbonate construction keeps costs down, and Leupold achieves efficiencies by incorporating its very good TBR (True Ballistic Range) processor. The brains of Leupold’s rifle units, TBR combines horizontal distance determination with an inclinometer and a bare-bones ballistics calculator.
The FullDraw2’s hand-filling chassis smartly defaults to last-target mode, which distinguishes the target from a foreground of leaves and limbs—a key attribute for a bow unit.
The Leupold’s black LCD display can get lost against busy targets, and the “Trophy Scale” subtension feature is a little silly. But those are small complaints for an archery rangefinder that can double as a very capable rifle unit.
Sig Sauer 2200 MR
Score: 90.66 | Price: $500
This fast, accurate rangefinder can do everything its big brother, the Kilo2400 (see p. 16), can do, albeit with fewer features, at a third of the price. The red LED display is wonderfully bright and crisp, and provides options appropriate for most hunters, including a best-target mode, a very precise inclinometer, and holdovers in either inches or mils. The laser is ultra-fast and accurate, and it returned readings on deer-sized targets out to about 1.2 miles. At $500, this is a helluva deal on an all-around rifle hunter’s rangefinder.
Leica Rangemaster 2000-B
Score: 81.66 | Price: $700
Leica RangeMaster 2000-B Bill Buckley
Possibly the most elegant rangefinder on the market, this sleek and lustrous Leica has a crisp 7X viewfinder, and its red LED display is simple and clean. Power and precision are both stellar—we eked out a distance reading of 1,881 yards on reflective targets, though it struggled with non-reflective surfaces. While the Leica has decent ballistics software for families of standard cartridges and a very good angle-compensation mode, the processor is slow and the aiming point is finicky.
Nikon Monarch 7IVR
Score: 77.0 | Price: $375
Nikon Monarch 7IVR Rangefinder Bill Buckley
This newest iteration of the Monarch contains an image-stabilizing gyroscope that reduces vibration by a whopping 80 percent. Do you need it? If you’re a bowhunter, encountering animals at close, anxiety-generating range, I’d say yes. It’s also a useful attribute for a gun hunter trying to get a fix on a small target at long ranges. We liked first- and last-target modes, but the black LCD display gets lost against cluttered targets. Sensitivity is more than adequate, reading targets consistently out to 820 yards.
Score: 76.66 | Price: $350
Leupold RX-1200i Rangefinder Bill Buckley
Leupold’s flagship rangefinder, the RX-1200i has a shooting solution for almost any hunter. Bowhunters will appreciate the last-target mode, 6X magnification, and high-angle inclinometer readings out to 125 yards. Rifle hunters will like the selectable reticle and 25 ballistic groups that identify holdover options in either inches, centimeters, mils, or MOA, along with windage corrections out to 800 yards. We loved the visibility of the red LED display and the rugged aluminum body but wanted greater reach and speed. Leupold
Vortex Ranger 1500
Score: 76.0 | Price: $450
Vortex Ranger 1500 Rangefinder Bill Buckley
A fairly basic rangefinder, the Vortex disappointed us with its limited range, slow processor, and lack of a last-target mode, which is an important feature for hunting in brush or rain. We also felt that it should include a basic ballistic program for rifle hunters. Still, simplicity is a virtue, and the dimmable red LED display inside the 6X viewfinder is one of the most intuitive and easily readable of the field. We also liked the compact and hard-wearing aluminum chassis.
Bushnell Elite 1 Mile CONX
Score: 73.0 | Price: $300
Bushnell Elite 1 Mile CONX Rangefinder Bill Buckley
As a stand-alone unit, the CONX is a fairly standard rifle rangefinder, with incline recognition; a ballistics calculator that expresses shooting solutions in inches, MOA, or mils; and a clear red LED display. But when it’s linked via Bluetooth to a Kestrel weather station, the CONX comes into its own, processing situational data to calculate precise shooting solutions. But the limit of its ability to resolve small targets at long ranges is underwhelming for a unit intended for precision shooters. Bushnell
Bushnell The Truth
Score: 67.33 | Price: $200
Bushnell ClearShot Rangefinder Bill Buckley
Very much an archery-optimized unit, this Bushnell solves a chronic problem for bowhunters. Its ClearShot function detects interfering limbs and other obstructions between the hunter and the target. The unit also has a very aggressive angle-compensation function, calculating shot distances to targets directly below and directly above the shooter, and at every angle in between. However, both the speed and sensitivity were disappointing, and the black LCD display disappeared against dark or cluttered targets.
Score: 60.1 | Price: $175
This entry-level rangefinder was slow to return readings and has limited range. We managed to lase deer-sized targets consistently out to only about 400 yards—though we did get readings on reflective targets to nearly 1,000 yards. The Halo is pretty simple: It has line-of-sight and incline-adjusted readings but no ballistics calculator. But for the price, it does have some premium features, including a red LED display, a durable aluminum body, and 8X magnification.