Rangefinders are a shooter’s best friend, whether you are target shooting or hunting in the wild. An accurate rangefinder takes the guesswork out of measuring distance. The problem is how to find the right rangefinder. Hunters and marksmen are spoiled for choice these days.
The market is flooded with rangefinders of different quality and price. This can be overwhelming and confusing for new shooters or guys (and gals) transitioning from the older models to new laser rangefinders (LRF) with advanced technology features.
Long-range shooting is all about precision, but even when you shoot at closer ranges, you want to figure out the right distance in the least amount of time. How to find the right rangefinder is easy when you know what to look for.
This short guide will throw a whole lot of light on the situation. The two main components you need to check are distance and magnification. Distance tells you how many yards or meters the rangefinder can range.
It differs depending on reflective and non-reflective targets, as well as light and visibility. Magnification enhances the clarity of distant targets by enlarging the image according to magnification strength. But it would be best if you still based your purchasing decision on other factors.
Choosing The Right Rangefinder
What Features Do Laser Rangefinders Have
It’s not always necessary to get the rangefinder with the most advanced technologies and extra features. You end up paying for the bragging rights more than for the practical applications you’ll be using. Pick a rangefinder with features that you will use often. And that will enhance and improve your experience.
Consider the following when trying to find the right rangefinder:
- Advanced modes in different settings
- Angle compensation
- Aperture size
- Beam divergence and dispersion
- Brand reputation – you get what you pay for.
- Display – LED/LCD/EPD
- Distance or range
- Laser pulse
- Lens coatings
- Rangefinder reticle
- Size and Weight
- Is it waterproof?
All these Specifications Determine the:
- Accuracy at which it measures the distance
- The speed at which it brings back reading and analyzes results
- The range at which it can spot targets
- Quality of the whole experience. Is it light, non-reflective, waterproof, rugged, compact?
- The performance of the rangefinder varies, depending on the above criteria.
Performance is based on:
- Ability to read oblique surfaces.
- Target properties: Are they reflective or non-reflective?
- The weather: Is it sunny and clear, overcast, windy?
- Light quality: Is it dusk, dawn, or noon?
- Vibrations – Is the finder handheld on the back of a moving vehicle? Are you stationary or moving? Is it propped on a tripod and completely stable?
So, with all these factors in mind, let’s jump straight in!
How Does a Rangefinder Work?
Very simply, a rangefinder measures the distance from the viewer to the target. It does this via a beam that travels (at the speed of light) to the mark and bounces back to the point of departure (the viewer). It then gives a reading.
This reading will be based on information that is programmed into the rangefinder beforehand in more advanced models.
For example, it will consider the weather, oblique surfaces, target properties, and light conditions. The distance is calculated by the laser beam’s speed (the speed of light) and the time it takes to return to the point of departure.
The results are displayed on a screen. Some screens have red-display LED lighting, making it easy to read results in all conditions.
The following list gives you the most important factors to consider when choosing your rangefinder. Some models will have all these functions, and others not. Your choice will rely on why you need it.
Do you only engage in long-range target shooting, or do you hunt? And what do you hunt? Close range targets (400 yards or less) won’t require a rangefinder that can range at distances exceeding 2000 yards (reflective)
If you know, you will never need the advanced technology and added features, then stick to a simpler, more affordable model that has the basic features, but is still powerful, accurate, compact, and light.
The different modes determine how the rangefinder (RF) will analyze results and what will be displayed. Early RFs only gave one reading based on the first object is found.
This is known as First Target mode. When the background is also read, it will be set in Second Target mode. You also get Scan mode. These are known as Ranging modes.
But each brand puts its spin on it. For example, Bushnell refers to the First Target mode as Bull’s Eye and the Second Target mode as Brush. Advanced modes can read first target, the highest peak, furthest peak, the largest group, closets peak.
It sorts out what the real target is but gives you multiple readings. This is great if you measure distance based on objects that are between you and the actual target.
Angle Compensation or ID (incline/decline) Technology
This is an essential feature that your laser rangefinder (LRF) must have. Angle compensation technology allows you to measure the holdover, true horizontal distance, and angle shot regardless of what incline or decline you are aiming from.
The beam hits the target and returns. The receiver aperture captures the return signal. The size of the receiver aperture determines how much data is analyzed. The bigger the aperture, the better the distance and resolution values will be. Short distance measurements will also be more accurate.
Beam Divergence and Dispersion
The smaller the beam divergence, the wider the beam dispersion will be. This means the further away the target is, the more accurate the beam divergence’s measurements will be because it covers a broader space, the further it projects.
Brand Reputation – You Get What You Pay For
There are many well-known, reputable brands to choose from. And most will have a budget option that may have a smaller magnification and yard range but will still deliver accurate readings.
So it pays to go for the name brands. Brands like Bushnell, Nikon, Leopold, Sig Sauer, and Vortex all have a good selection of LRFs for long-range shooting and hunting.
Red light displays use LED, and blacklight displays use LCD. RFs with red display screens are better suited for shooting and hunting because they can be read in any light conditions and from any angle. A newer technology, EMD (Emission Projection Display), is replacing the LCD screens.
Distance or Range
This is the most critical factor when you want to find the right rangefinder. If your hunting range never exceeds 600 – 800 yards, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find excellent quality RFs in the mid-range pricing.
If you are into long-range shooting, ranging between 1000 – 2400 yards, you may have to hand over more cash for fewer features to get that extra distance.
But for the average shooter, there are great RFs that range far enough for your needs. And come packed with an array of features that takes all the guesswork out of precision shooting.
There is usually a number included in the name that appears on the RF. For example, Leupold RX-1600i TBRw. 1600 indicates that the maximum range for reflective surfaces is 1600 yards.
Usually, you can cut this number in half to get what the range will be for a non-reflective target. So this model will measure up to distances of 800 yards in non-reflective, ideal conditions.
The TBR indicates that it comes with True Ballistic technology, so it has Angle compensation technology. This is excellent for when you are ranging on a slope or any other non-horizontal plane. And the (w) shows that it’s waterproof.
In 1994, Laser Technology Inc. and Bushnell teamed up to present the world’s first commercial laser rangefinder for recreational purposes. Since then, the LRFs have become the RFs of choice.
Ultrasonic RFs leave too much room for error due to interference from surrounding sounds. And optical RFs don’t allow for angle compensation, TBR, or the speed with which laser RFs can read and analyze data in all conditions.
Laser pulses send outbursts of light instead of a continuous wave. A laser pulse speeds up the results in rangefinders and is more accurate over a broader range of conditions. Therefore it’s the preferred option.
Lens Coatings and Matt Finishes
Lens coating acts as a protective layer that protects your RF lenses from getting scratched. It allows you to clean the lens without damaging them.
An anti-reflective coating on an RF is a must. Not only does it protect, but it also cuts the glare from sunlight. It increases light transmission, and this gives you a brighter image.
The overall user experience is enhanced. Having an RF with a matt finish is the practical choice, and as such most brands will make sure the finish won’t be reflective. A shiny finish increases the chance of the game being alerted of your presence if the light hits your RF and is reflected.
The magnification strength can be 4x, 6x, 8x, or 10x. For example, 6x magnification will allow the target to appear six times larger. This is a great help when you’re aiming for targets that you can’t see clearly, due to distance.
The reticle is the aiming point on the rangefinder and operates like the crosshairs of a rifle scope. Two horizontal lines indicate where the target needs to line up for maximum accuracy when the button that sends the laser is pushed.
Size and Weight
When you’re in the field, you don’t want to be weighed down by cumbersome equipment. Choose a rangefinder that is lightweight and compact. Some RFs come with a loop that attaches to your belt. Others can be connected with a lanyard.
When you’re on a hunting trip, the last thing you want is a rangefinder that runs out of battery power. Most LRFs take 3V Lithium CR2 Batteries. Sometimes the manufacturers will give you a rough idea of how many actuations you will get from a battery set.
Most RFs with fully charged batteries will provide you with over 4,000 actuations. Most lithium batteries don’t give warnings; they go dead straight away. On some models, you might get a few odd readings just before the battery dies. Most hunters use single-use batteries.
Buying them in 6 packs or ten packs online works out far cheaper than buying singles from the store. Here is a link for RF batteries. Buying this six-pack option x2 works out $8 less expensive than buying the 12 pack option!
The clip below explains in detail how a laser rangefinder works and discusses the pros and cons.
For a more in-depth analysis of the best rangefinders check out the detailed reviews and ratings the OutdoorWorld Reviews has put together! And if you are curious about rangefinders for closer range hunting or target shooting, check out the links below.
Rangefinders under $100:
- AOFAR HX-700N – Accurate, easy to use, lightweight, waterproof
- BIJIA Laser Hunting Rangefinder 6x 650 – +/- 1 yard and +/- 45⁰ accuracy
Rangefinders under $200