Searching for the perfect rangefinder was a painful journey full of wasted money and frustration. At first, I didn’t even realize I needed one. But once my arch-nemesis Steve showed up with a rangefinder and started dramatically outshooting me, I became obsessed with finding one for myself.
In my quest, I bought every cheap piece of junk and overhyped model you can imagine. I learned the hard way about misleading claims and shady companies. Many dollars were wasted on ill-fitting rangefinders before I finally found the ideal one.
While I don’t recommend anyone repeat my mistakes, those agonizing experiences taught me what truly matters in an excellent rangefinder. Now I can pass that hard-won knowledge on so you can avoid the pitfalls and pain I endured. Let’s dive into the key factors to consider when choosing your rangefinder!
- Quality rangefinders can be expensive but are worth investing in. Don’t waste money on cheap models.
- Understand your needs and intended use before choosing features. More specs don’t always mean better performance.
- Vet reviews thoroughly. Beware fake reviews and fanboy hype on forums and Amazon.
- Try renting or borrowing rangefinders when possible before committing to a purchase.
Alright, let’s get down to brass tacks. There are a few main types of rangefinders to choose from:
These are the most common and versatile rangefinders on the market. They send out pulses of laser light to determine distance by measuring the time it takes to return.
Pros: Very accurate, long ranges available, fast readings
Cons: Performance depends on lighting conditions. Lasers don’t work well in dense fog or at dusk/dawn.
These measure distance by emitting ultrasonic sound waves and calculating the time for the “echo” to return.
Pros: Not dependent on lighting, immune to fog issues
Cons: Shorter maximum ranges than laser, can be confused by ambient noises
Basically a high-end pair of binoculars with an integrated laser rangefinder. Very useful but extremely expensive.
If you’re ballin’ on a budget, go with a standard laser rangefinder. Ultrasonic or rangefinding binoculars are specialty tools most folks don’t need.
Now let’s explore the key factors and features to evaluate in a laser rangefinder for archery and bowhunting…
This determines the farthest distance the rangefinder can measure. Common options are 600, 800, 1000+ yards.
Think about your typical shooting scenarios and maximum comfortable range with your bow setup. For most bowhunters, anything over 800 yards is overkill.
Maximum range also correlates with the level of magnification. Most rangefinders with 1000+ yard ranges have 7x or 8x magnification.
But more magnification means a smaller field of view that can make scanning and acquiring targets trickier. There are tradeoffs with every spec to consider.
As mentioned above, magnification levels typically vary from 4x up to 8x for most models. Higher magnification makes it easier to see details on targets at long range.
But if most of your shots are inside 100 yards, lower 4-6x magnification gives you a wider field of view and faster target acquisition. You’ll need to dial in the ideal balance of magnification vs. FOV.
The objective lens is the front glass lens on rangefinders, measured in millimeters. Common sizes are 20mm, 24mm, 28mm.
A larger lens gathers more light, giving you a brighter, clearer view. Especially helpful in low light conditions. But larger lenses add bulk.
I’d aim for at least a 24mm lens. Go bigger if you often hunt in thick cover or shoot at dawn/dusk.
Nearly all rangefinders today use digital LCD displays to show the yardage. Higher-end models have LED or OLED displays that are brighter and clearer.
Make sure the display is easy to read in various lighting. Some models have adjustable brightness or auto-dimming for low light use.
Slopes and uneven terrain will throw off direct line-of-sight range readings. Angle compensation uses sensors to account for angled shots up or downhill.
This feature is a must for western bowhunters facing drastic elevation changes. Even in flatter areas, it improves accuracy for any angled shots at tree stands.
Basic rangefinders take a distance reading wherever you point the reticle. These modes let you pick out a specific object for ranging.
Helpful when targets are partially obscured by grass, brush or other deer. You can pick out a deer’s chest for consistent ranged.
Advanced versions track moving targets and give updated ranges as something approaches or crosses terrain. Super handy but costs more.
Allows continuous, real-time ranging as you pan the landscape. You’ll get updated distances as you scan without needing to re-range.
Nice for quickly finding the farthest target in a group. But it can be distracting if there’s a lot going on in view.
Simple one-button ranging is fast and sufficient for most users. Scan modes are cool tricks but not essential.
Higher end models incorporate ballistics software and bullet/arrow drop data for holdover aiming. Requires inputting specs like arrow weight, speed, etc.
Useful for dialing multi-pin sights without guessing holdover. But it adds complexity most bowhunters won’t utilize. Stick to basic rangefinding.
Hunting means dealing with the elements! At minimum, your rangefinder should be water resistant and fogproof. “Fully weatherproof” is ideal for rugged reliability.
Things to look for include O-ring seals, nitrogen purging, and waterproof/fogproof ratings like IPX7 or IP67.
Given the high cost of quality optics, make sure your rangefinder has a solid manufacturer warranty – ideally a lifetime “no fault” coverage in case of any damage or defects down the road.
A warranty shows the company stands by its products. And protects your investment in gear that sees hard use outdoors.
The rangefinder market has exploded with options over the past decade. Here are some of the top manufacturers making models tailored for archery and bowhunting:
The gold standard when it comes to rangefinding optics. Leupold products are renowned for quality, durability, accuracy and high-end performance.
They offer excellent archery-focused models like the RX-Fulldraw and RX-1600i TBR. Expect to pay $400+ but they are worth it. Backed by Leupold’s lifetime warranty.
Best known for cameras and riflescopes, Nikon uses that optical expertise to create quality rangefinders too. The Arrow ID and MONARCH models excel for archery use.
Nikon rangefinders provide good value at moderate prices like $280-$350. Covered by a limited lifetime warranty.
Popular for producing high-end optics at more affordable price points, Vortex has won over hunters with great warranties and performance.
The Razor HD 4000 and Ranger 1800 are excellent picks with archery modes, angle compensation, and clean optics starting around $350. Vortex’s unlimited lifetime warranty is unmatched.
Yes, that Sig Sauer known for firearms. They’ve branched out into sport optics including some impressive rangefinders purpose-built for archery.
The Kilo2400 ABS and Kilo 2600 BDX push technology to the limits, integrating directly with bow sights and ballistics software. Expect to pay over $700. Sig offers a lifetime warranty.
Bushnell makes rangefinders for all types of users at widely varying price points. The higher-end Prime and Elite models have the best optics and ranging capabilities.
I’m a fan of the Eliminator Lasers for their combination of E.S.B. tech, accuracy, and economical price under $300 in most cases. Bushnell warranty only covers 2 years.
There are lots of other options from niche manufacturers aiming for the archery and bowhunting market:
- Garmin Xero – integrated ballistics and arrow tracking
- Precision Pro – budget-friendly basic models
- TecTecTec – best value under $150
- Halo – specialized for bowhunting
- Wildgame Innovations – affordable with angle comp
- Vector Optics – accuracy and scanning features
Despite the proliferation of rangefinder brands nowadays, stick with proven optics companies if you want maximum quality and durability.
Price tags on rangefinders run the gamut from around $100 to over $2,000 for high-end units. What can you expect to pay for a quality rangefinder that meets your needs?
This range gets you fundamental laser rangefinding out to 600-800 yards. No frills or extras but gets the job done.
Good options: TecTecTec VPRO500, Simmons Volt 600, Precision Pro Scout
You’ll find excellent optics, durable build quality, angle compensation, and max distances up to 1000+ yards here.
Good options: Nikon Arrow ID 3000, Vortex Ranger 1800, Bushnell Elite 1 Mile CON-X
Top-of-the-line models with every bell and whistle: ballistics software, target tracking, integrated rangefinding scopes, etc. Overkill for most.
Good options: Leupold RX-Fulldraw 4, Sig Sauer BDX packages, Zeiss Victory RF
Consider what features you really require and your skill level before splurging on expensive high-end gear. Don’t get caught up in the quest for unattainable perfection…like yours truly did!
Spending $300-400 can get you 90% of the performance at a third the cost of many $1000+ options. Invest in quality optics but don’t break the bank.
Manufacturers tout rangefinder accuracies of “plus or minus 1 yard” pretty commonly. Frankly those claims are baloney in real-world use. Even the best rangefinders have some variance:
Within 2 yards – Acceptable for most hunting scenarios inside 100 yards
Within 5 yards – Typical for longer ranges out to 500+ yards
Within 10 yards – Usable accuracy in ideal conditions out to max distances
But accuracy degrades based on a number of factors:
- Target size/clarity
- Environmental conditions
- Hand shake
- Incorrect setup
Tiny targets are tougher to range precisely, as are those obscured by grass/brush. Wind, temperature gradients, and mirage can throw readings off. And shaky hands make it harder to steady the reticle.
For best accuracy, always brace the rangefinder against a solid rest. Dial in the settings like angle comp, air pressure, etc. And take 3-5 readings, averaging the results.
Laser rangefinders are superb tools, but don’t treat any single reading as gospel. Use common sense and exercise good shooting judgement as well.
Hunters subject their gear to seriously rough treatment in the field. Your rangefinder will get tossed in packs, soaked in downpours, scratched by brush, caked in dirt and grime.
Make sure any rangefinder you choose is up for the abuse with these resilience features:
Rubber Armoring – Protects the body against bumps/drops and provides a secure grip.
Strong Housing – Durable polymer or aircraft-grade aluminum construction.
Waterproof – O-ring seals and nitrogen purging to withstand dunks and heavy rain. Look for an IPX7 rating or better.
Fogproof – Sealed optics resist internal fogging in swampy conditions.
Shockproof – Floating internal optics and shock-absorbing materials. Withstands recoil from shots.
Lanyard Hole – Attach a neck strap as a backup to prevent drops.
Protective Case – Padded case for storage and transport. Prevents scratches.
Lens Covers – Flip-up scopes covers to protect glass when not in use.
No rangefinder will survive a cliff dive onto granite, but the ones built tank-tough can laugh off most abuse on the job. Durability equals reliability in unforgiving backcountry environments.
Remember the days of hauling around giant laser rangefinders that weighed as much as a brick? Thankfully those dinosaur models have gone extinct.
Nowadays most rangefinders for bowhunting are quite compact and ergonomic. Typical dimensions fall around:
- 5-6 inches long
- 3-4 inches wide
- 2 inches thick
Small enough to stash in a pocket or backpack. Big enough to grip securely with gloves on cold days.
I recommend passing on any models much larger than those dimensions. You want something that handles naturally and doesn’t weigh you down. But avoid going too small and light where the unit feels flimsy and cheap.
The ideal size strikes a balance between portability and a robust feel in your hands. Test out devices in person when possible to ensure the size fits you well.
Coinciding with the compact sizes of modern rangefinders, weight has also dropped significantly in recent years.
You can find quality rangefinders weighing as little as 5-6 ounces without sacrificing durability and performance. Some ultralight models dip under 5 ounces but may have plastic housings more prone to cracking.
Conversely, heavier units in the 10+ ounce range offer bombproof construction but add unwanted heft.
For archery and bowhunting use, I think the sweet spot lies between 7-9 ounces. Light enough for all-day carry, but with enough density to promote stability while ranging shots.
As with size, test the feel and balance yourself before buying. Make sure the weight doesn’t cause hand strain, especially if wearing hunting gloves.
The rangefinder’s weight also influences your bow setup. Adding mass can impact the stability of lightweight bows. So consider total loaded weight when accessorizing.
No one wants their rangefinder dying mid-hunt when a trophy buck emerges! Fortunately most quality models today have very good battery performance:
1500+ range sessions – You can expect to get this many full ranging sessions from premium model on a fresh set of CR2 or AAA lithium batteries.
20,000+ activations – For budget models using button-style watch batteries. Figure around 800 activations per hunt, so 25+ hunting days.
Rechargeable models – Higher end units from Leupold, Sig, etc. use rechargeable Li-ion batteries for hundreds of charge cycles. No replacing batteries.
Features that drain more juice include using scan modes, ballistic calculators, and OLED/LCD displays vs. simple reticles.
To maximize battery life, turn off your rangefinder when not in use. Don’t forget spare batteries in your pack or keep rechargeables topped up.
The best digital rangefinders can easily get you through a full season of ranged sessions and hunts on a single battery. Battery life rarely limits most users.
Rangefinders are precision instruments with finely tuned optics. Just a spec of dust can throw off readings. Here are some tips for keeping your unit in peak condition:
- Always store it in a protective case with padding.
- Don’t just stuff it loose in your pack – cushion with clothes or a pocket.
- Keep lens covers on when not in use to prevent scratches.
- Gently wipe lenses clean with microfiber cloth and lens cleaner as needed – no solvents!
- If exposed to moisture, dry rangefinder fully with desiccant packs.
- Change batteries before each season and sight-in again at the range.
- Periodically check seals, housing, buttons for damage that could allow in dust/moisture.
- Avoid extreme heat and cold for storage to prevent internal fogging or displays malfunctioning.
- Consider insurance for high-end models if used in extremely adverse or risky conditions.
- Use a neck lanyard or wrist strap to prevent drops.
- Follow manufacturer care/handling instructions.
It takes just seconds to range a distant target, but a lifetime of responsible care to keep your rangefinder performing flawlessly when it counts. Treat it well and it will deliver the vital data to make ethical, confident shots.
And there you have it – everything you need to know about picking the perfect rangefinder for archery and bowhunting.
From understanding key features and terminology to sifting through deceptive marketing claims, we covered all the bases…and pitfalls. Hopefully, you feel empowered to find an ideal rangefinder for your needs and budget.
- Prioritize maximum range, optics, and durability over flashy extra features.
- Take your time testing different models until you find the perfect match.
- Invest in quality, but don’t assume most expensive means best performing.
- Care for your rangefinder properly and it will deliver reliable service for years afield.
Ranging shots instills confidence and allows you to be ethical, accurate hunters. I wish you smooth shooting and straight arrows on your next adventures!
Captain Hunter is a seasoned hunting mentor with over 20 years of experience in the field. His passion began as a young man on trips with his father and grandfather in the Colorado mountains. Today, he shares his unmatched skills in survival, tracking, and marksmanship through his website CaptainHunter.com. When he's not volunteering with youth hunting programs, you can find Captain Hunter providing expert hunting tips, gear reviews, and answers to your most pressing questions. His decades of experience make him the trusted guide to help any outdoorsman master the sport.