Rangefinders for hunting are complex. Knowing what to look for can help you select one that perfectly suits your needs. Here are my 10 tips to help you figure out what to pay attention to when deciding on one.
When it comes to big game hunting, aim is everything. You usually only get one shot, and your opportunity disappears if you miss that shot. But there’s more to aiming than just pointing your weapon at your target. A major part of making sure that your shot actually lands is mentally calculating how far away the target is.
Unfortunately, that’s not always easy. If you guess wrong when estimating your distance from an animal and your shot starts falling sooner or later than you expected, that’s no good. A rangefinder can really help with this, but picking out one can be a bit overwhelming. Here are a few tips to help all you first-time rangefinder buyers out there.
Understand How They Work
The first thing that you’re going to want to do before buying a rangefinder is to figure out how they actually work. Learning about rangefinders will help inform your decision and direct you to one that will suit you and your needs.
Here’s a quick rundown. Rangefinders work by firing a harmless laser towards a target. The laser then is reflected and comes back to you. The rangefinder is then able to calculate precisely how far away the target is based on the time it takes for the laser to return. It sounds high tech, but it’s pretty simple for you: you just point it at the target and it tells you how far away it is.
Halve the Given Range
All rangefinders have an advertised distance that they are best used at. A good, modern rangefinder will usually boast a range as large as 400 yards. That sounds great, but you need to keep in mind that many rangefinders are typically designed for use with reflective targets.
Most animals are not very reflective. That means that you should assume that a 400 yard rangefinder meant for reflective targets would realistically only work at about 200 yards for non-reflective targets. When shopping for a rangefinder, look closely at its advertised range and whether that range is calculated based on reflective targets or not.
Hold It Before You Buy It
A lot of first-time rangefinder buyers make the critical mistake of not actually holding their rangefinder in their hands before buying it. It doesn’t sound totally necessary, but you need to make sure that you’re actually comfortable holding your rangefinder and lifting it up to your eyes before you buy it.
You won’t be mounting it on your weapon, and that means that you’ll need it to be the perfect size for you. Size is mostly up to your personal preference, but try to make sure that it feels good in both your hand and your pocket (or your pack).
A lot of rangefinders are waterproof, but many aren’t. Try to think of the most common places that you are hunting. Is there ever a chance that you are going to be out in the wilderness, in the rain? Do you hunt in marshy areas where it’s possible that you could drop your rangefinder into some water?
It may be a good idea to get a waterproof rangefinder even if there’s only a small chance of getting it wet. Try to also consider all the possible places you might hunt with your rangefinder, too. Even if your normal spot is pretty dry, it’s worth it to buy a waterproof one if you’re planning on travelling to areas that are more moist.
Pay Attention to the Brand
We should all know by now that something isn’t good just because it’s from an expensive brand. The opposite is true as well; something isn’t automatically bad just because it’s affordable. But when it comes to rangefinders, it largely is true that the cheapest options aren’t the best.
You should try to stick to a few select brands when picking out a rangefinder so as to not get ripped off. Some of the most trusted names in the industry are ones that you’ll recognize: Nikon, SIG Sauer, Simmons, and Bushnell. There are definitely some deals to be found, but try to stay away from unreputable brands.
Magnification is Important
Rangefinders can do more than just tell you how far away a target is. They can also magnify your target for you, allowing you to get a better look at it. If you’re regularly hunting game that is quite far away from you, it would be smart to get a rangefinder with some kind of magnification.
This allows you to leave the binoculars at home, as your rangefinder will double as your binoculars. If you need intense magnification beyond what is offered in regular rangefinders, you can also look into a pair of binoculars that has a rangefinder built in. It’s all about efficiency.
Find a Display That Works for You
Every rangefinder is going to have a different kind of display. Some have very clear displays while others don’t. You’re likely just going to have to get used to whatever kind of display that you end up getting, but it’s wise to try out a few different displays before committing to one.
It can be hard to know what will work best for you before actually looking into one, so don’t just commit to a rangefinder because you like all aspects other than display. Some have red LED displays while others have clear OLED displays. It will come down to your preference at the end of the day, so experiment with a few options.
Camouflage Can Be Your Friend
If you’re a hunter, you already know just how important camouflage can be when you’re trying to not startle an animal. The same concept applies to rangefinders. Despite the fact that many of them are quite small, a shiny black rangefinder will definitely grab an animal’s attention more than a camouflaged one.
Try to find a rangefinder that will blend in with the environment that you are planning on hunting in most often. It’s a small detail, but it’s one that will definitely make a big difference when you’re trying to be as non-descript as possible. There are lots of styles to choose from, so shop around a bit.
Bow or Gun?
Rangefinders are commonly used by rifle hunters, but they are just as important (if not more important!) for bowhunters. Any projectile that you fire will fall by a certain amount depending on your distance from the target, and that concept applies to arrows just as much as it does to bullets.
Arrows and bullets fall at a different rate, of course, and that means that the rangefinder that you will want will depend on which weapon you’re going to use. You are likely going to need a different max range depending on whether you are using a bow or a gun as well.
Choose Your Reticle
Rangefinders work by aiming a reticle at a target and pressing a button to actually fire the laser where the reticle is pointed. With that in mind, it’s definitely important to choose a rangefinder that has a reticle that you can accurately aim with.
Like many of the factors we’ve discussed so far, the preferred reticle is going to differ between hunters. I cannot recommend one type of reticle as the best. If you’re not sure, try to find a rangefinder that has multiple different reticle options for you to pick from. That will allow you to decide in the moment which to use.
Before you go, here are the best game handling products that are definitely worth the investment.