Hunting Rangefinders | 2021 Editors’ Choice
How to sort through the maze to find the right rangefinder for your hunting need.
When it comes to hunting gear, you millennials and younger folk have no idea how good you have it. Compared to what we — Old Folks — started hunting with, modern equipment is flat-out amazing. And none is more incredible than today’s hunting rangefinders.
Rangefinder history is fascinating. Developed because all projectiles travel not in a straight line, but an arc, the first rangefinder appeared back in 1880, with “coincidence” and radar rangefinders being used in WWII. In 1964 the first laser rangefinder prototype was invented, with the Soviets employing them on tanks as early as 1972. When the technology was made cost-effective for sporting use, it was a game-changer for both bowhunters and riflemen.
Back in “the day,” all we bowhunters had to use were “coincidence” rangefinders, popularized by Ranging, which use the triangulation principle. That is, they feature two windows and a combination of prisms and lenses that produce two separate images the user sees when looking through the sighting window. As you view the object, you turn a dial with your finger until the images coincide and appear as one. You then read the distance on the dial. These units have to be calibrated before use, and in skilled hands can be reasonably accurate out to maybe 40 or 50 yards. Maybe. I still have a couple of them.
There are certain features you should not compromise on when purchasing a laser rangefinder for hunting. First, never buy a unit without an angle-compensating feature that helps tell you the distance to aim for, not just the line-of-sight distance to the target. All top-end units today have this feature. Second, make sure the unit is water-resistant and shockproof. Also very desirable is a unit that allows you to focus the eyepiece, something not possible several years ago. And an eyepiece with some magnification – commonly between 4-7X – makes precise aiming possible.
You can find laser rangefinders in all price categories. Like a binocular or spotting scope, this is something you should not be afraid to spend top dollar on. A quality rangefinder will last you for decades, so you’re making an investment that will work for you over time. The last thing you need is for a bargain basement unit to fail when you need it most.
While most of today’s rangefinders will work reasonably well in multiple hunting situations, some will not. One example is a large, heavy, ranging-binocular that requires two hands to use — not a great choice for the spot-and-stalk bowhunter who needs one hand on his bow.
2021 Editors’ Choice | Hunting Rangefinders
Here are my choices for today’s top hunting rangefinders for specific uses.
Bowhunting: Bushnell Prime 1700
Bushnell has been a laser rangefinder leader for 25 years. The all-glass, fully multi-coated optical system and 40 percent larger objective lens in this unit helps it provide a clear view in the dimmest light, a big plus. The exclusive EXO Barrier technology is a coating that bonds to exterior lens surfaces, repelling water, oil, fog, dust, and debris. Other features include Bushnell’s ARC angle compensating system, a selectable reticle, and a Brush and Bullseye mode, where the Brush mode ignores foreground objects like brush, tree branches, etc., and provides distances to background objects only. The Bullseye mode acquires the distances of small targets without inadvertently measuring background object distances.
Rifle Hunting: Vortex Ranger 1800
For most all rifle hunting, I like this unit because it’s a no-frills choice that’s rugged and dependable, doesn’t break the bank – and has a lifetime unconditional warranty. It features 6X magnification, scan mode, angle compensation, an easy-to-read red OLED, and weighs just 7.7 oz. It can give you a reading off a reflective surface out to 1800 yards, and a dull surface – think deer or elk hair – out to 900 yards. It can also be easily adapted to any 1/4-20 tripod plate for max stability.
Ranging Binocular: Leica Geovid 3200
What sets this unit apart from others in this category is the quality of the glass. Simply put, the patented Perger-Porro prism system and state-of-the-art glass delivers clarity and image definition that is amazing. It’s a 10×42 binocular that also features a newly-created hunting app that pairs with a cellphone via Bluetooth. This feature provides angle compensation and ballistic information that reads directly to the Leica OLED. Touted to give accurate range readings to 3200 yards, it’s big at 34.6 oz.
Long-Range Rifle Shooting: SIG KILO5K
The KILO5K 7×25 laser rangefinder has a maximum reflective range of 5,000 yards and includes Applied Ballistics Ultralite onboard along with environmental sensors and supports BDX External (BDX-X) for connecting to external devices such as Kestrel and Garmin devices. The Gen II LightWave DSP engine features new target modes, including Extended Range (XR) and Fog mode along with First, Best, and Last target. The rangefinder incorporates a segmented OLED display which provides range to target, elevation holdover and wind holds. All new KILO rangefinder models connect with the BaseMap app to provide remote waypoints on ranged targets and can be fully configured with the SIG SAUER BDX App. All KILO K Series rangefinders leverage Low Energy/Long Range Bluetooth 5.x for multipoint Bluetooth connections and improved connectivity to BDX enabled riflescopes and sights. Simply stated, this thing is amazing.