Making sure you know the distance to the target is just as important as seeing the target in the first place. If you are a stickler or a newbie to the hunting culture then learning to judge distance has a serious learning curve that can result in a wounded animal or missed shot. Laser rangefinders are a solution, but make sure you buy the best rangefinder for the job at hand and use it the way it was designed.
Best rangefinder for hunting under $200
Best rangefinder for bow hunting
Best for long range shooting
How Laser Rangefinders Work
Laser rangefinders are very high tech pieces of equipment that many of us may take for granted. The way these work is a bit of wizardry that takes a laser beam and bounces it off whatever you point it at. Those laser beams are clocked and the range is determined by the amount of time it took for the sensor of the unit to record a reflection.
That reflection can be scattered to the four winds by the time it gets back and the sensor must be tuned to receive the signal. That is why you get varying degrees of accuracy among brands and quality levels. The sensor size also effects how far out a unit can see, that’s why the long-range models have to be larger and heavier.
Now let’s take a look at the top 3 rangefinders for hunting in more detail. Here are our reviews:
Best Hunting Rangefinder
Bushnell Scout DX 1000 ARC 6x21mm
Coming from the optics giant Bushnell, this is a handheld unit that has come out of a collaboration between Bushnell and Primos. This is the best rangefinder for under $200 or even under $500, it’s that good. It comes with a set of features that is normally reserved for units much more expensive.
The technology package included in this unit has two main features. A program that predicts the arc of a projectile and a software that can quickly calculate and display the distance to the target you selected. The Bow ARC mode will display the distance your projectile will travel between you and your target out to 99 yards. This includes calculating the angle between you and your treestand so you know exactly which pin to use according to the ground distance, not the line of sight.
The ARC Rifle Mode is made for firearms to calculate the hold over in MOA and MILs. That gives you accurate data to dial in your scope. This make it awesome for hunting or for long range shooting. All this is protected by the Mil Spec armored case so you don’t need to worry about getting it wet or dropping it.
The Scout DX will laser targets out to 1000 yards with one half yard accuracy, while only being 10oz in weight with a single CR2 battery. The glass quality is top notch with simple programable reticles and 6x power magnification. You’ll have no problem using this unit out to 1000 yards. Its biggest asset is the price and the compactness of the unit combined with all the technology it brings to your hunt.
If you need a do-it-all unit to help you place accurate shots or arrows on game out to distances longer than you should be shooting, this is your unit.
- Finds distances out to 1000 yards
- +/- .5-yard accuracy
- Takes a single CR2 battery
- 10oz in weight
- Lifetime warranty
Best Bowhunting Laser Rangefinder
Bushnell The Truth ARC 4x20mm with Clear Shot
Archery hunting comes with its own set of challenges, one of which is judging the distance to your target while accounting for the angle of terrain or trees tands and figuring out the ground level distances. Sure, you could make markers or use scent canisters to serve as guides because many of the cheaper laser rangefinders on the market give line of sight, not ground distance to the target.
The optics manufacturer Bushnell makes an awesome laser rangefinder made specifically for bow hunting to cure this. It’s centered around a 4x power scope with simple reticle and computer that adds all sorts of features to give you information about the shot.
The main selling point is the ClearShot feature that allows you to call your shots in heavy brush and makes sure you don’t have any obstructions in front of you when taking the shot. This is a great feature because it takes into account the ballistics of your bow and calculates the arc as well as the drop of the arrow and makes sure there isn’t a limb or bush in the way.
This is the way forward in laser range finding technology. It not only accounts for the angle between you and the target but tells you whether you have a clear shot or not, a game changer for a new hunter or someone who gets buck fever and tunnel vision.
The rubberized case is great for holding onto in the treestand as well as protecting the technology inside. The unit will provide clear shot technology out to 99 yards and give you feedback on distance out to 80 yards with +/- 1 yard accuracy. It takes a single CR2 battery and weighs in at only 9oz. This is the best archery rangefinder for hunters and one of the top laser rangefinders on the market overall.
- Finds distances out to 850 yards
- +/-1 yard accuracy
- Takes a single CR2 battery
- 9oz in weight
- Lifetime warranty
Best Laser Rangefinder for Shooting
Vortex Optics Ranger 1500 Rangefinder RRF-151
If you’re a long range shooter, someone who wants a high powered unit with great accuracy and quality construction, the Ranger 100 from Vortex Optics is a great option.
The best feature of the unit is the three modes you can use it in. The first is the standard way to use a laser range finder by holding it vertically and pointing it at a target. The second is the ability to flip the unit on it’s side and use it horizontally with the same great accuracy.
The final way to use the Ranger 100 is in scan mode. The scan mode is used to get the ranges of different landmarks quickly, usually when setting up a shooting course or a range card, but is also very useful for lasing targets when setting up treestands. The three modes are all equally useful and the quality of the unit makes them all very easy to use.
The Ranger 1500 finds ranges out 1500 yards with a +/-.5-yard accuracy. You shouldn’t have a problem using it with a simple, programable display and reticle coupled with a fully multicoated 6x power scope built inside. The outside of the unit is covered in waterproof rubber armor with O-ring seals. It also includes a removable clip that can be put on either side, a feature that is well appreciated and very under estimated.
Vortex optics makes some of the most effective and innovative sportin g optics on the planet. They’re a smaller company compared to giants like Leupold or Bushnell but they make great products at fantastic prices. They bank heavily on their warranty and have a history of phenomenal customer service. You won’t regret buying from them and their Ranger 1500 is a great option to start with.
- Finds distances out to 1500 yards
- +/- .5 yard accuracy
- Takes a single CR2 battery
- 8oz in weight
- Lifetime warranty
Features to Consider
Most people don’t go shopping for laser rangefinders every day, so here are some features to look out for and factors to consider when you go shopping for your new piece of gear.
When shopping for hunting gear brand names mean just as much as any other industry. The cool thing about the brands in the hunting industry is that they have proprietary features and technology and there really is a difference between each model offered by differing brands. It’s more than just a sticker with laser rangefinders especially.
Most rangefinders are made by the optics manufacturers that take advantage of their optics and add in the necessary components to make accurate and usable rangefinders. Look beyond these companies to cheaper imports and you lose the customer service and long track record of the American firearms industry’s record of standing by their products and taking care of their customers.
The optical quality of a laser rangefinder need not be world class. The optical quality of a rangefinder needs to only see a target at a given distance. If you can’t see a target at 800-yards with a 4x power scope, then the sensor in the unit will have a hard time picking it up.
A fully multi coated lens that sufficiently gathers the light to see targets at dawn and dusk is important, but don’t pay double for a slight gain in field performance, unless you’re shooting past 700 yards. When you’re shooting out to 1000 yards or further, small differences make for big differences especially when you need to pin point a man sized target almost a mile away.
The best way to approach magnification is the goldilocks approach. More isn’t always better and the fact that nearly every laser rangefinder comes with fixed magnification, less isn’t better either. The best thing you can do is keep it to a standard 4x power or 6x power scope depending on the anticipated range you’ll use the rangefinder at.
For a laser rangefinder that is going to be used primarily for bow hunting then 4x power is plenty as you’ll probably be making an absolute maximum of a 65-yard shot. A gun hunting rangefinder should also have 4x power unless you’re using it primarily for long range hunting or shooting, then a 6x power magnification is a better choice because as you range out you’ll lose accuracy and detail if you have trouble seeing.
Ruggedness & Durability
The best laser rangefinder in the world doesn’t do you any good if it’s too fragile to use in the field. The answer is to buy a ruggedized rangefinder that you can trust to slog through the rain, the dust, and minor drops while using it. The upside is that most manufacturers have adopted a rubber coating system make sure their units are easy to grip and serve as a shock buffer to protect the equipment.
The viewing distance of the unit is different than the distance you can measure distance with the unit. When looking through a laser rangefinder you have a fixed power magnification, which you can’t dial it up to see deer at 1000 yards. You’re left with what you can accurately see and point the unit at.
The answer is to buy a unit that’ll do what you need. A bow hunter won’t need to measure targets out to 1000 yards and a rifle hunter will need more magnification so he can use his unit out to 500 yards or further.
The power source your laser rangefinder uses is one of the most important features because if there’s no way to keep the unit powered on, it won’t work. Specialty batteries are easier to obtain because they can be ordered over the internet but having a good supply on hand is important.
Specialty batteries are common and few units run on AA or AAA batteries, most use CR2 batteries. These offer a smaller package and greater battery life but high cost. Lithium batteries will always outperform alkaline batteries and make sense for outdoor gear because they’re more stable in cold weather and less likely to leak and ruin electronics.
Scan & Horizontal Modes
Two very different, but useful features normally found on high end models. These don’t make or break a rangefinder but they’re very much a nice to have features.
Scan mode: Scan mode is awesome for setting up treestands or for run and gun hunting. You can sit in one spot and get ranges for several targets quickly. These units can also be more accurate because when you scan and get several readings at a time you have a greater chance of getting a good reading because you have several happening every second and the computer averaging everything out.
Horizontal Mode: If you find the unit is hardtop hold up or your range reading seems wonky you can flip a unit on its side for greater accuracy. This sometimes works because there’s something in the way between you and your target obscuring the laser beam. It is also much easier to use a laser rangefinder horizontally if you’re using a tripod or rest. If you plan on using a rest fulltime, having a mounting hole on the side is an extremely nice accessory.
The reticle of your laser rangefinder will likely be fixed, though some do come with programable features to adjust the size. The reticle isn’t as important as with rifle scopes so don’t get bent around the axle. All you really need is a way to point it.
The important thing is that it’s bold enough to see in heavy sunlight and lowlight. Many of the reticles are LCD screens built onto the sensor, they can get washed out and the cheaper models suffer this more than the higher end units.
Accessories included into the package with a laser ranger finder are valuable because they make using the unit easier. The most common is a lanyard so you don’t drop it while holding it up to your face, or worse from a treestand. If you want to hang it around your neck, make sure it’s long enough before you head into the woods because 550 cord is too thick to fit through common lanyard holes.
Other good accessories are clips and cases so you don’t have to put it in a pocket or around your neck all day. You’ll also need batteries no matter what, so see if your unit comes with them or not and plan accordingly.
Don’t make the mistake of buying a scope from a brand that either doesn’t offer a warranty on their product, or worse, offers a warranty but is known to hassle customers and dodge their commitment. The answer to this, is to remember the major brands and to read each specific rangefinder review of interest.
Typically, the brands that offer the best warranties, have the best products anyway and you’re unlikely to need it anyway, but the lower end brands that make you jump through hoops have the products you’ll most likely need to use the warranty anyway.
If you’re in the market for a high-quality laser rangefinder than you’re up for a treat because the market is currently flooded with high quality options from many domestic and foreign optics manufacturers. If you stick to the major brands you have great odds of being happy with your purchase.
If you’re after the best rangefinder for the money, any one of these 3 are top choices from trusted brands you can rely on.