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Laser rangefinders for hunting are becoming must-have gear for bowhunters, muzzleloaders, and rifle hunters. For a bowhunter, a 10-yard mistake can mean the difference between a successful shot and a regrettable wound. For rifle hunters, judging distance beyond 200 yards is difficult, and farther shots mean a bullet can drop fast if a hunter estimates just 50 yards wrong.
Plus, rifle hunters can find themselves in odd terrain — shooting over a gap between finger ridges can be hard to estimate, resulting in line-of-sight shots that are far closer than a hunter believes, or worse, much farther than they seem.
So yeah, you need a rangefinder.
How Laser Rangefinders for Hunting Work
Laser Rangefinders are marvels of engineering. They shoot an invisible laser beam out, which reflects off of some surface and bounces back to the rangefinder, which measures the time it takes the beam to exit and return. Hence, you get your distance. Small objects and non-reflective surfaces — or snow or rain — don’t play nice with beams, which can affect accuracy or any measurement at all.
More expensive rangefinders have smarter electronics, which enables them to return accurate readings beyond a 1,000 yards. Entry-level rangefinders tend to go out to 500 or 600 yards (or meters) and can usually range deer-sized targets up to 200 yards with ease — and farther in good conditions. If you can’t range a deer at 300 yards on an entry-level rangefinder, you can often range a rock or bank or tree near the deer, which will give you a clearer understanding of the potential for a good shot.
More advanced range finders usually have clearer, sharper optics that will let in more light during twilight, making them easier to look through and use. Some will even show you ballistic information to help you calculate bullet drop or aim compensation for those tough uphill or downhill shots. Some units with bowhunting modes can help you make adjustments when shooting from tree stands, giving you a “shoot’s like” sort of reading so you know which pin to use.
You can find several decent entry-level (no-frills) rangefinders for less than $180, and we list two below that are frequently found online for under $130. The Nikon ACULON Laser Rangefinder, for instance, is super light and super small and because of its enviable price, it might be the best rangefinder you can get for the money, making it a great first rangefinder or gift. (Read our full Nikon ACULON review here.)
Check out these can’t-go-wrong rangefinders, and choose the one that matches your budget and hunting needs:
Great Entry-Level Laser Rangefinders 2016
Nikon ACULON Laser Rangefinder — Super light and compact, simple and fast, 6x magnification, ranges out to 550 yards, ignores branches to range farthest object.
Bushnell Scout DX 1000 ARC – ARC calculates compensated distance based on terrain angle, offering true horizontal range for bows or bullet-drop/holdover inches for rifles (some ballistics info), waterproof, 6x magnification, ranges out to 1,000 yards, 350 yards for deer, camo option.
Excellent Mid-Level Laser Rangefinders 2016
Bushnell G-Force DX — ARC calculates compensated distance based on terrain angle, offering true horizontal range for bows or bullet-drop/holdover inches for rifles (some ballistics info), waterproof, 6x magnification, ranges out to a whopping 1,300 yards, 600 yards for deer, camo option.
Leupold RX-1000i TBR — Bright optics, 6x magnification, super accurate, ranges to 1,000 yards, includes rifle ballistics matched to your rifle as a holdover point, MOA adjustment, or the equivalent horizontal distance, camo option.
Leupold Vendetta Bow Rangefinder — Mounts directly to your bow, giving precise ranges while at full draw with one-touch continuous scan mode, also has angle compensation.
Vortex Ranger 1000 — Ranges to 1,000 yards, 500 yards on big game, 6x magnification, provides angle compensated distance readings, unconditional VIP warranty for replacement for any breakage.
Fantastic Drool-Worthy Laser Rangefinders 2016
Zeiss Victory PRF Rangefinder — Clear enough to use as a possible binocular replacement, 8x magnification, ranges out to 1,300 yards, includes ballistic information system, LED display.
Leica Rangemaster CRF 1600-B — Ranges out to 1,600 yards and calculates corresponding ballistic curves using data for the angle of declination, temperature, barometric pressure, and ammunition type, 7x magnification, waterproof to 3.2 feet.
Bushnell Fusion 1 Mile ARC — Combines binoculars with laser rangefinder, fully multi-coated optics and BaK-4 prisms for clarity, ranges out to 1,760 yards (1 mile), includes Bushnell’s ARC Bow Mode for “shoots like” horizontal distance and ARC Rifle Mode for bullet-drop and holdover details, waterproof, available in 12×50, 10×42, and 8×32 magnifications.
The best rangefinder is a series of compromises. Is your personal best the least expensive? Or the clearest optics with the farthest range? Do you favor ballistics and holdover points for rifles and bows? Most mid-level rangefinders have these features built-in — but remember, bigger with more features doesn’t always mean “the best.”
Our Man Makes Fire Gear Guides are designed to help you find the right mix to meet your needs by sharing the best models in three core categories — entry-level, mid-level, and “drool-worthy.”