I remember as a kid my father always told me to wait for the deer to get within 20 yards before I take a shot. My first question was, “How do I know how far that is?”
Of course, 20 yards isn’t as hard to measure with the eye as, say, the distance to the next green. Or maybe the distance to your target when big game hunting in the West.
When it’s critical to know whether you’re looking at 250 yards or 400 yards there’s no replacement for a laser rangefinder. Depending on the application, you can even use them to measure, say, how tall a tree is so that it doesn’t fall on the house!
Today’s laser range finders are more affordable, compact, and functional than older models. So let’s take a look at what makes a good laser range finder.
By the end of this article you’ll know what to look for and what to avoid when you buy a laser range finder.
After reviewing the top laser rangefinders in the marketplace, see our buyer’s guide, How To Choose the Best Laser Rangefinder For You.
Best Laser Rangefinders of 2017 & 2018
- Vortex Optics Ranger 1000
- Laser Rangefinder – Range : 5-1600
- TecTecTec VPRO500 Golf Rangefinder
- Bushnell Trophy Laser Rangefinder
- ATN Laser Ballistics 1500
Best Laser Rangefinders
Best Laser Rangefinders Reviews
Vortex makes this range finder easy to use with two top mounted operation buttons and a rugged shell. Dark green rubberized shell secures a tripod mounting screw as well as a belt clip. Luckily the tripod mount is recessed and the belt clip can easily be removed with three mounting screws.
While the lighted display might be a little harder to adjust then a backlit display, many users prefer the red colored display on the device. The unit is built with a rubberized coating and sealed o-ring housing which makes it both dustproof and waterproof. Surprisingly, not all rangefinders are waterproof so that’s a positive mark for the Vortex Ranger 1000.
Vortex advertises a range of 10 – 1,000 yards effective range on a reflective target. Keep in mind that if ranging a smaller target, non-reflective, or quartering away your range will be significantly shorter. Expect to range a deer at about 500 yards tops.
Best for a waterproof unit that can be mounted to a tripod.
Uineye makes this rangefinder to work from 5 yards to 1,600 with accuracy increments of 1 foot. While it is water resistant, the manufacturer does not advertise waterproof which means you’ll have to be careful in bad weather.
The rangefinder has multiple modes which allows you to calculate distance, angle, height and even scan. When in scan mode the unit will constantly scan and range distance to any target. This is helpful when targets are moving or if trying to range multiple targets rapidly. It can be hard to accurately scan ranges at a distance but the rangefinder is equipped with 8x magnification.
Uineye offers a 1 year no questions asked guarantee on their products which is a nice peace of mind when so many rangefinders are being made by unknown companies that may not stand behind their products.
Best for advanced measuring features at an affordable price.
As the name suggests, Tec Tec Tec makes this rangefinder with features which prepare it for your next 9 holes. It also comes with a two year product warranty and a customer service guarantee for life!
The VPRO measures constantly while scanning ranges out to 540 yards. I like that, because it’s a golf specific unit, the pin-sensor technology helps the laser rangefinder lock on to golf flags at a range. Golf flags can be hard for rangefinders to lock onto because they’re such small targets. Especially in scan mode golf pins are difficult to range and having an advantage on this is very helpful to any golfer when quickly acquiring range on targets.
Like the Vortex Ranger this rangefinder has two-button options on the top. Constant scan mode and single target ranging are both easily accessible with a single click. I like that it comes with an include CR2 battery and a microfiber lens cleaning cloth.
Best for golfing and tournament legal golf applications.
Bushnell is a major player in hunting optics so it should come as no surprise that these hunting rangefinders are ready for your next trophy buck. Bushnell advertises this ranger to be effective out to 800 yards.
Normally we’d estimate that you could range a deer at a little over half the maximum distance of the rangefinder. However, Bushnell has improved the difficult target ranging. Expect a maximum distance of 400 – 500 yards when ranging deer with this rangefinder.
Unlike all the other laser rangefinders on our list, this one is a simpler, 1-button operation. I like the one button operation. For most rangefinders there’s little need for more than one-button operation and it’s nice to keep things simple.
Especially in the dark when trying to remember how the rangefinder works it’s always better to have less complication.
Overall I appreciate the rubberized exterior and ergonomic design. Bushnell gets top marks for design and function on this laser rangefinder.
Best for hunters looking for a dedicated game rangefinder from a trusted company.
Rarely do we find such integrated tech-devices in the world of shooting. ATN has made this rangefinder compatible both with bluetooth phones and other bluetooth ATN scopes. You can pair the rangefinder with either the ATN X-Sight Smart Scope or the ATN Thor Smart Thermal Scope.
Once paired with a scope and your phone, the smart devices can quickly and accurately adjust your optics. With the right set up your scope reticle can auto-adjust to point of impact with almost no work on your part! Once you range the target, your mobile app will make the correct calculations and prompt you to adjust the scope turrets on your optics.
With 6x magnification and 1 meter accuracy you’ll be ready to dial in your scope instantly. There are few other devices being made right now that allow you to perform advanced ballistics calculations quickly and accurately in the way that ATN has brought to us with their smart scopes and bluetooth rangefinder.
With a maximum range of 1,640 yards this rangefinder will outperform the distance shooting abilities of most marksmen.
Best for extreme shooting and advanced ballistics marksmen ready to take their game fully digital!
How to Choose the Best Laser Rangefinder for You
So what makes a great rangefinder different from others? There are several important factors that will help you make an educated buying decision.
Understanding Rangefinder Priority
Rangefinders come in two basic flavors. First is a style called “first priority” which means that the laser bounces off the first target it hits and is read by the rangefinder. This is helpful when you have a perfectly clear line of sight to the target you’re trying to read. They work great when there’s no brush, grass, trees, or other obstructions between you and the object you’re trying to range.
Second priority rangefinders read “through” the first object in line and pick up the distance of objects behind them. So if you’re sitting in your treestand and there’s a branch 10 yards away, a second priority range finder will ignore that branch and instead read the range of your target beyond that branch.
This is helpful for when you’ve got brush or obstacles between you and your intended target. Most hunting rangefinders are second priority rangefinders. Typically a golfing rangefinder is a first priority device.
Laser rangefinders operate by firing a beam of highly concentrated invisible “light” that bounces off targets and returns to the rangefinder. Despite the highly advanced tech used in these devices there are flaws and natural drawbacks which limit their abilities.
Rangefinders are generally sold and marketed at their maximum ideal distance. A range finder may say “1,000 yard” as a selling point. This may be true under perfectly ideal situations but usually won’t hold up in the field. Why doesn’t it hold up in the field? There are several reasons.
Like a shotgun, the laser of your rangefinder is highly concentrated when it leaves the “barrel”. As it travels over hundreds of yards through the dust and debris in the air it can become scattered. This leaves less and less of the laser energy to hit the target and bounce back to your rangefinder the further away it gets..
On top of that, at extreme distances you’ll need a very large target for the laser to bounce off of. At 1,000 yards + you may need a large warehouse or barn in order for your rangefinder to read it accurately. At 600 – 800 yards maybe a large truck like a semi. At 400 yards perhaps your rangefinder will pick up something the size of a deer.
Of course if your deer were covered in reflective material, standing perfectly perpendicular to you, and the air were perfectly clear every day then we could read their range from much further! Unfortunately there are many factors which can negatively impact the performance of your rangefinder.
One solution is to read the range on a large object near your target. For instance you may be trying to range a squirrel that’s some distance away. The squirrel may be too small to accurately range with the rangefinder so instead point the rangefinder at the trunk of the large, mature oak nearby.
Reticles and Screen Overlays
Because rangefinders have to present the user with several critical pieces of information, there’s always some kind of heads up display. This includes a reticle (aiming crosshair), distance, battery life, and mode / function display.
Reticles come in several shapes and sizes which are usually totally up to the user. Some reticles are dot shaped, some are X shaped, or crosshairs. It really doesn’t matter what shape you choose. What can make a big difference is the illumination of the HUD.
On some devices the reticle will be illuminated by an LED light which acts as the reticle itself. This is similar to the function of a red-dot scope. This type of reticle can always be adjusted for brightness and (rarely) color.
When available a backlit screen is ideal. Unlike LED reticles, a backlight is usually much easier on the eyes. Adjustments on backlighting can be more finely tuned as compared to an LED reticle which will sometimes leave your eye “night-blind” in dark lighting conditions. Whenever possible we recommend a backlit screen with a simple black color display over LED light reticles.
There are two big classifications of laser rangefinders. Most will either use the devices for golf or hunting. Golfers won’t usually need a rangefinder with more range than about 500 yards. These rangefinders often feature technology made specifically for locating and ranging golf pins. Hunters appreciate longer distances and advanced features such as waterproofness. To take it all to the next level, consider the ATN bluetooth smart rangefinder which pairs with your smartphone and smart scope for the ultimate in ballistics calculations!