There are some pieces of gear like a new rifle or a set of binoculars which are exciting to get. Then there are others that can be equally important, but not nearly as fun. The rangefinder is one of the latter. Critical to bowhunting and rifle hunting is knowing the distance of your shot. When you are at the moment of truth you need to be able to quickly pull up your rangefinder, get a distance, and then ready your weapon. In short, it needs to work properly every time and its use should be second nature. Rangefinders are also an item where you could spend anywhere from $50 up to $2000 so it is critical to understand what you actually need it for.
Be Realistic About Your Ranges
While a rangefinder that can sight in a target at 2300 yards sounds enticing, it will likely be overkill if you are only planning to bowhunt with it. Think about the type of hunting you will do over the next several seasons. If you are planning an elk hunt out west then you will likely want something that can reach out a bit farther. Keep in mind though, that even if you are rifle hunting in the mountains you will probably never take a shot past 500 yards and most of us will cap our range at around 350 yards. The question, then, is how much do you value being able to know how far away an animal you spotted in your binoculars is? Since you will have to move in closer to shoot anyway, why not just get a range on the target when you’re inside 1000 yards? The effective distance of a rangefinder will be directly related to its price. For most hunters, a unit that can range out to 1300 yards will be more than enough.
A feature I would highly recommend on a rangefinder is angle compensation. If you are higher or lower than your target (such as in a treestand or down in a valley) the distance of the shot will be different than the straight line distance. At 20 yards it may be a 1-3 yard distance, but at 300 yards and a 100-foot elevation, the difference in distance can be significant. All but the cheapest rangefinders are now including angle compensation. Make sure yours has it.
Most rangefinders will have a fixed magnification. A power of 6x is basically the industry standard with some more long-range models featuring a 7 power magnification. A magnification of any higher or lower can make it tough to quickly sight in a target. Going with a 6 power rangefinder is kind of the sweet spot for being able to see farther while still being able to sight in a faraway object quickly.
There are a ton of quality rangefinders on the market, but I am partial to two models which are both made by vortex.
Vortex Impact 1000
Featuring 6 power magnification, a range of 1000 yards, and angle compensation the Impact is a great all-around choice for the average hunter. At $200, the price is a great value since it is covered by Vortex’s lifetime warranty.
The Vortex Razor HD 4000 features a 7 power magnification, crystal clear glass, a range of 2500 yards, and angle compensation. At $500 it is not for everyone, but if you want the best rangefinder on the market for the price, this is it.