The Basics of Rangefinders and Why Hunters Should Use Them

News & Tips: The Basics of Rangefinders and Why Hunters Should Use Them...

Today's laser rangefinders are so accurate, compact and affordable that no hunter — whether with rifle or bow — should ever be without one. Here's what you need to know to choose one that's right for you.

How Do They Help?

At the press of a button, rangefinders bounce a laser beam off your target. An internal clock measures the time it takes for the beam to reach the target and back and calculates the distance to within +/- 1 yard or less. The range is then displayed in yards/meters on an internal LCD display in less than a second.

Rangefinder LeupoldRX1000i
Some rangefinders, like this one, works for bowhunters and rifle hunters.

Maximum effective ranges vary depending on the target. For rifles, you're looking at 600-1,200 yards or more, while archery-specific models are around 800 yards. Hard or reflective objects, such as a rock, can be measured at greater distances than soft-surface targets such as a deer; targets such as trees fall somewhere in between. The specs of most rangefinders will indicate their maximum ranges for various targets. Archery-specific models are designed to provide super-accurate measurements out to about 150 yards in fractions-of-a-yard readings.

Each manufacturer has its own name for it, but many models have a feature that provides the true horizontal distance, compensating for variations in terrain and angle. Long uphill/downhill shots or at extreme degrees of incline/decline can have a significant impact because the distance to your target is actually less than on level ground, lessening gravity's impact on your bullet or arrow. Some rifle models will even provide ballistics compensation by displaying the bullet drop or holdover adjustment required.

Accurate ranging is critical for bowhunters, and extreme degrees of incline/decline, such as when shooting from a tree stand, can have a significant impact because the distance to your target is actually less than on level ground, lessening gravity's impact on your arrow.


Magnification is needed to assist in ranging your target, usually 4x to 8x. Although a higher magnification will mean a better look at the object, it also means a reduced field of view (F.O.V.) at a specific distance (usually 1,000 yards), which can make locating your target through the rangefinder more difficult.

Understanding Lenses

ArcheryRangefinderLenseTermsTo reduce glare and maximize the amount of light transmitted to your eye, special chemical coatings are applied to the surface(s) of a lens. The type, number and position of these coatings determine how much light is transmitted.

More and better coatings mean more brightness and cost. However, brightness, and sharpness/clarity, depends upon many factors. Another way to compare inherent brightness is to compare the diameter of the exit pupils. This is the size of the circle of light visible at the eyepiece when held about a foot away, but really means how much light is available to the human eye; the larger the exit pupil, generally the brighter the image. To calculate, divide the diameter of the objective lens (the one pointed at your target) by the magnification.

For example:

Objective Lens Size  Magnification Exit Pupil Diameter
20mm 4x 5mm

A larger lens generally means a brighter unit, but this isn't critical as you don't spend long hours looking through a rangefinder like you do with binoculars. Larger lenses also mean more weight and bulk, and for bowhunting, a compact unit that fits in your pocket is all you need.

Price Range

Expect to pay between $150 and $800, with most being under $400 and many less than $250.

Bass Pro Shops offers a wide selection to help you find one that's right for you. Examine several and look through each at distant objects. After trying a few, you'll find one that offers that perfect level of brightness, sharpness and clarity, with all the features you want.