Archery is a skill that requires tremendous amounts of patience and precision and very often, especially if you are out hunting, you have only one shot at your target.
While taking a shot, the archer has to consider the distance between himself and the target, the angle between them, and other such things.
Now unless you are an extremely skilled archer, you may make mistakes in judging these things, owing to nothing other than simple human fallibility.
And those mistakes may cost you a position in a tournament, or the satisfaction of having taken down your first animal.
However, such mistakes can easily be avoided. All you need to do is get yourself an archery rangefinder.
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1. What Is A Rangefinder?
Simply put, a rangefinder is a device that calculates the distance between you and an object that you intend to aim at.
Owing to its nature of use, a rangefinder is not just relegated to the field of archery, it also works for mapping, golfing, rifle hunting, and bird watching, among other activities.
The process of measuring the distance between the observer and the target is called ranging.
Knowing the exact distance between you and your target is a lot more useful than you might imagine. If you know the exact distance, you can adjust for wind and gravity.
Especially considering that arrows naturally tend to take a curved arc over longer distances, the distance between you and the target is not something to be easily overlooked.
Knowing the distance means that you can factor in the speed of your arrow and figure out how much time it needs to get to your quarry, hence enabling you to shoot in the right spot, if your target is moving.
2. Do You Need A Rangefinder?
A rangefinder is a very specific tool that may not be required in most forms of archery.
However, for hunting/shooting at 3D targets at varying distances, a rangefinder becomes invaluable.
Especially for hunting, an error in estimating the yards between yourself and the target can cause your arrow to go high/low resulting in you either missing the target or an injured animal instead of a clean kill.
As such, even a highly skilled hunter who can estimate distances with accuracy would be better off with a rangefinder, even if only to cross-check the accuracy of their estimate.
3. Does It Work In Every Condition?
Hunting is not a predictable activity. A hunter may need to hunt in a variety of conditions that may not be ideal for judging distance.
But they can do so with the help of rangefinders. A rangefinder is built to measure the distance between the observer and the target.
But not all rangefinders can do this with the same accuracy as there may be different obstacles that face it. There are different types of rangefinders available on the market to combat those specific obstacles.
If you are shooting down a slope, or up into an elevated area, a normal rangefinder may give you the line of sight distance, but if you shoot using this distance, your arrow may end up going high/low.
But with technological advancement, there are now rangefinders available that can compensate for the angle you are shooting at, giving you an accurate reading to shoot for even at slope/elevation. So you could shoot from a tree stand or in mountainous/hilly terrain with ease.
Rangefinders also vary depending on the range. The capacity of ranging is different for different types of rangefinders.
If you want to shoot long distances, it is possible if you get a rangefinder that can range those distances.
There are rangefinders that claim to be able to range up to 1000 yards although those are generally suited for rifle hunting. Bowhunting rangefinders usually are within 500 yards.
Some hunting rangefinders are also specially equipped with features that help you range distances in low light so if you want to hunt at dusk/dawn or even by moonlight, it is definitely a possibility with rangefinders.
Buying a rangefinder with night vision capabilities, that is equipped with IR capability, is ideal if you need to hunt at night.
4. What Bows And Types Of Archery Are Suitable To Use A Rangefinder?
Rangefinders are generally handheld devices that scope the distance for you to make a perfect shot. As such, they can be used with any type of bow including compound, recurve or traditional.
Some bow-mounted rangefinders can also be found on the market. If you want to go for one of these, you merely need to ascertain that the rangefinder is compatible with the kind of bow you use and you’re good to go.
Rangefinders are generally used while hunting or 3D target competitions in unknown terrain. As such, if you are merely practicing archery in your backyard or basement, you are unlikely to need rangefinders.
But for bowhunting, rangefinders are an indispensable part of the arsenal for the perfect shot.
5. Types Of Rangefinders
While the primary function of rangefinders may be uniform – ranging distance – there are a variety of different types of rangefinders available on the market, each with varying features and methods of working.
5.1 Optical Rangefinders:
These were the first kind of rangefinders to become popularly used.
The primary mechanism is mirrors and lenses where the rangefinder creates a double image which the user will then match for measurement. Then you can read the scale to get the distance between you and the object.
Optical rangefinders have largely been rendered obsolete by the newer technologies available on the market.
But in case you are looking for a cheaper rangefinder that does its job well enough and also gives you the old-school experience, this may be a perfect fit for you.
Optical rangefinders are generally used by hunters and golfers, and even by military snipers till today.
- The cheapest of all other types
- Manual measurements
- Would work well enough for shorter distances
- No batteries needed
- Longer distances may not be accurate
- Time-consuming process of getting readings
- A lot of skill and math involved
- May be bulky
5.2 Laser Rangefinders:
Laser rangefinders are the most popular on the market today for the conveniences that they offer as opposed to other kinds of rangefinders.
The rangefinder works by shooting a laser beam at the distant object. The light is reflected back to the rangefinder from the object.
As the speed of light remains constant, by analyzing the time required for the reflected light to reach back, the rangefinder calculates the distance between the observer and the object.
Most laser rangefinders ensure accuracy by sending out multiple beams of light over a period of time.
The accuracy and reliability of laser rangefinders make them the most popular option for whatever needs suit the user, be it hunting, golfing, birdwatching, etc.
Technological advancements also mean that the laser rangefinder can be adapted to whatever needs to be done, so you could find a laser rangefinder specifically tailored to bowhunting if you wished to.
- As they use light-based technology, speedy readings are possible
- The most accurate readings of all types
- Possibility of added perks like angle compensation
- Laser readings tend to lose accuracy in the higher ranges
5.3 Ultrasonic Rangefinders:
Ultrasonic rangefinders work by sending out waves of sound and then measuring the time it takes to reflect back to the rangefinder.
In this manner, they are similar to laser rangefinders, which use light instead of sound.
However, given the wide wave stream and the possibility of wind that may blow the waves off course, ultrasonic rangefinders are not as accurate as laser rangefinders over long distances.
However, when looking at shorter distances, they are definitely pretty accurate.
Owing to the nature of their working, these are generally used in calm and quiet environments which means they would not be suitable for outdoor activities such as hunting or golf.
They are popular with contractors who can use them to measure the dimensions of flat surfaces but do not have a wide range of applications.
- Accuracy of readings over short distances greater than other types
- Suitable for indoor use
- Limited scope for practical application
- Inaccurate readings for longer distances
- Inaccurate readings in noisy environments.
5.4 GPS Rangefinders:
Much as the name suggests, these rangefinders use GPS technology to figure out the distance between the user and an object.
Its primary and most feasible application is in golf courses where the users can use it to figure out the distance to the next hole.
Of course, it requires a plan of the golf course to be pre-uploaded so that the rangefinder can be used during the game.
As such, its applicability is limited to golf courses and will be a perfect fit for you if you are looking for a rangefinder specifically for golf.
- Good accuracy of readings
- Speed in taking readings
- Can be used only with a pre-uploaded map
- Cannot be universally used
6. Best Rangefinders For Bow Hunting
Here are some of the best rangefinders available in the market right now.
The prices of these may vary from USD 65 – 350.
It is advisable to get some idea about their features and user reviews before you finalize your rangefinder.
7. What To Look For When Buying A Rangefinder?
Deciding on the right rangefinder for your needs is an elaborate process. There are a large number of things to take into account while buying a rangefinder.
Some of them are listed below:
7.1 Accuracy And Precision:
The primary reason anyone buys a rangefinder is so they can have a nearly accurate estimate of the distance between them and an object.
As such, if your rangefinder doesn’t offer you the necessary precision, it is practically useless. A rangefinder ought to give you consistent readouts.
There are a variety of rangefinders on the market that claim accuracy to within a yard or so. There are even higher quality rangefinders that may give you readouts that are accurate to within 0.5 yards.
Whichever rangefinder you choose to buy, it would be prudent to check reviews of the particular product to ensure that the rangefinder lives up to the claims.
7.2 Speed and Ease of Use:
Even if your rangefinder is consistent and accurate, if it cannot give you the reading within the time needed for you to take the shot before your quarry gets away, it cannot help you.
Hence, do keep an eye on the speed at which the rangefinder will give you the readings.
Most laser rangefinders can give you the readings within a matter of seconds, but even within these, there are higher and lower speeds. Make sure your rangefinder matches up to the speed you need.
While looking at the speed ensure that the rangefinder gets you the angle-compensated or target priority readings fast enough and not just the initial measurement. It also needs to quickly and continuously display one reading after another.
Even having a barrage of advanced features on your rangefinder can be a problem as they may make the rangefinder more difficult to navigate and use.
The rangefinder needs to be easy to navigate and ideally with limited buttons. You wouldn’t want to miss out on the perfect shot just because you were left struggling with the complicated modes on your rangefinder.
Having different brightness settings that enable you to see your display in various lighting conditions is also something to be considered.
7.3 Portability and Durability:
You are going to be lugging your rangefinder around to different positions as you hunt, or even as you golf.
When you need to get up that tree stand or when you’re navigating tricky mountain terrain, you wouldn’t want your rangefinder to end up being a burden rather than a boon.
A compact rangefinder that’s hand-held is the best thing for maximum portability.
Having a weatherproof rangefinder that is also sturdy would be good as rangefinders are fairly expensive, and you wouldn’t want to find yourself replacing one every six months owing to its lack of durability.
7.4 What You Use It For:
There are a variety of rangefinders available in the market all with specific features tailored to your purposes. Hence your primary consideration while buying a rangefinder should be what you need it for.
For example, if you are looking for a rangefinder for bowhunting, it would be wise to get one that can handle low-light conditions as you may face them during hunting.
In case you are hunting in extremely uneven or hilly terrain, getting a rangefinder with angle compensation is a must. Target priority is important while looking for a hunting rangefinder for areas with high levels of vegetation.
Even within hunting rangefinders, one for rifle hunting will be vastly different from one for bowhunting.
On the other hand, if you want a rangefinder for golf, a wholly different list of features will need to be considered.
Depending on how frequently you use the rangefinder, you can also either get a feature-packed one or a simpler one that does its job well enough.
If you rely on hunting regularly for survival you may need one with more features, while if you just hunt occasionally for sport, you could be well served by a baseline model as well.
While buying anything, the budget is definitely a crucial part of the planning process.
While laser rangefinders are the most easily available on the market, they come with varying features and from various companies that all cause differences in the pricing.
When buying a rangefinder, it may be tempting to just buy one from the well-known companies, but it may be worth doing research into lesser-known rangefinders that may just have all the features you need for lesser prices.
You need to get a rangefinder that can range at the distances you generally need to shoot. Archery rangefinders do not need extremely long distances as there is only a certain distance at which you can shoot an arrow.
The best thing to do would be to consider the maximum range you generally shoot at. Then you need to get a rangefinder that can give you accurate readings for that distance.
It is advisable to get a rangefinder after adding 20% of the maximum range you plan to use it for, as most rangefinders tend to lose accuracy towards the upper limits.
Magnification is a common feature on rangefinders that makes it easier to spot the target you are aiming for.
Most rangefinders come with a magnification of 4x or 6x. A higher magnification makes it easier to find the target and will come in handy.
It helps to make sure that you are focusing on your target and not a random tree branch or any other obstacle in the way.
8.3 Target Priority
Rangefinders that come with target priority give you greater accuracy in aiming for your target.
If set to second/last priority, it does so by ignoring the first object they encounter.
Hence, if you’re searching for your quarry among bushes and brush, this feature will prevent the rangefinder from focusing on leaves or branches and giving you a false reading.
Based on the terrain that you are hunting in, this could be an invaluable addition to your rangefinder.
This is a feature that is most useful to bowhunting as opposed to golfing or mapping, as in the latter activities, the first priority reading is most often the correct one.
8.4 Angle Compensation
Hunting is rarely done in straight, plain, plateau-like terrain. Very often, your quarry will be at an angle from you and not horizontally in front of you.
In such a case, a rangefinder without this feature might just give you the direct line of sight distance.
However, this can be very misleading during archery as it does not take into account the effect of gravity or the curving arc of the arrow.
So very often, you may end up shooting too high/too low and thus miss your quarry. In such a scenario, an angle compensation feature becomes a life-saver.
The rangefinder will calculate the horizontal “shoot-for” distance between the user and the object by compensating for the angle to give the user a more accurate idea of what distance to aim for.
If you regularly hunt from tree-stands or in mountainous and uneven terrain having this feature is necessary.
8.5 Scanning Mode
Some rangefinders allow for scanning mode wherein you can scan a larger area for targets and then pinpoint the target rather than having to point the laser exactly at it.
This mode will also give you constant readings and thus make it easier to achieve higher levels of accuracy.
While hunters pay a lot of attention to the bow and arrows they are using for hunting, a rangefinder is an often overlooked aspect of the armory.
Rangefinders help eliminate errors in judging distance and may just be the missing element from your otherwise well-prepared hunting experience.
While they do not come cheap, investing in a good rangefinder, preferably a laser one, will have a long-term positive impact on your hunting, leading to higher precision and subsequently better hunting.
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Hi, I’m Vineet. Creator of DivinioWorld. I am an outdoor enthusiast and absolutely love researching, learning, and applying skills and knowledge in the real world. I started DivinioWorld to share everything I know so that even a beginner can follow the ropes and master the subtle art of outdoors adventure and survival.