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No one is questioning your ability to estimate range by referencing your ACSS reticle or imagining how many football fields could fit between you and the target, but we might suggest that a rangefinder could improve your shooting. Hunting and recreational shooting require you to account for things like wind, humidity, and temperature — not to mention the type and consistency of ammunition you’re using. Maintaining thorough notes for data on previous engagements is important, and you can make those notes a lot more accurate by using actual ranges rather than estimated ones.

Even NASA engineers use calculators, and you should take advantage of available technology, too. A proper rangefinder can take your shot placement from accurate to dead-on balls accurate (it’s an industry term) in the blink of an eye.

If you’ve been paying attention at all, you know that Vortex Optics isn’t messing around. The Wisconsin company builds scopes, red dot sights, and binoculars in addition to this rock-solid rangefinder. Accurately measure distances out to 1,000 yards and use the scan feature to watch the rangefinder continuously display distances as you scout the landscape. Six-power magnification helps with those long shots that lesser rangefinders struggle with. This Impact rangefinder also calculates the effect of shooting at an angle to provide an accurate reading for more complex real-world scenarios. Switch between yards and meters with the push of a button. With a waterproof and shock-absorbing housing, all this tech is tough enough to handle whatever your day throws at it.

We love gear that offers quality and performance without breaking the bank, and the Rainier Gear rangefinder is no exception. With this laser rangefinder, you’ll get instant and continuous distance measurements that are useful in the hunting blind and on the move. Automatic slope calculations convert angled shots into usable effective distance measurements that can be quickly translated into sight adjustments. Simple push-button controls make switching through the various modes and settings easy. Accuracy is good out to 1,150 yards, which exceeds many options that cost a lot more. This is also one of the more compact rangefinders out there. Choose from black, camouflage, and high-visibility green. Who says you have to spend big bucks to shoot big bucks?

This Callaway hybrid rangefinder is perfect for those of you who love to both golf and hunt and don’t want to buy duplicate pieces of equipment when one rangefinder will work for both hobbies. Like other leading hunting rangefinders, this one uses laser technology to measure distances from five to 950 yards with extreme accuracy. Enjoy six-power magnification that lets you get a clear view of the target for an accurate reading. When it’s time to grab a round of golf, this rangefinder comes pre-loaded with data from more than 38,000 golf courses around the world and uses GPS coordinates to provide readings to the hole with pinpoint accuracy. Sure, it was designed with golfers in mind, but dual-sport enthusiasts will find this to be a versatile companion that’s worth its weight in your golf bag and your hunting pack.

Bushnell offers renowned build quality in a rangefinder that’s great for shooting and archery alike. The fast laser provides range readings accurate to within one yard from seven to 850 yards out. Bowhunters can take advantage of an arc mode that works for ranges up to 199 yards. Get a closer look at your target and make sure your range is on point with four-power magnification. Convenience features like anti-slip coating and a battery indicator are a nice touch; nobody likes to drop their rangefinder in the rain or run out of battery unexpectedly. This advanced rangefinder performs well in low-light situations that cause problems for other models. The single button makes it easy to use, too. This is a great option for anyone, but it’s a downright bullseye for archery.

The Halo Optics XR2000 is the long-distance champion of this group. This rangefinder can accurately range targets as far as 2,000 yards away with one-yard precision. It’s safe to say that, at that kind of distance, this piece of equipment won’t be the limiting factor in your shooting. Advanced target acquisition recognizes targets quickly so you don’t have to spend time trying to range targets manually. Calculations based on an upward or downward angle are done automatically, so all you have to do is adjust your point of aim based on the indicated effective distance. There are several models available from Halo Optics, but we’re big fans of the far-reaching XR2000. It’ll cost you significantly more than other rangefinders, but this is the one to have for long-distance shooting.

Related: Grab one of these 6 range bags before your next trip to the firing line

Types of rangefinders

  • Laser: Rangefinders used for hunting and other shooting sports use lasers to accurately determine the distance between the shooter and the target. Laser rangefinders are compact, durable, accurate over long distances, and easy to use. Just place the optical sight on your target, employ the laser, and get an accurate reading instantly. Many options even identify the change in elevation to help you compensate for bullet drop more accurately.
  • Ultrasonic: Ultrasonic rangefinders operate like laser rangefinders, but with sound instead of light. This makes them less desirable since they’re susceptible to interference from sounds as quiet as wind noise and chirping birds. This older technology still has a place, but that place is not in your range bag. Step up to a modern laser rangefinder for the best results.
  • Optical: Optical rangefinders use multiple planes of glass to create two separate images that align perfectly when a dial reaches the correct range reading. These can certainly be accurate, but they require practice and skill to use correctly. This type of rangefinder is great for surveyors, but they don’t belong on the firing line. Resist the urge to go battery-free and leave these on the construction site.  
  • Sport-specific: Rangefinders are primarily used by hunters and golfers. Both disciplines require accurate distance readings, but there are a few differences. Some golfing rangefinders use GPS to measure the distance from a known hole with extreme accuracy. Hunting rangefinders prioritize durability and camouflage and may work at greater distances since your rifle can obviously reach further than your driver.

Key features of rangefinders

  • Accuracy: The whole point of using a rangefinder is improving your accuracy. Bullet drop is slightly greater at 300 yards than 200 yards; and far greater at 1,000 yards than 900 yards. By checking your distance from the target with a laser rangefinder, you’ll know exactly how to adjust your aim for better shot placement on the first try.
  • Angle detection: As distance increases, the impact of elevation change on bullet trajectory becomes more significant. There is a difference between shooting 500 yards on a flat known-distance range, 500 yards into a valley, and 500 yards up an incline. Real-world situations like big-game hunting require you to account for these changes, and a well-equipped rangefinder can help you make those adjustments.
  • Magnification: If your target is far enough to warrant a rangefinder, it’s probably far enough that you want some kind of magnification. Hunting rangefinders use varying amounts of magnification to help you see your target and accurately place the laser for a true reading. Without this feature, it can be nearly impossible to obtain a usable reading on what appears to be a tiny point in the distance. 
  • Durability: Rangefinders used in shooting sports need to be tough. At the very least, the one you choose is going to get jostled around in your range bag. If you hunt, your rangefinder will need to be carried through rough terrain in all kinds of inclement weather. Don’t settle for a cheap rangefinder only to find the lens fogged up and the electronics glitchy when you need it most.

Benefits of rangefinders

  • Accuracy: Accounting for bullet drop over distance is basic marksmanship. Dial in accurate range measurements instead of guessing or using a reticle that shows distances in 100-yard increments. If you ever do need to estimate, you’ll do a much better job if you’ve checked yourself countless times with a laser rangefinder.

  • Speed: Laser rangefinders provide accurate readings almost instantly. That leaves more time for actually preparing for your shot by eliminating time spent trying to use distant objects and terrain features to estimate distances by eye.

  • Sportsmanship: Improving accuracy at the range results in better competition scores and bragging points among your friends. In hunting, it can mean the difference between a humane harvest and a questionable shot you probably shouldn’t take in the first place.

Rangefinder pricing

Budget rangefinders that cost less than $100 provide basic features and fairly accurate readings in good conditions. These options are fine for casual plinking at short distances. Rangefinders in the range of $100 to $200 offer great value and are serviceable options for hunting and distance shooting at the range. For more than $200, premium rangefinders offer advanced features, top-tier build quality, and quick responses for ideal results. If you do a lot of hunting or distance shooting, one of these will pay itself off in no time.

Related: 8 hunting knives for the modern-day Jim Bowie