Best Budget Rangefinders for Shooting

Best Budget Rangefinders for Shooting

A portable laser rangefinder is an essential tool for accurate shooting. If you are hunting using a firearm or a bow, knowing the distance from you to the target is the only way to determine the proper sight holdover or scope adjustment for an ethical kill. Furthermore, if you’re shooting a PRS-style rifle competition, you’ll need to know the exact ranges of each target so you can make first-shot hits.

In short, you need a good rangefinder if you shoot anywhere other than on a formal shooting range with pre-measured distances to the target. They’re also useful for golf or other sports where you need to know the exact range to the flag or another particular point.

Hunter Using a Rangefinder

Image: Courtesy of Scheels

However, rangefinders can be very expensive, with several models costing many hundreds if not thousands of dollars. So, is it possible to get a quality rangefinder at a price that doesn’t make you hyperventilate? Fortunately, yes, it is. This article will show you our picks for some quality rangefinders that won’t break the bank.

Key features to look for in budget-friendly rangefinders

Maximum range and accuracy

There are many rangefinders that promise maximum ranges of 2,000, 3,000, or even 4,000 yards. This sounds impressive until you test them in field conditions and discover that they are only accurate at least 1,000 yards… or maybe less. This certainly doesn’t matter for an archer, but it can be a dealbreaker for a long-range rifle shooter.

Additionally, even for rangefinders with a 1,500-yard maximum range, getting a solid read on a particular object at even 1,000 yards may be difficult. You might be able to get the laser to return an accurate reading from a large tree or a rock, but it might not return a value for grass or brush… or a deer.

So, pay attention to user reviews and feedback that clues you on a particular rangefinder’s usable maximum range.

Additionally, you should confirm your rangefinder’s performance by measuring something at a known distance. If you’re at a well-known shooting range with targets at a verified distance of 100, 200, and 400 yards, and your rangefinder is returning readings of 97, 192, and 407 yards, you know it’s not the most accurate tool in the world. That discrepancy may not matter for closer-range hunting, but for a competition shooter, it can mean the difference between a stage win and being an also-ran.

Magnification, optical processing, and lens quality

Most rangefinders use a fixed optical magnification, usually around 5X-6X for budget models, though some long-range models have built-in lenses with 10X optical zoom. Some may also offer digital zoom (like your smartphone’s camera). Suppose you’re standing offhand and your rangefinder doesn’t have image stabilization (more on that below). In that case, you may not want more than about 5X magnification anyway because you won’t be able to hold it steady enough to get a solid reading on the distant object.

At higher magnifications, light transmission can be an issue. Good rangefinders in the generally affordable range will typically have light transmission percentages of around 60% or sometimes more. The greater the light transmission, the better. Generally, the larger the objective lens, the better. Also, the view of your target area through the rangefinder should be sharp and clear. If it’s blurry, distorted, or dark, or you can’t focus both the reticle and the view of the target together, you will be frustrated with the experience. Choose the best quality lenses you can afford, and you won’t regret it.

Compact and lightweight design

For hunting, hiking, or dynamic shooting environments, a bulky, heavy rangefinder will be a detriment rather than a boon. Choose a model with a size and weight you can manage easily. And remember, heavier doesn’t necessarily mean more durable.

Ease of use

A one-button rangefinder that accurately shows the range of a selected object out to 1,500 yards is surprisingly tricky to find, and good ones can be costly. You may also want more features and menus in your rangefinder. If you require a rangefinder with multiple reticles, modes, and ballistic data, ensure the controls and menu navigation are intuitive and easy to learn. If you have to carry around a manual to navigate your rangefinder’s features effectively, that won’t turn out well.

Battery life

The last thing you need is a rangefinder that lasts only a few minutes when fully powered up. Be sure to check the manufacturer’s website for the stats on battery life in active and standby modes for your selected rangefinder. Auto-shutoff features are a plus. Another factor to consider is the type and expense of the battery used, as well as how easy they are to replace.

Water resistance

Any quality hunting gear should be reasonably water-resistant. Your rangefinder should be waterproof in case of rain or a drop in a puddle or stream. It should also resist internal fogging when moving from inside your coat to a chilly environment or vice versa.

Image stabilization

Image stabilization or vibration reduction is an optical-processed feature that reduces the visible movement of the image through the viewfinder up to 80%. This is not included on every rangefinder and is rare on entry-level models, but it is a very useful feature, particularly on higher-magnification rangefinders or those that can’t be mounted to a tripod for stability. If you have any tremor in your hands and you aren’t using a tripod on your rangefinder, image stabilization is an absolute must.

Angle compensation

Since bullets and arrows travel on ballistic paths determined by gravity, velocity, ballistic coefficient, wind, and the angle of the shooter relative to the target, angle compensation can be a very useful feature. Angle compensation measures not just the line-of-sight distance to a particular object but also the vertical angle from you to the target, and provides solutions that are compensated for that angle. If you only ever shoot on very level ground, you don’t need to worry about it. However, if you hunt in the hills or mountains, or your target range has some elevation to it, a rangefinder that can help provide a ballistic solution accounting for the angle to the target can make a huge difference.

Best budget-friendly rangefinders for shooting and hunting

There are dozens of quality rangefinders for hunting and shooting, and you can spend from about $60 for a hmmmm… iffy one to well over $1,200 for a really great one. Let’s take a closer look at a few models we think are worth the price, providing maximum value for the money.

Vortex Ranger 1800

vortex ranger 1800

Vortex Optics is known for its excellent long-range rifle scopes, and its Ranger 1800 rangefinder is similarly excellent quality, especially considering its $499.99 MSRP. That may seem like a lot to spend on a rangefinder. Still, the Ranger comes with the quality and famous Vortex customer service that justifies the upcharge compared to cheaper laser rangefinders.

Features

The main thing we love about the Ranger 1800 is its simplicity. It automatically provides angle-adjusted ranging for both archery and rifle shooters up to 60 degrees (up or down), and includes that information in its reticle. It really is all you want to know from a good rangefinder, as most shooters will use ballistic calculators or their rifle reticles to determine proper wind holds. The housing is durable, waterproof, and rubberized, and the Ranger 1800 weighs just 7.7 ounces. You can easily mount it on a tripod if desired, or use the included utility clip or lanyard. The Ranger’s magnification is 6X from a 22mm objective lens, and light transmission and glass quality from its multi-coated lenses is excellent.

Video: Vortex Ranger 1800 Review for Hunters and Shooters

Pros and Cons of the Ranger 1800

We absolutely love the reticle and the HCD (Horizontal Component Distance) angle-compensated ranging technology, though we think the need to give everything an acronym is silly.

Vortex Ranger RETICLE

The Ranger 1800 actually ranges out to 1,800 yards, though it gets dicey past about 1,400 in our experience (but honestly, how often are you shooting past 1,400 yards?). We like the compact size and light weight. Perhaps most of all, we love Vortex as a company because they stand behind their products and provide customer service that’s second to one… just like Liberty Safe does.

Video: How To Program the Vortex Ranger Rangefinder

The cons of the Ranger 1800 are in its simplicity. What may be a very reliable, easy-to-use tool for one person might be short on features for another. Look elsewhere if you want your rangefinder to provide wind holds or ballistic solutions for the most esoteric hand loads. But if you’re a keep-it-simple guy or gal who wants reliable, angle-adjusted rangefinder solutions in a quality, compact package with a lifetime warranty, you’ll love the Vortex Ranger 1800.

Leupold RX-1400i TBR/W Gen2

leupold rx1400i

For under $200 retail, the Leupold RX-1400i brings a lot of features to the rangefinder market. You get a very precise, angle-adjusted rangefinder for archery/bowhunting out to 175 yards (way farther than any bowhunter we’ve ever met would consider an ethical shot). And Leupold says its maximum effective range is 1,400 meters, though we’ve found its useful range limited to a respectable 1,000 yards or so.

Rifle hunters and target shooters will appreciate Leupold’s True Ballistic Range® / Wind (TBR®/W) processor, which now provides distance-adjusted wind that holds up to a ten-mph full-value crosswind.

Features

On the waterproof RX-1400i you can choose from 25 available ballistics groups, three reticles, and 3 modes (wind, last-target, and line of sight). You can also select between minutes of angle/MOA, MIL/millirad, or hold-over aiming solutions.

Last Target mode ensures the rangefinder reads the farthest target in the laser’s path, so grasses, twigs, or even fog don’t interfere with an accurate range estimate.

Leupold’s TBR/W technology provides ballistically calculated ranges for extremely accurate shots at longer distances and steeper angles. It can generate an accurate hold point for up to a 10-mph wind at steep angles out to 800 yards.

The Line-of-Sight mode is just what it sounds like; it calculates the distance to a target in a straight line, regardless of any incline or decline.

Leupold’s Flightpath technology is a very useful archery-hunting feature that allows you to see potential arrow obstructions out to a typical max distance of about 85 yards. You simply calibrate for your selected distance, and the Flightpath setting displays an illuminated mark on the reticle indicating exactly where your arrow will be at the highest point of its flight. If you see tree limbs, brush or other obstructions above that mark, you don’t have to worry about them. But if they show up below that mark, they could deflect your shot. Very slick.

Video: LEUPOLD Rx 1400i TBRW Gen 2

RX-1400i pros and cons

Pros of this rangefinder include a very reasonable sub-$200 price for this feature set. The archery setting is excellent, and the range in this mode is extremely accurate. You get angle-adjusted solutions, which we think are essential. For bowhunting, we love the Flightpath feature in particular, which shows how high your arrow will need to travel to reach the target at the selected distance. We also like the lightweight, handy size of this unit, its bright display, quality glass, and ease of use.

Downsides? If you’re really planning to rifle hunt or target shoot out past about 500 yards, this isn’t the rangefinder for you. It’s not made to connect to other devices, so WiFi or Bluetooth connectivity is out. Its internal processor does a pretty good job of estimating ballistic solutions using popular calibers and factory loads. Still, it won’t be as accurate as a rangefinder you can set up with your specific load and bullet ballistic coefficient via Bluetooth and a ballistic calculator. You also can’t mount this rangefinder to a tripod, which limits utility for really long-range stuff, especially since there’s no image stabilization. With the quality of the lenses and the rangefinder software itself, this is really a 1,000-yard-and-under tool.

Still, for a real-world rifle or bowhunter, there’s a lot to like here, especially considering the price.

SIG Sauer KILO4K rangefinder

SIG Sauer KILO4K

If your idea of a budget-friendly rangefinder goes up to $600 retail, we think it’s worth the spend. SIG’s KILO4K is the only rangefinder on our list with optical image stabilization, and once you’ve tried it, you might not be satisfied with anything less. It makes a huge difference at longer ranges or when you are breathing hard from a mountain stalk.

Besides that, the KILO4K is a quality rangefinder with an extended operational range compared to others on our list. SIG says it’s rated to range accurately up to 1,600 yards on deer, up to 2,000 yards on trees, and up to 4,000 yards maximum reflective range. We haven’t gotten any returns beyond 3,000 yards when playing around with it, but we aren’t upset about that. Lens quality from the 22mm objective is very clear, and the 6X magnification is right in line with the competition.

The real gravy, though, is the optical image stabilization, which removes nearly all tremor or shakiness through the viewfinder. It really is worth the money if you spend a lot of time using your rangefinder like a monocular spotting scope.

Video: Sig Sauer KILO5K Laser Rangefinder

As for more details, SIG says that the onboard Applied Ballistics Ultralite can be configured to your exact rifle and ammo, and it comes complete with a database of 25 bullet profiles and 8 ballistic groups. Plus, onboard temperature, pressure, and humidity sensors provide accurate, real-time ballistic calculations. 5 target modes include first, best, last, fog, and extended range, and 5 range modes include BDX-U, BDX-X, AMR, LOS, and archery. 4X scan mode offers superfast ranging at distance. BDX 2.0 enabled for Bluetooth® communication with other BDX-enabled sights and devices. IPX7-rated waterproof design ensures the unit can stand up to use in the field. Also equipped with an integrated tripod mount. Powered by a CR123 lithium battery (included).

Rangefinders for entry-level shooters and hunters

If the models above are still too pricey for your budget, have a look at the entry-level rangefinders below. We’re betting you’ll find something suitable.

TecTecTec ProWild Hunting Rangefinder

TecTecTec ProWild

The TecTecTec ProWild is an entry-level hunting rangefinder popular on sites like Amazon. With an MSRP of $129.99 and frequently on sale for around $100, it provides very good, basic functionality in a compact format. The price is certainly within the reach of most sportsmen and women.

Features

The TecTecTec has a silly name but it provides 6X magnification, easy operation, accurate rangefinding out to around 540 yards, and a 2-year warranty. One of the things we like about this budget rangefinder is that it’s easy to use. Just install the included CR2 battery, hold down the power button to turn it on, and you’re off and ranging. Another nice feature is the constant-scan mode if you hold down the button. For moving targets like deer, it’s useful to get accurate, real-time range scans while moving the field of view along with an animal.

We also like the small dimensions and light weight of the ProWild. It measures just 4.25” long, 2.8” tall, and just 1.6” thick. It weighs 6.5 ounces and is small enough to fit in a jacket pocket.

Pros and Cons

The pros of the ProWild are its small size, low cost, and effective functionality.

Downsides? It doesn’t have the best lens quality or clarity, and the reticle is black. This isn’t usually a problem, but it may be an issue in early mornings or late evenings. We also get some green flare around the reticle, which isn’t ideal, but for under $100, we can live with it. Also, the basic ProWild doesn’t measure for angle… if you want that feature, you need to step up to the ProWild S for $20 more. With a limit of 540 yards, it won’t work for longer-range shooting. However, if every dollar feels like a sacrifice and you just want a solid, basic rangefinder for real-world hunting in areas without many elevation changes, you’ll probably like the ProWild.

Bushnell Bone Collector 1000

Bushnell bone collector rangefinder

Another solid, basic rangefinder with a silly name, Bushnell’s Bone Collector 1000 is the mid-range model in the company’s entry-level hunting rangefinder line.

Features

Bushnell is known for good customer service and quality glass for the price, and the Bone Collector 1000 is no exception. Bushnell claims twice the light transmission than its competition, and it does have a 25mm objective lens, while most competitors use 20 or 22mm lenses. It does provide a nice clear view, and at the $149.99 price point, you get Bushnell’s ARC Technology with 1-degree angle accuracy. ARC (Angle Range Compensation) simultaneously gives you the data for true horizontal distance and line-of-sight distance and provides the proper adjustment based on the angle. This means you can make your up or downhill shots just as accurate as those on level ground. The maximum range of the Bone Collector 1000 is, you guessed it, 1000 yards, and we’ve found this claim to be fairly accurate, though it’s really intended for closer-in hunting with a bow or rifle.

Pros and Cons

One of our favorite features about the Bone Collector 1000 is that it has only one button for operation. Setup, ranging, and scanning are all performed with a single button. The scan feature is useful as well. For fast-developing situations or tracking moving game, holding down the ranging/scan button will provide four returns per second so you can quickly get the info you need.

The downsides are similar to other budget rangefinders: it doesn’t have a lot of ballistic data or Bluetooth connectivity. We’re also not sure what a 5-year lifetime warranty means… but we’re confident Bushnell will take care of you if you have a problem with this rangefinder.

Nikon ProStaff 1000i rangefinder

Nikon ProStaff 1000i rangfinder

Nikon’s ProStaff 1000i is the company’s budget-level rangefinder, with an MSRP of $199.95 (though you can usually find it for less). Nikon is famous for providing good quality optics for reasonable prices.

Features

The ProStaff 1000i is a compact, lightweight rangefinder with a 600-yard effective range on deer-sized game, and a 1,000-yard maximum range capability. Nikon is known for excellent glass, and this 6X monocular is great for the price.

Nikon’s Tru-Target Technology allows you to choose between First and Distant target priority modes depending on the situation. This neat little rangefinder also automatically calculates the effective horizontal distance to the target, even when ranging at various incline or decline shooting angles—up to an incredible +/- 89 degrees. We’re not sure when or why you’d be shooting straight up or down at a target, but this will give you the correct effective range if you do.

Like some other models we’ve discussed, you can press and hold the power button on the ProStaff to activate the continuous measurement function (for up to 8 seconds). With the ProStaff you can also choose between two different ranging modes depending on the situation. First target priority mode allows you to range an object as small as a fence post while distant target priority mode displays the range of the farthest target among a group of targets measured.

Pros and Cons

Nikon gives you a 5-year warranty, and the company is famous for its build quality. The size of the ProStaff is very pocketable, at 3.6”. x 1.5” x 2.9”, and only weighs around 5 ounces with a battery installed. The useful range is within the realm of 99% of hunters and shooters, and the price is competitive for the feature set.

Downsides? It isn’t intended nor built for extreme long-range shooting. It’s not as waterproof as some other models we’ve mentioned, so if you hunt in the swamp or get drenched a lot, you might want to look elsewhere. The 20mm objective lens could be larger. Overall though, a solid choice for a budget-level rangefinder with a very effective automatic angle calculation feature and a good reputation.

Protect your hunting optics and equipment in a Liberty Safe

Quality optics like scopes and rangefinders can cost a lot of money, so be sure to protect them from theft, unauthorized access, and humidity in a quality, US-made gun safe from Liberty. Check out our interactive online catalog, or use our dealer finder to locate a Liberty Safe showroom near you.


*Made in the U.S.A. from U.S. and Global Parts.


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