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The first thing to consider when choosing the right rangefinder for you is your intended use. There are rangefinders for hunting, golf, and surveying. In this article we will deal with the two main uses for rangefinders, hunting and golfing.
This is where your intended use will decide is first or second priority rangefinder is right for you.
Can you use a hunting rangefinder for golf and vice versa? Absolutely. But the product most closely designed for your intended purpose would be more user-friendly and not require multiple readings or switching modes to ensure the correct distance. Some laser rangefinders offer options to temporarily switch from second priority mode with a "pinpoint" or "bullseye" button (effectively switching from second to first priority) or switching priorities semi permanently.
Rangefinders are sold and marketed under names that imply the maximum readable distance capable with that unit. This causes the most common misconception that consumers have with these units. A unit may be labelled as a 1500 yard rangefinder, and it may be, but only under ideal atmospheric conditions on highly reflective large surfaces!
For instance, without a lot of glare and air pollution and heat waves on a cool day under a cloudy sky, you may be able to range a smooth white metal pole barn at 1500 yards. Add sun or rain or snow or heat mirage, or lessen the size or your target, or darken the colour, or increase the texture, then NO! Maybe many hundreds of yards less. In perfect conditions you may see your pole barn at 1500 yards, a dark rocky hill at an oblique angle at 1100 yards, a huge truck at 900 yards, a tree at 700 yards, and a deer at 450 and a flag on the green at even less. Most times a deer may be read at around one third of the maximum stated range, and almost always well under half the distance. Check the manufacturer's specifications.
The more power or maximum distance stated, the further you may range small objects. If you want to range a deer at 400 yards and buy a 400 yard rangefinder, you have most likely wasted your money.
Generally a 6x or 7x magnification level is fine, and most have appropriate magnification levels. 6x simply means that the object appears 6 times closer through the rangefinder than with the unaided eye. Keep in mind that distant objects are not necessarily easier to range on with more magnification, but more magnification means a darker picture and smaller fields of view. Practically, magnification levels are not something I would base much of my ultimate choice on.
A reticule is the crosshair (or aiming point or circle) you see when looking through your rangefinder. Some reticules are made of black lines that you superimpose over the object you want to range. These reticules are often impossible to distinguish against a dark background, or in low light conditions such as shadows. Some reticules (or aiming points or circles) appear illuminated because they are actually LED lights. The brightness of these LEDs is invariably adjustable. The issues with LED reticules is that in bright conditions they may be drowned out by the ambient light so they cannot be seen, even at the highest settings, and in the evening, when your eyes are accustomed to the night, the reticules or circles are so bright that they destroy your night vision even at the lowest settings. You are not able to see past the bright reticule. The aforementioned issues with reticules also pertain to other information within your viewing screen such as yardage numbers and modes.
Dioptres are used to adjust the view to your eye strength to ensure the cleanest, clearest picture possible. They are standard on most rangefinders.
Don't worry about battery life. Changing batteries once a year is plenty for most folks. If you use your rangefinder extensively, keep a spare. And always bring a spare when hunting or in extremely cold weather.
Size and weight are very important in a hunting rangefinder. The best rangefinder in the field is the one you have with you, handy. I normally keep my rangefinder in an easily accessible shirt or pants pocket or backpack. I normally don't like stuff hanging off my belt, so I usually only use my carrying case when transporting it in my luggage or to keep dust off when I'm not using it. Almost all rangefinders come with a carrying case of some kind. Whereas small and light is crucial for hunting, it's almost the opposite for golf. The Bushnell Pinseeker 1500, for instance, is huge and heavy compared to most hunting rangefinders, but it is generally carried in a golf cart or wheeled bag, and it doesn't make a difference. In addition, the large size gives excellent purchase for both hands and is very easy to hold steady.
One of the modes I have come to like over the last few years is a horizontal range mode, called various things by different manufacturers. This can be useful for golf as well as hunting when shooting or hitting up or down steep angles. I have had occasion to really use this feature maybe less than one percent of the time I have used a rangefinder. It's nice to have when you need it.
This is the truth serum mode. Usually the scan mode is a single button, that when held in the on position will give you a continually changing reading. On the golf course you could use a first or second priority rangefinder in the scan mode and slowly move from left to right, getting readings on the trees in back of the flag. When you reach the flag the distance reading will shoot to a much closer reading, and then back again when you pass it. This is especially useful at longer distances on the course or in the field and is one of my most used features on a rangefinder.
Some rangefinders have so many modes you have to call in the Geek Squad to learn how to use it. In some, the viewing screen is so occluded with numbers and symbols and charts that tell you how high to hold your rifle or how many minutes of angle or mils to adjust your scope or what club to use it's kind of laughable. If you are one of the few that want to and can take advantage of these options, more power to you.
In closing, bells and whistles and various modes add to the cost of a rangefinder and are rarely used. Get a high quality rangefinder in the appropriate main mode for your most-used application with the most distance available. This will ensure that small targets like deer and flags can be ranged at 1/3 or more or the rangefinder's maximum capable distance. Buy a good one once and it should last you a lifetime.