Pros and Cons of Rangefinders and Range Finding Binoculars
By JD Ponciano
Range finding binocular combos have been available for quite some time, but their popularity has increased dramatically in the last few years. Handheld rangefinders have also come a long way in recent years and offer a wider array of features including ballistic data and increased ranging capability.Your style of hunting as well as your budget are likely to be key factors in deciding which option best fits your needs.
Things to consider when selecting a rangefinder or range finding binocular:
The optic is just as important as the rangefinder. The angle compensation, range capability, ballistic data, or any feature for that matter, are irrelevant if you can’t see your target. We typically see game in low light situations so make sure the optic is clear and has good light gathering capability. If possible, take several models outside and range multiple targets at varied distances. When inside a store with ultraviolet light try to look into the rafters or shaded areas to compare the light transmission and clarity of different models.
The advertised distance for a rangefinder is typically for reflective surfaces so in a hunting scenario, where you’re ranging game, you will usually get about half of that distance. Whether you hunt with a rifle, muzzleloader, or a bow, angle compensation is essential to getting an accurate range to make an ethical shot. Most of today’s rangefinders come with angle compensation, but regardless of the unit, whether it’s a handheld or rangefinder binocular combo, make sure it has angle compensation.
I’m a big believer in range-finding binoculars. Ranging your target is easier because of the increased magnification provided by binoculars which are going to be 8x, 10x, even up to 15x power. It is easier to accidently range a bush in front of your target or tree beyond your target with a handheld unit because you’re dealing with a lower magnification (typically 6x or 7x) and using a single eye instead of both eyes. The last moments of legal shooting light can be difficult to see through a handheld unit as well because of the smaller objective size and use of one eye rather than two. Handheld units are also tougher to hold steady because of their size.
For many, the adrenaline that kicks in when a shot is presented, as well as outside factors such as cold temperatures, can make it difficult to get an accurate range with a handheld unit even in close quarters.
Range finding binoculars eliminate the need for carrying another item in the field and decrease the likelihood of losing your rangefinder. You’re able to clearly identify game with a range finding binocular, which is increasingly important in antler restricted areas. You’re also able to quickly give your hunting partner a range with range finding binoculars, as opposed to a handheld unit where you have to go back and forth. Decreased movement is another advantage of a range finding binocular. When calling in a bull elk, for example, I can see how big the bull is and range him as he comes in without having to switch back and forth.
Spot and stalk situations are another circumstance where range finding binoculars can really be a huge benefit. For example, when sneaking on a bedded mule deer in the sage I’ve seen people take their handheld unit and leave their binoculars behind only to get within archery distance and not be able to pick out the deer’s ear or antler tip. If they had a range finding binocular they would likely have been able to pick up those finer details that are easier to see through binoculars.
The cost of premium binoculars and a premium rangefinder are often comparable, and in some cases, it is actually a savings to purchase a range finding binocular as opposed to purchasing each item individually. Having used a range finding binocular for so long it is difficult for me to find a reason to go back to a handheld unit.
For those still in favor of a handheld rangefinder the same considerations apply when making your selection. Make sure to get a model that has a good optic (clarity and light transmission), angle compensation, and a non-reflective range beyond what you plan to shoot in the field or at the range. Other features to consider are the color of the readout (typically red or black) and ballistic capability for those of you who shoot long range.