How to Choose a Rangefinder

Looking through a rangefinder

Whether you’re golfing, hunting, or shooting targets, you need to know the distance between you and your target. It’s important to choose the right golf rangefinder or hunting rangefinder for a successful day on the course or in the field. We’ve broken down the most important features to look for when choosing a rangefinder. Learn about rangefinder technology, features, and modes so you’re able to find the best rangefinder for you!

How Rangefinders Work

Rangefinder lenses diagram

Laser rangefinders work by emitting a pulse of infrared light when you push the button. The light bounces off objects and returns to the rangefinder lenses. The rangefinder measures the time it takes the laser to return, then calculates the distance to the target and displays it alongside the aiming reticle.

To create an image and find the range to a target, most rangefinders have three lenses: the objective lens, the light-receiving lens, and the eyepiece lens.

The objective lens is the lens opposite the eyepiece and gathers light to create the image you see when looking through the eyepiece. The larger the objective lens, the more light enters the optic, creating a brighter image.

The light-receiving lens is the part of a laser rangefinder that receives the returning infrared light—information about the return is then used to provide you a readout of the distance to your target.

The eyepiece lens is the end of the rangefinder you look through when measuring the distance to your target.

Golf vs. Hunting Rangefinders

Some people who both hunt and golf wonder if they can use the same rangefinder for both golfing and shooting. While there are rangefinders that allow this, it’s important to make sure a rangefinder has the appropriate features for your application.

Using a golf rangefinder

Golf rangefinders prioritize the nearest target, basing the measured distance on that. This is because the flag on a hole is usually the nearest target in your field of view, and you don’t want any objects behind it affecting the measurement. Also, several golf rangefinders have features specifically designed for golfing, such as aiding club selection or finding the slope of the course.

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Using a hunting rangefinder

Hunting rangefinders prioritize distant targets over nearer ones. Since hunters often range deer in grassy or woody areas, they need the rangefinder to ignore any brush or branches that might get in the way of the target. Some models include extra information like estimating your bullet drop based on your ballistics.

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If you want a rangefinder you can use for both golfing and hunting, make sure it has the ability to toggle between near target mode and distant target mode. You’ll also sacrifice some of the convenience features available when choosing a rangefinder specifically for your application. It’s better to get a rangefinder suited to your needs rather than trying to find a do-it-all unit—this will give you a better experience overall and save undue frustration in the field or on the course.

Rangefinder Features

Before investing in a rangefinder for golfing or hunting, it's important to keep in mind the most important features: the rangefinder's max distance, its magnification, its size, and the available modes. This will help you narrow down your choices and find the right rangefinder for your application.

Max Distance

Rangefinder Max Distance Diagram

The most important consideration when choosing a rangefinder is its maximum distance. You’ll want to choose a rangefinder with a max distance a couple hundred yards more than you plan to measure—this ensures you’re never too far away from your target to get a precise readout.

Laser rangefinders have two maximum distance numbers: one for reflective targets like some golf flags or specialized targets and one for non-reflective targets like deer. Since laser rangefinders depend on the reflection of light, the reflective range will be significantly higher than the non-reflective range.

Consider when you’ll most commonly use the rangefinder and base your decision on that. For example, if you’ll mostly use the rangefinder to hunt deer at ranges of 400 yards or less, a rangefinder with a non-reflective range of 600 to 800 yards will work well.

The same principle applies to golf rangefinders—choose a rangefinder with a maximum range higher than the longest hole you plan to play on.

Rangefinder Magnification

The magnification indicates how zoomed-in the image will be. If the rangefinder has a magnification of 6x, the image will appear six times larger than it does with the naked eye. Magnifying far away objects makes it easier to put the reticle of the rangefinder exactly on your target, giving you the most accurate distance information. However, a higher magnification power also makes a darker image and has a smaller field of view.

For most users, a 6x rangefinder provides the best balance between zoom and image clarity. Whether you’re golfing or hunting, a rangefinder in this magnification allows you to see your target clearly and aim precisely where you want to measure.

Rangefinder Size

Another important factor is the size of the rangefinder. First and foremost, choose a rangefinder that is comfortable for you to hold and gives you easy access to its controls. If you have larger hands, a small, compact rangefinder will be uncomfortable and make it hard to range. You can also choose a rangefinder size based on other factors like portability or pack size, but it’s most important to make sure it fits your hands.

Rangefinder Modes

Several modern rangefinders offer a variety of modes that change the way the rangefinder measures distance. While not a necessity, these extra modes and features can give you some extra information to improve your shot.

In scan mode the rangefinder will continuously measure the distance between you and your target as long as you hold the button. This is most useful when ranging a moving target, especially at longer ranges.

Angle compensation mode (sometimes called slope compensation) gives you the distance to your target but also takes into consideration the incline or decline to your target. This can help you compensate for the drop of your ball or bullet and adjust your aim accordingly. Angle compensation is not legal in most golf tournaments, but most rangefinders with this mode allow you to turn the feature off.

Rain or fog mode eliminates the effect of wet or foggy weather on the rangefinder’s reading. Since water droplets can refract the laser, the distance reading may be slightly off in wet conditions. Rain mode overrides this refraction, giving you an accurate reading no matter the weather.

Using a rangefinder for archery

With the right rangefinder, you’ll know the exact distance to your target so you can perform your best. If you have any questions about which rangefinder is best for your needs, visit or contact your local SCHEELS and talk to one of our golf or hunting experts!