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What are Rangefinder Binoculars?
Hunters are no strangers to products that claim rangefinding capabilities.
Many riflescopes have some sort of rangefinder built into the reticle. Some are based on minutes-of-angle, others are Mil-Dot. Some have markings for an average sized deer (or person) at a certain range.
All of these methods require mental math or even doing calculations on paper or on a calculator. And then, you’ll just get an estimate, which can be off by tens of yards or more.
That’s not good for accuracy when you have to make one shot count!
That’s why rangefinders have become popular for hunters.
These devices use an infrared laser (most of the time!) to calculate the distance between the rangefinder and whatever you’re pointed at. A display built into the eyepiece will give you the distance information and maybe some more data.
More advanced models even have ballistic compensation so you have a better idea of where your bullet will strike.
However, dedicated rangefinders have a major weakness:
They’re another piece of gear to lug into the woods.
Rangefinders are larger than a monocular and are about as big as some compact binoculars. In order to use them properly, you need to rapidly switch between them and your binoculars.
Why not condense the two tools into one and use a rangefinding binocular?
Rangefinder binocular combos take the rangefinder and stick it in between the two sides of a binocular, where there is normally a gap. This allows you to carry only one set of glass and don’t have to lower your binoculars when you want to lase a target and find its range, saving you precious time.
How to Choose Binoculars With Rangefinder?
The problem with rangefinding binoculars is the expense. Even the cheapest units are as expensive if not more expensive, than high-quality binoculars.
Thankfully, manufacturers know that these units are an expensive investment. While there are budget rangefinders, very few companies will waste your time with cheaply-made rangefinding binoculars that can’t survive hunting trips.
Even so, it’s a natural compulsion to try to get the best value for your money. So, here are some criteria you can consider so you buy the rangefinding binoculars which will work best for you.
Magnification and Field of View
As mentioned in the buyer’s guide about normal hunting binoculars, some magnifications are better for some game animals, and other magnifications are better for others.
Though it’s tempting to go for as much magnification as possible, an overly-magnified image will make it hard to find your animal. That’s doubly true since higher magnifications cut down on your field of view, which is how much of the landscape you can see through the binoculars.
Also, higher magnifications have more trouble gathering light to produce clear images without increasing the objective lens size and adding weight.
So, consider the area in which you will hunt. If you’ll be primarily hunting within several hundred yards, such as hunting deer within dense woods, then you don’t need more than about 8x magnification.
However, if you’re hunting in clear areas, especially when hunting goats in the mountains, then a higher magnification will serve you well.
Most hunters know the following, but some target shooters don’t:
Shooting at an angle up or down can cause your shots, whether from a bow or from a gun, to fly high or low.
If you’re hunting from the ground on flatlands, then you won’t need angle compensation. Most other hunters hunt from a tree stand or in hilly or even mountainous terrain, where the perfect animal may appear at a serious decline.
Some rangefinders have a form of built-in angle compensation. They identify the angle at which the binoculars are held and adjust the actual distance to reflect the equivalent horizontal distance.
Basically, though the deer may be 350 yards away, an incline may mean you’ll need to take a 300-yard shot to hit the deer in the vitals.
A rangefinding binocular with angle compensation can, therefore, mean the difference between a vital shot and a flesh wound.
Even more advanced rangefinding binoculars can have a built-in ballistic adjustment, so you don’t need to fuss with your scope to hit precisely where you want to.
Some, such as on the Bushnell Fusion, are simple. But simple can still work very well and is better than no ballistic compensation.
However, if you want the benefits of a built-in, fully-fledged ballistic calculator, only the Carl Zeiss Victory RF can help you.
Many small variables can have surprising effects on your bullet’s trajectory. Altitude, ambient temperature, barometric pressure, and more can cause small deviations in ballistics, with large consequences at far ranges.
Using a rangefinder with a built-in ballistic calculator can save you from having to fiddle with yet another piece of gear.
As mentioned before, most rangefinding binoculars are already made to be very durable. Rubber armor predominates, and all are at least water resistant, with a few waterproof enough to be submersible.
That doesn’t mean you should ignore the topic of durability, though.
If you hunt on soft land without traveling far into treacherous woods, then you can save some money on a lesser-protected rangefinding binocular.
However, if you fly in a plane to a hunting destination in Alaska where you’ll be hunting for a week, this is not the place to skimp. You want to bring gear you know will survive anything because everything will happen to it.
I’ve seen people break a cheap scope on the first day of a three-day hunting trip. They didn’t have a backup scope or iron sights, so they had to borrow someone else’s gun.
The same idea applies with rangefinding binoculars, even more so since you cannot use iron sights as a backup. If you are going to be hunting in demanding conditions, bring gear which can meet the demand.
Size and Weight
In other binocular buyer’s guides, I recommended trying to cut down on weight when you don’t need the capabilities of a heavier binocular.
I don’t think that’s as important for rangefinder binocular combos.
Because they’re already saving weight over carrying two pieces of gear separately.
Even the heaviest rangefinding binocular is lighter than a binocular and a rangefinder, so unless you really want to cut down on ounces, you don’t need to pay as much attention to weight here.
Rangefinding binoculars are not cheap items. However, they bring a lot of utility into the field while saving you weight.
Of the seven models reviewed above, there are two standout winners.
If you are on a budget, then consider the Bushnell Fusion 1-Mile ARC 10×42. It’s a good hunting binocular with a surprising amount of rangefinding capability for the cost.
However, if you want the best you can buy, then the Carl Zeiss Victory RF 10×54 is more binocular and a whole lot more rangefinder.
The only tool more useful for hunting than a rangefinding binocular with atmospheric sensors and a ballistic calculator is your bow or rifle.