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Pocket power: compact rangefinders undergo serious tests to see which stands up to rigorous real world conditions.

THE AMOUNT OF technology that we incorporate into our daily lives is pretty overwhelming. As hunters, we often head outdoors to escape these electronic leashes, so most of us aren't as excited as the average Joe when it comes to embracing the latest gadget. There is one device, though, that I consider a must for nearly all big-game hunting these days: a rangefinder.

When I read classic hunting stories written by the legends of our past, I cringe at some of the shots taken at what were clearly guesstimated ranges. It is amazing that some of these hunters hit anything at all, and the fact is, they missed plenty. These days, we don't have the luxury of 30-day hunts with a pocketful of tags. We may get only one opportunity for a shot on a hunt that we saved years of overtime money to fund. Often the difference between success and failure is knowing exactly how far away the target is. An effective compact rangefinder can mean the difference between the trophy of a lifetime and a heartbreaking story about that giant deer or elk that you almost hit or, worse, wounded.

We set out to evaluate five of the most popular rangefinders on the market, using the most objective criteria we could come up with. The units were tested in fog, driving rainstorms, and bright sunshine in a variety of terrain conditions. We established the maximum effective range using both reflective and non-reflective targets, established the accuracy of the readings, tested how fast the units worked, and even judged the optics themselves. We learned that while many of these rangefinders look similar from the outside, their performances varied tremendously.

ZEISS VICTORY PRF

24 SCORE

[EDITOR'S CHOICE]

THE VICTORY PRF is the largest heaviest, and most expensive unit we tested, but it was also the best performer in nearly every category. The 8X optics on the Zeiss were so clear and sharp that one could probably get away with using it as a monocular for spotting game if you wanted to leave the binos at home. The simple reticle was clean, and the ergonomics made the unit easy to use without bumping oneself off the target when activating the ranging button. The Zeiss rarely missed a reading, and its performance at long range was head and shoulders above every other rangefinder we tested. One of our practical tests was a small stone wall at 865 yards in light rain--only the Zeiss was able to range it and did so every time. Other than the aforementioned negatives of size and price, the only valid complaints against the PRF are that it didn't always give us a reading at extreme close range and that it takes a full second to get a range figure.

[HIT] Outstanding performance.

[MISS] The biggest unit in our test.

ZEISS.COM

MAGNIFICATION        8x
WEIGHT               10.9 oz.
ANGLE COMPENSATION   NO
MSRP PRICE           $700

MAX RANGE
(REFLECTIVE)        1,200+ YDS.

MAX RANGE
(NON-REFLECTIVE)    1,050 YDS.

MINIMUM
EFFECTIVE RANGE     8 yds.


LEUPOLD RX-1200I TBR

22 SCORE

THE RX-1200i is a big rangefinder in a small package. This little Leupold is small, light, lightning-fast, and accurate. The Leupold's performance was exceeded only by the Zeiss, and the Leupold gets it done in a smaller and less-expensive package. The RX-1200i has many features, including ballistic software to help with bullet drop solutions, but if you choose not to use those features, you're not faced with any complicated menus. We encountered fewer non-readings with the Leupold than with any of the other units, but it is possible to get false readings from objects near the target. This unit performed equally well at long-range rifle distances and extreme short-range archery shots at harsh angles.

[HIT] Great performance in a small package.

[MISS] False readings are possible on small targets.

LEUPOLD.COM

MAGNIFICATION        6x
WEIGHT               7.8 oz.
ANGLE COMPENSATION   YES
MSRP PRICE           $500

MAX RANGE
(REFLECTIVE)         1,150 YDS.

MAX RANGE
(NON-REFLECTIVE)     785 YDS.

MINIMUM
EFFECTIVE RANGE      5 YDS.


VORTEX RANGER 1000

20 SCORE

THE RANGER is a compact and solid-performing rangefinder in the same size and weight class as the other non-Zeiss units. The Ranger has two features that none of the other units we tested have: a reversible steel pocket clip that allows the user to secure the rangefinder in a pocket like a folding knife and a threaded female mount to secure the device to a tripod. The Vortex was only slightly behind the Leupold in its ability to read non-reflective targets, and it actually exceeds the range capabilities listed in Vortex's marketing literature. The Vortex's measuring speed was right at a second, and it takes two operations of the button to display and then use the reticle, making it slightly slower to operate than the others. This unit struggled a bit at extreme close range (10 yards and under), but practically speaking, that's not a huge issue. The lifetime, unconditional warranty is a big issue.

[HIT] Solid performance and innovative practical features.

[MISS] Slight delay in readings.

vortexoptics.com

MAGNIFICATION        6x
WEIGHT               7.7 oz.
ANGLE COMPENSATION   YES
MSRP PRICE           $500

MAX RANGE
(REFLECTIVE)         1,125 YDS.

MAX RANGE
(NON-REFLECTIVE)     685 yds.

MINIMUM
EFFECTIVE RANGE      11 YDS.


NIKON PROSTAFF 3i

20 SCORE

THE PROSTAFF 3i from Nikon is the lightest and least expensive of the units we evaluated. It's also very straightforward to operate: you won't need the owner's manual. This rangefinder uses a simple and easy-to-use reticle display, and the user isn't overwhelmed with complicated features or menus. The black LCD display is highly visible during daylight but isn't ideal in low-light conditions. The Nikon gives you virtually instant readings, and we were able to use it out to 575 yards on non-reflective targets. It worked as well as any of the units at extremely close range, making it a good choice for archers. The image on the Nikon was bright and clear and belied the price and size of the device. With an MSRP that's less than half of the other rangefinders we tested, this little Nikon is an outstanding value.

[HIT] Simplicity and great value.

[MISS] Non-illuminated reticle can be a challenge in low light.

NIKONSPORTOPTICS.COM

MAGNIFICATION        6x
WEIGHT               5.6 oz.
ANGLE COMPENSATION   YES
MSRP PRICE           $230

MAX RANGE
(REFLECTIVE)         850 YDS.

MAX RANGE
(NON-REFLECTIVE)     575 YDS.

MINIMUM
EFFECTIVE RANGE      5 YDS.


BUSHNELL G-FORCE DX

18 SCORE

THE G FORCE is a compact rangefinder loaded with features. The user can choose from archery and firearm modes, as well as bullseye, scan, and brush modes, to optimize the capabilities for the terrain and conditions. This can be a bit confusing, though, and we found ourselves struggling with the unit until we determined that we were in archery mode. In that mode, the G-Force excelled at close range, but we still had trouble at over 400 yards regardless of the unit's settings. We achieved readings of over 1,100 yards on reflective road signs, but were only able to reach 452 yards on non-reflective targets, such as trees, our kudu hide target, and live cattle.

[HIT] Different modes to match any scenario or method.

[MISS] A bit complex for some users.

BUSHNELL.COM

MAGNIFICATION        6x
WEIGHT               8 oz.
ANGLE COMPENSATION   YES
MSRP PRICE           $560

MAX RANGE
(REFLECTIVE)         1,125 YDS.

MAX RANGE
(NON-REFLECTIVE)     452 YDS.

MINIMUM
EFFECTIVE RANGE      6 YDS.


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Article Details
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Author:Wood, Keith
Publication:Petersen's Hunting
Date:Jun 1, 2015
Words:1229
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