This article covers the rangefinders the top precision rifle shooters in the country carry in long-range competitions. This is the first year I’ve asked about rangefinders, so it was exciting to see which brands these experts trust to give them an accurate target distances. The data is based on a recent survey I conducted of the top-ranked shooters across the country in both the Precision Rifle Series (PRS) and National Rifle League (NRL). (Learn more about the PRS & NRL). This is a very unique data set, because it includes a wide sample size (170+ shooters) who also represent the leading experts in the field. (View all the What The Pros Use articles)
Many pieces of gear are simply nice-to-haves, but most long range shooters would agree that a good rangefinder is one of the most critical pieces of gear in your kit. If you don’t know the exact distance to the target, your odds of connecting on the first round plummet dramatically. (Want to see how much an accurate range matters? Read this post.) Almost all stages in precision rifle competitions are comprised of known distance targets (aka “KD” targets), which means the match director or range officer provides all shooters with the target distances. You don’t have to range them yourself. However, I can say from experience that there are typically at least a couple targets at every match where the distances provided are wrong by more than 5 yards, which could be enough to result in a miss. I usually carry a Vectronix PLRF rangefinder, which is a military-grade rangefinder that is EXTREMELY accurate, and I carefully double-check all the ranges before a stage. I’d estimate that 95% of the targets are within 3-4 yards of what is provided, which rarely would cause a miss, but many veteran shooters double-check ranges to increase their odds on that last 5%.
But here is the dilemma with rangefinders: The further the target, the more critical an accurate range becomes. Yet at the same time, the further the target is the harder it is to acquire an accurate range. In a long range competition, many targets may be set between 300 to 600 yards, which most rangefinders can easily get a reading for. At the same time, the exact range at those distances usually isn’t that critical (unless it’s a very small target). But when targets start approaching 1,000 yards and beyond it is critical to have an accurate range, which can be difficult for some rangefinders to pull off in bright/midday conditions. While targets at 1,000+ yards don’t represent the majority of targets in a match, it’s those scenarios we’re thinking about when choosing which rangefinder to trust. That’s especially true among these fiercely competitive shooters, where just a couple of hits could be the difference between 1st place and 10th place! Having an accurate range is key!
One last note is that many guys prefer to carry ranging binos, like the Leica Geovid HD-B 3000 Rangefinder Binoculars or maybe the new Sig Kilo 3000BDX 10×42 Ranging Binoculars that so many seem to be talking about. Having ranging binoculars can be really convenient, because you just carry one piece of gear for both observation and ranging, and don’t have to pack or fumble between two devices. However, some of the most accurate rangefinders may only be available as a monocular, like the Vectronix Terrapin X, so the “right” rangefinder may come down to striking the right balance for your application between ranging performance, convenience, optical clarity, etc. If you’re not willing to compromise on any of those, you could end up spending a lot! Recently a few new ranging binos have been released, which is a welcomed change. A few new monocular rangefinders feature 7x magnification (compared to the more common 5x), which is also trending in the right direction. Hopefully more manufacturers will move to 7x or even more magnification for pocket rangefinders, which seems more appropriate to help you pinpoint targets at the distances these devices are capable of. The majority of the time these guys are ranging targets from a supported position (like off a tripod) for the best accuracy, where the old 5x magnification might be more appropriate for closer range targets that are primarily used off-hand. Higher magnifications will also make monocular rangefinders more useful for observation as well. (Hint, hint, manufacturers!)
Most Popular Long Range Rangefinders
So let’s dive into the data and see which brands of rangefinders these shooters chose to put their trust in when every shot counts! Here’s the data:
The various colors on the chart represent the league and rank of the shooters. For example, black indicates shooters who finished in the top 10 in the PRS, dark blue is those who finished 11-25 in the PRS, and the lighter the blue, the further out they finished in PRS Open Division season standings. The green colors represents the top shooters in the NRL, where the darkest green is the top 10, medium green is 11-25, and light green are 26th to 50th. <strong>The legend on the chart itemizes the league and ranks each color represents, but basically the darker the color, the higher up the shooters placed.
Sig Sauer and Vectronix are the most popular rangefinders, combining to represent 50% of the 170+ shooters surveyed! They were followed by Leica, Swarovski, Nikon and Bushnell, who combined to represent 42% of these elite marksmen. The remaining 8% of shooters were split among several brands.
Sig Sauer was the most popular overall, representing 28% of the top competitors in the nation. Sig has been very aggressive in the expansion of their optics line, and have quickly taken the place as one of the industry leaders in terms of both value and performance. The Sig Kilo 2400 ABS Rangefinder ($1300 street) is a very popular pocket rangefinder capable of ranging long distances, and it’s equipped with the Applied Ballistics engine for calculating a full firing solution on the fly. Sig recently released the Sig Kilo 3000BDX 10×42 Ranging Binoculars, which also features the Applied Ballistics engine on-board. I’ve heard an early report from a trusted laser expert that this new rangefinding binocular from Sig offers world-class performance compared to other 905nm, consumer-grade rangefinders. The optical clarity of the binos may not be to the same level as Leica or Swarovski, but the price tag is less than half of those brands. The street price for the SIG Sauer Kilo3000BDX Laser Range Finding Binocular is just $1,200! Like I said before, Sig is really competitive in terms of both performance and value.
22% of these top shooters said they used a Vectronix rangefinder. I also noticed Vectronix was the most popular brand among the top 10 shooters in the PRS, with 4 shooters represented among those top competitors. Vectronix is considered by many to be the gold standard when it comes to rangefinders. Vectronix primarily serves military customers, and until recently their lowest priced model on the market was the Vectronix PLRF 25C, which is a military-grade rangefinder with a street price of $9,300 that is capable of ranging beyond 6,000 yards even in bright/midday conditions (see my field test showing that). A military rangefinder is based on a 1550nm wavelength laser and the pulse produced might have 100,000 watts of peak power, compared to a 905nm wavelength consumer-grade rangefinder that produces 10-25 watts of peak power. There is a lot of technical details behind the differences, which I explain in this post, but the executive summary is the parts in a military-grade rangefinder are MUCH more expensive and overkill for distances 99% of shooters will ever engage. It’s really only the guys shooting Extreme Long Range that need the level of performance the PLRF is capable of, although I have seen some of these guys carry a PLRF at matches. Many of these guys are shoot A LOT (like 5,000+ rounds per year), so having a rangefinder that will give you a ridiculously accurate range on virtually any target you might ever point it at is a pretty compelling proposition. They may not drive a new truck or own a bass boat, but they have a killer rangefinder! It’s all about priorities, I guess.
Vectronix released the Terrapin X a few months ago, which is a consumer-grade rangefinder with a street price of $1800. While it doesn’t have the same extreme performance as its military-grade big brother, it is capable of ranging beyond 2000 yards, even in bright/midday conditions (see field test data). The Vectronix Terrapin X provides very accurate ranges well beyond the ranges most long range shooters will ever want to engage, and you won’t have to sell a kidney to be able to afford one! I’m sure a few of these guys already had their hands on a Terrapin X, but I’d expect that number to grow in the future since this product was still relatively new last year.
Leica rangefinders were used by 15% of these top shooters, which landed it as the 3rd most popular brand among this group of pros. One interesting note was that 4 of the top 10 shooters in the NRL said they were using a Leica rangefinder, which made it the most popular brand among those top finishers in that league.
The Leica Geovid HD-B Ranging Binoculars seem to be very popular among this group. Leica HD-B binos offer both world-class optical clarity and outstanding ranging performance. While they may not be quite as capable as the Vectronix models, they are far better than the average rangefinder. When I tested several rangefinding binoculars a couple years ago, the Leica HD-B’s were standouts among the group (see the data), and what I personally ended up investing in after conducting that test. The latest model, the Leica HD-B 3000 is even better than the model I tested, and it has a street price around $3000.
Leica also recently released the Leica Rangemaster CRF 2800.COM Laser Rangefinder, which is really compact, pocket rangefinder capable of long range performance. It also features Bluetooth connectivity so that you can link to your Kestrel Ballistic Weather Meter, and once you range the target it will wirelessly transmit the distance to your Kestrel, the Kestrel calculates the firing solution and sends that back to the rangefinder, which displays it in the field of view. That makes for a very quick and smooth workflow from seeing the target to getting on the rifle and applying the necessary adjustment. The Leica CRF 2800.COM rangefinder has a street price of $1100.
Swarovski rangefinders were used by 12% of these shooters overall. Like Leica, Swarovski does offer a monocular rangefinder, but it seems like more of these competitors use their ranging binoculars. The Swarovski EL Range Binocular offers the legendary optical clarity that Swarovski is known for, and also offers rangefinding capabilities. However, according to Nick Vitalbo’s epic rangefinder test that was published in Modern Advancements in Long Range Shooting Volume II, the Swarovski rangefinders don’t perform as well as the Leica products when it comes to ranging. The street price for the EL Range bino is around $3300.
Nikon rangefinders were used by 8.1% of shooters. The Nikon BLACK RANGEX 4K rangefinder claims to be capable out to 4000 yards on reflective targets with its “8-Second Sustained Measurement.” I’m a bit skeptical that it’d be able to range that distance on real-world targets, although it might could range the side of a barn that far in ideal conditions. However, an independent industry expert tells me the ranging performance is exceptional for the price, with ranging performance similar to Leica rangefinders. The Nikon Black RangeX 4K rangefinder has a street price of just $450, so it’s MUCH less expensive than any of the other models referenced so far, and based on that performance report it has be one of the highest value rangefinders on this list!
Bushnell rangefinders were used by 7.6% of these top shooters. I know some see Bushnell as a “cheap” brand, but I’ll say that once I really started doing objective, data-driven testing, my perception of Bushnell changed dramatically. Yes, they do make some entry-level products, but they also make some higher performance equipment that typically offers exceptional performance for the price. In fact, I can’t remember a field test I’ve done where I included a Bushnell product and they didn’t end up having the best performance per dollar spent. Case in point, is the Bushnell Elite 1 Mile CONX Rangefinder/Kestrel Combo, which includes both a rangefinder and a Kestrel Sportsman Weather Meter with Applied Ballistics and Link for $1000! Normally that Kestrel model sells for $400, and you’re also getting a fairly capable rangefinder with it – and the two can connect wirelessly for a seamless solution. I tested the Bushnell 1 Mile Ranging Binoculars in a field test a couple years ago, and you can see how it performed in this post.
Those brands of rangefinders already mentioned represent 92% of the top shooters, and the remaining 8% were split among a few different brands:
- 4 shooters used a Leupold rangefinder. In my last post, one of my readers mentioned that they used the Leupold RX-2800 Rangefinder in the field and had this to say about it: “I cannot speak to its ‘true’ accuracy, but I was able to range bluffs and eroded hills in the North Dakota badlands out to 2200+ yards consistently in midday and late day conditions.” That unit is priced at $600, and Leupold also offers a new ranging bino for $3000.
- 2 shooters used a Vortex rangefinder. Vortex’s best performing rangefinder is the Vortex Razor HD 4000 monocular rangefinder for $500, and they also offer a Vortex Fury HD 5000 Gen II 10×42 Rangefinding Binocular for $1200.
- 1 of the top 25 shooters in the PRS used a Gunwerks rangefinder. The Gunwerks G7 BR2500 Rangefinder is a very capable device with an accurate ballistic engine on-board, which I’ve personally used to get first-round hits out to 1 mile. I also believe it’s one of the easiest to program and use in the field. The street price is $1600.
- 1 shooter said they used a Kahles ranging binocular. Kahles is the tactical sister-company to Swarovski, so their products typically have amazing optical clarity. I personally hadn’t heard about Kahles offering a ranging binocular, but was able to find some info on the Kahles Helia Rangefinder Binoculars.
- 1 shooter used a Steiner rangefinder. According to Nick Vitalbo’s rangefinder test data published in Modern Advancements in Long Range Shooting Volume II, the Steiner Military 8×30 Rangefinder Binocular was one of the top performers, with very similar performance to the Leica HD-B Rangefinder Binoculars. It has a street price of $2250, which makes it one of the highest values among ranging binoculars.
- 1 shooter used a Zeiss rangefinder. I included the Zeiss Victory Rangefinder Binoculars in a field test I did a couple years ago, and you can see those results here.
4 of the 170+ shooters surveyed said they didn’t use a rangefinder, or they just borrowed one at matches from someone in their squad. That only makes up 2% of these guys, but many shooters are more than willing to share ranges they measure with whoever asks. I certainly would. So if you’re on a tight budget, don’t feel like you absolutely HAVE to own one before you try out your first match. You can get by without one, but long-term a reliable and trustworthy rangefinder is a worthwhile investment for a long range shooter. I hope this helps you guys narrow down your search to find the best rangefinder for your application.
If you’re interested in learning more about rangefinders, here are a few good posts you’d probably be interested in:
- How Do Rangefinders Work?
- Ranging Binoculars Field Test Results
- How Much Does Accurate Ranging Matter?
- Extreme Long Range Tips: Rangefinders
- 2019 Pocket Rangefinder Field Test Results
If you REALLY want to learn more, I’d recommend reading Nick Vitalbo’s expert explanation of rangefinders in Modern Advancements in Long Range Shooting Volume 1, and see his epic rangefinder test in Modern Advancements in Long Range Shooting Volume 2. That is BY FAR the best information I’ve ever come across on rangefinders, and I still go back and reread and reference it occasionally. GREAT resource!