When it comes to rangefinders there are a ton of different options on the market today. But we're looking for the BowHunters best rangefinder.
For this review we are focusing on what we consider as the best 3 options available for the bowhunter; the Leica Rangemaster 1000-R, the Leupold RX-1000i TBR, and the Vortex Ranger 1000. We’ll be comparing them based on the settings a bowhunter would use and not considering rifle modes, hold overs or any other features geared towards rifle hunting. For us the perfect rangefinder would be one with great optics, fast ranging ability, a responsive scan mode, good ergonomics and most importantly it must have some form of Angle compensation for shooting up and downhill. Below are the results based off of our findings. The quick conclusion is that if you are after the absolute best optics and ranging capabilities the Leica is the clear winner, However the Leupold when you consider its features and price point can be very attractive.
As you might expect the Leica was the most impressive in the optical category. Bright clear optics and a large FOV make target acquisition the fast and easy. Even at 7x the Leica offers a larger field of view (FOV) than Leupold and Vortex at 6x magnification. The LED display automatically adjusts according to the ambient light and was bright and easy to read in any light situation. The reticle could be a bit larger in my opinion, but unfortunately Leica offers no different reticle options. Like previous Leica Rangemaster models the ranging ability was fast and accurate out to 1000 yards and really didn't struggle much to hit large targets out to 1050 yards. One area the Leica did incredibly well in was ranging through grass, it ranged the target we were aiming at almost every single time where as the Leupold was 50/50 and the Vortex really struggled to get any reading. The scan feature worked well but was a little slower than the Leupold RX-1000i. Leica’s terminology for angle compensation is the Equivalent Horizontal Range (EHR). Simply put, on steep up or downhill angles the EHR mode will calculate equivalent horizontal distance you should shoot for if the shot was on flat ground. The unique thing about Leica’s EHR mode is that it will display the actual linear distance first; then 2 seconds later it will display the EHR. A nice feature if you want to know both distances and understand how many yards you are taking off your shot; but frustrating if you just want to know what distance to shoot for and not be confused by two numbers. In the heat of the moment when ranging an animal in bow range; I would prefer to only think about one yardage and not two. Of course this is not a setting that Leica allows you to change, claiming that they display both yardages for safety purposes. Another feature unique to this Leica is the addition of a second button on top whose only function is to measure the angle of incline or decline. It functions just like the main button for ranging except it only displays the angle. The Leica is the largest of the three rangefinders tested and is by far the most comfortable if you have large hands like I do. The buttons are nicely placed for your index finger or middle finger for the secondary angle calculating button. I eyepiece offers a diopter adjustment and a nice soft rubber eyecup that will fold down for eye glass wearers. The build quality and design is exceptional like you’d expect from Leica.
The RX-1000i TBR is the flagship of Leupold RX series and represents Leupold’s best offering in the rangefinder market. This rangefinder offers a great mix quality optics and impressive ranging ability in a compact and lightweight package. Overall the optical performance of the RX-1000i is great. Clarity and low light performance is almost comparable to the Leica. The most noticeable difference is the smaller FOV of the Leupold. That being said the target acquisition with the Leupold is still quite easy. The LED display has 3 brightness settings and 3 reticle options to choose from. For our review we had the brightness on the middle setting which seemed to perform well in most lighting situations. In addition to the yardage/meters, the display shows battery level, shot angle +/- and the current mode (TBR, LOS, Bow, Etc.) Ranging speed and accuracy is where this rangefinder truly shines, accurate down to 1/10 of a yard against all background colors and textures. Scan mode is fastest out of all the rangefinders tested, with almost zero lag time when scanning items of varying distances. Perfect for when you need to scan through brush to hit the bedded buck on the other side. Leupold’s terminology for angle compensation is True Ballistic Range (TBR). Just like the Leica’s EHR mode the TBR mode takes into consideration the angle at which the linear distance is measured to calculate the equivalent horizontal distance to shoot for. Previous Leupold models gave you the option to display both the actual linear distance and the TBR distance. The current RX-1000i TBR only displays the angle compensated TBR distance and does not give you the actual line of sight (LOS) distance. If you want to know the LOS distance you’ll have to change to the LOS mode. Thankfully the current mode is shown at the top of the display so as long as it reads “TBR” you can trust the yardage displayed is accurate and angle compensated. It also has a Last Target Mode that ensures an accurate reading on the farthest object. In our testing this mode worked perfectly ranging through grass and brush at 5-10 yards to consistently range the larger targets at 30 and 40 yards. The one area this rangefinder seemed to struggle was at longer distances, A large reflective target at 1050 yards was easily ranged by the Leica and the Vortex, but the Leupold was never able to range. I was able to get 990 yards on another target but the reading was substantially slower than the Leica. Keep in mind there are a lot of variables involved long distance ranging; steadiness, sunlight, atmosphere, etc. Overall the Leupold delivers great optics and impressive ranging ability for a decent price at $399.
Optically the Vortex Ranger and Leupold are almost identical. Optics are crisp and bright; and perform well in just about any lighting situation. If it is too dark to see and range your target using this rangefinder it is likely too dark to take an ethical shot. The LED display has 3 brightness settings and was bright and easy to read on the medium setting under most lighting conditions. Like the Leica only one reticle option is offered. The display shows battery level, yardage and the current mode (LOS or HCD); shot angle +/- is only displayed in LOS mode. The Ranger does an acceptable job when it comes to ranging but is definitely the slowest performer of the group. This slow ranging speed was most noticeable when using scan mode and often resulted in no yardage readings if you scanned around to fast. This was manageable but frustrating after using the Leica or Leupold which were both 2x faster. The Ranger also struggled a little more scanning through light grass and brush to hit a distant target. You would eventually hit your desired target but it would take a couple attempts or using the scan mode to get it done. The Ranger has two ranging modes to choose from: Line of sight (LOS) for rifle hunters and Horizontal Component Distance (HCD) for archery hunters. For this review we only used the rangefinder in the HCD mode which compensates for shot angle exactly like the TBR and EHR modes of the Leupold and Leica. Like the Leupold the Ranger 1000 only displays the HCD calculated distance that you should shoot for rather than the actual linear distance. In the hand the Ranger feels solid and well built like most Vortex products. The rubber armor adds a little bulk but appears to be the most rugged and durable of the three tested. Overall it was slightly awkward to use in my opinion. The main button is placed a little too far forward forcing me to slide my hand forward in order to use my index finger. The metal belt clip can be moved to either side of the unit or completely removed, which is what I would do to eliminate bulk and increase comfort in the hand. The big upside to Vortex is the industry best lifetime no fault warranty, with the built in electronics this could definitely be a good thing to have after a couple seasons of heavy use.
What is the bowhunters best rangefinder? Well, if you want the best when it comes to optical and ranging performance the clear winner is the Leica Rangemaster 1000-R. As long as you are ok with a 2 second delay for your angle compensation and $599 price tag. If you want to save some money go with Leupold RX-1000i TBR. You won’t be giving up too much optically and at shorter distances the ranging ability is as good as anything out there. At this time based off the price point we feel the Vortex Ranger needs to go back to the drawing board and get a few things figured out, it has a lot of promise but just isn't as good as the others. It does a decent job, but for $20 more you can get the Leupold which overall does a better job for the archery hunter. If the Vortex was closer to $300 or under I would have no reservations recommending it as the best bang for your buck.