How do Hunting & Golf Rangefinders Differ? Can You Use One Device for Both?

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Hunting VS Golf Rangefinders

When looking at rangefinders that are made specifically for either golf or shooting, it might not seem like there are many differences – at first.

Although they can both use the same operating system of emitting laser beams to acquire target distances, apart from GPS units, that could be the only thing they may have in common.

So how do these rangefinders differ and can one rangefinder be used for both hunting and golf?

That is the question we are going to answer in this article by looking at the features necessary for, and specific to, each activity.


Golf VS Hunting Rangefinders

» Golf Rangefinders

These are going to be built for the golfer in mind. This could mean using a feature that seeks for pins or flag-sticks for target acquisition. You’re also looking at the fact that it’s always going to be in First target mode for use in an open area.

Some of the more golf-oriented features such as slope angle and compensated ranges help the user to determine how to plan shots and take advantage of suggested club recommendations. When incorporating GPS features, these devices are dependent on known positions and distances to determine game play. Typically golf rangefinders will have a less maximum yard range than a hunting optic.


» Hunting Rangefinders

These are obviously going to be geared towards the rifle shooter or bow hunter. Distant target modes play a huge role with these because you’re typically going to be in an environment that is preferable to wildlife and game. This can mean wooded or mountainous terrain where you need to be able to range past the brush or boulders that are partly obscuring your view.

They’re going to be made with a design for rugged construction that can stand for environmental and accidental physical abuse. For the extreme long distance rifle hunter, the best long range rangefinders will have maximum yard ranges past 1200 yards to even a full mile. Also instead of ball slope angles and club recommendations, they will be pre-set with ballistic data to calculate holdover values based upon ammunition and type of firearm.


Features to Consider in Your Rangefinder

» Hunting Rangefinder Features

rangefinders-for-huntingIt’s not hard to find an old-timer who has horror stories of how he missed that trophy because he underestimated the distance. In fact, that old-timer might have been you a mere five years ago.

Optical technology has improved significantly over the last decade and continues to do so right under our very noses. Every rifle hunter wants the best long range rangefinder to make sure he goes home with a full tag and a full truck bed.

But what makes an optic good enough for your hunt?

First thing’s first. Whether you’re a bow hunter or a rifle wielder, you’ve got to be able to get more than just line of sight distances. Getting the true horizontal distance to your target will make or break your shot.

Angle compensation is a must-have if you’re even going to consider shooting from a tree blind, canyon, or even in any sort of terrain that isn’t perfectly flat. My point? Don’t buy a unit without angle compensation. You’ll never know when you might just need it.

Most conventional rangefinders for shooting are built with various types of targeting modes. You can expect a Scan mode that gives you constant updates of a moving target. First mode will acquire close range target distances, and that can be ideal for when you want background objects to be ignored.

Distant mode acquires background or the furthest target distances. This can be helpful for when that doe is partly obscured by brush or the like.

Hunting and target shooting can take place in any type of weather. You’ll want to look out for a device that has a rugged, waterproof design and can withstand the elements for as long as you can endure them!

Because these activities are usually time consuming and they’re outdoors, think about ergonomics, compact size, and magnification specs. You might just find that rangefinder binoculars are what you need instead.

No need to re-read that last sentence. You read it right. Rangefinding binoculars are a real thing and they’re made to be the creme de la creme of rangefinding optics. They’re much more expensive than the regular variety, but you’re also getting the benefits of two units in one.

Instead of a monocular unit, you’re able to use the binocular design to zoom in on targets with amazing magnification, adjustable focus, fast target acquisition, and speedy distance readings that you would expect of both rangefinders and binoculars. If your best friend has one, you have every right to be “in lust” with his unit. I wouldn’t blame you.

So to recap, check for the following features when buying a hunting rangefinder and assess which are important to you:

  • True Horizontal Distance
  • Angle Compensation
  • Multiple Targeting Modes
  • Rugged Design
  • Waterproof Capabiliities
  • Monocular Unit vs Rangefinding Binoculars


» Golf Rangefinder Features

rangefinders-for-golfGone are the days of pacing and using yardage charts. Now are the days of using laser and GPS rangefinders for golf.

Why? Well, other than the clear benefits of knowing exact distances to make your par, it can actually help turn you into a pro. Besides, it’s fun and extremely satisfying to see that little ball just swivel into that hole.

Lets check out some of the features that will be present in a good golf rangefinding device to assess which are important to you.


Laser Rangefinders for Golf

Conventional rangefinders have been used in golf to determine distances, but the need for slope compensation and accurate target acquisition on the course called for a little bit more tech. Many golf rangefinders use the same laser technology of hunting units.

Golf units operate off a “First” target distance mode, meaning it’s going to give you the closest reading in case there’s background objects that the device inadvertently acquires. Some golf units are going to specifically look for a flag for acquisition. There are also features available that allows for some sort of confirmation that the flag has been targeted, like vibrating.

Slope compensation is a popular feature on golf units because it takes into account the type of club you’re using and the distance to determine the trajectory of the ball based on slope angle and the compensated range. This means you have the capability to make that perfect arc for the perfect par.

Using this type of unit for golf will always require you to be able to physically see the next flag, so you’ll need to pay attention to magnification and quality lenses when you want the ultimate sports optic for golf. If being able to see the next hole presents an issue for you, then perhaps a GPS unit might be a better option.

To recap, check for the following features in a laser golf rangefinder:

  • First Target Distance Mode
  • Target Aquisition
  • Slope Compensation
  • Magnification Strength
  • Lens Quality


GPS Rangefinders for Golf

With rangefinders being used on the course, you knew it wouldn’t be long before GPS technology got thrown into the mix. It takes outer space to get involved in your golf game – literally. The unit communicates with satellites orbiting the Earth to determine your exact location.

It then compares this location with the pre-set location of the next position on the course giving you the distance. This will be the basis of how a golf GPS functions.

You can get golf GPS units with pre-loaded golf courses that have distances already uploaded by the manufacturer of the device. Some golf courses offer satellite feeds that allows you to view and access GPS mappings of the course.

As you make your way across the course, you just select the next hole you want to play and the device will display the corresponding data for you to make your swing. With GPS units, you’re pretty much bound to depending on satellite imaging and pre-loaded courses.

Features to consider in a Golf GPS include:

  • Preloaded Courses
  • Manual pin placement
  • Membership fees

Can You Use One Rangefinder for Both Hunting and Golf?

Yes. After reading the differences between the two, you’re probably really interested to hear my argument here. With thorough research, you can find rangefinders that have the capability to cater to both golf and stalking your prey.

Not all rangefinders are compatible for both sports, and if you do find one that’s appropriate, it might very well be pricier than a single use optic. A way to avoid the higher price or even trying to find one that’s manufacturer recommended for both sports, is to find an optic with versatile features.

Making sure you have at the very least, the following features, will improve your success for using one unit for both golf, hunting, and shooting.

  • First AND Distant target modes: First is appropriate for golf as well as close range shooting for targets or small game. Distant mode will be appropriate for long range hunting.
  • Long maximum yard ranges: For golf, you’re going to need long enough yard ranges to at least make it to your next hole. This could be a maximum of 500 yards, which is also appropriate for bow hunters and most hunting. For long distance shooting sports that includes rifle hunting or long distance target shooting, you’re going to want maximum yard ranges of 1200 to 1600. Going with a unit that has maximum yard ranges will cover all your bases.
  • Angle Compensation: This feature should be appropriate for the rifle shooter, bow hunter, and golf player to calculate angle compensation values.
  • Horizontal distance: To make sure you get the right distance, not just line of sight distance, you’ll need to make sure that the device displays this.
  • Rugged construction: Hunting is the most likely sport that will take the most abuse. If it’s durable, compact, and has some waterproof qualities, it’s going to be more than good enough for golf.

Here are some rangefinders you could check out that might find fit both your hunting and golfing needs:

» GPS Rangefinders and Hunting

I do want to mention here how an avid hunter can benefit from a GPS rangefinder with a scenario. If you’re a waterfowl hunter or bird observer, you most likely know some hot spots that you’d like to range.

Even if you don’t have any good decoys or if you can’t call, you just need to get to there before the birds do. This is where scouting, marking your exact hot spot, and GPS rangefinding work together.

Ranging your spread before your hunt looks like this:

If you already know your hot spot, set up some decoys. If you don’t, drive to a field you want to hunt in and find a flock. Once decoys are set up or you find your flock, go to a decent distance that won’t alert the birds. From here, you’ll want to mark your GPS waypoint into the rangefinder.

Now, range to the center of the flock or to your decoys for the distance. Note the compass bearing, and drive away. Once you’re a safe distance away from the hot spot, put in your GPS waypoint to match the distance location with the same compass bearing. You now have your exact location to drive to and your ranging spread to avoid fumbling around in the dark at three a.m.

If you have a pre-set tree blind or even a ground blind you’ll be using, go to that spot and range the distance to the decoys, or range from the decoys to your blind. You are now able to establish pre-set ranges.


One Rangefinder to Rule Them All

Although in most instances it is best to buy a rangefinder designed specifically for either hunting or golf, if you shop smart you can use one rangefinder for both activities.

Keep the features we have suggested forefront in your mind when you start your search and you just might snag a unit that will have you making par on the course and filling your tag in the field.

Have you found a rangefinder that works well for both? Let us know in the comments below.

Simon is an avid outdoor enthusiast who is passionate about bringing you the most up to date, accurate & understandable information on hunting, optics, and the outdoors.