ABOVE : Ranging in foggy conditions.
There seems to be an ever expanding list of "must have" electronic items recommended in order to improve your hunting experience. As a bowhunter the laser range finder is a must as it takes the guesswork out of the range estimation question.
Hunters shooting, long range would also consider it an essential piece of equipment. However, the all-round hunter and the bush hunter would no doubt view it as an optional extra. That being said, I was excited to receive a Nikko Stirling range finder to review that claims to have the features and quality to be utilised by the long-range rifle hunter as well as the bow-hunter. With a mid-range price, it may even interest those all-round hunters who are sitting on the fence whe n considering the need for a range finder.
The range finder comes in a black cordura carry case with a lens cleaning cloth, a short lanyard to hang the unit from your wrist and a mini carabiner which enables you to hang the carry case off your belt loop.
The Nikko Stirling Laser Range Finder 603 unit itself is small weighing less than 200 grams with a length of 9cm and a depth of 7cm. This size makes it small enough to leave hanging from your chest on a binocular harness or hanging from' your belt via its carry case with little hassle. Componentry is aligned vertically with the operational button on top making it functional in either hand. Housed in a hard plastic and covered with rubber armour makes the unit highly water resistant.
The eye piece lens has a diopter adjustment that allows you to focus the unit to your particular vision and the unit itself has a built in 6x magnification to bring everything in slightly closer. The unit takes the standard CR2 battery common with most range finders.
I lost the battery and battery lid out of a different range finder on an alpine hunt recently as it was a design where a half turn secured it in place. This came loose and rendered the unit useless for the rest of the hunt. Not only this but I also couldn't source a replacement lid so the whole range finder is now redundant! The Nikko Stirling 603 has a decent thread securing its battery lid in place which mitigates this aforementioned problem.
The unit is very straight-forward to operate with an on/off button to bring up a bold and clear LCD display. The reticule is a small circle which is used to choose the object to range. A quick tap on the power button will bring up the range at the top of the screen and is displayed to the nearest metre with no partial measurements.
Holding the power button down will change the setting to scan mode so that you can move the reticule around and get multiple range readings from different objects. I use this function often to double-check that my target is in fact at the range first stated.
This is especially important when ranging a target through thicker cover where you could get a closer reading off something slightly obstructing your view. The second button is the mode button which can be held down to change from metres to yards.
The unit can make approximately 5000 measurements off one CR2 battery and will turn itself off after 10 seconds of non-use in order to save battery.
The unit claims to be able to measure out to 700 metres for objects such as trees and out to 1200 metres off a large flat surface with an accuracy of approximately +/- lm. The measuring time is less than one second.
In my field test I was impressed to find that I could get a maximum handheld reading of 1096m off distant trees. This figure is well in excess of what the manufacturers say it can do and well in excess of the range needs for even the long-range shooters in the USA. Incidentally the minimum range I could get was 5m.
"Calibrated to your weapon of choice it will give you more confidence in making that kill shot."
The unit is marketed to not only hunters but architectural and surveying firms and for this reason has a threaded hole on the underside so that it can be mounted to a tripod. This is ideal when using the unit at the shooting range. Interestingly, I got measurements out to 1190m on the more controlled conditions of the tripod.
While in perfect conditions the range finder exceeds the distance parameters it claims to be able to measure, the real test would be in poor weather conditions. My biggest problem with previous range finders has been using them in rain or foggy conditions.
I was keen to put the Laser Range Finder 603 through its paces in these conditions and found that although the unit could not range out to long distances due to the laser bouncing back off the thicker fog, it would still range objects able to be made out with the naked eye. This is hard to quantify but is probably all you can ask for in these conditions as you can only safely shoot what you can see anyway.
I have destroyed two high end range finders by using them in torrential rain and fogging up the optics. With this in mind, I put the Nikko Stirling through a simulated durability test as best I could. First I left it in the fridge overnight. It lived! Then I put in the deep freeze for an afternoon.
Once thawed out it still worked. Finally, to test the water resistance I placed it under the hose and sprayed first a fine mist for 15 minutes and then a constant shower for another 15 minutes. It still works fine.
The only thing I missed was an ARC system. For me as a bow-hunter I have been used to an ARC or Angle Range Compensation application in my range finders. This takes into account the angle between you and the target and adjusts the range to suit. In saying that, some of the high end range finder binoculars don't have it either.
The black digital display is harder to see in low light conditions but this is common to most range finders. I have used another brand that had a display that changed to red in low light conditions but the red display was so bright you couldn't see past it to the target anyway!
For a mid-level range finder, the Nikko Stirling Laser Range Finder 603 does what it says it can while also being capable of putting up with some abuse. The Nikko Stirling brand is now 60 years old and one of the few optics manufacturers which have only ever produced hunting optics.
This legacy along with a one-year manufacturer's warranty on the rangefinder should give you peace of mind. Calibrated to your weapon of choice it will give you more confidence in making that kill shot.
MAIN PICTURE : Range finder and tripod combination.
INSERT : Extreme water test.