Bushnell Elite 1 Mile CONX & Kestrel Sportsman Review
A rangefinder with built in Bluetooth capability, the Bushnell Elite 1 Mile CONX is a long distance rangefinder than can be paired with certain model Kestrels or a smartphone. But are these Bluetooth connections useful for the shooter or just unique?
Bushnell Elite 1 Mile CONX
Overview - The Bushnell CONX is a flat horizontal style rangefinder that has 7x magnification and features a red LCD display. The CONX is equipped with both first and last target priority settings and is capable of giving angle compensated readings. Bushnell lists 1760 yards as the max range on highly reflective targets, 1000 yards on trees, and 500 yards on deer. The CONX rangefinder is powered by one lithium CR123 battery, has a threaded socket tripod mount, and comes with a 1 year guarantee. Items that come with this rangefinder include a carrying case, battery, owner’s manual, lens cloth, and lanyard.
Housing - The Bushnell CONX features a rubberized coating for a secure grip and weighed in at 13.5 oz on my scale with the battery installed. The top of the unit has a rectangular button which powers the unit on and thereafter functions as the fire button. Meanwhile, the mode button used for changing settings is located at the rear of the unit just to the left of the eyepiece. The front of the eyepiece features an adjustable diopter ring that is used to focus the red LCD display to the user’s eye. The Bushnell CONX uses a rotating eyepiece cover which has four different positions to accommodate those wearing glasses. The front of the rangefinder contains the battery compartment, while the bottom of the unit is threaded for use on a tripod mount.
Modes - There are several different modes the CONX rangefinder can operate in. Reg - Displays range only. Rifle HD - Displays range, angle, and angle compensated distance out to 1000 yards. Rifle (Groups A-J) - Displays range, angle, and holdover (these are preprogrammed ballistic groups). Guns 1-3 - Displays range, angle, and holdover (user customized ballistic groups entered from a smartphone) AB - Displays range, angle, and holdover (transmits range and angle info into Kestrel and receives holdover data from Kestrel) Note, the large primary range number reported is always line of sight distance but the calculated holdover info does take into account the angle of the shot. Angle compensated distances in yards or meters are available in the Rifle HD mode out to 1000 yards. The holdover units available when ranging in yards will be mils, moa, or inches; while setting the unit to read distance in meters will give you holdover options in mils, moa, or cm.
Set Up - Once the Bushnell CONX is powered on, the mode button at the back of the unit is pressed and held for a couple seconds, after which the rangefinder settings can be accessed and changed. The mode button scrolls through the setting choices while pressing the fire button selects the highlighted choice and advances the display to the next set of options. First up is the display brightness setting of which there are four intensity levels. Next, the user selects one of the previously described mode settings. Then the user selects distance to be measured in either meters or yards, and if a ballistic group mode was selected a sight in distance and unit of holdover such as moa, mils, cm, or inches. Finally, the user chooses a target priority mode if desired with the options being Bullseye - first target priority, or Brush - last target priority.
Performance - All rangefinders list their max distance in reference to a highly reflective target under ideal conditions, so a good general rule of thumb is to divide this maximum range number by two to get a more useful average performance range. With the Bushnell CONX I have ranged out to 1750 yards which is just barely shy of the listed 1760 yard max range. However, while being able to range house sized targets under ideal conditions on the fifth or sixth attempt at a mile might be fun to brag about, it isn’t very useful for most hunting and shooting scenarios. My experience so far indicates this rangefinder is good at reading most medium to large sized inanimate objects out to about 1000 yards. I say 1000 yards because I get lots of first attempt readings off hand in the 800 to 1000 yard range, but dramatically fewer in the 1000 to 1100 yard range. I have found that mounting the unit to a tripod generally ads a few hundred yards more ranging power as holding the unit steady is important for obtaining long distance readings. The moral of the story, if you think of the Bushnell CONX rangefinder as a legitimate 1000 yard rangefinder that can be stretched to 1200 yards with a tripod you will likely be very pleased, if you think your going to range any target you want in any condition at 1 mile you will be disappointed.
Likes - I was impressed by the clarity of the display; and while not binocular level quality it was good for a rangefinder. Also, I was pleasantly surprised by the size of this unit, Bushnell found the sweet spot making this unit both large and heavy enough for a steady hold of the 7x magnification, yet just small enough to still carry on a belt. As someone who shoots with both contacts and glasses, I also liked the four position adjustable rotating eyecup of the CONX better than the folding style eyecups found on many rangefinders. Next, the 1000 yard ranging capability of the Bushnell CONX on inanimate objects, usually on the first attempt off hand, was a big plus in my view. Also, to my eyes the red LCD display did not have the haloing or flare around the display that some red LED rangefinders seem to have on their highest brightness settings. Lastly, the Bluetooth connectivity of this rangefinder with the Kestrel Sportsman or smartphone provided numerous configuration options to get the most out of the rangefinder in numerous different applications.
Dislikes - I found myself wanting more contrast from the display on really bright days even when the rangefinder was on its highest intensity setting; however, this is the downside of all red displays and the trade off for good target and background contrast in low light conditions. Next, depending on the mode and settings selected; I often found the screen a bit too busy with all the indicators, large icons and range data. I realize a somewhat cluttered screen is the flip side of having a full featured and customizable rangefinder, but still I feel the display layout could have been done better. Finally, the battery compartment door has a little spring loaded tab that folds out to unscrew the battery compartment door, and while I haven’t had any problems with this tab so far; it does appear to be a potential point of failure if over torqued which I am prone to do.
Mistake I Made - The Bushnell CONX ranges very fast even at several hundred yards, and this is great; but I developed a bad habit of simply tapping and releasing the fire button as the CONX was ranging targets that quickly. Then when I started ranging targets at long range, I was having some trouble getting readings as I was pressing and then immediately releasing the fire button not allowing the rangefinder enough time to range the target. The Bushnell CONX will show brackets around the circle style reticle when the laser is being fired so be sure to allow the rangefinder time to read a target by holding the fire button down until a range is displayed or until the unit stops firing the laser on that attempt.
Overview - While the Bushnell CONX can be purchased by itself; the unit I reviewed was the Bushnell Elite 1 Mile CONX Combo version that comes with a Bluetooth enabled Kestrel Sportsman with weather vane mounting kit for use on a tripod. For those that are familiar with the Kestrel line; this model is part of their new 5700 series that has several updates and changes over their 4500 series. The Kestrel comes with its own padded carrying case which includes a Lithium AA battery, weather vane mounting kit, lanyard, and instruction manual. Also of note, the Kestrel Sportsman is rated as waterproof and is covered by a 5 year warranty.
Set Up - Setting up the Kestrel Sportsman was a bit of a process and beyond the scope of this article. However, the nutshell version is you need to set up the unit to report both weather and ballistic information in the units you want, enter in specifics for your particular cartridge/load combo, calibrate the compass, and then pair it up to the rangefinder. Note, the CONX rangefinder must be set to “AB” mode to operate with the Kestrel. Bushnell has a short video showing how to quickly get your Kestrel and rangefinder paired up. I also recommend a five part Youtube series by Panhandle Precision who really dives into the setup and use of the Kestrel Elite 5700 which is a slightly more advanced version of the Kestrel Sportsman but they work nearly the same in most aspects. While his videos do not show how the unit interacts with a Bushnell CONX, and the Elite 5700 has a few setting the Sportsman model doesn’t, it is a good overview into the settings, setup, and application of a Kestrel especially for those entirely new to these devices. Links to the aforementioned videos and other helpful materials can be found on our Bushnell Elite 1 Mile CONX Combo resource page at the bottom of the page.
Connections - The Kestrel Sportsman can be connected either to the Bushnell CONX rangefinder or to a smartphone via the download of an app, the Kestrel Link Ballistics app is available for free at Itunes or on Google Play. Connecting the Kestrel Sportsman to the Bushnell CONX rangefinder results in the Kestrel transferring holdover data to the rangefinder screen, and also lets the rangefinder automatically send the distance and angle of the shot into the Kestrel. Connecting the Kestrel to the Kestrel App allows you to, among other things, build and manage gun profiles on your phone, or monitor the wind and weather variables of the Kestrel remotely on your smartphone screen. However, when the Kestrel is hooked to a smartphone, the range and angle of the shot have to be taken from the rangefinder and entered into the smartphone because you can only have two Bluetooth devices connected at any one time.
Likes - Having never been around a Kestrel I was simply blown away by what all these devices can do. The amount of ballistic variables Kestrels can take into account, the environmental conditions they measure, and the calculations they are capable of making are truly impressive. Furthermore, despite all their capabilities Kestrel’s are actually quite small and lightweight which makes them easy to take into the field in a pocket or pouch. Next, their waterproof design helps insure their electronics don’t get damaged while in the wet or rainy conditions often encountered while hunting. Finally, much like using a rangefinder helps you become a better judge of distance, simply using the Kestrel has greatly improved my ability to more accurately judge wind speed.
Dislikes - Calibrating the compass was very difficult as you need to spin the unit around on its vertical access three full rotations while it orients itself. I was unable to do this as described in the instructions. After much trial and error, I was finally able to calibrate the compass by placing the Kestrel in the “U” shaped weather vane bracket. Then I stuck a pencil in the bottom of the bracket’s threaded socket and carefully rotated the unit three times and at a much faster rate than the 10 seconds per rotation as recommended in the manual. Using this method I was able to get the unit calibrated on the second attempt as opposed to a dozen or so failed attempts using the method described in the instructions. Also, having never been around a Kestrel, I didn’t find the menu very intuitive. While easy enough to get around after spending a fair amount of time becoming familiar with the navigation layout, there was a somewhat steep initial learning curve.
Mistake I Made - I had difficulty hooking the Kestrel up to a smartphone, in this case an Android 4.4 phone and was worried it was related to the same Bluetooth and Android 4.4 connectivity problems I had with the Bushnell CONX app (see below). However, after spending more time than I would like to admit, I finally went online and found that you need to go into the Kestrel’s settings and adjust the Bluetooth “connect” setting from “device” to “pc/mobile”. After setting the Kestrel to “pc/mobile” it connected to the smartphone without issue. Just be sure to change this setting back to “device” when you want to hook the Kestrel back up to the Bushnell CONX rangefinder.
Smartphone CONX App
Overview - The Bushnell CONX can also be connected to a smartphone by way of a free downloaded app from Itunes store for Apple users or Google Play Store for Android users. The CONX app allows for the shooter to display the same range info output from the CONX rangefinder onto the screen of their smartphone. The Bushnell CONX app also allows users to enter custom ballistic groups for up to three guns and transfer these custom ballistic curves into the rangefinder. Note, the AB mode of the rangefinder does not work on a smartphone as that mode is for use with compatible Kestrels only.
Set Up - The CONX app requires a minimum of Android version 4.3, or iOS 8.1 for Apple users. Once Bluetooth is enabled on the phone and the app installed on the smartphone, the CONX app will list the rangefinder as “Elite1M CONX” selecting this connection and then pressing “connect” pairs up the rangefinder and smartphone. Note, the rangefinder needs to be powered on for this initial connection so tap the fire button to turn on the unit and activate the display. After establishing this connection, the two devices will find each other automatically in the future. It is worth noting the Bluetooth connection drops every time the rangefinder display automatically shuts down after 30 seconds of inactivity; however, this is normal and the smartphone retains the range info and will automatically connect and update the next time the rangefinder is fired.
Performance - Once paired up, the smartphone displays the range info from the rangefinder; the format of this range info will depend on what mode the rangefinder is operating in. Once connected you can change the rangefinder’s operating mode or units of measurement from the smartphone. This connection also allows for the user to complete three custom drop charts on their smartphone and upload them to the rangefinder where they will be stored and can be used much like the pre programmed ballistic profiles that come loaded on the rangefinder. One thing to note is that most people have their phone’s screen to timeout rather quickly to conserve the battery; so you may want to adjust your phone’s settings for a longer screen display time. Also adjusting your phone’s display to maximum brightness is generally a good idea for outdoor use.
Likes - The larger screen of a smartphone is easier to read than the rangefinders display and also stores the last range info until you close the app, as opposed to the rangefinder that will power down after 30 seconds. This takes the time pressure off making an adjustment to your scope and you can always look at your phone to confirm the reading. Next, being able to upload custom drop charts for your specific cartridge/load setup into the rangefinder is also a bonus as you can use a ballistic program of your choice that accounts for numerous variables and more accurately represents your cartridge/load’s ballistic path.
Dislikes - I was disappointed that I was unable to get the Bushnell CONX Android App to connect with two different phones running the 4.4 KitKat operating system despite version 4.3 being listed as the minimum version needed to run this app. I was able to update one of those Android 4.4 Kitkat phones to 5.1.1 Lollipop and then able to get the rangefinder and smartphone to connect and work, but it eventually crashed and had to be reinstalled after which it seemed to work fine again. I tested the CONX iTunes app on an Iphone 5s running iOS 10 and it connected right away and worked good in the limited testing I did with it. My experience is based on a small sample and others may be able to get the app to work on older Android phones, but in my opinion based on what I have seen so far the newer the Android version the better and even then there could be stability issues.
Mistake I Made - I spent a ridiculous amount of time trying to get my Android 4.4 phone to run the CONX app and hook up to the rangefinder as it should have been able to connect. However, while I obsessed over getting the app to work, I wish I would have known that once I finally got the app to work on another phone and newer Android version it wouldn’t be used again after the initial testing. When everything is hooked up and working the CONX app is nice and can be handy. However, the CONX rangefinder to Kestrel connection and Kestrel to smartphone connection are almost always a better combo at least for the applications I have encountered so far, as they both allow wind measurements to be taken into account. Remember you can only connect two Bluetooth devices together at any one time and the CONX app usually found itself the odd man out. Connecting the rangefinder to a phone or device with the CONX app is still necessary if you want to upload the three custom ballistic curves but can be a one time deal with another more compatible phone or device if need be. None of this will likely even be an issue for those of you not using an older Android version, but I wish I had this perspective at the start as it would have saved me a lot of effort, frustration, and time.
Set Up - There are a lot of devices, apps, connections, and settings to manage during the initial setup of the Bushnell CONX and Kestrel Sportsman and it can be a little overwhelming at first. For most people there will probably be a lot of terms and settings they aren’t familiar with, and some data needed that they don’t know or have on hand. Getting all this set up and working properly as a system will not just be an evening project for most people; expect to read instructions, troubleshoot, research, and experiment. Do yourself a favor and don’t put yourself on a tight timeline to use this system on a hunt or competition shortly after you get it. While a few aspects can be a little tricky or difficult; there is also just a lot of steps in the process of getting three different devices set up how you want, making the connections, and understanding how they interact with each other. Having just gone through the process we put together a page of useful resources that will hopefully streamline the process for you and help you avoid some the mistakes we made.
Applications - To recap, there are three connections you can make via Bluetooth with the CONX and Kestrel Sportsman package and each brings a different set of strengths to the table. The Bushnell CONX to Kestrel Sportsman connection was the one I seemed to use the most and is well suited for many long range hunting applications where time is often a critical factor yet wind and other environmental variables still need to be taken into account. Next, the Kestrel Sportsman to smartphone connection seemed like a good way to go when shooting for groups or at single target at one distance multiple times, as this is a good way to closely monitor the wind and entering in the range info and shot angle manually is only needed once and generally not time critical. Finally, the Bushnell CONX rangefinder to smartphone connection provides a way to program ballistic curves that are more accurate than the pre programmed ones that come with the unit and can be useful for quick shots at more modest ranges. So in my opinion these Bluetooth connections did indeed translate to improved usefulness.
Wind & Other Factors - While there are a couple rangefinders out there that do have built in temperature and barometric sensors, none have the ability to measure wind. Wind is a factor that needs to be accounted for especially at longer ranges, and to calculate wind speed you need a separate device in addition to a rangefinder. If two devices are necessary it makes sense to pack one that has the capability to make complex calculations to account for things like spin drift and Coriolis effect which also need to be taken into account as ranges get extreme. The Bushnell CONX and Kestrel Sportsman combination does this; in addition the Bluetooth connection between the two automatically populates range and angle of the shot into the Kestrel which eliminates two steps the user has to manually perform in the field. This is not to be overlooked as long range shooting has traditionally been a two man endeavor consisting of both a shooter and spotter; so eliminating steps can be a significant benefit especially for those who are shooting without a spotter.
2016 Mule Deer with Bushnell CONX
The Bushnell Elite 1 Mile CONX & Kestrel Sportsman combo package and their ability to connect to each other or to a smartphone provides a long distance ranging system that can be adapted to a wide variety of hunting and shooting applications. Setup was not quick or what I would call easy, but doable and worth the effort to have the capabilities this system provides once properly setup. Currently the Bushnell CONX and Kestrel Sportsman package is selling for around $1150 online.
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