Choosing The Right Binoculars For Bowhunting

In the world of bowhunting, technology continues to greatly impact and improve our favorite past time. While many immediately think of new bows or electronics, optics companies continue to introduce new products that are fantastic assets and can greatly enhance your bowhunting experience.

I’m often amazed at how many bowhunters don’t take advantage of today’s efficient optics. The binoculars of the 21st century are far different than those that you or your dad used in the 70’s and 80’s. Big, bulky binoculars that don’t transmit enough light during the last few minutes before dark are a thing of the past. Today’s optics are excellent at gathering light in virtual darkness which comes in handy quite regularly.

A Hunter Using Binoculars

When paired with a good harness, modern binoculars can be one of the most beneficial long range scouting and observation tools available to bowhunters.

Western hunters have long since known the value of quality optics, much like Midwestern whitetail hunters know the value of a good treestand. Glassing the open prairies or distant mountain sides is a staple of Western hunting which is made significantly easier with a good set of optics.

Bowunters that hunt thick woods and don’t feel like they can see far enough for binoculars to make a difference may be mistaken. Patience is key, but with practice hunters can pick out a tine, an eye, a leg or any other body part that the naked eye would deem non-existent. After the shot, every step that you can watch an animal take may be critical evidence in the recovery of that animal. No matter what animal you bowhunt, or where you hunt it, you have something to gain from using binoculars.

Choosing any particular optic product can be quite overwhelming, it feels like there are about 10 million different products all with different powers and objective sizes and they each come with a different price tag. I want to help you determine what type of product best suits your need by defining exactly what advantages and disadvantages each basic feature.

A Hunter with Binoculars

Whether you are hunting woodland whitetails in Wisconsin or bugling elk in Montana a high quality set of binoculars can make your hunt not only more enjoyable but also more successful. Photo courtesy of Vortex Optics.

Magnification

Binoculars come in three main powers of magnification 8x, 10x and 12x. While there are others available these are certainly the most common and useful for hunters. The magnification is just that, it describes how much the subject (deer, elk, etc.) is magnified to your eyes.

Lower power binoculars (7x or 8x) offer a larger field-of-view, so that when you look through your binoculars you see a larger area. This is excellent when looking for animals that you don’t know are there as you can cover more ground with less moving around. Lower magnification also means that heat waves aren’t magnified and that the deer you are looking at remains clearer in hot temperatures. Of course when you do spot the animal you’re looking for you will not be able to make out quite as much detail as a higher powered magnifaction.

Additionally, if you spend lots of time glassing for animals your eyes don’t get tired and headaches are far less likely with a lower power optic. This can become a factor on Western hunts when you are often glassing for hours at a time.

Higher powers of binoculars offer the best opportunity to zoom in at long range to count tines or determine the sex of an animal. However these high power binoculars also limit the field-of-view the viewer sees, which is less ideal for glassing animals that you don’t know are there. If you are looking at animals you know are there and you aren’t having to “spot” them, higher magnification allows you to see more detail.

Objective Size

The objective size is a number in mm that describes the width of the back (big end) of the lens. So binoculars may be, for example, 7×35, 8×42, 10×42, 10×50 or 12×50.  The first number represents the magnification which we already covered and the second number is the objective size. The larger the objective the more light the binocular lets in, thus allowing better vision in low-light situations. So an 8×42 will have a larger lens and gather more light than an 8×35. As nice as the additional light is, it doesn’t come without it’s drawbacks. Larger objectives are bulkier and heavier to carry around.

Binoculars Showing the Size

Objective size is the diameter of the big end of the lens measured in millimeters. The larger the objective the bigger the binocular.

For the everyday treestand whitetail hunter most hutners feel that a set of 8×42 binoculars are ideal. You receive a moderate field-of-view, plenty of magnification and enough light transmission to see in low-light conditions. For western hunters it is more about personal preference, I personally wear 10×50 Vortex Razor HD’s but at times I feel it would be beneficial to have a wider field-of-view when I’m glassing for bedded mule deer.

Price

The prices of binoculars can range from $100-$2500 or more. Like most products in the hunting world there is usually a direct correlation between the clarity/quality of the glass and the price.  Generally speaking, binoculars that cost more money will have better lenses which can offer additional clarity and better light gathering properties.  That doesn’t mean, however, that you need to break the bank when buying new glass.  There a plenty of good sets of binoulars on the market that range from $250 to $500 and will last a long time.

One thing I stress to anyone looking at binoculars is to take into consideration the warranty offered by the manufacturer. Some optics companies offer an unconditional lifetime warranty of their products which can, and will, come in handy. Considering how much these optics cost that warranty is very nice to have.

A Hunter Glassing an Area

Glassing an area before you go in for the hunt is a great way to minimize the amount of deer you spook and thus up your odds for success.

When it comes to binoculars it’s important to determine how much you will use the product and what you want them to do. Rate the importance of magnification, light transmission and field of view to figure out which binocular is right for you. There is most definitely a product in your price range that can offer you an advantage in the treestand or sneaking through the sage brush on your next hunt.

Comments

  1. VA_Bowhunter says:

    I hunt the woods in the east and I originally tried to get away with a small, cheep pair of binoculars since I didn’t think I would need them much in the woods. I started to find that I did enjoy having binoculars with me to check out the “phantom shadow” or movement, I realized that my cheep pair were garbage and not doing me any good at all. I went on a quest to find a good pair that wasn’t too bulky but would let enough light in to be practical in the woods. The best advice on what to look for didn’t come from any hunting sites, it actually came from a bird watching forum. I eventually settled on a pair made by Vortex (7X35) which was perfect for the woods. Obviously if you are hunting open areas, a more powerful magnification is needed.

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  2. I hade small binos. I looked for new ones I hunt public land in Michigan. So I can glass woods down pine tree rows. Clear cuts grass fields. long clear cuts and fields. some a quarter a mile long. so I went with and realy like my 10×50 mine are weaver grand slams I love them like crazy. I tried 8×25 to small made my head and eyes hurt. and the 10 x50 don’t and I can use them very well. with my glasses. I don’t mind 10 power even in the thick stuff allows you to zoom in and pick it a part very well. I got good field of view 326.2 which is plenty. I think.

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  3. Todd Mendenhall says:

    I have been a traditional bowhunter for over 25 years, and bowhunting for 30. Like everyone, I have went through the whole phase of using cheap “bino’s”. It wasn’t until I was on a hog hunt with a few fellow longbowman, that I found out the difference. Me and another guy was walking around and just stopped and sat down and glassed. He was seeing animals that I wasn’t , he then let me see through his glass. It was like a curtain was thrown open, when I first lifted the glass to my eyes. He giggled, as I kept going back and forth, comparing the literal night/day difference between the two. After we came home, I bit the bullet and bought a pair of votex bino’s. That fall, with the use of them, I was able to stalk not one, but two whitetail deer and put them in my freezer. Optic’s are one area where you want to buy the best “glass” you can afford and a look at it as a lifetime investment cause it is. The next year, I was setting up treestand, and the optical zoom busted, an email to them and within a week that “glass” was repaired and back free of charge and like brand new.

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