UPDATED ON: May 1st, 2015
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.