I Can See Clearly Now

Using the heck out of a good set of binoculars will pay dividends when hunting.

For years I wandered the hills observing and assessing game animals through the optics attached to my hunting rifle. I would find an animal, sit and watch, trying to assess its shoot-ability from what was sometimes considerable distance through the rifle scope.

For me at the time, a pair of expensive binoculars was out of reach financially and in my arrogance seemed to be an unnecessary purchase. It wasn’t until I went stalking fallow deer early one morning with a mate who owned a very nice pair of Zeiss compacts, I realised that I was missing an essential piece of hunting kit.

There I was, perched on a hillside looking at what was a well formed stag, trying to determine if he was a shooter through the Leopold scope on my Kimber .308. My offsider was giving me the heads up that the stag was a definite shooter. Unable to clearly distinguish the target, I wasn’t convinced. Handing me the Binoculars, I adjusted the focus and was amazed at how defined the stag appeared in the half light. Yes, he was definitely worth a stalk.

Soon after, I purchased a respected brand of binocular which served me well until their untimely demise in a quad bike roll over, unfortunately not covered by warranty. Alas, I began the search to find a binocular that suited my needs as a hunter.

WHY BINOS?  Slow, deliberate stalking allows experienced hunters to pick up the tell-tale movement of game animals well before the unsuspecting quarry knows that something is amiss. A good binocular permits the hunter to determine characteristics such as the intended targets species, size, sex and trophy qualities at distance, often saving considerable leg work and time.

High quality optics with multi-coat high density lenses enables visual penetration of wooded and low light scrub areas, giving the observant hunter vital advantage when it counts. This ability is particularly advantageous when hunting mountain pigs and deer bedded down in dogwood and other low lying foliage.

To me personally, carrying a good binocular is almost as important as carrying a rifle and ammunition. The human body has a relatively poor sensory capacity and we rely heavily on visual stimulation. It is therefore essential to use technology to our advantage.

SIZE MATTERS. For the shooter who likes to hunt on foot, weight is always a question of necessity. I like to travel as light as possible, however even light equipment becomes a burden in the mountains.

The biggest issue I have is carrying heavy camera equipment on a strap around my neck. It was therefore essential that I found a compact binocular that suited my needs while being light and comfortable to carry on a chest harness.

The general rule with binoculars is that the larger the lens objective, the greater the weight. It is a compromise and hunters personal preference as to which size and weight of binocular they prefer.

Personally, I prefer a full size binocular with lens objective between 32mm and 42mm for better light  transmission. Most trophy animals are taken during the first or last 20 minutes of daylight. The ability to see clearly during this time is essential.

Smaller compact binoculars are an asset when considering weight however a lens objective of 20mm or 26mm is really not going to give you that last light advantage. Again the choice comes down to personal, practical preference.

MAGNIFICATION. For general hunting purposes a magnification of 8 – 10 power is ample. 8 to 10 magnification, will allow hunters to clearly identify and assess game animals out to 1000 metres which is more than enough in the field.

One tip for hunters to remember is that the higher the magnification, the smaller the field of view. Field of view can be essential when observing a number of animals without having to adjust your line of sight.

My preference is for a 10 power binocular which provides a 6.3 degree field of view at 1000 metres. These magnifications can also be useful at the range or to assist with sighting your hunting rifle. While not as effective as a spotting scope, a good 10 power optic will save a lot of leg work whilst checking targets at intermediate ranges.

RELIABILITY. Climatic and environmental conditions are real concerns for any hunter looking to purchase quality hunting optics. Binoculars are no different and require rugged, dependable assembly to perform in a vast array of climatic applications.

The rut in northern New South Wales normally coincides with the first autumn frosts and temperatures can be just plain miserable. These conditions require a binocular that provide superior fog and waterproof performance which is a quality of higher-end optics purged with nitrogen/argon gas and O-ring seals.

The binocular should be protected by rubber armour outer to assist with durability and provide a secure non-slip grip. Fully multicoated lenses not only provide superior light transmission but also protect the internals from scratches, oil and dirt.

Probably the most crucial element of all is that of manufacturer’s claims and warranty. Given my earlier accident and warranty issues, my personal pair of binoculars is now the Vortex Talon HD 10 x 32.

The influencing factor in my decision was price, performance and the fact that Vortex backs up any purchase with an “unconditional” lifetime repair or replacement VIP warranty.

As for your decision on hunting optics, the choices are as personal and varied as that of firearm brand selection. Everybody has to work to a budget, however a pair of high quality binoculars is an invaluable asset in the field.

This story was first published in the April 2014 issue of Sporting Shooter magazine.




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