Size up binoculars to bolster your prospects

Brad Allen 

These days, many Aussie hunters use binoculars when we go out hunting. There are a massive array of options on offer, from the lower priced ones of questionable quality to the extremely expensive, super performance models of the top-end brands. A myriad of other suitable varieties also exist in between.

I started hunting as a young bloke, way back in the 1960s with open sights on my Anschutz .22 Hornet and quickly graduated to a Brno .22 Hornet with a 4x Pecar scope. Wow, how good was that crystal clear Pecar! I learned to stop often and scan likely spots ahead for game through the scope. Basically, I was using the scope as I would a pair of binoculars. The system worked, but it had obvious drawbacks ‑ the scope being only 4 power in magnification and the rifle had to be shouldered while scanning for game.

My first introduction to binoculars was hunting deer with my old Uncle Charlie. Taking deer kept meat on the family table, so for Charlie hunting was a rather serious undertaking. To assist him in his quest, he carried his old Parker Hale .243 topped with a straight 6x scope and he never ventured into deer country without his 10x50 binoculars. I can’t recall the make, but they were quite large and of reasonable quality and worked well for the purpose.

I remember slowly cresting ridges while looking for deer, where Charlie would then sit quietly with his binoculars and ‘glass’. Initially for me, this seemed a waste of time, as I couldn’t see any deer. “No deer here,” I thought. “Why don’t we just keep walking to the next ridge for a look?” It was at this point that Charlie’s patience while glassing the opposite ridge faces and valleys often paid dividends. Invariably, he would spot deer through his binoculars that I couldn’t see with the naked eye. A quick look through his binoculars confirmed how handy they were for hunting, easily seeing deer that were otherwise invisible to the hunter. From this point on, I was a convert.

My first binoculars were a cheap pair of 8x30s that seemed to work okay for a short period, before literally falling apart in my hands as I attempted to adjust the focus during a hunt. Apparently you don’t obtain much binoculars-wise for $30.

My next pair were much better-quality Nikon 7x25 pocket-size binoculars. Very small, quite clear but due to their diminutive size, also rather fragile, as I found out. So, remember to always put the neck strap around your neck before using binoculars, just in case you drop them. But to be honest, small binoculars like those were never meant for the rigors of hunting.

I still have the next pair I bought, Steiner 8x30s, which are light, tough, reasonably clear and currently used by many military units around the world. They are great for hunting in heavier cover, where game is usually spotted and shot at shorter ranges, but they are left wanting at longer ranges and in poorer light conditions.

In the mid-2000s I purchased a pair of Leupold 10x42s for around $400 and was happy with their performance for several years ‑ that is until I looked through my mate’s Swarovski 10x42s and our hunting guide’s Leica 10x42s on a New Zealand sika hunt. They were spotting stags at extended ranges, that I was unable to see through my binoculars and they were also able to count the points on their antlers.

Suffice to say that within a few short years, I acquired a pair of Leica Geovid rangefinding binoculars (for my 50th birthday) that I am extremely happy with and I rarely trek into the bush without them. There is no substitute for quality optics, whether that be binoculars or riflescopes and it is usually at the prime hunting times, dawn and dusk, that this optical quality will come to the fore.

That said, in recent years the Aussie hunter has been showered with a veritable smorgasbord of good quality binoculars to choose from for various hunting pursuits. The quality of modern binoculars is a far cry from the cheapies that I had to choose from way back in my day.

Binoculars that will do a good job, can range in price from as little as $300 to well over $4000 for top-end models. The rule of thumb is to do your research and buy the best binoculars that you can afford. The same principle goes for any optical equipment that you use for hunting. If you follow that bit of advice, you will rarely be disappointed.

From my experience over years of hunting most of Australia’s ferals in many different and varied landscapes, any good quality binocular in the 7x35 to 10x42 range will suit most hunting conditions that we are likely to encounter. However, for close-range hunting, in thick cover, even 6x binoculars may work best. However, the same 6x binoculars would be left wanting in more open country, like glassing for deer at extended ranges. Binoculars of more than 10x usually fall into the ‘special usage’ category and are not generally suited to walkabout hunting. Remember the old adage of horses for courses.

If your objective is to just spot deer, pigs or goats in the bush for pest eradication or meat hunting, 7 and 8x will work just fine. Again, 7 and 8x binoculars are satisfactory for most applications, but can be underpowered when assessing a trophy animal’s horns or antlers, even at medium ranges. If you are a trophy hunter and you not only want to locate animals in the bush, but to assess their trophy potential and possibly save yourself hours of unnecessary walking and stalking, then quality binoculars of at least 10x are essential.

The problem that you will notice with most binoculars of 10 power and above is that they are extremely difficult to hold steady offhand. Every minor movement of the binoculars is multiplied 10 times, which in most cases necessities a rest of some kind to steady the image. Many hunters who choose 7 & 8x binoculars do so for that reason, as they are far easier to hold steady offhand, but the trade-off is a reduced ability to see the fine details of trophy animals at extended ranges.

I frequently brace against my shooting sticks to stabilise my Leica 10x42s when glassing for game. Leaning against a convenient tree or sitting and bracing your elbows against your bent knees also works well.

Without exception, hunting guides around the world use high-quality 10x binoculars and it has been my experience that Leica, Swarovski and Zeiss seem to be their preferred choice. Remembering that their success as guides is measured by their ability to locate and assess top quality trophy animals and ultimately, by the success of their clients.

With the improved quality of manufacture and lens coating technology, finding suitable binoculars in any appropriate price range has never been easier than it is today. In the median $500 to $1000 bracket, there are many excellent binoculars including Leupold, Lynx, Minox, Vortex, GPO (German Precision Optics), Zeiss Terra and Steiner, to name a few. Although, if you can afford a pair of Leica, Swarovski, Zeiss or Kahles by all means spend the extra money. I guarantee that you won’t be disappointed.

Make sure that you do your homework and research on the internet, so that your chosen binoculars are a suitable size for your intended purpose. Then ensure that they have these three major attributes.

1. They need to be rubber armoured, as you ‘will’ bump them against many things during the average day’s hunt, whether that be your rifle, its scope, other equipment or vegetation. If they don’t have rubber armour, they will make noise and they will become damaged.

2. They need to be waterproof. Some years ago, my son Bill had a $300-plus pair of binoculars that we thought were waterproof ‑ that is until he had to quickly jump into the river to save his dog. When he came out of the water, his binos looked like a fish bowl. They eventually dried out but were never the same after that. Waterproof binos would have handled the swim without any problems. Just being caught in a good downpour could have had similar results.

3. They need to have ‘fully multi-coated lenses’, both internally and externally. The better the quality of the lenses and the coatings, the higher degree of light transmission through the binoculars to your eyes, guaranteeing the brightest possible image in poor light conditions (which usually equates to the best hunting times at dawn and dusk).

Carrying large binos around on a neck strap is quite literally a pain in the neck! As with most larger binos, my Leica 10x42s are quite heavy, so a much better solution is the ‘shoulder harness’ system that I use. This is where the weight is taken on the shoulders and not your neck. Alternatively, my son Morgan currently uses a ‘binocular chest pouch’ which better protects your expensive investment and again the weight is taken on your shoulders, not your neck.

Binoculars will greatly assist you in locating and identifying all the game animals that you currently hunt. If you don’t already have binoculars, buying a good quality pair to use while hunting is a proposition worth considering.

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