For almost any form of hunting, it’s vital to find a good pair of binoculars. Your hunting binoculars are, in many ways, as important as the gun that you use. The best binoculars for hunting will help you to scout the surrounding terrain and will give you clear vision to not just find potential targets but evaluate their quality.
One of the biggest challenges when finding a hunting binocular is that with a lot of animals that people like to hunt, the best time to be out there is either early in the morning, or later in the day or evening when the sun is going down. This means that the brightness and clarity of the binoculars could be compromised. It is important to find binoculars that have good light gathering ability.
Binoculars with a good objective lens will perform well in low light. This can be beneficial – bigger lenses are typically better, but size alone doesn’t guarantee a good image. Another thing to look at is the quality of the lenses and the lens coating. In some cases, prisms are necessary to make the binoculars work well.
Other factors that can help you include the quality of the lenses and the coatings. It’s important to note that binoculars with large objective lenses will, naturally, be larger in size – and will also cost more. For most hunting, large binoculars may not be a problem, but if you are concerned about mobility or want to travel light, then you will need to pick your binoculars carefully.
Typically, full-size hunting binoculars have an objective lens diameter of 42mm. There are compact binoculars that have objective lens diameters of between 22mm and 26mm, but these are not usually good enough for use in low light conditions. Mid-sized models are a good compromise, and if you can get good quality lens coatings, and a set with a 32mm objective lens diameter then that should suffice for hunting in early mornings or late afternoons. With these, you will not sacrifice mobility and still enjoy clear visibility.
Many people assume that higher magnifications are automatically the best choice. This is not necessarily correct. Remember that when you’re hunting, you’re probably going to be lying down or crouching in the grass in a rough field. You won’t be setting up a tripod. You could be in an uncomfortable position. You will be holding the binoculars in your hands, so the best binoculars for hunting are ones that will give a stable image. Large magnifications will make it hard to keep the thing you are looking at stable in the view of the optics because every movement will be magnified.
Let’s not forget, also, that large magnifications reduce your field of view as well. When you’re scanning over a large area to try to spot game, you want a big field of view. A good field of view will help you to track wildlife as well.
The magnification that you use will also depend on whether you’re out on plains or spitting in woodland or forests. Low magnification, high light gathering and a wide field of view are characteristics of the best binoculars for hunting in woods. Choose 8×42 if you are using normal sized binoculars, or 8×30 or 8×32 for compact models.
When you are hunting in a wider open area such as plains or mountains, then you will need to be able to spot animals at a wider distance. Something like 10x, 12x, or maybe greater levels of magnification could help you. However, you should try to make do with lower levels (or the option for lower levels, with a zoom), to avoid losing too much field of view.
Magnification and light quality are just two of the important characteristics to consider when choosing binoculars. Don’t forget that you will also need to look for binoculars that work well in the kinds of environments you’re going to be hunting in. Often, those environments could be wet, windy or cold. Fully waterproof binoculars make sense for outdoor use even if the weather conditions are typically favorable. Sealed binoculars will help to prevent moisture from getting inside, and will help to keep dust, dirt, and debris away as well. Fogproof binoculars could be a good choice if you expect to be out in extreme temperatures. These are filled with nitrogen or argon gas so that they do not fog up inside when exposed to extreme temperatures.
Your binoculars will take a lot of abuse. Inevitably, you will drop them, or they will swing on their strap and hit something hard. There’s no point owning a pair of hunting binoculars that will break in day to day use. So, look out for models that feature tough rubber padding.
Camouflage is a nice bonus, if you know what environment you are going to be spending most of your time in. The majority of specialist manufacturers offer camo in some different variations, to suit different environments. If you’re not going to buy camo (perhaps because you hunt more than one type of game and don’t want to buy multiple pairs just yet), pick a matte, understated color and find creative ways to hide it.
There are some really good specialist models out there right now, such as the Predator range from Steiner that offer features aimed specifically at hunters. They block the colors of foliage and haze, increasing the visibility of ‘wildlife’ colors such as brown and red so that it is easier to pick out the game in the woods. There are even models that will give you range readouts for the object that you are focusing on, with ballistic information to make it easy to set up a shot.
None of those features will help you, however, if you are not able to use the binoculars. One thing that a lot of people don’t think about is that binoculars as standard are made for people who have relatively good eyesight. If you wear glasses, then you will need to buy binoculars that have an eye relief setting which means that the image is in focus at a slightly greater distance from the lenses. Without this, when you try to look through the binoculars you won’t be able to see clearly because you can’t get the lenses close enough to your eyes. You should look for something with an eye relief of 15mm. Unfortunately, this will reduce the field of view.
If you can go to the store and try the binoculars, do so. You may find, if you have a standard prescription, that you can ignore your glasses and just use the focus setting to get good vision. However, if you have a prescription for astigmatism the binoculars won’t be able to help you, so you will need to get the right type of binoculars to begin with.
If you have glasses, then instead of buying binoculars with standard eye cups, you may want to get a pair with a set of flaps or shades on the side. These will help you to see clearly and block out light from entering from the sides, as well as help you to avoid distractions. You can buy flaps and shades for most models of hunting binocular separately if the model you choose does not come with them.
Your budget will have a huge impact on what type of binoculars you can choose. Be aware that when you are looking at mid-range binoculars, you can get good viewing range and field of view, and decent eye relief as well, but you will be sacrificing some things – often durability, and close focus distances. With some of the lower end binoculars, if anything comes within two meters of you, it will be a blur.
If you’re on a really tight budget, then look for 50mm binoculars, because these tend to be far less expensive. You’re accepting bulk at that price, but they will have good image quality. If you’re willing to spend a bit more, then something like the Snypex Profinder is a good mid-range set of standard sized binoculars, and Swarovski makes some incredibly robust 42mm pairs as well.
Lieca is another company that makes high-quality binoculars, and that offer some truly high-tech bonuses such as the Geovid HD-B Laser Rangefinder. These are ideal for people who are very serious about hunting and who need real time distance information, as well as the ability to calculate shots based on temperature, air pressure, ballistics curves and other metrics. This may be too much information for the average beginner or weekend hunter, but for those who are looking to take trophy hunting to the next level, this is an amazing tool and well worth a look.
If you’re in the market for a good pair of binoculars, think about your budget and priorities, and remember the above factors. Size, durability, light uptake, waterproofing all matter more than bells and whistles, for something you will use every day.