Dawn was just a promise on the horizon and there was a light mist dancing around in the cool morning air. It was still too dark to see clearly, but I was able to make out the figure of a deer as it merged from a mesquite thicket and moved into a small opening about 75 yards away.
It was obvious from the size of the animal’s body that it was a buck, but I couldn’t tell much about its antlers. The cheap binoculars around my neck wouldn’t let me.
Patches of moisture had formed on the lenses and muddled the view. I tried to wipe away the fog as the buck milled around in the opening, but it wouldn’t come off. The moisture was trapped inside.
I quickly shouldered my rifle and discovered even more trouble once the deer was in the crosshairs. I could see the animal’s body, but the scope wouldn’t gather enough light to show what he had on top. Seconds later, the buck melted into the brush as mysteriously as it had appeared.
A hard lesson in hunting optics was learned that morning nearly 20 ago. Binoculars and rifle scopes are like camera lenses. You get what you pay for.
If you’re a selective hunter who likes to take a good look before you pull the trigger, don’t cut corners when it comes to optics. Buy the best you can afford and be sure to look for quality components including premium glass to enhance image quality and multi-coated lenses for optimum light transmission and brightness during those bewitching moments of dim and grey light around dusk and dawn.
Other factors that lend to good experiences with hunting optics include durability, weight, ease of use and precision factory tuning. Optics also should be sealed to ensure the consumer many years of trouble-free use, even in inclement conditions. This will include nitrogen or argon purging, which does away with any moisture inside the unit and reduces the possibility of fogging down the road.
Something else to consider is the alliance between the magnification and light gathering capabilities of the glass. These characteristics are gauged by number.
In 8X42 binoculars, the “8” is the number of times the object is magnified. The “42” refers to the metric diameter of the light collecting lens.
The higher the first number, the more the object is magnified; the higher the second number, the more light that is gathered and the brighter the image will appear. A larger lens size also means more weight to tote around in the woods.
Hunters should choose binoculars based on the terrain they intend to hunt. East Texas is close quarters hunting, where shooting light is slow to come and fast to wane. Magnification power isn’t nearly as critical under those conditions as light gathering characteristics. Those who hunt in more open terrain or in the high country will want a glass with some power on the back end but not so much that it takes away from the light-gathering optics up front. The more an object is magnified, the more light that is required to see it clearly.
Since wild game tends to be most active early and late in the day, hunters should always opt for top shelf glass with the best light-gathering capabilities they can afford.
The good stuff doesn’t come cheap.