How to Choose the Best Binoculars for Hunting
For a hunter, choosing binoculars can be as weighty a decision as choosing a rifle. It’s well worth taking the time to understand the features to make sure you make the right decision for you. As a hunter, your needs are different to the stargazer or bird watcher. You need binoculars that are designed for hunters, and chosen with your specific needs in mind. The best binoculars will be a lifetime investment and can greatly increase your chances of success. Use this guide to choose the best pair for your needs and budget.
Magnification and Field of View
The first thing to consider when buying binoculars is the magnification or “power.” Simply put, how close does the object look through the lens compared with the naked eye. For 8x power, the object will look 8 time closer. For 1ox power, 10 times closer, and so on. It’s easy to assume that “the bigger the better” applies here, but that's not always the case. A greater magnification can mean you sacrifice steadiness, brightness and field of view (the width of the image that you see). This can be a crucial choice depending on whether you spend your time scanning terrain, tracking moving animals or observing from a distance.
What are your specific needs? Consider the terrain you're hunting in. For forest areas and agricultural fields, a low magnification and wider field of view may provide better visibility. For open spaces or mountainous areas, you are more likely to be viewing game at a distance, so a larger magnification (1ox or 12x) may be necessary. If this is the case, consider a tripod to improve steadiness.
Objective Lens Size
The second thing to think about is the objective lens size. As a hunter, you're often out at dawn and dusk, in low light. This is where objective lens size becomes important, as it’s all about how much light gets into the lens. A general rule of thumb is the larger the diameter of the lens, the brighter the image. A full-size lens is 42mm, and a compact 26mm or even 22mm. Generally, the higher the number, the more expensive and heavier the lens.
You will need to consider your budget, but also the practicalities of carrying the binoculars. If you're hunting from a hide with a tripod, the weight of your binoculars is probably less of a consideration than if you're tracking on foot. For a good compromise, you may consider a mid-size version that is easy on the neck and arms, while still providing plenty of light. Terrain is also an important consideration here. For forests and low light areas, a larger diameter lens is a must.
Durability and Design
The third consideration is durability. As with any outdoors equipment, you're looking for something that will perform in unpredictable weather conditions, and withstand the odd collision with the ground. Look for a tough rubber exterior to withstand any knocks or scrapes. Sealed binoculars will make sure no moisture gets into the lens, and this will keep dust out as well. Fog proof binoculars are essential if you're often in extreme weather. They are filled with argon or nitrogen gas which inhibits internal fogging. Rangefinder binoculars are becoming more and more commonplace, especially out on shooting ranges.
If you wear glasses, you will need to check the eye relief features on your binoculars. The eye relief specification will tell you how far your eye can be from the equipment while still getting the full field of vision. Generally, the larger the magnification, the shorter the eye relief. If you wear glasses, you will be looking for a longer eye-relief as your glasses create distance from the ocular lens.
Eye-cups are related to eye relief as they help you maintain the distance between the ocular lenses and the eye, but have the added benefit of keeping out extra light. For hunting, they also minimize distraction as they cut out peripheral vision. They are usually made from rubber and can be adjusted as needed. The best brands feature “click stops” with eye relief distance for each click marked on the cup, which allows you to find the perfect eye relief distance for you.
While the adage “you get what you pay for” is certainly true for binoculars, you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars to get the right pair for your needs. It’s all about the best combination of performance and value. Which pair is right for you?