Choosing the Wrong Binoculars Can Lead to Frustration in the Field

By Gary Lewis

Gary Lewis Books and DVDs

It was 1993. Still three years before someone built a mountain bike trail through the big meadow and forced the deer and elk to find someplace else.

I pushed the door shut, wincing at the click of the latch as it locked. We eased down the hill from the road in the dark just before dawn, and waited at the meadow's edge as the first hint of morning colored the sky. The elk and deer that Ryan had seen the morning before were not in evidence on this day and, keeping to the timber, we went looking for them.

It's easy to cover a lot of territory early in the archery season. So in the interest of saving weight, I was carrying a lightweight binocular that, when folded, fit nicely into the pocket of my camouflage shirt.

We walked the edges of small green meadows, strung together like emeralds in a jeweled necklace, watching the shadows for feeding elk. We looked into basins and glassed islands of timber for browsing deer. Then, finally, Ryan spotted them, two deer feeding as they walked.

They were out about a hundred yards, moving through the timber feeding on mushrooms and tender new growth. I handed the binoculars to Ryan and, studying the animals intently, he couldn't make out whether or not they had antlers. We followed, trying to anticipate their moves. Slowly they put distance between us and soon were lost to view, still unaware of our presence.

Following them took us far away from the lush bowls of green grass and into the tinder-dry woods. We ghosted along, stopping frequently to look for deer.

In a dry creek bed a lone deer fed head down. It was eighty yards away and I lifted my binoculars. "Buck or doe?" Ryan asked.

"No antlers," I reported. We picked our way to it using bushes and trees as cover. When we were within thirty yards I could see that the deer was clearly a buck. He had six inch spikes atop his head. On that day I realized that I was using the wrong binoculars. If my 8X21 compacts couldn't render antlers on a deer then I needed something better.

Using binoculars you can, from far away, watch animals that don't even know you are there. Binoculars of the proper magnification range will allow you to search a wide field of view. A bright objective lens will allow you to see the detail that you might miss with lesser optics.

For all around use 7X to 10X are probably the best choice. Higher magnifications reduce field-of-view necessary for locating game. And with higher magnification movements of the hands are magnified as well and for this reason I prefer 7X and 8X.

The second factor to consider is brightness. Brightness is what determines the ability to see detail through the lenses. Especially in low light. Hold your binoculars a foot away from your eyes and look through the eyepiece. What you see is a small point of light called the exit pupil.

For maximum brightness the exit pupil should be as large as the pupil in your eye. The human pupil can dilate to a maximum of 5 millimeters in low light so the exit pupil in your binoculars should be the same to deliver maximum brightness.

To arrive at exit pupil size, just divide the magnification into the size of the objective lens. For example, 8 into 40 equals an exit pupil of 5 - the size of your dilated eye. Divide 8 into 21 and you get 2 and 5/8 - a big reduction in brightness. 

The best binoculars for the hiker or hunter are the ones that come the closest to fulfilling the need for clarity, brightness, magnification and weight. The best choice almost always represents a compromise but you'll never regret buying quality.

I can't blame the binoculars for missing that buck. I was using the wrong sight pin. I pulled back the arrow, sighted and released, the shaft sailing harmlessly over the deer's back to go clattering into the rocks.

Ryan had an arrow nocked in case I missed and he... Well, you ask him yourself. It was the best stalk that either of us had ever made and the most spectacularly blown shots we had ever taken. It made a great story to keep to ourselves.

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