Optics Buying Guide for Bowhunters

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Most bowhunters have that one friend who spots 10 times more animals than they do. Maybe those friends have superhuman vision or maybe it’s the “glass” they’re using.

Binoculars, rangefinders and spotting scopes are among the most important tools bowhunters carry, but beginners occasionally overlook them. Here’s what you should know about optics.

The Importance of Optics

If you wonder if optics are important, consider this: If you can’t see the animal, you can’t hunt it. Hunters use binoculars and spotting scopes to search for their quarry near and far. That’s what most hunters call “glassing.” During spot-and-stalk hunts, hunters often scale hills to reach high points to glass from. Once they spot an animal with their optics, they glass to pick a route to stalk within shooting distance.

Spotting Scopes vs. Binoculars

Spotting scopes zoom in much closer than binoculars, but that also makes them bigger and heavier. Spotting scopes require a tripod to stay steady enough to focus on distant objects. Although binoculars are necessary for every hunt, spotting scopes don’t always make the trip.

A spotting scope is great for glassing large landscapes from afar, or if you need a close-up look at an animal. Many wild sheep, for example, are protected until their horns reach full curl. That means when you look at their horns from base to tip, they make a complete circle. Because wild sheep are notoriously tough to approach, bowhunters carry spotting scopes to determine if a sheep is legal before making a move.

In some cases, a hunting party carries only one spotting scope. And instead of a spotting scope, some hunters carry a tripod to glass with their binoculars. A tripod steadies the binoculars and reduces fatigue from glassing for hours.

Binoculars aren’t just for long-range glassing. They’re also useful in thick forests. When sitting in a treestand or ground blind, bowhunters use binoculars to spot small movements like a flickering deer’s ear or tail. You might miss such movements with your naked eye.

What to Seek in Binoculars

Consider the magnification, lens diameter and glass options when choosing your optic gear. Photo Credit: ATA

Picking the right binoculars requires knowing how they work and what best suits your needs and budget. Binoculars range from under $100 to over $3,000. You get what you pay for, but you don’t need to break your bank. Here’s what to consider when buying:

Magnification Power

Binoculars come in many magnification powers, which is the number in front of the “x.” If the binoculars read 8×42, for example, the 8 is the magnification power. That means if you look at an object through your binoculars, they magnify the object by 8 times. Most hunters carry 8- or 10-power binoculars.

Objective Lens Diameter

The number after the “x” represents the objective lens diameter, which identifies the diameter of the front lens in millimeters. The bigger the diameter, the more light that reaches the lens. More light makes objects crisper and brighter. Binoculars with a larger objective lens usually work better in low light, a key time for hunting. The tradeoff is that bigger lenses increase bulk, making the binoculars heavier to carry. The most popular lens objectives for hunting are 42 and 50.

Learn the Glass

The wide range of price tags reflects the variety of glass options. Glass quality is determined by their lens type and lens coatings. Those factors determine the binoculars’ clarity, reflection, brightness and more. More expensive binoculars typically use better glass.

Testing binoculars is the best way to find the right pair for you. Most stores carry several options. Pick an object across the room and study it with several pairs. Feel the weight, check the field of view, and gauge the picture’s overall clarity.

Buy a waterproof or, at the least, a water-resistant pair. Waterproof binoculars use O-rings to seal out moisture, whether from rain, snow or a dunking. Even so, keep them inside a bino-harness that protects them from the elements. Weather-resistant binoculars handle some rain, but might fail you when you need them most.

Find the Right Rangefinder

Rangefinders help you determine the exact distance to your target. Photo Credit: ATA

Knowing the exact range of your target is critical for making accurate shots. Rangefinders solve this problem by letting you aim a laser beam at your target. Based on how fast the beam reaches the target and bounces back, the rangefinder calculates and displays the distance on its screen.

Bowhunters, rifle hunters and long-range shooters all use rangefinders, but what they look for in rangefinders varies. Bowhunters don’t necessarily need long-range rangefinders, but hunters using treestands or hunting mountainous areas need angle-compensating models. When animals are at extreme angles, these rangefinders calculate the true distance.

Bowhunters should use a rangefinder with a distant target “priority mode.” This feature makes the laser find the distant target but ignore closer obstacles like brush, trees and branches. These rangefinders also range deer through heavy rain and snow.

Experienced bowhunters know good optics play a key role in notching your tag. Binoculars and spotting scopes can spot game and get you into bow range, and your rangefinder will give you an exact range. It’s up to you to do the rest.


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