This is the 7th in a series of monthly articles written for opticstalk.com by John Barsness, chief staff writer for the on-line magazine Rifle Loony News (www.riflesandrecipes.com).
One of the most important lessons learned in a long hunting career occurred over 20 years ago when I headed to the Southeast on a spring turkey-hunting assignment for Field & Stream magazine. For various reasons my wife Eileen and I decided to drive down to
Now, a lot of people don’t even carry optics when turkey hunting, which may be why so many turkey hunters get shot by other turkey hunters. But we feel incomplete without binoculars anywhere outside a town, and often inside one. We even keep one handy while watching TV, because on the other side of the living-room is a picture window with our bird feeders a few feet beyond, and who knows what might show up to eat sunflower seeds? But binoculars also help when hunting big birds like wild turkeys, because we can see objects much further off and determine not just whether they’re a gobbler or hen but a turkey instead of a human.
So when the B&L turned up missing minor panic kicked in. Eventually I remembered that the glove compartment contained our “car binocular,” a cheap roof-prism compact that some company had sent for evaluation. It didn’t compare optically to the B&L, but using it beat the heck out of trying to buy another B&L somewhere between
The lesson learned? Just about any hunting binocular beats none at all. This is something many of us should keep in mind today.
Twenty years ago optical knowledge among hunters was really dismal compared to today. Al Gore hadn’t invented the Internet yet, and the hunting magazines of the day rarely mentioned binoculars. If they did the advice was often stolen from a pamphlet published by Bausch & Lomb describing the different types of optical aberration. This made the writer sound like an expert but didn’t tell the reader much.
In the 1990’s, however, a number of magazines started running regular optics columns. This coincided with some nifty advances in optics, especially the phase-correction coating of roof prisms. By 2000 general knowledge of optics among hunters had grown enormously, and today that knowledge is even greater, partly thanks to sites like opticstalk.com.
One of the common pieces of magazine advice in the 1990’s was to spend as much as you could afford, because in optics you get what you pay for. This piece of wisdom has been repeated a zillion times over the years, not just about optics. Unfortunately it isn’t entirely true, partly because of world-wide economics, but increased awareness of good hunting optics over the last two decades has created a subculture of what might be called optics snobs. I know this because I have tendencies in that direction myself.
True optics snobs have certain defining characteristics. One is an absolute certainty that THEIR binocular is the absolute best in the world. Another is that anybody who doesn’t spend at least $1000 on a hunting binocular shouldn’t be considered for membership at the country club, and any binocular not made in a German-speaking country isn’t worth talking about, much less buying.
One reason for this sort of optics “evaluation” is that hunting is a relatively individual sport. Hunters tend to spend their together-time indoors, and go their separate ways in the field. Thus we don’t really get to compare our binoculars very often. The result is that binocular snobs can easily convince some of us that our binocular is inferior, even if they’ve never actually looked through it, or even met us.
In contrast, bird-watching is a very social sport. Birders (as they call themselves) often gather at certain hotspots to look at rare or interesting birds, and their main tool is a fine binocular. Hunters tend to spend their primary money on firearms and riflescopes, with the binocular budget secondary, but to birders their binocular is their sport. Since they use binoculars a LOT more than the average hunter, year-round, ruggedness counts just as much as optical quality.