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I’ve known a lot of guys who rely on their rifle scopes to act as their binoculars — and I’ve been that guy myself. Unfortunately, your rifle scope isn’t the safest way to check out something moving in the brush, and when a vague shape climbing up a ridge at twilight turns out to be another hunter, they tend not to be overly thrilled to see a guy pointing a rifle at them.
I’ve been both of those guys — but no more.
Hunting with Binoculars
The last two years I’ve had a series of revelations. During one hunting trip, my buddy spotted a 5-point bull elk bedded down while we were having lunch. At the time, I had a lousy pair of binoculars I rarely used, and it didn’t even occur to me to glass the area. Still, the hunt was on!
In other situations, I spotted a dozen deer (at different times) that I thought were stumps or rocks — until I bothered to put a scope on them or attempted to use my lousy binoculars.
There have been all sorts of other objects I somehow decided not to look at more closely along the way, and I started wondering: How many of those were actually big bucks or elk that I just passed up without even realizing it?
Last season I began to use my cheap binoculars — on purpose — and I was able to spot a few deer bedded down. One was a doe that I had walked a 100 yards above but then found when I stopped on a ridge to look around and glassed back the way I had come. Nice.
On the last day of hunting season last year, it rained and sleeted, and while I had converted to using binoculars, my lackluster set fogged up inside and failed me. After all the time and effort to prepare, to drive, to get into position early and have a chance to be successful, my equipment failed.
I realized that I needed better optics. There had to be something decent available that didn’t cost thousands of dollars but also wasn’t going to fog up or fail — some solid entry-level ground or midrange set. It turns out, there’s a whole world of hunting optics, full of optical snobs who diss guys like me who don’t have the budget to drop $1,500 — but are still hoping to find something useful without breaking the bank. Rest assured, after more hours of research than I care to admit, I puzzled out the basics — and found a binocular with a lifetime no-questions-asked warranty that’s perfect for a guy on a budget.
I started hunting with the Alpen Shasta Ridge waterproof binocular — 10×42 with fully multicoated BAK4 optics. The Alpen Shasta Ridge is priced as an entry-level binocular but it is loaded with midrange-plus glass and coatings, giving a guy like me a stunning visual experience that’s perfect for the widely varied forests of Idaho.
Binoculars Will Change How You Hunt
Looking through a decent set of binoculars will remind you how cool the outdoor world really is, giving you a perspective you just can’t find when something is right in front of your face. You’ll see nuances in the lay of the land, animals in action when they don’t know you’re around, and you’ll be able to change your approach based on terrain and activity you can’t see with the naked eye. You can spot rubs and game trails you didn’t know existed.
On one hunt, my buddy and I were approaching an old logging area with several ridges and folds — a great spot for elk. By using the Alpen binocular, I was able to fully scan the area, move forward, and scan new pieces of land that a different perspective revealed. Our approach was more measured, smarter, and far more likely to end in success. I was amazed at what I was able to see.
Unfortunately, about half-way into position, I spotted a fresh elk carcass — another hunter had recently been to this spot right before us. We moved slowly just in case, but we jumped a family of coyotes, and in combination with the harvested elk, it was clear the elk were gone.
Far More Than Elk and Deer
Don’t worry, I’ll leave you with a successful hunting story: After a morning hunt in an area that resulted in running into half a dozen other hunters trying the same area, my son and I left to try a brand-new spot that afternoon. Our effort would be part scouting mission, part hunting. We found some fresh elk sign, heard a couple of elk inside a deep and thick part of forest we could not figure out how to hunt, and we jumped a four-point buck. We learned some new trails, learned where some old roads ended, and we settled down on the edge of a big clear cut with lots of good sight lines.
As I looked out over the land in the early evening light, trees 2,000 yards away snapped into focus. As the sun slipped lower, orange and heavy on the horizon, it lit up spider webs — hundreds of gossamer spider webs flickering and dancing in the slowly moving air. Without the binoculars, I could not see them. With them, the shiny lines of silk snapped into view a hundred yards away, giving me superhuman eyesight. Bugs flew around, zooming with unknown purpose, the sun glinting off their bodies. On a whim, I wondered if I could focus on a bug in flight, and boom, a shiny insect transformed into a ladybug flying 25 yards away.
Amazing. I’m not sure how you could capture that experience with any camera. You just have to experience the depth of field, the ability to reach out far and near, and re-see your world with a decent set of binoculars — you must get yourself a good set of binoculars.
Just then, my son whispered to me. Using a small and light monocular, he had spotted a deer move from heavy brush and timber down into the clearcut. A spot I had scanned just a minute before now had a deer feeding, somehow covering 30 yards just 200 yards away with neither of us noticing. Crazy how well they blend in. Until now.
I looked more closely with a clear 10x view, and the deer was a little forked horn buck. But was it a mule deer or a whitetail? We had tags for whitetail only. We were pretty sure it was a whitetail, but pretty sure isn’t good enough. We waited. In short order, I was able to get a better look, better angles. It was actually a little 3-point buck, and definitely a whitetail. At 140 yards, my son shot his first deer.
Would we have harvested his first deer without a good set of binoculars and a lightweight monocular? Probably. But using better optics helped us have a different experience. We saw and noticed parts of the land we would not have understood. And we were able to see much farther, giving us a chance to move into better position had we seen an elk 2,000 yards away.
The takeaway here? Once you use a decent set of binoculars, you’ll never go back.
Get the Gear:
Newbies should focus on three brands, Alpen, Bushnell, and Vortex. Why? All three now have unconditional lifetime guarantees, so if you break your binoculars for any reason, they’ll replace them. That’s serious piece of mind. These below all have fantastic price-to-value ratios for any hunter looking for a quality experience on a budget: