August 23, 2023
I crouched behind a fringe of sagebrush and let go another series of calls. The critter I was after answered immediately, and I realized he had cut the distance between us in half. I called again, nocked an arrow, and peeked beyond the bushes.
The big tom turkey was strutting along a ravine in front of me, his colorful head and fully fanned tail glistening in the morning sunlight. I snapped a quick reading with my rangefinding binoculars and then drew my Bear Alaskan bow as the gobbler disappeared behind a bush. When the bird stepped back into full view, I settled my 30-yard pin on his wing butt. An instant later, my Easton FMJ shaft and G5 Striker V2 broadhead smacked the bird with a mighty thump. He dropped in his tracks.
That adventure occurred one month before I wrote this, and it reminded me that no matter what, how, when, or where you bowhunt, there are optical strategies guaranteed to maximize your fun. In the case of a longbearded turkey, the only optic you might need is a quality laser rangefinder to ensure a pinpoint shot on a very small vitals area. When it comes to big game, the need for proper optics can be more complex.
Take for example one of my favorite pastimes each year — bowhunting Sitka blacktail bucks in Alaska. In August, when I prefer to go, deer are lounging in high-alpine terrain with no cover taller than my knees. A hiking archer can sometimes see upwards of three-dozen bucks per day in the broad expanses, and a high percentage of that hiking is done with eyeballs alone. You move from high point to high point, plant your fanny, and scan country with binoculars to locate the reddish summer coats of deer. From there, you size-up animals with a compact spotting scope. A lightweight tripod is essential for clear viewing with the scope, and high humidity in this soggy part of the world makes any power above 40X a waste of time. Magnification in the 30X to 35X range is usually optimal.
My personal choice for such active backpack bowhunting is Swarovski’s new 17-40X STC scope; a compact unit that weighs just 34.6 ounces and measures only 11.2 inches long. Prior to the STC, I used the Swarovski STS 65.
Top optics by companies like Swarovski, Kowa, Leupold, and Zeiss are worth every penny you pay, with rugged durability, clear viewing in low light, and no eye strain during many hours of scanning slopes for game. In binoculars and spotting scopes, you usually get what you pay for, and I would encourage you to purchase the best optics you can afford. In the long run, this is always one of the best investments a serious bowhunter can make.
When pursuing animals like pronghorns, mule deer, elk, sheep, and caribou, there is no doubt that 10X binoculars are the all-around best. More power means too much handheld wiggle for clear viewing, and less power sacrifices your ability to find and judge critters.
A practical 10X hunting binocular weighs between 25 and 35 ounces. So-called “mini-binos” might be nice to tote on your neck or in a pocket, but usually sacrifice too much clarity and light-gathering ability early and late in the day. By comparison, a full-size 10X binocular with 40mm or 42mm objective lenses is always a delight to use.
Close-range bowhunting for deep-woods species like whitetail deer and Roosevelt elk usually requires less magnification in a binocular, which means less carrying weight. A quality 6X or 8X glass might serve you well. Some archers mistakenly believe binoculars are unnecessary for close viewing, but every bowhunt is better with a bino. Even at 30 or 40 yards, good optics will help you pick out an antler in the brush when light is fleeting.
The past few years, I’ve used rangefinding binoculars by Leica and Swarovski to speed up my ability to shoot. Such optics tend to be pricey, but they eliminate the need to use a separate rangefinder. With rangefinding binoculars, you glass the target, press a button, and instantly see the range while still glassing. My favorite rangefinding binos also give me the exact angle of the shot, thus eliminating high hits when hunting from a treestand or in steep terrain.
I have taken several nice animals with quick shots that would not have been possible with a separate belt-carried rangefinder. To each his own, but rangefinder and binoculars all in one is the quickest, most efficient setup.
Specialized bowhunting requires specialized optics. For example, Southwestern Coues deer are usually located via serious, all-day glassing. For comfort and reduced eye strain, high-powered binoculars like the Vortex Kaibab 18X, Steiner 20X, Zeiss S-Image 20X, Bushnell PowerView 20X, Newcon Big Eye 28X, or Kowa High Lander 32X can make your game-searching life easier when mounted on a sturdy tripod. Similarly, Swarovski sells a BTX, dual-eyepiece unit that attaches to their modular spotting-scope system. With the BTX, you can view through a variety of scope models with both eyes to find distant animals you might otherwise miss.
Such high-magnification systems tend to be heavy and always require a tripod. These are not for backpacking far from roads!
How should you carry your archery optics? A compact spotting scope is easily toted, with tripod attached, in a daypack. Binoculars around the neck can be problematic when you shoot a bow — especially if they swing forward during downward shots from a slope or treestand. To avoid bowstring interference, some hunters attach their optics to a harness that keeps them close to the chest.
I personally dislike extra paraphernalia around my upper body when I hunt. I simply shorten my neckstrap until it barely slips over my head, and there is almost no slack when I lift the binoculars to my eyes. Even on downward shots, the shorter strap prevents the glass from swinging like a pendulum.
Use the right binoculars and spotting scope in the right situations, and you will be a happy and more effective archer!
You can follow Chuck on Instagram and Facebook at Chuck Adams Archery. Visit Chuck’s website at chuckadamsarchery.com.