As a 12-year-old, beginning bowhunter, I thought binoculars were unnecessary for deer hunting. After all, the deer needed to walk into 20 yards or less, and if I couldn't see what was going on then, I didn't belong in the woods. Of course, during those early years every legal deer was a shooter, and I didn't have much of a need for field-judging rack size or probable maturity.
Over the years, I realized the benefit of seeing an approaching deer so I could get ready for a shot. I began to understand the need to investigate a strange brown spot in a soybean field while still-hunting or scan the far reaches of a picked cornfield before sneaking into my stand. It became abundantly clear that binoculars belong in the deer woods.
Then I went on my first Western hunt with my dad in Wyoming for antelope. That hunt opened my eyes to a lot of things, but arguably most important was we learned good glass isn't merely a tool in our arsenal, but perhaps the biggest crutch worth leaning on. The lessons learned on the open, sagebrush-studded prairie followed us home as we returned to the world of whitetails.
Since then, a quality pair of binoculars has been strapped to my chest like a newborn child in one of those hands-free baby transporters. And like a newborn child, I take great care not to forget my binos, and to protect them as much as possible.
How much money you're willing to spend on binos is probably the number-one deciding factor on what exact model ends up riding home from Cabela's with you. Price tag aside, consider a few things. The first is that all binoculars will feature two numbers, like 8x32 or 10x42. The first number represents the amount of magnification. The second number represents the objective lens diameter. This number is far more important when hunting whitetails because the larger the objective diameter, the better a pair of binos will be at gathering light, with all else, such as glass quality, being equal.
Beyond magnification and objective lens diameter, factors like overall weight and durability come into play. A few minutes with your hands on different glass will tell you plenty about the other features. Following are 13 of the best options worth checking out.
A few years ago I spent the summer scouting whitetails with a pair of Alpen Optics
Rainier binoculars and I fell in love with them, which is why I couldn't wait to get my hands on the Apex XP Series. The Apex XP 695 ($484) and Mossy Oak-adorned 695M ($517) are both 10x42s that are built upon a rubber-armored, waterproof shell. Each Apex XP offers high-resolution images through the use of BAK-4 glass and PXA phase coating. Beyond durability and crisp, clear viewing in lowlight conditions, Apex XP binoculars feature other goodies like twist-lock eyecups, a deluxe travel case, and a lifetime warranty.
Epoch ([imo-slideshow gallery=12],650) full-size binoculars aren't cheap, but they are worth it. If the price is cost-prohibitive, consider that a pair of tripod-compatible Epochs offer 10.5X magnification and 43mm objective lenses, which means you can leave the spotting scope in the truck. The lightweight (25 oz.) Epochs are built on a magnesium-alloy frame for durability, and feature notables like SF prism glass, prism and lens coating, and locking multistep eye relief. Epochs are waterproof, fogproof, and shock resistant.
For the minimalist at heart, Bushnell
offers the new Legend Ultra HD 10x25mm Folding Compact Binoculars ($199.99). Covered in a nonslip housing and built upon a magnesium frame, the Legend Ultra HDs are waterproof and fogproof. Fully multicoated lenses and BAK-4 roof prisms offer superior light transmission. The Legend Ultra HDs fold up small enough to fit into a jacket pocket, eliminating the need for a chest harness.
partnered with a European glass company to produce the new Euro 10x42 HD ($999.99) binoculars. To achieve an amazing 99.9% light transmission, they are built with a fully multicoated MeoBrite 550 system and phase-corrected prisms. Each pair is sealed, nitrogen-purged, and contained by a lightweight (31 oz.) magnesium-alloy body that is rubber-armor coated. Each Euro HD is guaranteed to provide a lifetime of worry-free use.
VP-842 ($245) binoculars are a great choice if you're light on cash but heavy on hunting opportunities. These 8x42s feature BAK-4 prisms, fully multicoated lenses, and a field of view of 393' at 1,000 yards. The 24.2-oz. VP-842s feel like compact binoculars, but offer everything a full-sized pair should.
produces some of my favorite binoculars, and their SV42-8 ($235) belongs firmly on that list. The SV42-8s are waterproof, nitrogen-filled, lightweight, and designed to greatly reduce loss of light and produce a high level of clarity and sharpness. These 8x42 binos weigh 23.5 oz. and sport 15.5mm of eye relief.
original Trinovid binoculars are responsible for plenty of game being spotted. Built to last, the new Trinovid binoculars feature a magnesium housing, stainless-steel center hinge, and no plastic parts. Two models — 8x42 ([imo-slideshow gallery=12],449) and 10x42 ([imo-slideshow gallery=12],499) — are available, each featuring HDC multilayer coated lenses.
Seated firmly near the top of the optics mountain, Leupold
offers their new BX-3 Mojave Series ($499.99, black; $524.99, camo). Four models ranging from 8x42 to 12x50 are available, with the 10x42 hitting the sweet spot between whitetail woods and mountain basins. These waterproof, armor-coated binoculars have multicoated lenses to provide ultra-clear imaging, even in lowlight situations. They also feature an extremely wide field of view, which is key for following animal movement throughout varying landscapes. If you take them out West, the twist-up eyecups provide plenty of eye relief, meaning you can leave the spotting scope at camp and not worry about your optics sucking your eyeballs out of your head.
I've carried earlier versions of Nikon's
Monarch binoculars through quite a few states and a couple of countries in pursuit of varying game species and have yet to be disappointed in them. Nikon's latest incarnation of the series, the Monarch 3 ($230, 8x42; $250, 10x42), looks to easily continue along that track record. Monarch 3 8x42s are the perfect option if you're looking for a steal price-wise, while still maintaining quality. They are outfitted with fully multicoated Eco-Glass lenses that deliver bright images and high resolution. For durability and ease in handling, the fogproof and waterproof Monarch 3s are rubber-armor coated.
Known more for their industry-leading rangefinders, Opti-Logic
stepped into the bino market in 2012 with an entire line ranging from 7x36 to 10x50 ($399.95 — $499.95). Each lightweight Opti-Logic model is fitted with ED Glass and BAK-4 phase-coated prisms, which provide maximum light transmission and crisp viewing, even in the early-morning or late-evening gloaming.
Drawing its moniker from the sharp-eyed avian predators, the Merlin Pro line of binoculars from Steiner
has been upgraded for 2012. Models range from 8x42 ($499) to 10x50 ($699), to cover the gamut of hunter preferences. Each compact Merlin Pro is built with high-contrast optical coatings, contoured and highly adjustable eyecups, and the perfect amount of eye relief so even those who wear eyeglasses will be able to pick out the distant glint of an antler in the brush.
Two options — 8x42 ($3,077) and 10x42 ($3,188) — comprise the EL Range line from Swarovski Optik
. The waterproof, dustproof, and airtight EL Range binos offer 91% light transmission and four-position eyecups for 100% field of view. A streamlined magnesium housing, weighing only 32 oz., is sure to be appreciated on grueling hunts. Top that off with built-in ranging capability that functions off of a CR2 battery, and the EL Range is a winner in anyone's book.
The name 'Zeiss
' is synonymous with quality optics. Their new Conquest HD 8x42 ([imo-slideshow gallery=12],056) and 10x42 ([imo-slideshow gallery=12],111) binoculars are sure to keep that reputation intact. To ensure ultra-clear, bright imaging, each Conquest HD has dielectric mirror coatings, LotuTec protective coating, and extra-low chromatic dispersion. If that sounds confusing, trust me — the technical jargon results in better viewing. The Conquest HD 10x42s feature a field of view of 345' at 1,000 yards.