If you really want to get lost while searching the internet to upgrade your hunting or fishing gear, just type the word “binocular” in your search bar and hold on for the ride.
Within seconds, you will find yourself going up one hill and down another as you wind your way through a thick forest of product reviews, online catalogs and forums chock full of opinion. Hours will pass quickly as you click away on your mouse, but the answer to your question might well become more elusive as time and web pages go by.
Such has been the search for binoculars to replace the glass I’ve depended on for the past 15 years.
It all started when I found out I was getting a desert bighorn sheep tag after 20 years of trying. The first thing my friends told me was to upgrade my glass. But as we all know, what is affordable to one is not to another.
I opted to focus my search on the best glass I could find for about $1,000, knowing that would put me at the entry level of what some call the alpha glass category. After reading through numerous specification charts, product reviews and pages of opinion, I have narrowed my search to models from three manufacturers — Vortex, Zeiss and Leica — all in 10×42.
What I haven’t done is made a final decision on which one to buy, and I will tell you why, but in the meantime, here are tips that might help with your search.
First, establish a binocular budget. That will help guide the direction of your search.
Second, think long and hard about the country you will be hunting in the coming years and what game you might be pursuing. In wide-open country, a 10-power binocular is a good choice for glassing up big mulies, but for hunting blacktails in thick forest, 8-power glass would be more appropriate.
Regardless of the magnification you choose, consider adding a quality tripod to your equipment list. For the past several years, I have done my glassing while supporting my binoculars with my shooting sticks. But I have learned that many sheep hunters put their binoculars on a tripod to facilitate long hours of glassing. This helps to eliminate binocular shake and prevent eye fatigue while making it easier to pick out details at a distance.
Third, once you narrow your focus to two or three options, take a trip to your favorite optics retailer and spend time looking through each one. Don’t settle for doing your looking inside the store; ask the clerk to escort you outside so you can compare them in natural light. You will notice a difference, even if it is only slight.
Fourth, keep in mind that choosing binoculars is a personal decision. What works for your hunting buddies might not work for you. Weigh your choice carefully; you don’t want to get into the field and find that you acted hastily.
Fifth and last, remain flexible. While comparing the binoculars on my short list, I did my best to ignore those made by Swarovski and the high-end Leicas. But the temptation was too much, and I just had to give them a test drive.
As a result, I am having to rethink my binocular budget. Though I probably would be happy with any of the others I tried in the $1,000 category, there is enough difference to consider those in the next higher price range of $1,400 to $1,800.
I’m still thinking. And in the meantime, I’ll keep checking the internet for a good deal.
Freelance writer Doug Nielsen is a conservation educator for the Nevada Department of Wildlife. His “In the Outdoors” column, published Thursday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, is not affiliated with or endorsed by the NDOW. Any opinions are his own. Find him on Facebook at @dougwritesoutdoors. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.