Binoculars versus boneheads

‘Scope somebody and you’re aiming a gun at them
; .

This is a sight, not a spotting scope. Look at anything through it;
you’re aiming a loaded gun at whatever is in the crosshairs.

I was expecting it to happen and it did — while sitting with my then-young family on the edge of an open Eastern Washington canyon one early evening in October, while waiting for a mule deer buck to show, three guys appeared on the far side. One of those morons raised a rifle in our direction to look at us through the scope.

I stood up immediately and stepped in front of my two sons, who were about 7 and 9 at the time. We were all wearing fluorescent orange, clearly visible from a long way off so there was no way this jerk could have mistaken any of us for a game animal.


Elite binocular from Bushnell was a drawing prize Workman won at a writers’
event several years ago. It has helped put venison in the freezer.

Bad Experiences

At the time I was working as an editor for a major western outdoor publication and had some experience with reporting fatal hunting incidents. This incident infuriated me, and was it not for the fact my wife and children were along, there would have been a rather colorful exchange of words — at least.

A few years later found me editing and writing a publication for volunteer hunter education instructors and the memory of that early evening above the canyon guided how I wrote about hunting “accidents.”

A couple of times I wrote about the necessity for binoculars, and even interviewed a couple of people in the optics industry. One of them put it bluntly: “When you look at someone through a rifle scope, you’re aiming a loaded gun at that person.”

Over the years, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to use binoculars and spotting scopes. Today’s models, no matter who makes them, are the best optics money can buy. I’ve used binoculars from Binoculars for Hunting from Bushnell, Leupold/Wind River, Swarovski Optik, Zeiss, Weaver, GPO (German Precision Optics) and other top makers.

They all wear different price tags, but for anyone who hunts to not own a pair of binoculars is just plain foolish.


Binos are a must for hunters and Dave is constantly glassing the countryside
when in the outdoors. Here he’s holding a Swarovski binocular somewhere in the
high country with a Ruger Blackhawk in .41 Magnum on his belt; handy to have in bear country.

They Can Deliver

It’s not just a safety factor. Binoculars have actually helped put venison in my cooler more than once and for a hunter interested in notching a tag rather than making soup out of it after the season, there are some things to consider.

There are two basic types of binoculars: roof prism and porro prism. The roof prism type has a straight body and is the most common variety one sees these days. The porro prism type has the dogleg body type— the eyepieces are not in line with the objective lenses. I’ve got a couple of pairs of those including a pair of superb Wind River binoculars which stay in my truck.
I won a Bushnell Elite binocular once during a writers’ event. It would have been a 10X but I asked a friend at Bushnell to substitute an 8X model and she was happy to make the switch.

There was a reason for my request. Get a binocular within the power range of your riflescope so when you spot an animal, switching from the binocular to the scope will not seriously alter the size of the image. Also, one gets a slightly brighter image with an 8x42mm than with a 10x42mm. Light is critical at dawn and dusk when animals are more active.

I’ve got a terrific Weaver binocular which played a key role in helping me clobber a 4×5-point mule deer in an Eastern Washington canyon a few years ago. It was initially spotted by my partner just 200 yards below our position. Soon as I put the glass on this guy, I knew he was going home with me. I counted the points on his rack, put down the binocular and picked up my rifle with a 3-9X scope, cranked it to 8-power and soon as the crosshairs were centered, my season ended. Later the same fall, I lent the binos to my partner for his wife to use in Montana. She brought back the binoculars and a cooler full of deer meat. I love a happy ending.

And a couple of years ago, I bought a GPO 8x32mm binocular which is both lightweight and compact. The pair was instrumental in getting a buck for my brother last October, again in the early evening not far from where I anchored a 2×3-pointer a couple of years earlier.


The difference between a roof prism (Weaver on the left) and a
porro prism (Wind River, right) are the shape and how the prisms work.

GPO offers this compact binocular and Workman bought it a couple
of years ago for its light weight and superb optics.

Important Features

Binoculars should have good neck straps. Mine feature neoprene so they don’t chafe or wear out my neck because I carry them for hours at a time.

They need a good, user-friendly center focus. I’ve used binoculars with awful focus knobs that were very stiff to turn. A serious hunter needs a binocular that can be focused quickly with the right or left hand, with or without gloves.

They must have a good rubber armor exterior because binoculars are going to get banged around a bit. It’s an occupational hazard.

They should come with a good case because they’ll spend a fair amount of time on the floorboards of a truck or SUV bouncing along crummy gravel roads — or across the landscape where the term “road” might be wishful thinking.

Make sure they are fog proof and, to a certain degree, waterproof.

They should be lightweight as possible because you will be spending lots of time glassing the countryside, and heavy binoculars outstay their welcome early on any hunt.

An optics guy once told me, “Buy the best optics you can afford, and you will never be disappointed.”

This applies to binoculars the same as it does to a riflescope. If you spend several hundred dollars on a quality riflescope, be willing to pay for good binoculars.

Don’t be the idiot who uses his riflescope to scan the countryside. Your scope is a gun sight and nothing more. Just presume the next time you look at something, it might be a guy in his mid-30s with two young boys and their mom.

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