How To Choose The Best Hunting Optics

Introduction

The success factor behind any hunt is the preparation that goes into it, coupled with the right choice of equipment and how it is used. This guide to choosing the best hunting optics should help.

Today, hunters are spoilt with choice and the incredible technological developments in rifles, bows, ammunition, apparel, and especially optics. It all helps in improving the hunter’s efficiency and skill.

The hunting industry is a multibillion-dollar industry, from the arms manufacturers, clothing companies, numerous optics brands, shows and exhibitions, TV shows, magazines, and more. It means as hunters we get marketed to a lot, and in most cases, we have purchased a few “toys” that we only found later wasn’t really suited to the way we hunt.  

Optics is one of those “toys” that we are duped into buying because we are told just how important optics are, and they are, but we are also made to believe that its what we need in order to be a better hunter and that we simply wouldn’t be able to hunt without them.

The realization for most hunters, is that not all optics are created equal, not all optics perform the same job and the optics chosen should be matched to the type and technique of hunting they were designed for.

What type of optics are there?

Optics in the case of hunting refers to the following:

Some consider trail cameras to be a form of optics, but for the sake of this article, we will exclude the trail camera from the optics list because it is not a piece of equipment that the hunter actively uses while in the process of hunting. Trail cameras are more about scouting and the pre-hunt planning phase.

4 Things To Consider Before Choosing Optics?

Before any hunter runs out and throws hundreds, if not thousands, of their hard-earned dollars at optics, they need to do a self-assessment of themselves and their hunting ambitions.

  • What animal are you targeting and in what terrain?

Whether your chasing Elk and Mule deer across the mountains and peaks of Colorado or waiting for giant Whitetail to appear from the thick woods of Wisconsin.

If it’s mountain ranges and deep draws, then quality spotting scopes would be handy. If you are sitting in thick vegetation with a view of only 70 to 80 yards, then investing in spotting scopes would be a waste.

  • What type of hunter are you?

If long distance is your thing and any animal within 500-yards is considered a close shot, then a rifle scope with high magnification capabilities and features such as windage and elevation turrets should be in your sights. 

Prefer to crawl and the challenge of getting in nice and close, then a decent pair of 10×42 binoculars and a standard 3-9 times magnification scope should do just fine.

Bowhunters don’t need a rifle scope, but a good rangefinder and pair of binoculars must be high on the list.

  • How much can you afford?

Certainly, a question that every hunter should ask themselves before going optics shopping. With optics it really is a case of ‘you get what you pay for’. Trying to go cheap on optics and expecting it have the quality and performance of similar products in the $800 to $3,500 range, just won’t cut it.

  • What warranties and returns does the manufacturer offer?

Optics are valuable not only in price but in their importance of the hunt to. Not everything indestructible and while out hunting its inevitable things get dropped, bumped and exposed to the elements. Therefore, it’s smart to purchase optics from brands that have returns policies or long-term warranties.

Let’s break down each type of optics from the list above and put a few scenarios in place and factors to consider that will suit the type and terrain of each hunter.

Binoculars

Every hunter should have a pair of binoculars regardless of where or how they hunt. The list of uses and advantages that binoculars give the hunter is endless. What’s important is finding the right pair to suit where you hunt.

Magnification

Magnification matters because it tells the difference in whether a buck is worth spending valuable time pursuing or not, it helps to scan distant valleys and pick up on movements of animals through the vegetation. 

If you hunt open country with sparse vegetation such as the drier areas of New Mexico, Texas or Nevada, then a magnification of 12 to 20x is suggested. A larger magnification generally means an unsteady image so the higher you go in magnification you may need to stabilize it with a tripod.

Hunting from a blind or tree stand in dense vegetation and wooded areas, then magnification of 6-8x is ideal.

Objective Diameter

Clarity in binoculars is vital no matter where or how you. Generally, objective diameter will produce increasingly brighter and sharper images as the objective diameter increases. For example, a pair of 8x25s will not produce a brighter crisper image than a pair of 8x40s.

When you are hunting in low light conditions, and this is especially important for those woodland hunters, a larger objective diameter will be advantageous. 

Waterproof and Nitrogen Purged

Binoculars will be exposed to the external elements a lot more rifle, spotting scopes and rangefinders. Moisture is like cancer to binoculars. It can fog the lenses and rust internal parts. It never hurts to invest in a pair of waterproofs, fog resistance and binoculars that are nitrogen or argon filled. If you are hunting under constantly wet and humid conditions, it shouldn’t even be a question as to whether you need these features on your optics.

Rifle Scopes

The rifle scope will have similarities to the binoculars in the magnification, objective diameter and waterproofing are all important and need to be considered. However, there are 3 additional factors that the hunter needs to look at when selecting the rifle scope specific to where they hunt.

Scope Reticles

There are various types of reticles, each with their own function and use. Three of the more common reticles and their uses are below:

  • Duplex: This is the simplest crosshair pattern. Ideal for hunters that will take shots at closer range, usually within 100 yards and under non-strenuous conditions.
  • BDC: Stands for Bullet Drop Compensation and its primary function is to assist the hunter in knowing how much the bullet will drop. The BDC fits in between those long-range hunters and those hunters who are comfortable out to 300-400 yards but wouldn’t want to push it further than that.
  • Tree-Shaped Reticles: Now this is for the long-range hunters. These styled reticles take into consideration wind drift and bullet drop. They should be used in conjunction with wind readers and preferably a ballistics app.

Windage and Elevation Turrets

Turrets on a scope were generally viewed as being reserved for competition shooters and long-range hunting enthusiasts, but recent times and developments as shown them to be very useful for the average meat hunter to. Being able to adjust your scope’s reticle and point of impact in relation to external conditions with just a few clicks is a handy trick any hunter would appreciate. 

Understanding wind and elevation adjustments is a bit of a science and so plenty of practice and learning of how to do it is needed before you “click and send”.

Turrets are not essential, but if that dream bull elk is standing broadside at 530-yards with a strong cross wind blowing and you are zeroed in to 300-yards, then you are going to be thankful for those turrets.

Spotting Scopes

The basic function of a spotting scope is to allow the hunter to observe animals and terrain further than what a pair of binoculars could. That’s not to say one should use spotting scopes to replace binoculars completely as there is place for both.

Convenience

Possibly the biggest advantage for a hunter using a spotting scope is that it saves them valuable time and effort. 

Let’s put a scenario together and explain the benefit of a spotting scope. You find yourself in the untamed wilds of the Brooks Range in Alaska on a 10-day hunt. The Dall sheep is your target and time is of the essence. Glassing with your binoculars you spot a group of sheep resting up on the side of a steep mountain. You can’t quite make out if there are rams in the group and if there are any, it’s impossible to tell if any of them are of legal size for hunting.

You could hike within range and get a closer, but that would mean covering a large area and taking the risk of them moving off while you beat your way through the thick vegetation to get onto that side of the mountain. Getting over there will take up many hours of your valuable time.

Alternatively, you unpack your 20x to 60x magnification spotting scope with an 85mm objective lens, peer into the group of Dall sheep and within a couple minutes conclude there is only one ram, and he is not of the size and length you were hoping for. 

Weight

Spotting scopes weigh in the region of 58 to 80oz, which may not seem like a lot, but it all adds up when packing it around with other equipment. This is especially true for those hunters hiking into the backcountry, where every ounce matters.

Range Finders

The development of technology in the optics industry has seen the creation of binoculars with rangefinders built into them, which is great in terms of practicality but unfortunately, they also carry a hefty price tag.

Knowing distances while hunting removes the guess work and lowers risk. Not knowing the exact distances can mean advanced equipment such as long-range rifle scopes with advanced reticles, effectively useless. Bowhunters using multiple pin sights will need to know the distance, so their arrows hit the target.

There is a variety of rangefinders available and follow along the same lines as the binoculars. More advanced and generally higher priced rangefinders can pick up distance to over 1,000 yards, but are they necessary to a bowhunter who really doesn’t feel comfortable flinging an arrow at anything greater than 60-yards? The answer would be no.

Below are the factors you need to consider about rangefinders and apply them to how you hunt and what it is you are wanting your rangefinder to achieve:

  • Measurable distances
  • Stability and magnification
  • Lens coatings
  • Size and weight

Conclusion

The wonderful thing about optics must be the variety. There is something to suit every type of hunter and situation. Optics should be seen as an investment, a piece of equipment that you simply can’t leave home without. That said, it also doesn’t mean simply throwing cash at it and expecting your optics to be perfect. Research into the capabilities and do a quick self-assessment of what you as the hunter require from those optics.

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