I had an interesting question put to me recently; If Airgun hunting is a close range shooting application, why do you always talk about taking binoculars as part of your kit? The answer is that there are several reasons, some are general and some are more specific to my aging eyes!
The first thing to do is look at my hunting needs and what my current problems are, then discuss how the use of binoculars addresses these problems. I hunt in many different ways and in many different environments, from spot and stalk in the open desert to ambush tactics in dense forest, to blinds in agricultural areas. The common thread is a need to spot game before it spots me, and most of the critters I hunt have better eyesight than I do. So the obvious use of glass is to extend my range of vision so that I can see my quarry before it spooks.
Whether spot and stalk hunting or shooting from a blind, I am looking for animals feeding, bedded down, or slowly on the move from place to place, and in most cases trying not to be seen by any passing predator. Jackrabbits in the desert will lie in scraped out depressions under cactus with only their ears popping up to sweep for sounds of danger. Squirrels will sit in the fork of a tree looking out from between the branches and foliage (especially in spring and early fall). Prairie dogs will lay flat on their mounds with only their eyes above the burrows rim. Coyotes will move in from a long ways off, and hogs will hold still in the dense thickets…….. And almost always your are dealing with naturally camouflaged fur and feathers and frequently light variations and shadows.
So my problem space comes down to a) needing to see further, b) needing to pick up subtle shape and colors that don’t fit in, and c) looking into deeply shaded areas. Now, in the beginning of this post I said my eyes are not what they were in my younger years, but still they are not bad. I don’t wear glasses and outside of small print, don’t really have problems in my day to day life. But picking out subtle variations in color in low ambient light is no longer my strong suit.
So the advantage for me is that using a set of 8x or 10x glasses I can see a lot further out, even subtle movement or outlines of a small target species. I can look for telltale signs, a slight movement of the hair on a squirrels tail blowing in a breeze, the glint of a prairie dogs eye looking at me between the blades of grass, that might be hard to spot at even 40 or 50 yards. I can see a frozen up in the shadows of a dense thicket …. All much more clearly than possible to the naked eye, even if your vision is perfect. I don’t care how experienced you are, how perfect your eyesight is, or how much mastery of field craft you have…. you will see more when using binoculars!
Like scopes, with binoculars you generally (but not always) get what you pay for. I’d stay away from the real cheap plastic wrapped hanging on hooks brands that you see at xxxmart. However, in the $100-$200 range there are some decent models at the lower end of the price range from companies like Leupold or Cabelas house brands available. Their are also some good ones from Hawke that perform way above their modest price points. Also as with scopes, most glass will work find in the middle of a bright clear day, it’s the low light conditions that sets the apart.
For most of my hunting applications I like an 8x or 10x magnification, finding anything higher takes more work to hold steady, weighs more, and are more than what I need. I like a compact model, and will either wear them on a chest strap if they will be used continuously, or will slip them intio a pocket of my pack if the are required less frequently.
If you haven’t used binoculars in the past, give them a try and I think you’ll agree with me. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve swept an area with my naked eye, then go back with a bino assist and seen multiple animals that had been undetected. This is one of those bits of gear that are always in my kit!