Making a Case for Using Optics in Tight Cover

For two years, Nate Blanchard held a difficult job. A diehard deer hunter, he worked as a seasonal employee for Pennsylvania’s Game Commission, checking deer hunters in the parking lots of some of Pennsylvania’s most popular public hunting land. The bad part: when he was on the clock, Blanchard couldn’t participate in his favorite activity. But he extracted enough good parts to tolerate the job, which he credits as a rung on the ladder that he ascended to become a certified wildlife biologist. The best of the good parts? Educating fellow deer hunters about the importance of good-quality gear, including optics.

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Making a Case for Using Optics in Tight Cover

Good optics can help you pick apart thick cover to find deer when they’re bedded, or even just a flicker of an ear or tail as they get ready to move. (Photo courtesy Leica Sport Optics)

“At least half the hunters—and maybe more—didn’t have any binoculars at all. The rest had bargain-bin binoculars that they figured were adequate for glassing in the thick timber and close quarters that defines most habitat on Game Commission land.”

Blanchard got a startling education himself about how some Pennsylvania deer hunters use optics when, on his days off, he finally got a chance to hunt whitetails on the public lands he managed.

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“I’d be using my binoculars, scanning the neighborhood for deer, and almost every day, I’d spot someone looking back at me through the scope on their rifle.”

In other words, they were using their riflescopes for observation, which is both extremely unsafe and ineffective, because every time they scanned, they panned their entire rifles, increasing their movement and the likelihood that they might spook game.

“When I’d ask other hunters why they didn’t include binoculars as part of their essential kit, they’d tell me that they don’t need magnified optics because they can see only 100 yards or so in any direction. The cover is that thick.”

Here’s why that mentality is contributing to some hunters’ unfilled tags every season.

Extended Hunting Time

In Pennsylvania, as in most states, legal shooting hours extend from a half-hour before sunrise through a half-hour after sunset. It’s not just a legal standard, from a practical standpoint, it’s hard to count points or clearly see your target in the murk of twilight.

Most optics will allow you adequate visibility to determine whether a whitetail is a buck or a doe in that low light. But one of the key features of high-quality binoculars and riflescopes is their improved light transmission, essentially making objects brighter than they would appear through low-quality optics. Brighter images simply extend your hunting time. Deer hunters can count points, define their target, and be well prepared for legal shooting light when it arrives.

That’s especially important in the deep woods, where twilight comes earlier in the evenings and lasts longer in the mornings.

“Good binos will show you things you’ll most definitely miss, especially in low light,” says Philip Massaro, an upstate New York deer and bear hunter whose go-to binocular is Leica’s Ultravid 8×32 HD. “I’ve glassed deer I never would’ve seen, even 75 yards away, due to thick vegetation.”

There are other reasons experienced hunters pay more for their optics than they do for their deer rifles.

Making a Case for Using Optics in Tight Cover

Top-quality optics provide a clear, crisp sigh picture during low-light conditions and at the edges of the lenses. (Photo courtesy Leica Sport Optics)

Peripheral Vision

One of the factors that separates high-quality optics from value-class binoculars is their clear periphery. That’s a consequence of the higher quality of the glass, and the grinding that shapes the magnifying lenses. Lower-priced optics often have clear centers, but the image gets fuzzy toward the edges. That’s because it’s relatively easy—and cheap—to create clarity in the center of a lens, but it takes time and precise (and pricey) grinding and polishing equipment to ensure that images on the edges of a lens are as clear and crisply focused as images in the center.

One result of a high-quality optic is a fully useable field of view. For a typical 8×32 binocular, the field of view is about 400 feet wide at 1,000 yards. But for a low-quality binocular, you might get an effective field of view of only 300 feet before the periphery gets fuzzy.

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Better Balance

Another benefit of higher-quality optics is their balance, a consideration that’s especially important for bowhunters, who often operate their binocular with a single hand  while the other hand is occupied holding the bow. The longer you spend comfortably behind your binocular, the more game you will see, says Blanchard.

“Even in a treestand, I’m constantly scanning with my 8x32s,” he said. “I can throw them up with a single hand, and the 8x magnification is rock-solid. I’ve found that a 10×42 binocular can be hard to hold with a single hand because of its larger frame and objective lenses, and the higher magnification causes the image to shake.”

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Selective Focus

In much of the wooded deer habitat east of the Mississippi, shots are often inside 100 yards, fully within the capabilities of open rifle sights. There’s a reason, after all, that the .30/30 with buckhorn sights ruled the hardwoods for nearly a century. But, by using a low-magnification riflescope on their deer rifle—Massaro’s go-to is a Magnus i 1.5-10×42 – hunters can clearly see not only their target, but any obstructions.

“With a good scope, I can see the small twigs and branches that will most definitely deflect a bullet,” he said. “I call it ‘threading the needle’ and at the lower end of the power range, I have plenty of magnification to see my aiming point, and enough clarity to see and avoid obstructions.”

So, when you’re in the market for a some new binoculars or catch a glimpse of something in the brush without being able to tell if it’s a buck or doe, take these points into consideration and try out some new binos at the local sporting goods store. 

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