Every hunter needs a good-quality pair of binoculars in their hunting kit. The type of hunting you do can determine the type of binoculars you need. Long-range shooting situations will require specialized binoculars, while hunters taking advantage of those brief moments just inside legal hunting hours are going to require better low-light optics. Buying binoculars can be a frustrating challenge because there are literally thousands of models with prices all over the place and lots of confusing terms that can make it seem like every binocular is the best thing ever. We decided to break it down for you and show you some of the optics we really like and why we think these are great choices for your next hunting trip.
Binocular Anatomy 101
Before we get into which pairs of binoculars we like, we want to describe the various parts and how they affect the usefulness of a pair of binoculars for hunting and shooting sports. We are going to go through this stuff pretty quickly, but you should get a good understanding of what the parts are and why they are important for hunting applications.
The key external features of binoculars you need to know:
- Barrel: The barrels each hold the prisms and lenses, and also commonly have some type of slip-resistant material to help provide a solid grip.
- Hinge and Barrel Bridge: This allows the binoculars to be opened and closed to accommodate face sizes and to aid in storage while also providing stable connections between the barrels.
- Objective Lens: This is the larger lens and it determines how well they work in low-light conditions. The bigger the lens, the better low-light image.
- Ocular or Eyepiece: The smaller end that fits to your eyes. Most binoculars have some type of cushion to block out light and make the eyepiece more comfortable and allow adjustment for eye relief.
- Focus Knob: This is the large knob or wheel set between the two lenses. It's used to get an image into focus.
- Diopter: Typically, binoculars will have a diopter adjustment wheel on one eye that allow the user to fine-tune the focus to compensate for variances in eyesight.
The inside components of binoculars allow for the image to be magnified. Here is what you need to know:
- Prisms: The prisms are what allow the image you are viewing to be magnified and correctly inverted. There are two types of prisms manufacturers use. They are known as the Porro prism and the roof prism types. Both accomplish the same goal (magnifying images) with the main difference being one of practicality. Roof prism-type binoculars tend to be slimmer than Porro prism binoculars as a result of the physical location of the prisms.
What the Numbers Mean
One of the most confusing things about binoculars is the magnification and aperture numbers. When you're looking to purchase binoculars, you need to know what those numbers mean in terms of how well the binoculars will work for the type of use you intend.
- Magnification: The first of the two numbers is the magnification level. The higher the number, the greater the magnification. A 10x magnification means that objects will appear ten times closer. Higher magnification will allow you to see distant objects, but too high of a magnification will make nearby objects difficult to track.
- Aperture: The aperture is the second number and it refers to the diameter of the objective lens. The larger the size of the lens, the more light is gathered, which translates into a clearer, more vibrant image. This is particularly important when trying to view distant objects in low light – like when you are watching that trophy buck make his way toward you just before dawn.
- Field of View: The field of view tells you how wide the image you are observing will be. This is particularly important when tracking moving animals. The most common numbers you'll see for FOV is the width of the image, in feet, while viewing an object at 1,000 yards. Higher magnification leads to a smaller FOV.
What is the Best Magnification for Hunting Binoculars?
Before you go out and buy the best binoculars for hunting on the market, you need to know what the best magnification for hunting is going to be. There is a tremendous amount of controversy out there about what is best. In our personal experiences, binoculars with 8x magnification and 10x magnification are well-suited for the types of hunting we do.
Magnifications that are higher than 10x are great for bird watching, whale watching, and star gazing, but have limited use when hunting from tree stands, like a lot of the hunting we do in Ohio. Now, if you're tracking animals over long distances, a 12x or 15x magnification binocular is a good thing to have, but you're going to need a stand or tripod to keep the image steady.
Personally, we believe that any hunter using binoculars will get the most use from 8x or 10x sets. More important is to get a large enough aperture for low light hunting. Aperture sizes between 35mm and 50mm are popular for hunting.
Which is Better 12x50 or 10x42 Binoculars?
This is a great example of how confusing binoculars can be. If you set a pair of 12x50s next to a 10x42 set, they are almost the same size and weight. The major difference you'll notice is the 12x magnification – that much power makes keeping the image steady really tough, particularly when the object is moving. The slightly lower aperture size of the 10x pair isn't going to make a tremendous difference when everything else is equal.
Are 10x50 Binoculars Good for Hunting?
A 10x50 pair of binoculars isn't a bad choice for most types of hunting. You can get an idea of how useful this size is by thinking about the average distance of the shot you make. Shots are typically below 200 yards, and most whitetail deer are taken at 100 yards or less. So, a buck at 200 yards will appear as though he is 20 yards away. That should be good enough to count antler tips for most hunters.
The 50mm aperture size is a good choice for optimal light gathering for hunters at dawn and dusk. Keep in mind that a 50mm lens is going to result in a larger barrel, and a heavier binocular overall. If you do a lot of hike-in hunting, every ounce counts, and even slightly heavier binoculars can get tiresome on long days. That's why many hunters choose compact binoculars despite the limitations in aperture size.
What are the Best Binoculars for Deer Hunting?
You'll notice that the binoculars below are all 8x42mm designs. We chose that size because we think it's the most versatile for hunting and because it gives us a great way to compare specs side by side between different manufacturers. Most of the binoculars here are also available in other magnifications and aperture sizes, so don't think these ones are limited to only being good in this size.
Handsdown, Maven makes our favorite binoculars for hunting. The C.1 was even named one of the "10 Best Binoculars of the Year" by Field and Stream, and was winner of the Outdoor Life "Great Buy Award." It's a great mid-level option at a reasonable price.
The C.1 offers a lot of features that you don't typically see in this budget class. It's a waterproof and fog-proof optic, lightweight, and just feels high quality. The C.1 also has ED glass and dielectric coatings that allow for max light transmission. On top of all that, these binoculars just look fantastic. The dull grey armor gives a very tactical aesthetic, and the metallic orange accents set it apart from other brands. It's also really easy to grip thanks to a finely textured rubber coating and thumb indents.
- No-fault lifetime warranty
- Completely removable eyecups for cleaning
- Great clarity and color
- Slight chromatic aberration
- Diopter adjustment ring can be sticky
These feature multi-coated lenses to provide brighter, clearer images that are free of distortion and glare, while outer lens surfaces are protected from scratches and smudges. Outer surfaces are protected from impacts through non slip rubber armor.
The Vortex Optics Diamondback also has an extra wide field of view. At 1,000 yards, you get a FOV of 393 feet, one of the very best on the market. It's lightweight and easy to pack, and the HD lens provides crystal clear images.
- Wide field of view
- Adjustable eyecups are easy to use while wearing glasses
- High quality optics at an entry price point
- Can be challenging to focus
- Some users report issues with manufacturer quality, though rare
Nikon has been in the optics game for a very long time, so you know you can count on getting good quality hunting binoculars from them. The Prostaff 3S is a great choice for hunters and nature watchers alike. This pair of hunting binoculars are particularly great for eyeglass wearers. The long eye relief design and adjustable eyecups work great to prevent headaches from using binoculars.
The Nikon Prostaff 3s are affordable compact hunting binoculars with roof prisms. The 42mm objective lens gathers a great amount of light so you are able to see objects clearly, even in low light. Objective lenses are fully multi coated to provide excellent image quality will giving the binoculars fog proof and water proof protection.
- Excellent price range for a compact hunting binocular
- Great optics from a trusted company
- Works great in low light
- Smaller field of view than competitors
- Included straps and lens protectors are subpar
When you need a compact and lightweight binocular for hunting, the Athlon Midas is a great option. Its roof prism and magnesium body allow for one of the lightest and smallest 8x42 binoculars out there. Athlon uses ED glass which eliminates blurred edges and allows for one of the widest fields of view on the market. Advanced optical coatings on the lens give you true-to-life color and unbelievable image quality.
Argon purged barrels and high-quality seals prevent dust and moisture from distorting the view. The magnesium body is rubber armored for additional protection against drops. Easily adjustable eye relief makes it easy for hunters who wear glasses to use the Midas UHD binoculars.
- Works well in low light
- Massive 426 ft. field of view
- Lighter and more compact than most competitors
- Some users report quality control issues with focus knob and diopter control
- Close focus is frequently out of spec
Hunters that frequently find themselves in wet conditions require a binocular that performs without problems, and the Bushnell H20 fits the bill. The fully waterproof design and durable rubber armor coating ensure you get optimal performance in any conditions. The H20 is a roof prism design that gives you a tight, compact pair of hunting binoculars with excellent optics.
Bushnell provides a long, 17mm eye relief to allow for a wide range of adjustment. The Bushnell H20 are one of the best value binoculars out there and are a perfect addition to your hunting kit. And if you ever have a problem with these binocs, Bushnell provides a lifetime warranty. This is a great set of budget binoculars.
- 100% waterproof design is perfect for wet hunting conditions
- Compact size with textured rubber armor for a non slip grip, even when wet
- Several users report chromatic aberration that impacts image quality
- Not ideal for low light conditions
Binoculars built for wildlife watching are perfect hunting binoculars, and that's what you get with the Celestron Nature DX. These binoculars feature high-quality roof prisms and fully multi coated optics to provide crisp, clear image quality in both bright and low light conditions. Celestron coats its prisms to provide users a phase corrected image, a feature rarely seen on budget binoculars.
These hunting binoculars are fog proof and feature a durable and comfortable rubber coating. The advertised 388 ft field of view ensures you won't have trouble tracking moving animals. These are some of the best binoculars for the money. Rugged, reliable, and excellent optics, plus Celestron backs it up with a lifetime warranty and US-based support services.
- Excellent optics quality with phase corrected roof prisms
- Outperforms more expensive full size binoculars
- Diopter adjustment is too sensitive
- Eye cup screws tend to fall out
Choose the Best Hunting Binoculars for You
Shopping for the best pair of hunting binoculars can be a frustrating experience, but the compact, 8x42 binoculars we shared today will help you narrow down your search. Any of these pairs of binoculars make for a great addition to your hunting gear. Getting high-quality optical clarity and high definition images from mid-priced binoculars is easy when you select one of the models we shared today.
One of the great things about using 8x42 binoculars is the usefulness of the size. The binoculars on this list can just as easily be useful at sporting events and concerts, car races, and for nature watching and even star gazing. The compact size and low weight of each of these options also makes them ideal for tourists and travellers. Don't think you have to spend $2,000 to get a good pair of hunting binoculars. All of the models we shared today are available for less than $200 and will give you years of excellent optics and durability.
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