Binoculars – just another piece of equipment to weigh down your pack. Why do you even need them when you could be using your riflescope to spot animals?
There are a couple reasons that using a pair of binoculars is a better choice than sighting your rifle at everything that moves. The first is a matter of hunting safety: you should already know what your target is when pointing your muzzle towards it.
The second reason deals with your awareness of your surroundings. If you scan the horizon with your naked eyes and then check out areas of interest with your scope, you miss out on so much detail. If you’re scanning with a scope, you’re too focused on a single point and end up missing the big picture. A good pair of binoculars lets you look around, seeing all of nature’s detail, but you can quickly set them down to check out what’s happening nearby.
Hunting with binoculars will open up your world, and once you’ve seen what’s possible with them, you’ll never go back.
Buying the Best Binoculars for Hunting
It’s important to note that binoculars are not a replacement for a spotting scope. The more magnification you have, the more difficult it becomes to look at something without your viewing area jumping around. All of the binoculars listed here have 10x magnification or less, as any more would require a tripod. Binoculars should be used to survey the landscape, not hone in on one particular location. Get a spotting scope if you want 20x magnification – binoculars serve a different purpose.
More important than magnification is the objective size, which corresponds to the outer set of lenses on the binoculars. A larger lens lets in more light, which means greater clarity and better functionality at dusk.
Overall Best Hunting Binoculars
Vortex Optics Viper HD
This pair is probably the best all-around choice for the money. While it might not seem like a huge upgrade in specs from the Eagle Optics (both have 10x magnification and a 50mm objective lens), it’s the little details that take it over the top.
From the outside, the Vortex Viper HD looks and feels like binoculars that cost a few hundred dollars less, but the internals differ dramatically. First, high-density extra-low dispersion glass is used in the lenses, resulting in higher resolution and brighter colors. Second, the glass is coated in dielectric and phase correcting materials, which allows more light to enter the eyepiece with greater contrast. These might sound like optics nerd terms, but they make a big difference in image clarity. Glass quality is the single biggest factor between entry-level and professional binoculars.
For those who would like a more stable platform for their binoculars, the Viper HD comes with quarter-inch threading, so it can be mounted to most any camera or spotting scope tripod. While the binoculars only weigh 1.5 lbs., your arms might get tired of holding them after a whole morning of scoping out the terrain. Additionally, you’ll get a much steadier view with a tripod, which is easier on the eyes.
If you’re a bit of a butterfingers with your optics, Vortex offers a lifetime, no-questions-asked guarantee. We all fumble sometimes, and it’s nice to know that a little mistake isn’t going to cost you a hefty portion of your paycheck.
The Best Hunting Binoculars with Image Stabilization
Canon 10x30 Image Stabilization II
This set of binoculars makes the list because you might want to consider a pair with image stabilization. Electronics in these binoculars removes the minute shaking that is always present in our hands, and it works the same way as image stabilization on a camera. The downside is that, because they’re more complicated, binoculars with electronic components are more prone to failure. Hunting binoculars need to be rugged, and you’ll just need to be more careful with an image-stabilized pair.
The first thing you might notice about the Canon IS II is that it has a smaller objective lens than any of the other binoculars reviewed. That’s because it utilizes a Porro prism rather than a roof prism to direct the light from the objective lens to the eyepiece lens. Without going into too much technical detail, Porro prisms provide better contrast in lower light, even with a smaller objective lens and lower quality glass, but the downside is that they take up more space.
Image stabilization allows you to have greater magnification without using a tripod, but that’s probably not the best idea. Binoculars are for looking around, not zeroing on a tree a mile away, so if you want serious zoom, buy a spotting scope instead and set it up on a tripod. That said, image stabilization makes binoculars with standard magnification more pleasant to use. Without all the bouncing around, you can get away with a smaller objective lens; it won’t be as difficult to see the details when the picture is still.
The Canon does have the downside of only 14.5mm of eye relief, which isn’t great for hunters who wear glasses. But for everyone else, they only cost a little more than the Vortex Vipers and will provide a more comfortable viewing experience.
Best Budget Hunting Binoculars
Bushnell H20 8x42
Here is the least expensive option on the list, but that doesn’t mean the bushnell’s are a slouch in the optics department. First off, as the name might suggest, these binoculars are completely waterproof (never buy binoculars that aren’t 100% waterproof), and are O-ring sealed and nitrogen purged to prevent any fogging. Given that there’s no electronics involved in this pair of binoculars, complete waterproofing might seem like overkill, but it’s actually a tool to prevent internal condensation that would cause lens fogging.
These are an excellent option for hunters buying their first pair of binoculars because they’re so easy to use. The focus knob is center-mounted so you won’t need to adjust each eye individually, and twistable cups on the eyepieces let you set the eye relief up to 17mm, which is great for hunters wearing glasses.
They don’t have as much magnification as some of the higher-end binoculars, but depending on how you use them, that might be okay. More magnification makes it harder to hold the image steady, and less magnification can actually make it easier to survey a wide area.
Perhaps the biggest reason to choose this pair, beyond the low price, is how compact they are (7”x6”x3” and under 2 lbs.). If you don’t want your binoculars to take up a third of your daypack, or would like to have them handy for activities other than hunting, these are a great choice.
Eagle Optic Shrike 10x42
A small step up from the H20 is the Eagle Optic Shrike. With 10x magnification, they can see a little farther, and the higher-quality glass provides more detail. They’re a great choice for hunters who are watching a particular area, rather than scanning around.
The lenses on these binoculars are fully coated with anti-reflective materials to reduce glare, but some users have reported that it’s only marginally effective. True anti-glare binoculars will cost a bit more, but these are a great option for beginners and for hunters who won’t be using them every weekend. The body of the binoculars is all rubberized, providing a slip-free surface, even when wearing heavy glass or handling them in the rain. Also, as with any good pair of hunting binoculars, they’re waterproof and fogproof.
The Shrike comes with a quarter-inch tripod mount, which is nice if you’re setting up shop for a while and want some more stability. While these might not be the highest quality binoculars, it can be hard to pay hundreds of dollars for your first pair when you’re not sure how you’ll use them. The Shrike is great for starting out and exploring how binoculars can change your hunting experience.
Optics and You
Whether you buy the very best binoculars for hunting or a pair that’s just good enough, optics will change how you hunt. Instead of focusing on that one big buck, you’ll start to notice all the little things: how a tree sways in the wind (and thus the direction your scent is blowing), some hoof prints in a faraway draw, a low ridge that would give you the perfect shot. Hunting becomes a more all-encompassing sport with binoculars; more thought goes into your hunt as you consider all of the details revealed by your optics. Getting a good shot is no longer about a chance encounter with wildlife, but rather a well-planned dance with the animal as you come to understand their environment, using a game camera lets you plan ahead and know what could be coming and your rangefinder will help to gauge your shot.
The best hunting binoculars will be the ones that fit your needs: higher magnification for more stationary hunts, a bigger objective lens for low light, and image stabilization for anyone who hates a shaky view (which is everyone…). But no matter which pair you choose, even the cheapest pair of binoculars will improve your hunt immensely.