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Over the last 15 years we have seen a growing trend with the number of sambar hunters who glass with binoculars whilst in the field. Instead of just carrying the optics in a pack and only using them when on a ridgeline that offers a decent view or when looking closer at a deer they have stalked, hunters are now a lot more savvy about how they approach their hunt with optics and what methods they use to increase deer sightings.
During this period great optics have got even better with advancements in manufacturing and lens technology and good middle range optics have developed to a point where they offer very real competition to the top end companies. These lower end and middle range optics sit in a nice place for a hunter wanting to get into glassing. Colour rendition is often quite acceptable, flatness of field is very good and low light definition not too far behind the leading big three companies. Often the build quality is solid and hunters have realized that to get into the glassing market, they often don’t have to refinance the mortgage to glass up sambar.
If you are new to the sport or a regular sambar hunter and want to get into glassing, there is always the question of how much needs to be spent on a pair of binoculars. This can really only be answered by the hunter, their income and the amount they can justify spending. All being equal, and generally speaking, it is safe to say that the more you outlay for a pair of binoculars the better the optic will be. This is even more apparent when comparing a $300 pair of binoculars to a pair costing $3,000. However when you compare that same $300 pair of optics to a $600 set, then that is when things become challenging, as these lower end binoculars will all look pretty similar when checking them out during the day. If you do have to make a purchase from a firearm stand at an expo or your local gun store, then be a little wise when assessing your optic.
When evaluating different binoculars always take the time to adjust the focus for your vision. You will not be able to get a proper indication of how good the optic is without first doing this. Take note of how sharp and crisp the focusing is for each of your eyes and how tolerant these settings were. Does the focusing wheel and diopter adjustment rotate smoothly and positively, make sure it’s not too loose or not so tight that it’s an effort to push. Is there any play in the focusing wheel as it moves, if so it can be assured this will only get worse over time as the binocular gets used in the field. Try to look into shadows and darker areas out on the street to see how much light transmission is coming through and if possible try to read number plates on cars at a distance to give you an idea of the definition capabilities of the optic.
Probably the best way is to find a few mates who have optics and ask for their opinions and next time you are in the bush give them all a work out in real hunting conditions.
Most guys are members of a hunting club, so it could be worthwhile asking other members about their experiences good and bad with the different manufacturing companies and you might even be able to talk the club president into holding an optics evening where everybody can bring their binoculars and you can compare a few at the critical low light periods as this is where you will gain the best idea of performance levels for any optic. In previous editions Wild Deer has done many binocular reviews and these editorials will be a great asset to go back over if you are in the market for a new pair of binoculars.
If you already own a mid range pair of optics and want to upgrade or only want to buy once and buy the best then the choices are obvious. Swarovski, Zeiss and Leica are clear industry leaders and for good reason. Each has variances with shape, style, features and glass so it’s vital to do your research, however the benefits with using them whilst hunting will easily justify the purchase price.
I relate the cost of a top end optic by saying to people if quality glass finds you just one stag that you go and shoot that you know you wouldn’t have located with lesser glass or no binoculars then they have just paid for themselves.
Hunt often enough and do this multiple times over a few years and you start realizing quality glass is the most important piece of equipment a hunter can own. You might have the most accurate rifle down at the range, however if you simply can’t find deer to burn powder on, then it doesn’t matter how well it shoots. Combine quality glass with a well tuned rifle you have confidence in and then you have taken big steps forward.
Many hunters will ask whether to buy new or try to find a second hand pair a couple of years old. You can certainly save dollars and pick up excellent used optics from time to time, but it is important to find out how the warranty stands with buying a secondhand pair privately as companies policies will vary between manufacturers.
If you are going to buy new, then always try to purchase locally rather then trying to save a few dollars and importing online from an overseas retailer. All I will say is its great to support the local distributors and retailers, they should back you with warranty returns when needed if you have brought locally and we do need to keep jobs in Australia, even if it means paying a fraction more for your optics. Plus having a good relationship with your local gun store is always an asset and this needs to be kept in mind before making that purchase from an overseas site that you probably wont ever deal with again. Wild Deer has many long standing advertisers who distribute or retail optics and this would be as good a starting point as any when researching where and who to purchase from.
Binoculars with the built in rangefinder
Many times when using binoculars you will locate deer that are at varying ranges. Often it is hard to accurately judge distances in varying habitats and a rangefinder is essential to reduce the possibility of wounding deer. Many hunters will carry a separate rangefinder and use it when needed, but there are a number of manufacturers who have an inbuilt rangefinder incorporated into their binocular. This extra piece of technology does come at a price, but it is extremely useful. We are seeing a growing trend with hunters who purchase a pair of binoculars and then try out a set with the inbuilt rangefinder and seriously question why they didn’t go this option previously. If you can afford them, a set of binoculars with the rangefinder will be one of the best pieces of gear you can add to your hunting kit and at some stage you will be very glad to have fast and accurate information as to just how far away that sambar really is.
There are varying tolerances with the beam divergence of the inbuilt laser in the different companies models and this will reflect on how accurate the reading will be when there if there is interference from scrub, grass and rocks between you and the animal you are trying to make a reading on. Always take a couple of readings to make sure you don’t get a false reading and if you are unsure move your aiming point to the side of the animal to double check that the distance you are receiving is accurate. Some models will have built in ballistic capabilities and these will need to be matched with the calibre and load combination that you are using. The distance that the rangefinder will accurately read also varies between models so make sure you do your homework prior to purchasing.
Choosing between eight or ten power
Selecting the magnification for your every day binocular is very important. Hunters need to consider the habitat they are hunting, their future sambar hunting aspirations, the level of enjoyment they get out of glassing and the style of hunting they like to employ.
If you’re a hunter that likes to get in close to animals in heavier habitat or often works in tight with a well trained companion dog, then a pair of eight power optics might be all you will ever need. They are easy to use, often reasonably lightweight and more manageable when navigating through bush.
If you mix up your hunting in different locations and over the course of a year hunt other species, then it is likely that a pair of ten power binoculars will be the best all round power range to use. Many hunters believe that ten power binoculars are the ideal choice. With ten’s you are still able to hold the optic steady freehand, as in standing up without using support or a rest. Ten power binoculars have enough field of view at closer ranges while giving the hunter plenty of definition and detail at longer distances. Ten’s will also work very well at extended ranges when sitting down or glassing off a tripod, the ideal platform to be glassing from.
High magnification binoculars
Many hunters who have utilized glassing techniques for an extended period of time will see the benefit in having a couple of pairs of optics along for a hunt. Often the combination is a pair of tens and a pair of tripod mounted 15’s. Hunters will switch optics depending on the location and the distance that needs to be glassed. Some hunters might think this is over kill, but simply put, if you cannot see the deer you cannot shoot them, and whilst killing sambar is not the priority each and every time most hunters go out, finding them is at least a starting point to learning and understanding more about this fantastic game species.
There are manufacturers that offer variable or dual power binoculars. The Leica Duovid in 8+12×42 and 10+15×50 are used by a number of sambar hunters and are probably the pick of the dual power range optics. They are very good to use, excellent to glass with and the system is a superb design.
We have been asked a few times if 12 power binoculars are the perfect balance between 10 and 15’s. Some hunters will use 12’s and not own another pair of binoculars. They are probably justified with this line of thinking however from experience we know that 12 power optics can be a challenge to hold steady free hand, and probably lack a little with magnification to be a true longer range optic. So perhaps consider them if you were only to buy one binocular for all types of terrain, but make sure you have given it lots of thought before purchasing a set of 12’s as you might be stuck in the middle with having too much magnification for some conditions and not quite enough for the big distances.
Many sambar hunters now use Swarovski 15×56 SLC’s, they truly are a superb long range optic. When placed on top of a quality tripod the 15’s are deadly glassing up sambar from mid range out to well over a kilometre. They have a fantastic mounting system with their tripod attachment that will never let you down. Whilst these optics are a big outlay, if you squirrel away money over time you will get there. Often a sambar hunter who glasses doesn’t see the value of a pair of 15’s until he sits on the hill with somebody else who is using them. Then when the other person is locating deer seemingly with ease with the 15’s the hunter will soon start thinking what he can sell off to get his own pair.
A lot of our sambar country doesn’t lend itself to effective glassing at ranges much further then 1.5-2km distance. There are catchments and river systems where you can glass longer ranges, but it is the exception rather than the norm. This is probably one of the reasons why so few sambar hunters go larger then 15 power for their top end binocular. We have tried the awesome image stabilsed Zeiss 20×60 BGA and these were great to glass with, but they have older lens technology that doesn’t quite compare to update models of other European companies. There is not a lot of sambar habitat where the weight and bulk of a pair of 20’s is justified to carry them in your backpack and most instances the 15’s will be all you ever need for longer range glassing with binoculars.
It must be noted there are other companies out there who manufacture 15 and 20 power binoculars, but as the power range increases any deficiencies in the lens technology and focusing are magnified, so it’s best to stick with the top end companies if you are considering a larger powered optic.
The typical objective size of binoculars that most sambar hunters use will range from 30mm to 56mm. Obviously if you increase the size of the glass in the objective lens, you also increase the capacity to gather light in poor conditions and this will buy you crucial minutes at critical times of the day. However the only downside is that the weight of your optic will also increase as well as the convenience of carrying a larger size binocular. I personally don’t see the need to try to save weight with your binocular, there are many other items of gear in your backpack you can refine and having a bit of weight in your binocular actually helps to steady the optic which will assist you when glassing. A lightweight or pocket sized pair of binoculars will be harder to hold steady freehand and not that user friendly when the hours behind your binocular start ticking over. At some point there has to be a compromise and many hunters comfortably use a pair of binoculars with 42mm objective glass and this is probably the perfect all round size for sambar hunting.
Caring for your binoculars
As you are likely to outlay or have invested a reasonable amount in your binoculars it is important to always look after them, especially the lenses. Never just throw your binoculars in a pack and head off into the hills without the lens covers on and if possible always transported in a soft case. If you think wrapping them up in a jumper without any other protection is good enough, then you will soon realize that anything hard or sharp will have a tendency to find its way toward your binocular and likely cause significant damage to the glass if it continually rubs against the lens. I always have my optics on the back seat of the 4wd, either in the case but accessible, or in my daypack on the back seat. I never put them in the back of the 4wd where they can bounce around, even in my backpack. They get treated like your rifle would and that’s with care. Also the more accessible your optics are, the more likely you are to glass and in time this will simply mean more deer located.
When hunting in the bush I always like to regularly check that my lens caps are on. It only takes a couple of seconds, but as your likely to have them on a harness around your chest, they will be pushed against scrub and sticks and the protective caps can be easily dislodged so always make sure the caps are in place to protect the lenses.
If you have to clean your lenses, never wipe them with toilet paper, tissue, the end of your sleeve or a handkerchief. It is better to either wait until you get home and lightly rinse them with running water or if you have to clean them, carry a few optical lens cleaning wipes that are designed for glasses and lenses. They are damp and will lift any dust and dirt away from the outside of the lens. Never do half a dozen circles with force on your lenses trying to scrub them clean, it will wear away the lens coating and is a bad habit to get into. It can really reduce the quality of your viewing over time and make your expensive optics not so enjoyable to use.
Using a tripod with your optics is very important, especially for binoculars of 10 power and larger. A tripod will create an ideal viewing platform by steadying your optic and this will assist you to identify movement from animals more efficiently then if you were free hand glassing. There are plenty of variances between tripods, so again you will need to make sure you choose wisely.
Price and weight are factors to consider but a good starting point is buying a quality brand from a popular manufacturer.
I like my tripods to have quick release legs, these are fast and simple to use and you will be able to operate the release one handed. They work in all weather conditions and are resilient to dust and dirt that you will surely collect from your hunts. I prefer using the large full sized tripods as they tend to be sturdier and if there is a breeze they are less affected then the smaller lightweight models. The full sized tripods let you sit down and glass, but if you need to stand up and glass over grass or scrub that’s in front of you, then a full sized tripod will extend so you can do this. Another advantage is you can always tighten up the panning arm, lock it in at 45 degrees, rest your rifle in the v that is created against the tripod head and the arm and convert your tripod to a very stable shooting platform from either a sitting or standing position.
The tripod head must be silky smooth for horizontal and vertical panning and the adjustments need to be of a quality design so they are easily tuned and hold their tension.
The choice of carbon or aluminum needs to be decided and weight savings will mean an increase in price if you go the carbon option. My favorite tripod has a set of carbon legs matched with a manfrotto quick release head so I can securely mount the optics at a click of a button and release them just as easy. The tripod head needs to be of a quality design as this will hold your optic to the tripod so its best to look at a few options so you can see what suits your needs.
One tip when glassing from a tripod is as soon as I have finished, need a break or have to move away from behind the binocular I always put the lens caps on, both front and back of the binocular. I don’t know how many times I have seen a hunter move away from a tripod and unintentionally kick or knock the tripod legs and send his expensive binoculars on a collision course with the ground. If at least you have the lenses covered then the most critical part of your binocular should be protected.
Spotting scopes certainly are an asset to the sambar hunter. They can help you size up and identify any animals you have glassed, they allow you to take pictures or video through them and you can even use spotting scopes to locate animals at ranges your binoculars might be lacking definition. There is no doubt that a quality spotting scope with magnification of 30x, 40x or even 50x will allow great evaluation of a deer at longer ranges, better then any binocular will be able to, but some hunters will struggle with the single eyepiece of a spotting scope and it can take a while to get used to locating animals in a spotting scope. They have their place on any hunt, but the hunter needs to decide how useful a spotting scope will be for his style of sambar hunting. The expense and weight that a spotting scope will add is probably similar to a pair of 15’s, however many hunters will be faced with a decision of what to choose in order to have extra magnification in their optic arsenal when on the hill. Some hunters will own a good pair of binoculars and match them with a spotting scope and others will prefer two pairs of binoculars for their glassing. It will come down to personal choices.
Generally there are either angled or straight eye piece models to choose from and both of these have advantages and negatives. It will again be up to the individual who wants a spotting scope to find the style that is preferred for their techniques.
Sometimes the hunter in sambar country will be presented with varying environmental conditions that could affect the use of a spotting scope. Heat wave distortion on warm days creates challenges when using higher magnification glass and the interference from this will be more noticeable as the power of the optic you are using also increases. Typically when its warm enough to have distortion issues with your glassing most sambar will be in timber or bedded up, but there are times when the deer are still on their feet and the temperatures are elevated or its overcast and you can use a spotting scope effectively.
It is possible to purchase compact spotting scopes from renowned optics companies and if you’re a hunter wanting optimal performance from your gear list with minimal weight restrictions then this is also an option.
It is important to make sure you give thought to your clothing and gear that accompanies you on the hunt. A brimmed hat or peak cap will not only keep the sun out of your eyes as you try to glass it will also reduce effects of sunburn and dehydration on the warmer days. This hat can also be placed over the objective lenses of your optic to create a sunshade if you have to glass into the sun and it can help keep raindrops off your lenses if you have to glass in light drizzle.
Items that have multiple use are very handy to have in the gear list on your sambar hunts. A good pair of gloves will keep your hands warm as often your hands are moving around and exposed as you work the optics. They can also keep mosquitoes and bugs away when in damp areas. Quality socks will be important incase you want to remove your boots and give your feet a rest whilst you are glassing. Layer your clothing properly as you might warm up quickly when walking, but once you sit down and start glassing you will cool off in a short space of time. You will want to wear a wicking base layer to remove moisture against the skin and then layer your clothing to provide warmth and protection as the temperatures and wind strength dictates.
It can cool off very quickly in the afternoon, and as you will want to get up and move around, so to will the deer, so make sure you have enough warm clothing to see you out until sunset to ensure you are glassing at the peak times for deer movement. Its important to ensure you are comfortable when sitting down glassing. Cutting a piece of one of those cheaper camping foam mats to a size that is lightweight and packable will give you a good soft cushion that is much better then rocks and sticks. If you can keep this same piece of foam dry and are fly camping, you can roll up an item of clothing in it, hold it together with duct tape and you have a pillow at night to rest your head on.
A quality binocular harness is valuable to hold your optics in place and prevent them bouncing all over your chest. They will keep the optic close to your body when climbing or travelling between glassing points and also minimizes damage to the optic as you maneuver through bush.
Trying to work out what optics hardware to take with you when glassing can be a challenge. If you are having a day hunt or backpack trip and covering a lot of ground then a single pair of binoculars might have to do. If you are changing locations using the vehicle and glassing off lookouts or walking out spurs and glassing into system then there might be a need to also carry a larger pair of optics or a spotting scope. I will skimp on a lot of hunting essentials, but quality optics are the first item of gear that is packed each and every time I head bush.
Next edition we will cover glassing tips and strategies that the sambar hunter can utilise when in the bush.