For seemingly the hundredth time I raised my binoculars and glassed the marsh I’d watched since daybreak for deer. It was now nearly 10 a.m. and my stomach was signaling its emptiness with increasing avidity. But this was the last day of firearms season and I wasn’t going anywhere. At least I wasn’t planning to.

This time my optics picked up something my naked eye would surely have missed. At first I thought it might merely be sunlight glinting off a branch, until it moved. I have no idea how that deer got there but there it was, in range, bedded. It took agonizingly long minutes to finally make out its head, then its body, then its vitals. The shot was true and my hunt was over.

Besides the obvious weapon and ammo – gun and bullets or bow and arrows – the thing I find most useful, and miss the most when forgotten, is good binoculars. Incidentally, I checked and the correct term is binoculars (an abbreviation of “pair of binoculars”), not binocular. There are countless ways they make days in the woods more productive for a hunter.

The opening passage is but one example. Experienced hunters develop a search image and learn to look not for a deer but for parts of a deer. That might be the horizontal line of their back, a patch of white, two black eyes or sunlight glinting off an antler, all of which are much easier to see with magnification.

Binoculars are generally described with two sets of numbers – for example, 10×42. The first is their power of magnification. The second is the objective diameter in millimeters. More power means greater magnification, which also magnifies motion, but 10x is still a better option for the hunter than 8x.

With the second number, larger numbers indicate a wider field of view. That’s also an asset, and used to mean larger, heavier optics.


Thanks to technology that’s no longer the case, so 40mm, or even 50mm, are both considered good options.

There’s an axiom that says you should spend at least as much on a rifle scope as you do on the rifle. Quality optics often make a big difference. You won’t notice it under average conditions, but you will in low light, when deer are most active. What’s the difference?

Some optics companies boast light-gathering abilities, which can be a bit misleading. Optics can’t gather any more light than is available. However, what happens with that light and the image you’re viewing can differ considerably. Coated glass filters out light at certain wavelengths, making a low light image more discernible. They can also reduce glare.

It’s important to keep them clean, which can be a challenge. Never, ever use paper or even dirty cloth to clean your lenses because they can get scratched. One of the best tools available is something called a lens pen. On one end is a brush for removing larger particles. On the other is a polishing tool. Brush off the big stuff first. Wet the lenses with an appropriate cleaning solution and wipe them in a circular motion with a lens cloth. Then use the polisher.

Hours on a deer stand can be long and boring. Binoculars can help fill the void by providing a close look at some of the other woodland creatures, like a family of otters frolicking downstream, or those otherwise nondescript little birds flitting around through the understory. They might also turn that horizontal line, that patch of white or the sun glinting off a branch into something more interesting.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and Registered Maine Guide who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at:

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