Article Date: Wednesday, November 30, 2011
By Bob Humphrey
I get to spend a lot of time in hunting camps around the country with professional guides whose clients run the gamut from experienced veterans to rank amateurs. Because it's such a popular topic, I invariably ask what are some of the most common mistakes their hunters make.
One of the biggies is choosing poor optics. "People invest a lot of money in their firearms," said one guide, "then scrimp on optics when if anything, they should to the opposite."
Off the shelf, most modern fireams should shoot over-the-counter ammo in groups tighter than the average hunter is capable of accomplishing under field conditions. Granted, if you're taking long-range shots under extreme conditions, a better rifle and premium or hand-loaded ammo will give you an edge. But most deer are killed within 100 yards.
And most stock optics will get the job done under optimum or even average conditions. It is under sub-optimum conditions that good optics really shine.
The key, according to C.J. Davis, is quality glass. Davis handles the Nikon Sport Optics account for Chevalier Advertising. Most hunters won't appreciate the difference between good and great optics under optimal lighting conditions. But deer are crepuscular, meaning they're most active at dawn and dusk. They also seem to have a penchant for moving about more in foul weather. That's when good optics can mean the difference between success and failure.
Glass makes a huge difference, according to Davis. "Nikon is one of only three companies that make their own glass for lenses," said Davis. "This allows them greater quality control. They know they're turning out a quality product." he says. "The better the glass, the more light it allows to pass through, something you don't really appreciate except under poor or low light conditions."
Good glass is more expensive. So are coatings. More expensive optics have better coatings, designed again to allow more light to pass through, and to prevent light from bouncing around inside the optic.
Light gathering ability is a common term sometimes used by optics companies. "This is a bit of a misnomer," says Davis. "Optics don't gather light. They can only transmit what light is available. The difference between average and good optics is that they transmit more of this available light."
Another difference is durability. Cheap scopes use cheap components that are more likely to break or malfunction under abuse, or even extended use. Quality components and manufacturing, on the other hand, should hold up even under extreme duress. It costs more, but will be well worth the extra money if you're on that hunt of a lifetime in some remote area.
Moisture is another environmental variable that will bring out the value in better optics. The best scopes and binoculars are completely waterproof, and fog-proof.
Cost is relative. An extra $100 or $200 might seem like a lot when comparing one scope or binocular to another. But when you consider a guided hunt might cost $4,000 or $5,000, and all the other time and money that goes in to trying to pull off a successful hunt, it's really not that much if it gives you a decided advantage. Also consider that in most cases the product will outlast the user, whereas you might replace a cheap scope two or three times over your hunting career, and in the process experience a few missed shots or missed opportunities.