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Choosing the Right Optics for Western Bowhunting

Western Bowhunting is just a different game than other parts of the country. I didn’t realize that until I got older and started catching on to how much optics really do play into hunting the west. Being a kid, I remember optics being a nuisance. When my Dad would make me carry around an old relic pair of binoculars I’d almost cringe. I’d think to myself, “why do we even need these anyways. I can see just fine thank you.” Therein was my ignorance on the matter. Watching hunting TV shows that focused around whitetail hunting had me thinking that there was really no need for optics. Those fellas didn’t use them, so why should I? Boy was I wrong. Western Bowhunting is a place where many folks live and die by their optics. The country is vast and wide open. Being able to sit in one spot and let the glass do the walking is a huge benefit. Now, there was a decision to make. What optics would be the right fit for a western bowhunter?

There is No Perfect Magnification

There are many different theories on what magnification is the perfect fit for western hunting. How you should look at that though is what is a perfect fit, for not western hunting as a whole, but what is a perfect fit for you and what you do. There are those that hunt wide open deserts and carry the highest of magnifications to stretch their gaze farther than most. Then there are those that hunt denser forests that still need optics, but don’t have the need to see something 3 miles away. So, in order to answer the question of “what magnification?” you need to look at yourself, the country you hunt, and your style of hunting. Are you planning on mounting your optics on a tripod to grid search the surrounding hills for hours on end? A higher magnification like a 12×50 or 15×56 might suit you well as far as binos are concerned. In the case of spotting scopes a 20-60 power would be great. Maybe, you just need a set of binos to wear on your chest to look ahead of you as you still hunt through timber? An 8×42 could be the “perfect” magnification for that hunter. Assess where you are and how you hunt, then take it from there.

One to Do It All?

So, what about a magnification to do it all? Maybe, you do a bit of everything I’ve described above and need something that can handle most situations. I say most situations, because I really don’t believe there is a magnification that does literally everything. There is just too much range there. You almost need 2 pairs of optics to cover everything. However, if you are only looking to buy one set of binos, I’d suggest a 10×42 or a 12×50. Both offer the ability to glass freehand and both are great for glassing from a tripod. You might suffer just a tad when trying to assess a buck from a long ways out, but these get the job done. For quite some time I did this and If I needed to get a closer look at something, I’d simply get up and move closer. After a few years of doing that though, I eventually bought a spotting scope, which we will talk about later.

Buy Once Cry Once

Now, that we have a better understanding on what magnification we should go with, let’s take a look at price. Price is something that is always a concern. All of us have a budget and not everyone can just drop an amount you could buy a used car for on a set of optics. With that being said, you definitely get what you pay for. Don’t get me wrong, you can get a great set of binos for a few hundred bucks. After awhile though, most hunters are going to upgrade. In the end, they ended up spending more than they would have if they would have just bought the more pricey option right off of the bat. Trust me, I’ve been there, and I’m sure many of you have as well. Higher end glass is going to give you less issues with headaches, a more crisp image, and just an overall better experience glassing. The more that you can stay behind the glass, the more animals you are going to find. Plain and simple. No, I’m not saying that you have to buy the most expensive optics available. I am saying that you should buy the absolute best optics that you can afford. You will not regret this.

Binos, Spotting Scope, or Both?

I think that the most popular option of optic has to be the binocular hands down. They are just more versatile and easier to use than a spotting scope. You can wear the binos on your chest and have easy access to them whenever you might need them. You can also mount them to a tripod for long glassing sessions. Then there is the issue of eye strain. With binos this is pretty much a non issue if you have a decent pair. That old set I mentioned earlier in this article that my Dad made me carry? That would give me a headache after only looking through them for a few minutes. Today? Not the case at all. I can literally glass all day with my binos. I prefer the 10×42 Vortex Razor.

A spotting scope is a specialized tool in my opinion. It is excellent at what it is made to to do, but not excellent at all things. From what I’ve seen, there aren’t a ton of hunters that solely run a spotting scope for all of their glassing. Maybe once they get to a vantage point they mainly run a spotter, but they aren’t freehanding a spotting scope as they walk through the mountains. When it comes to long glassing sessions, some folks have issues glassing out of one eye for so long. There are those that just get used to it, but some just can’t. Swarovski does make a spotter called a BTX that allows you to glass with both eyes, but other than that you’ll need to use one eye with a spotting scope.

For most western hunters, carrying both is what we end up doing. We’ll run a set of 10x or 12x binoculars on our chest and then carry a spotter in our backpacks. This system allows for a great deal of range. Personally, I’ll glass most of the time with my binoculars on a tripod. Once I find something that I want a closer look at, I’ll grab my spotter and throw that on the tripod. As well as being versatile, this method allows a hunter to save energy. Instead of going and getting a closer look at a buck only to find out he isn’t exactly what you’re looking for, you can just sit back and know right off of the bat. Again, let the glass do most of the walking. This is less intrusive on animals too.

Try Before You Buy

Aside from picking the right magnification and if you want binos or a spotting scope, one truly does need to go and try this stuff out for themselves. There have been certain optics that friends of mine have raved about, but after trying them out myself, I was left disappointed. Had I just pulled the trigger and bought them without trying, I would have just been sending them back. There is just no need for that kind of hassle. If you happen to be in AZ, come by Ross Outdoors and you can try out whatever optics you want. If you are still unsure, you can rent them from us and get some in field experience with the optic before making the decision to buy or not. That’s actually exactly how I ended up with the spotting scope I did. I rented the 11-33×50 Vortex Razor Spotting Scope and after bringing it in the field, I was sold hook line and sinker. Before doing that, I wasn’t sure. Glad I did.

In Closing

The fall hunting seasons are a hop skip and a jump away. Now is the time to get your optics game dialed in. There are so many options and opinions out there when it comes to this stuff. Put it all together and it can be overwhelming. I remember feeling like that when I started out. These are necessary tools of our trade though. Having the right pair of optics for a western bowhunter is just so important. It’s how a great deal of us locate animals and for a spot and stalk hunter, they are vital. Having the ability to stay back and just watch animals acting like animals is so valuable and also entertaining. You are seeing them as they naturally are, without being pressured most times. We learn their habits this way which will help us come season. If we can’t see them, we can’t stalk them, and if we can’t stalk them, well……..that freezer is going to be mighty light.

Written by Josh Kirchner of Dialed in Hunter

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