Binoculars are an absolutely vital piece of equipment for almost all disciplines of hunting. Their obvious purpose it to help us spot game such as deer while we are hunting but they can also be useful for scouting the trail ahead and for spotting features we need to navigate while hunting in remote areas, or for keeping tabs on other members of our hunting party or just for a bit of casual wildlife observation or bird watching while we are out hunting.
The best hunting binoculars should be part of every hunters kit even when you might not need them all that often, walked up bird hunting for pheasants and quail don’t really require binoculars but carrying a small compact set just in case isn’t a bad idea and certainly won’t be a disadvantage.
For most hunting though, for deer and other medium to large game, a proper full sized set of binoculars are called for.
- Features to Look for When Choosing the Best Binoculars for Hunting
- Our Recommendations for Hunting Binocular
- Vortex Optics Diamondback Roof Prism Binoculars
- Bushnell Trophy Binocular
- Vortex Optics Viper HD Roof Prism Binoculars 12×50
- Hawke Sport Optics Endurance ED 8×42 Binoculars
- Zeiss Terra 10×42 ED Binoculars
- Nikon 7576 MONARCH 5 8×42 Binocular
- Leica 8×42 Geovid HD-R 2700 Rangefinding Binocular
- Swarovski 10×50 EL Binocular
- ATN BinoX-HD Smart Day & Night Smart HD Binocular
- Pulsar Edge GS Super 1+ 2.7×50 Night Vision Binoculars
Features to Look for When Choosing the Best Binoculars for Hunting
Most optical instruments such as rifle scopes and binoculars are described using two numbers for example these Vortex Diamondbacks which will feature among our recommendations later. These binoculars are 10×42 meaning that they have a magnification of 10 times and 42 millimetre objective lenses.
Unlike rifle scopes which often feature adjustable magnification, or in other words a zoom function, binoculars are normally fixed in terms of magnification although some are vari-powered these are generally nut suitable for hunting. When looking for the perfect set of binoculars for hunting there are a few features other than magnification and objective lenses to consider and we will get onto those in a moment but we’ll start with those two key features.
When hunting you will normally be equipped with a scoped rifle, it might be tempting to use your scope to scan the terrain for game but not only is this tiring and impractical but we have all learned not to point a loaded weapon at anything unless we intend to shoot it and scanning with a scope means you are pointing your rifle at what you are looking at and that is not only a safety issue but a major breach of hunting etiquette.
Binoculars are the tool for scanning and spotting when you are hunting and they are much better at it than scopes, they are smaller, lighter, not attached to a rifle and offer better field of view and depth perception. They may not offer as much magnification as a scope, although actually for most of my hunting I use a fixed six power scope and ten power binoculars so it does depend on your preferences and of course your budget. Commonly now though a lot of people will use scopes with variable zoom from around four to twelve or even eighteen for hunting and binoculars around the seven to ten power range.
For hunting and general outdoor use, such as bird watching that seven to ten power bracket it perfect for spotting and scanning for game.
The objective lenses of your binoculars are the single biggest factor determining the size and weight of your binoculars. The size of the lens directly affects the light gathering ability of your binoculars and larger lenses will give better and clearer images, particularly in low light conditions. This is particularly important to consider in binoculars for hunting as dawn and dusk are often the best times to be out.
I normally go for something between forty and fifty mm, with fifty being the upper limit to keep weight down and make the binoculars easy to handle.
Prisms and Coatings
An advantage binoculars have over other spotting optics such as telescopes is that they are generally more man portable, some hunters, particularly deer hunters in the highlands of Scotland, still use telescopes today but this is more a case of tradition and for keeping up appearances in front of clients they might be guiding on a hunt.
The portable nature of binoculars is great for hunters and size and weight is something to certainly bear in mind when choosing a set of binos for hunting. It’s the prisms inside a set of binoculars which allows them to be more compact and which also makes it possible to view an image the right way up, without prisms the images you see through your binoculars would be upside down. There are two options for your prisms; porro prisms named after their inventor Ignazzio Porro, an Italian Optician and patented in 1854
This is what most binoculars look like in films and television but nowadays modern binoculars for hunting and general outdoors are almost exclusively of the roof prism design. Roof prisms are by no means a new development and were used as long ago as the 1870’s, later the roof prism concept and design was refined and finally patented in 1905 by Carl Zeiss, the Zeiss company is now known as one of the best producers of optics, binoculars and rifle scopes in the world.
Binoculars with roof prisms can be narrower, lighter and more streamlined than equivalent porro prism designs and they are by far the most popular design amongst hunters nowadays.
For optimum performance the internal prisms of a set of binoculars are coated with reflective coatings. Lenses have coatings as well but we’ll get to those in a moment as they function very differently to the coatings on prisms. The Prisms inside your binoculars bounce light around to flip the image that would otherwise be upside down so you see it the right way up. To do this and retain a clear, sharp, bright image they need to reflect as much light as possible so the prisms receive these special coatings to make them more reflective. This is one of the reasons that more expensive binoculars like Zeiss and Swarovski can produce better images than larger, cheaper binoculars because of the supreme quality of their coatings combined with their lenses and prisms.
Lenses and Coatings
Obviously binoculars have lenses; it’s the combination of these lenses and the internal prisms that produce the image you see through your binoculars. The quality of the image you see through your binoculars is largely dependent on the quality of these lenses but producing high quality lenses is expensive and that cost is carried over to the cost of the binoculars. Zeiss, Swarovski and Leica all produce exceptional binoculars but they do charge a premium, you really can tell the difference between these and binoculars with cheaper lenses though.
If you are looking for a budget set of binoculars though you can find very good ones for a fraction of the price of the bigger brands if you look around and follow some of the recommendations here.
It is no mistake that I’ve mentioned coatings again here though as lenses receive coatings as well as the prisms in your binoculars. Binoculars will normally have between ten and sixteen glass surfaces in them, while the prisms should reflect light the lenses should allow it to pass through with the minimum of reflection and good coatings should help with this. If each lens reflects a small percentage of the light that should pass through it by the time that light reaches your eye the image you see might be quite dim or hazy so coatings cut down on this reflection as well as protect the lenses from water and dirt to give what is the most fragile part of your binoculars longevity and ruggedness.
Given that you might observe game at ranges of between just a few yards out to over a thousand as you stalk up to or watch something approach you will need to be able to focus your binoculars at all of those ranges. The focus adjustment will generally be carried out using a central wheel between the two barrels of your binoculars which can be adjusted with your finger tips while still holding the binoculars steady with both hands.
For hunting it is important that this can be manipulated while you are wearing gloves in cold conditions so these knobs are often heavily knurled so you can grip them.
Armour and Camouflage
For hunters out in cold, wet conditions a set of binoculars with plastic or rubber armour to keep out the wet and protect them from the potential shock and bumps of moving through undergrowth is very important. Plastic or rubber coatings also protects your hands from the cold metal barrels of old fashioned binoculars that used to chill your hands very quickly without gloves.
Some armour coatings even help your precious binoculars to float if you are using them around water, a feature that might save you from losing them one day and which I would recommend. Obviously this armour needs to keep out water and dirt as even the smallest amount of water inside your binoculars will vaporise and fog up the lenses from the inside and ruin them but it can also make your binoculars shock proof and protect them if you drop them.
For hunting many manufacturers do offer camouflage coatings on their binoculars as well which may help you if you are hunting very skittish quarry, although remember that deer are mostly colour blind so a lack of camouflage on your binoculars isn’t the end of the world.
Other features which can be particularly useful in a set of binoculars for hunting include a mounting point for a tripod which will be really useful to you if you plan on doing a lot of scanning and spotting from a static position. This is nothing more than a little fitting to allow you to screw your tripod into the binoculars and gives you added stability to scan terrain through your binoculars if you are ‘glassing’ terrain from a vantage point.
Some premium binoculars will feature a built in laser rangefinder and this feature can be really useful for hunting, particularly in situations when longer shots are required. For short to medium range shots from between 50 and 200 yards little adjustment is required to make a humane hit on a deer sized target but for precise head shots on smaller varmints or for longer shots on medium and large game a precise range is important so that accurate, humane shots can be made. These range finding binoculars are a great tool for hunters but they do command a very high price and it’s only the best of binocular manufacturers such as Leica and Swarovski that produce these.
Our Recommendations for Hunting Binocular
Vortex Optics Diamondback Roof Prism Binoculars
10 x 42 binoculars are a great option for hunting, they aren’t too large, heavy or unwieldy but still provide a good field of view, excellent light transmission and a good level of magnification. These subtle green coated Vortex Diamondback binoculars are available in a range of sizes; everything from compact 8 and 10×28 models to a massive 12×50 model, but the 10×42 configuration would be my pick for hunting.
Vortex Optics were established in 2004 and have quickly become a leader in the optics field. Their diamondback models are comprehensively armoured against harsh environments, dust and moisture. They offer a field of view of 362 feet at 1000 yards and can be focused down to just 6 feet, this short range focus is really useful for watching small birds and even for spotting deer and other game laid up tight in cover if you are hunting through thick woodland and scrub.
The knurled focus knob and scalloped armour gives a positive grip even in a gloved hand or in the wet and cold.
Bushnell Trophy Binocular
Bushnell have an excellent reputation for all their hunting optics; from rifle scopes to binoculars they are legendary. The trophy model has the option of coming in realtree camouflage which will make it even more attractive to hunters. It might not seem all that important to camouflage your binoculars but for certain types of hunting such as duck hunting from a hide you would be surprised how important it can be, even wearing a camouflage face veil can be the difference between being spotted by overflying birds and being able to get a shot.
As well as their real tree armour bushnell binoculars also feature some interesting lens coatings. These get the most out of the high quality glass and lenses produced by bushnell and include a moisture dispersing coating to keep any moisture from rain, snow, dew or your breath forming on the lenses. Also an ‘ultra wide band coating’ reduces reflection and maximises light transmission. Just as with any quality optic this coating is applied to all the glass surfaces of the binocular, it’s easy to forget that there are actually many more lenses inside your binoculars than just those at the eye piece and objective.
As with all other Bushnell products these binoculars come with a no questions asked lifetime warranty backing up the excellent quality with the confidence Bushnell have in their products and at under $200 they are also a great bargain.
Vortex Optics Viper HD Roof Prism Binoculars 12×50
Vortex optics produce some great optics and while there are many more expensive options on the market for the budget conscious who still want a top of the range product Vortex are a good place to start. The razor 12×50 is a larger set of binoculars than some of the other binoculars here but will offer a small advantage in terms of light gathering and magnification and so might be particularly useful when hunting at dusk or dawn.
They are also available in other configurations including a smaller 8×32 model which might be more appropriate for the weight conscious hunter.
As with all Vortex products the razor features anti-reflective lens coatings providing fantastic image quality and unsurpassed light transmission. Lulti-layer prism coatings keep the prisms functioning at their best and provide bright, vibrant images.
They also feature compact, rubber armor to keep your binos intact under even the worst condition and on the most energetic hunts.
Hawke Sport Optics Endurance ED 8×42 Binoculars
Like many companies producing binoculars for hunters Hawke also produce fantastic rifle scopes for a range of shooting disciplines, their scopes receive consistent high praise and their binoculars are just as popular. This endurance model are built to take a beating and have absolutely no unnecessary frills or weight. They are truly a tool and will serve well on any hunt or backcountry adventure.
Hawke were established in the UK but since 2007 they have also maintained a headquarters in Indiana and their reputation on both sides of the Atlantic is impeccable. These binoculars won’t let you down, in fact they are so light weight and compact that you will barely know you have them on you.
Zeiss Terra 10×42 ED Binoculars
Perhaps more than any other company, with the possible exception of Leica, Zeiss and their founder Carl Zeiss have been influential in the development of binoculars to where they are today. They produce some excellent binoculars and other optical equipment and normally at a high price but these Terra binoculars represent great value and at under $500 some of the cheaper binoculars available from the big brands.
They are still second to none in terms of quality, particularly in relation to their glass, lenses and coatings and even this cheaper model features the best of Zeiss technology. Their 10 power magnification and 42mm objective lenses make them a great, relatively compact size for hunting and they will be a great option particularly if you are looking for a set of big brand binos ant a budget price.
Nikon 7576 MONARCH 5 8×42 Binocular
The monarch binoculars offered as part of Nikkons range of excellent binoculars feature some upgraded features that will be particularly useful for hunters. ’extra-low dispersion glass’ and ‘dielectric high-reflective’ prism coatings give fantastic images and the mage through these binoculars.
These binoculars are available in 8×42 and 10×42 models and either of which would be great for a hunter and are subtly armoured with rubber to keep them waterproof and shock proof for the worst weather and most extreme environments.
Leica 8×42 Geovid HD-R 2700 Rangefinding Binocular
Along with Zeiss Leica are one of the oldest manufacturers of optical equipment in the world but are probably better known for their cameras than binoculars. Their binoculars are second to none though and these offer the added feature of a built in lazer range finder. This is a fantastic resource for hunters who might otherwise want to carry a separate range finder. This saves that extra weight and bulk and gives you one piece of kit that performs the work of two.
It is not a budget item though, at almost $2,500 it does not come cheap but is a very high quality piece of kit that will serve serious recreational hunters and professionals very well.
This Geovid rangefinding binocular is one of the best money can buy and Leica’s hundred years of experience with high quality optics gives you one of the best images you will find on the market as well as a range of features useful to hunters and field sportsmen, particularly useful for hunters shooting at longer ranges on quarry such as deer, elk and coyotes where you may need to make significant adjustments to your optics or calculate for hold over.
Swarovski 10×50 EL Binocular
The whole range of Swarovski binoculars are great for hunting and they are one of the most popular brands amongst serious hunters in Europe. The make everything from small compact binoculars to full size ones in a range of magnifications and objective lens sizes but their flagship binoculars also integrate range finders and this 10×50 model does just that.
Swarovski are well known as one of the best makers of high quality optics in the world and this model is no exception, it offers excellent features for serious hunters and while it does cost a premium at almost $3000 it will last a lifetime and would be a great choice for professional hunters, guides and serious recreational hunters.
ATN BinoX-HD Smart Day & Night Smart HD Binocular
Not long ago a set of binoculars with a built in range finder would have been considered the height of technology but nowadays there are some fantastic advanced products on the market if you need a set of binoculars that will be useful to you at night time and in the dark.
ATN are one of the market leaders of civilian night vision and thermal imaging optics and this set of binoculars is a great option if you need a set of night vision binos. They also work during the day time so you don’t need to have two sets of binoculars and in actual fact they aren’t really binoculars even though they do look like them.
Rather than two sets of lenses one of the ‘objective lenses’ in these is actually an infra-red illuminator to illuminate what you are watching at night.
Pulsar Edge GS Super 1+ 2.7×50 Night Vision Binoculars
These night vision binoculars from Pulsar give you 2.7 times magnification and a 50mm objective, it also features an infrared illuminator like the ATN and a small piece of picatinny rail for mounting accessories.
These night vision binoculars are always going to be bulkier and heavier than standard binoculars which can make them a bit more unwieldy for hunting and moving through undergrowth with. For night time hunting on hogs or other pests and vermin though they are invaluable.
Binoculars are an absolutely essential item of kit for a hunter, they make spotting game while ‘glassing’ from a vantage point possible without using heavy and unwieldy spotting scopes. Having binoculars handy to spot game is also an important safety consideration; everyone knows not to point a firearm at anything we don’t intend to shoot but lots of people still use their scope to scan for targets, until you have positively identified your quarry though you shouldn’t point the rifle at anything, use your binoculars instead.
You will also need to make sure that you don’t weigh yourself down too much with a heavy set of binoculars that is why the eight or ten power binoculars with 42 millimetre objectives are my first choices for hunting, they offer a good level of magnification without too much bulk. You don’t want to be carrying heavy unwieldy binoculars while you are hunting as if they are inconvenient to use you will end up leaving them at home where they aren’t any use to anyone. Also the heavier and bulkier they are the more likely they will tangle and snag on undergrowth or your kit while you stalk through the undergrowth.
Also make sure you use a secure, strong, comfortable strap for your binoculars so you can carry them comfortably and securely around your neck. This is important not only to keep them close to hand ready for use when you are hunting but also to protect them. Your binoculars might have several hundred dollars or maybe even a couple of thousand and jamming them into your pocket or pack is a recipe for them to be damaged.
If I was choosing a single basic set of binoculars for hunting from amongst these recommendations it would be Vortex Diamondbacks, they offer good value as well as a fantastic warranty and a great format for hunters. If price was absolutely no object through I would go for the Leica or Swarovski rangefinding binoculars, these would be particularly good for longer range hunting to make sure that you make the necessary adjustments to your aim. If you are on a budget though and want a rangefinder consider a cheaper set of binoculars combines with a separate range finder which can be had for a few hundred dollars each.
The ultra-modern night vision binoculars don’t have as much use and I certainly wouldn’t recommend them for normal day hunting as they don’t offer anywhere near the image quality of proper binoculars in the day time and because staring into their internal screens is very tiring and can even give you headaches but they are a very useful item for night time hunting and pest control.
Ultimately though any of these best hunting binoculars will be a good choice for hunting and will give good performance and get you through your hunt whether it is for deer, coyote or anything else. Make sure you look after them and take them with you though because they are no good sitting at home while you are out on a hunt.
Travis Mike is a firearm enthusiast and author passionate about all things guns. With 10 years of experience in the industry, Travis Mike has gained a wealth of knowledge on the subject. He is skilled in gunsmithing and tactical training. In addition to professional experience, Travis Mike is an avid hunter and shooter, regularly participating in local shooting ranges and hunting trips.