I was bowhunting not long ago when something flickered in the woods about 100 yards away. The brush was too thick for me to determine what it was with the naked eye, but I thought my rangefinder would enable me to peer through the unknown and see if a big buck was approaching. I had always believed that I didn’t need binoculars when bowhunting from a treestand because if something was close enough for me to shoot, I would be able to see it on my own, and if not, why worry? My rangefinder sports 6X magnification, after all. Worst case, I could always just use it.
Or so I thought. Two does eventually emerged from the thicket and wandered by my treestand, but I had to wait until they stepped out before I could be certain what they were. My rangefinder just wasn’t up to the task — too little light transmission through its one, tiny lens.
What I really needed on that hunt was a good pair of binoculars, a pair that was suited for the darker conditions and close quarters I was hunting in. What I really needed was a pair of 8x42s.
Field of View
A pair of binoculars offers more or less field of view depending on its magnification. Binos with 15X magnification will give hunters less visibility at a given distance than ones with 12X will, 12X less than 10X, and so on and so forth. Think of a riflescope: As you turn a variable-power model up and down in magnification, the circle of visibility you’re given shrinks or expands, respectively.
That’s why a pair of 8x42s is so beneficial in the whitetail woods. A pair of 8x42s will give deer hunters a field of view of roughly seven degrees, depending on the make and model. That translates to a wider field of view than a pair of comparable 10x42s, which may offer 6.4 degrees or so. That difference could make or break a hunt: It’s far more beneficial for a bowhunter to be able to spot a big buck as he steps from behind a tree trunk to their extreme left or right than it is to be able to see a tree trunk in the center of their field of view closer and with more detail.
With that greater field of view also comes greater light transmission. Light transmission is largely determined by the size of the binocular’s objective (front) lenses, but the exit pupil, the size of the focused light that actually hits your eye, is determined by dividing the objective lens size by the magnification power. Therefore, while 10x42s and 8x42s share the same objective lens size — 42mm — the latter allows more light to actually reach your eye because 42 divided by 10 is smaller than 42 divided by eight. (There will now be a brief recess while everyone checks my math on their smartphone’s calculator app.)
The lens coatings used by various manufacturers can certainly give 10x42s a boost in light transmission, but all things being equal, I feel you are still better off buying a pair of comparable binoculars in 8×42.
Yet another benefit of “powering down” to a pair of 8x42s is the greater stability 8X magnification offers over higher magnifications. Think back to a riflescope: It is easier to hold a scope steady at 3X than at 9X because there is less perceived wobble. That’s also why Western bowhunters often attach their 12X and 15X binoculars to tripods. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be able to effectively glass because of the amplified shake.
Marine binoculars are a great example of this principle. The rolling nature of a boat on water makes glassing difficult regardless of the magnification of the binoculars, so using even 10x42s isn’t a great option. That’s why manufacturers often make their marine models with 7X magnification: to further reduce the shaking effect.
If you want even greater stability than 8x42s provide, by all means, purchase a pair of marine binos. However, those speciality binos are often combined with objective lenses measuring 50mm or so to allow even more light to reach the user’s eyes. This makes them brighter than their 8×42 cousins but also larger and more cumbersome than is necessary for a treestand bowhunter. If you want to see and shoot big whitetails without carrying a pair of bulky binos, stick with the 8x42s.
If you’re like I used to be, you might shy away from buying a pair of binoculars “just” to deer hunt with. As much of a gear guy as I am, this is one item I’ve always struggled to justify buying.
What a pity. The benefits of good binos, especially ones as well-suited for the deer woods as 8x42s, are legion.
Throw them in the truck for use when scouting for next season or just roaming the back 40. Take them fishing to play double duty as marine binos. Use them during 3-D archery tournaments to practice just like you hunt. Take them to a ball game. Bird watch to kill time while you’re in the treestand.
Whatever you buy them for, be sure to buy quality 8x42s. While bows and arrows and broadheads and camouflage patterns come and go, binos can be heirloom purchases that will last you and yours for lifetimes.
Here are a few of our favorites.
Leupold BX-5 Santiam HD
Leupold has a wide range of 8×42 binoculars available, ranging from the BX-1 McKenzie HD at just $184.99 on up. The Santiams are the top of the line, and it shows. These ergonomic roof-prism binos feature fully multi-coated lenses to really bring out the benefits of 8x42s while also keeping them scratch- and smudge-resistant. Santiams are lightweight, compact, and covered by the company’s famous lifetime warranty. One thing you won’t need a warranty for, though, are damaged eyecups, a fairly common occurrence on binoculars. With the Santiams, you can remove and replace the eyecups yourself if needed. $999.99 | leupold.com
Bushnell Forge 8X42
Bushnell also offers a number of 8×42 binoculars, with the Forge model perhaps its most popular. These binos feature EXO Barrier Protection on the lenses to guard against the elements, scratches, and more. The lenses, which are made of ED Prime glass, also sport Ultra-Wideband anti-reflective coatings to prevent game-spooking glare from giving away your position. Forge binos come with dielectric prism coating and PC-3 phase coating on the prisms, too, a treatment that Bushnell says allows for 92 percent light transmission and vivid color. IPX7 waterproof construction and built-in lens caps are included as well. $459.99 | bushnell.com
SIG SAUER ZULU7 8X42 HDX
SIG’s ZULU7 binoculars are built around high-reflectance, phase-coated BAK4 prisms for unmatched resolution and image contrast. The “HDX” in the model’s name comes from the advanced optical system used in its construction; its high-definition and high-transmittance glass allows for even more light transmission than what the 8x42s naturally provide, giving bowhunters an extra boost at dawn and dusk. ZULU7s are covered by SIG’s Infinite Guarantee, are IPX-7 rated for complete immersion up to one meter, and feature the company’s LensArmor and LensShield to protect the lenses from scratches, debris, and other conditions that might hinder a hunter’s view. $749.99 | sigsauer.com
Burris Signature HD
Burris has ensured that bowhunters can take full advantage of the performance of these 8x42s by including HD glass and BAK4 prisms inside a rugged, lightweight body. These allow for exceptional light transmission and color, as well as remarkable edge-to-edge sharpness. The body itself is filled with nitrogen for the best waterproof/fogproof performance, and the eyecups are aluminum to stand up to plenty of use and abuse in the field. Signature HD binoculars are also covered by Burris’s no-questions-asked Forever Warranty if you do manage to damage them somehow. $479 | burrisoptics.com
Leica Ultravid HD-Plus 8×42
These binoculars represent the latest generation of Leica’s Ultravid HD 42s, and the family resemblance is striking. Prisms featuring 12 high-performance SCHOTT glass lenses allow for even more light transmission than previous models, making these 8x42s brighter and clearer at peak hunting hours than ever before. AquaDura coating and shock-absorbing “armor” help ensure the binos are useful and reliable even under the worst weather conditions. The Ultravids are also sealed and nitrogen-purged for submersion up to 16 feet. All of this is housed in a strong, lightweight, magnesium body for the ultimate optical protection. $2,299 | leicacamerausa.com
Vortex Razor HD
Vortex’s Razor HD 8x42s are as light as a feather and as tough as nails thanks to their magnesium chassis. The binos weigh just 24.2 ounces and come equipped with rubber “armor” for additional protection from drops, dings, and the like. Razor HDs also sport ArmorTek, an ultra-hard, scratch-resistant coating that protects the exterior lenses from scratches, dirt, and oil. Additional cutting-edge coatings on the roof prism and lenses mean these 8x42s can provide even better light transmission than is normally possible. To top it all off, index-matched lenses correct for color all across the hunter’s visual spectrum for the best view possible. $1,279.99 | vortexoptics.com
Zeiss Conquest HD
Zeiss calls its Conquest HD binoculars the perfect all-arounder, and when purchased in 8×42, they’re even more so. These robust yet compact binos provide 90 percent light transmission via high-definition glass and the natural capabilities of the 8×42 design. LotuTec coating on the lenses keeps water from obscuring your view in inclement weather, and Zeiss’s “T*” coating makes the image particularly high-contrast. The eyecups are also slanted slightly and perfectly aligned to ensure comfort while glassing. All of this is found in a tough, ergonomic design that is sure to provide you with many years of reliable service in the deer woods. $999.99 | zeiss.com