The curiosity of the whitetail deer is comical to me, the predictability of their retreat even more so. It begins with an explosion of energy: the haunches sink, the muscles contract, hooves dig, and within seconds the animal is gone — a bushy white antenna marking its retreat. But the show isn’t over. Deer don’t travel far initially. For such an alert animal the flight response of the whitetail is almost always trumped by their undeniable “need to know”.
Whether it is cockiness or curiosity, they must stop to identify the danger and a staring contest always follows. It doesn’t last long (mere moments) before logic returns and the exit resumes, but it’s quite a show. Especially if viewed through the lenses of your favorite binoculars.
That’s right, binoculars. I bet you expected “…down the shaft of your favorite arrow.”
There’s a whole lot more to hunting than killing, and observation is the bulk of it. Any hunter will admit they watch more game than they shoot. It’s all part of the process. To understand game is to observe it, and observing it without detection is a skill that transfers perfectly to hunting. Unfortunately, I’d already blown a season’s worth of opportunities by the time I purchased my first pair in 2010: a set of $30 open-hinged compacts made by Simmons.
In retrospect I wish I’d saved for something that actually worked. The flimsy string would get tangled up around my neck, they were always out of focus, and fogged up instantly in cold weather. I cast them down to the depths of my daypack after only three hunts, and eventually removed them altogether to make room for my peanut butter sandwich.
I suffered through the 2010 season bino free, but the need for them was undeniable. I missed some really great opportunities because of their absence. One particular instance still haunts me, as I am convinced it would have resulted in a venison payday. I spent an entire morning watching a grove of pines, in which I was convinced deer were present. My eyes continually caught a flicker of white or brown amidst the vegetation, but at 50 yards I couldn’t be sure. I wrote it off as leaves falling or branches swaying in the morning wind. This went on for three extremely cold hours, and I’d had enough. The ridge erupted the moment I stood up. There were three deer within the group that I could see, and I would have been proud to shoot any of them. Binoculars would have at least kept me hunting long enough to create an opportunity. The season ended a few days later and I still had both of my tags.
To avoid a repeat, I purchased my second pair of binoculars the following summer in preparation for the 2011 season. They were decent, an improvement over my first pair. I bought them used from a liquidator and thought they were a steal for under $50. Unfortunately, they were far too powerful for the kind of hunting I was doing. Using them felt like driving with the wrong prescription glasses. And they fogged up, even in the warmest of conditions.
I realized that quality optics would require a less frugal investment on my behalf, and began browsing the local sporting goods stores to find out how deeply I would have to dig should I decide to take the plunge. I didn’t like the answer and would have shelved the whole thing had my buddy Will (www.thewilltohunt.com) not introduced me to Hawke Optics via his blog. The price was right and the product looked great, so I made a few inquiries via Twitter and was introduced to the people at Hawke. We immediately hit it off.
What impressed me the most about Hawke their genuine interest in my binocular plight. They were extremely knowledgeable and never pushy despite knowing I was green to the optics world. They asked a dozen questions, and despite my fumbling through the answers, were surprisingly patient.
We were able to establish the following criteria to narrow the field a bit:
- Compact enough to stalk and still-hunt with (especially considering my tackle)
- Rugged enough to handle being tossed around
- Resistant to Michigan’s moisture and humidity
- Low powered to avoid being overwhelming
At that point, I felt comfortable enough to go with their recommendations and purchased the 8×32 Endurance model.
I finished the 2011 season with them, and couldn’t be happier despite not filling a tag. In fact, my favorite hunt wasn’t really a “hunt” at all. I got a late start and spent the morning stalking a field absolutely loaded with bedded deer, five feet at a time. I was able to get within 20 yards of a pair of does simply by using my Hawkes to determine where they weren’t and it was absolutely thrilling. The grass was tall, the ground was muddy, my longbow was ready, and my heart was thumping. It ultimately ended in the situation described at the beginning of my post, but I am a better hunter because of it.
The Endurance binoculars by Hawke Optics are the real deal and perfect for what I do. They passed my aforementioned criteria with flying colors and surprised me in other ways. For starters, I love the adjustment dial. Usually, you get a really small wheel that gets loose with frequent use. The dial on the Endurance binoculars is larger and located near your eyes. This makes adjustments easy, even under duress. I’m also a big fan of the casing, which has a tacky rubber exterior that is extremely comfortable and protects the lenses well. I have no problem leaving them at my feet regardless of the conditions.
Their greatest perk is their ability to resist fog. Michigan hunters experience rollercoaster temperatures during deer season and they didn’t fog up on me once. Not even after leaving them in the snow for several hours on a frigid, 17-degree December morning.
Traditional bowhunting is about getting close to the animals you are hunting. Binoculars can help you accomplish this goal. They encourage you to think logically, move carefully, and be patient. They allow you better scout and observe the animals you hunt, making you a more efficient hunter. Finally, they make your time in the woods more enjoyable. I spend a lot of time with mine, even when I’m not hunting and I guarantee you will as well.
At $189.00 for the black pair and $199.00 for the green, the Endurance model is a tremendous value. Binoculars are not the kind of thing that you can cut corners on. You either buy a good pair, or you don’t. If you don’t, you aren’t going to be happy with the results and will spend more time messing with them than you will hunting. Quality binoculars pay for themselves, and Hawkes are outstanding.
Check them out if you are in the market! And please feel free to share your experiences with them in the comments below.