I can’t remember who originally said this, but some friend of mine once suggested that a hunter with a $1,000 gear budget should spend $200 on a rifle and $800 on binoculars. That’s a tad extreme, but the point shouldn’t be disregarded. Good optics are absolutely essential for hunting. You need to be able to spot game at long distances, obviously, but you also need to be able to get a detailed perspective on each animal you see. This is obviously true if you’re trying to judge whether a Dall ram is legally full-curl, but it’s true for other things as well. If you’re out filling a doe tag on a buddy’s farm, you can’t afford to learn that the doe you just dropped at 200 yards was actually a young buck with 3” spikes.
Personally, I didn’t become a true believer in good optics until I started doing long-range spot-and-stalk hunts for caribou in Arctic Alaska. That place is a proving ground for hunters and their gear. Heat waves coming off the tundra are prevalent during much of the day; if you’ve got a trashy pair of ‘nocs, everything looks like it’s underwater. Also, the late autumn sun tends to hover at the horizon for long periods of time. With those same trashy ‘nocs, you can have as much as a third of the surrounding country be nearly invisible due to glare on your lenses. On my first trip, I nearly tossed my $80 budget ‘nocs into the river because the image was always getting blown out by the sun or the heat waves made distant caribou look like creatures from a Dali painting. Meanwhile, a buddy of mine who wasn’t a cheapskate was enjoying every minute spent behind his binoculars. With clear, crisp images, he was spotting way more game than me.
Since then, I’ve experimented with many different varieties of high-end binoculars, and there are five or six companies on the market that make great products. But of all the optics I’ve used, I’ve been most impressed with those produced by Vortex. There are a pile of reasons for this. For one thing, the guys at that company are solid guys. I’ve hung out with them and hunted rabbits with them, and they believe in what they’re doing. They honestly love to make great optics. If you call them with a problem, or you send some busted or defective products back to them, they don’t mess with you. They just want to take care of you, period, and get you back up and running with flawless optics. I’ve been through this with them, and was deeply impressed.
Of equal importance is the fact that Vortex has managed to hit a perfect mark at the intersection of quality and cost. I truly believe that they make the best binoculars at the best price, by a very wide margin. You can spend a little less and get garbage. You can spend tons more and get a few additional things that don’t really matter. But if you like to know where your dollars are going, and you want hardcore quality that is backed up by a rock-solid warranty, buy some Vortex. The only problem is that you’ll be smiling so hard it’ll be difficult to concentrate on all the game you’re spotting.