Rifles photo

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For years now, I’ve been nattering at you that one of the pieces of equipment for which you’re justified in breaking the bank is binoculars. Get a top flight glass, I have said, and it will serve you faithfully for the rest of your days, and even though it will soon be “obsolete” because of the breakneck speed of optics development, it will still let you see things “mit Augen dem Habicht,” with the eyes of a hawk, as Swarovski says.

On my hunt in northern Maine I took along a glass I bought in 1985 at Orvis in New York City. It’s a Zeiss T* 8×30, and I bought it because Zeiss sent the store two when they wanted one, and the extra glass was selling for the truly compassionate price of $500, new. It’s marked “Made in West Germany,” which means it was produced before reunification.

I’m more dependent on binoculars then I used to be, as my geezer eyes are failing along with everything else, and so I like great gobs of magnification, but in the forest primeval, midst the murmuring pines and the hemlocks, the distances tend to be short—50 to 100 yards—and all you have to do is be able to tell if the face you think is looking at you from the birches is really a deer or is an arrangement of branches that your overheated brain thinks is a deer.

Thirty years after I bought it, and God knows how many hunts and at least five safaris, the old Zeiss glass did just what it was supposed to.

On another hunt this fall, due to circumstances too sordid to go into, I was required to use a binocular whose real world price is around $400, or a bit less. It’s not a bad glass, and it did it’s job all right, but it’s a long, long way from a Zeiss, or Swarovski, or Leica, or one of the top Nikons. It was the difference between sort of seeing that the rack 500 yards away was shootable and seeing with absolute clarity that it was or wasn’t. Considering what a good big-game hunt costs these days, I would rather have absolute clarity hanging around my neck.

I also noted that our guide carried Leica binoculars. Guides have to be absolutely certain of what they’re looking at, and I’ve long since ceased to be surprised when their choice of glass is both Teutonic and very expensive. Or Japanese and very expensive.

There are modestly priced big-game rifles today that are fully the equal of very expensive ones. Not so in glassware. Here, you truly get what you pay for.