Birding vs. Hunting Binoculars – Is There A Difference?

 

When you read most “how-to select a pair of binoculars” articles, birder and hunter binoculars are lumped into one category. But you may ask yourself is there really a difference between the two? What if I select a binocular based on birding criteria only to find it isn’t suitable for all hunting situations. You can rest easy knowing that most hunting binoculars will work just fine as birding binoculars and vice versa. However, you can also be swayed in the wrong direction and end up selecting a binocular that is more acceptable for one activity but not very ideal for the other. To keep you on the right track, we’ll give you some general guidelines on what birding and hunting binoculars should have in common and what they shouldn’t.

What They Have In Common

First off, most hunting and birding binoculars should have medium magnification, anywhere from 7x – 12x. Selecting a binocular with magnification higher than 12x can lead to excessive shaking when trying to identify your target, and very high magnification binoculars offer a smaller field of view. A diminished field of view, be it while hunting or birding, essentially defeats the point of using binoculars to discover hidden game anyway. If you absolutely plan to carry a specialty high magnification binocular, use it in tandem with a lower magnification binocular. However, this scenario really only applies to birders as hunters will only have space for only one binocular. Many birders might shy away from carrying two binoculars into the field as well, but it really depends on the user and their preferences. You can also plan with your companion if you’re heading out into the field with company, say one person takes lower magnification binoculars while the other holds the specialty higher magnification binoculars.

BUSHNELL-Powerview-12x50
Porro prism binoculars like the Powerview 12×50 binoculars are ultra-affordable options for birders on a budget.
VORTEX-Hurricane-7x50
These Hurricane 7×50 porro prism binoculars represent more of an investment, but they make great scanning and extended viewing options for birders or some hunters with a decent amount of pack space.

Other features like waterproofing or better yet nitrogen purged optics should be considered as a must for both parties. Nitrogen purged optics protect against water exposure, but they are just as important when it comes to battling fog and keeping small particles like dust out of the sensitive components of the binocular. Fully multi-coated optics are the other must here. We all know some of nature’s best moments occur during dawn or dusk, but without fully multi-coated optics, watching wildlife during these crucial hours will be similar to peering through tinted windows.

BUSHNELL-Legend-Ultra-HD-8x36
These Bushnell Legend Ultra HD 8×36 binoculars are similarly priced when compared to the Vortex Hurricane, but they are more compact due to their roof prism design.

What They Don’t Have In Common

Certain birding experts actually prefer larger objective lenses sized 50mm or larger. Birders like larger objective lenses because they gather the most amount of light, and creating an exceptional viewing experience is the end goal of a birder. However, an exceptional viewing experience isn’t the end goal of a hunter, and therefore extra large objective lenses are overkill for hunters and not advisable as an appropriate hunting binocular. Hunters should instead turn to lighter, more portable binoculars that won’t be too cumbersome to carry.

NIKON-Monarch7-10x30
If you’re prepared to spend a little more on binoculars, you’ll get better glass which means better clarity like in these Nikon Monarch7 10×32 binoculars.

Today more advanced porro prism binoculars are still good birding options primarily because of their affordability. With activities like bird watching, the extra bulk of a porro prism isn’t as detrimental as it would be for a hunter, and the cost of a porro prism may encourage beginners to give birding a try without having to sink a lot of money into a binocular. On the other hand, hunters won’t always use their binoculars as their “primary carry” device so to speak. Their number one asset is their firearm, and the hunting binocular only aids in scouting and game identification. Because their binoculars aren’t their primary device, hunters should select roof prism binoculars for their increased durability and compact design. After all, you don’t know what sort of punishment you hunting pack filled with gear like binoculars will experience in your pursuit for trophy game.

VORTEX-Viper-HD-8x32
Binoculars like these Vortex Viper HD 8×32 are a superior line of hunting binoculars that will be right at home with birders as well.

Birders shouldn’t shy away from roof prism binoculars either, and they are becoming the popular design on the market today. Advances in roof prism designs have made these once very expensive binoculars more affordable than ever, and you can get a reasonably advanced pair for only a few hundred dollars. Roof prism binoculars should be considered the go-to models in your binocular shopping search.

 

LEUPOLD-BX-2-Cascades-8x42

LEUPOLD-BX-3-Mojave-12x50
Leupold is a premier manufacturer of top quality roof binoculars like the BX-2 Cascades 8×42 (above) and the BX-3 Mojave 12×50 (below).

What If You Want A Binocular For Both?

You can very easily select a binocular that will work for both hunting and birding situations. As we discussed, just avoid extra large objective lenses and higher magnification power. You may have to invest a little more, but a roof prism binocular really is the best tool for the job. If you plan on spending countless hours both birding and hunting, you’ll appreciate the durable and compact design of the roof prism over the more bulky Porro prism anyway. Best to select a camo or natural pattern for your binoculars if you plan to do both, since a bright yellow or red pair isn’t going to be ideal for hunting applications.

Hunters will also want to read How To Choose Hunting Binoculars before they decide upon their next pair.

Thumb Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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