Scopes, Binoculars & Rangefinders: Through the Looking Glass

Better optics mean more effective, more enjoyable hunting. These new products will give your eyes some welcome help.

Nighthunter XP binoculars from Steiner feature bright optics and rugged construction to perform in the woods.

By Dick Metcalf

You aren't likely to hit the target you can't see. Fortunately, the fast-moving field of optics is helping whitetail hunters see more, farther and under worse conditions than ever.

This year brings a variety of entirely new products, as well as additional refinements to existing tools, from all leading manufacturers in all categories. Here is an overview of some great new binoculars, rangefinders and scopes:

Today, 8-10X magnification in compact, mid-sized binoculars is as popular as 6-7X a decade back, due to lens advances that make a 10x40mm or even a 10x32mm binocular as bright and clear as a 7X used to be. Premium manufacturers as Steiner now offer glasses that give edge-of-daylight image quality as good as that provided by much larger previous-generation binoculars.

Nighthunter binocular glass is coated with Steiner's exclusive "HD" -- "High Definition" -- broadband lens coating. An advanced baffle system virtually eliminates internal stray light, making the binocular brighter than others in its class. Plus, the new XP models have Steiner's one-time Auto-Focus system. Once the Nighthunter is adjusted for your eye, all subjects are in full focus from about 20 yards to infinity (slightly higher initial focus distance on 10X/12X models).

The new model also features memory lock focus, enabling the user to lock in his personal focus setting for quick and easy recall. The new XP models also feature soft rubber "Ergoflex" contoured eyecups, as did the original Night-hunters, to help eliminate distracting sidelight, now adjustable to three positions. All Nighthunter XPs are Mil-spec waterproof and shockproof to withstand use in less-than-ideal conditions. Available in five models -- 8x30, 7x50, 10x50, 8x56 and 12x56 -- the Steiner Nighthunter XP has a 30-year warranty.

Rangefinders have become essential tools for many whitetail hunters, whether they're using a gun or a bow. But some hunters who like to travel light don't care to tote both. If you're one of these people, consider Leupold Wind River RB800 and RB800C Laser Range Finding Binoculars.

As the name indicates, this new unit lets you observe and range game without the necessity of carrying both binoculars and a rangefinder into the woods. These glasses combine high-quality 8x32mm roof prism binocular optics with laser-precise measuring capability to create a single new tool. The unit will range deer-sized game and other animals more than 550 yards away and can determine the exact distance to trees, rocks or other landmarks out to nearly 900 yards.

Scan Mode allows continuous, precise range updates as you track an animal or glass an area. Waterproof and fogproof, the digital display can be in yards or meters and is visible even in bright sunlight.

A digital compass in the RB800C model also lets you mark the distance and direction to game once it's down, so it's easy to find even in dense cover or over long distances. Lenses are multi-coated, and an automatic shut-off gives you longer battery life in the field.

BuckRidge Horizon scopes have great features at moderate prices.

One of the most significant developments in riflescopes is the appearance of new lines of moderately priced scopes with features that closely match those in the most expensive lines. There is no better example than the new BuckRidge scopes from Optronics.

The company's Horizon series includes scopes for general hunting applications (3-9x40mm), varmint/target (6-24x42mm) and long-range varmint/hunting/target (4-16 x50mm, 5-20x50mm, 8-32 x42mm). All Horizon scopes feature High Definition fully coated optics and are waterproof, fogproof and shockproof. This series also has what might be the best warranty in the industry. If you have difficulty with your scope -- drop it into a creek, step on it, run over it, whatever -- the company will replace/repair it for the life of the original owner.

Horizon scopes are packed with high-end extras, such as: exclusive heat-treated Horizon High Definition (HHD) fully multi-coated optics; easily modified, finger-adjustable windage and elevation knobs; and, depending on preference, 30/30, Illuminated 30/30 or Mil-Dot reticles. Shock-proof, fogproof and waterproof, this series guarantees high performance in any weather.

The BuckRidge Sport Series offers a 10 percent greater field of view, with a black matte finish and 30/30 reticles. With features that include BR Magenta multi-coated optics, crystal-clear target image and enhanced brightness, these scopes have exceptional optical clarity and brightness for their price.

The BuckRidge Red Dot Series is designed for shotguns, slug guns and handguns. These scopes are shockproof, fogproof and waterproof and equipped with an illuminated 5-M.O.A. red dot reticle and an 11-position rheostat, along with ruby multi-layered, fully coated optics. Accessories include 5/8-inch base rings, extension tubes and a lithium battery.

Schmidt & Bender continues to be a leader in the illuminated-reticle field. Its im-proved "Flash Dot" system is available in a l.25-4x20mm variable, as well as a 1.5-6x42. The system combines a standard hunting reticle with a bright-red dot that can be switched on or off as lighting conditions dictate.

When turned on, the red dot is projected onto the center of the reticle, providing quick and precise sighting even in bright daylight, against snow or in other conditions that can make a conventional reticle difficult to see. The Flash Dot technology works at any magnification and can be quickly switched on or off -- for a bright aiming point to make a fast shot at a moving target, or a normal precision cross hair for a stationary or distant target.

In the area of more conventionally featured traditional scopes, many whitetail hunters will rejo

ice to see that the Weaver brand is again active in the marketplace after being acquired by optics giant Meade Instruments. The Weaver line of Grand Slam scopes compares to the best of the best at the sporting goods counter in terms of quality, but at a more moderate price.

All Grand Slams have the famed Weaver Micro-Trac four-point adjustment system, with fully multi-coated lenses to reduce glare, increase image brightness and give edge-to-edge clarity (outstanding in low-light situations). Grand Slam scopes also feature a fast-focus eyepiece adjustment ring to adjust the scope perfectly to your eye. The Weaver "sure grip" power ring helps you find and adjust it, even with heavy gloves on. Grand Slams have one-piece construction and are waterproof, fogproof and shockproof.

At the 2004 Shooting Hunting and Outdoor Trade (SHOT) Show in Las Vegas, the biggest buzz in optics surrounded Leupold. The excitement was over a new scope line that, in the company's own words, "is the sum total of everything we've learned in nearly 100 years of working with optics." It's the new Leupold Golden Ring VX-III series, a completely new scope line incorporating new materials and exclusive technology. It will replace the famous Vari-X III line.

Everything you've liked in the Vari-X III series -- Leupold ruggedness, abso-lutely waterproof integrity and the company's Full Lifetime Guarantee -- is there in the VX-III ... plus a lot more. New features in the line include finger-adjustable windage and elevation dials with resetable pointer dials marking the zero point; three illuminated models to provide the reticle-to-target contrast you need in low light; and fast-focus eyepieces on all models (lockable on non-illuminated models).

There also is side-focus parallax adjustment on many models, so you can easily focus from any shooting position. Plus, all side-focus models have 30mm main tubes with increased elevation and windage adjustments (up to 80 minutes of range on some models). And select models of VX-III are equipped with the Duplex range-estimating system.

Also new for the Leupold VX-III riflescopes is an Index Matched Lens System, with some of the new VX-III riflescopes measuring as high as 98 percent total (as opposed to individual lens) light transmission. The VX-III series will also offer the Boone and Crockett Big Game and Varmint Hunter's Ballistic Aiming Systems reticles on long-range, high-magnification models.

Each reticle has multiple aiming points for long ranges and windy conditions. Two power selector settings provide a quick and easy way to set the aiming points to match your ballistics. With 13 individual models, the Leupold VX-III really sets the benchmark for U.S.-made hunting optics.

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