A hunting binocular is a bit like a hunting dog. You have to take care of it to get top performance.
Fortunately, binos are more easily trained in basic obedience like sit and stay. Lay one on a stump, and it’ll stay there through rain, snow, cold and gloom for as many nights as it takes for you to locate it. If you happen to find the Bushnell I left in the Seven Devils range in Idaho, let me know.
How often must you clean binoculars? After all, you can still see through them despite considerable dust, cookie crumbs and finger smears.
A fine layer of dust reduces light transmission and adds veiling glare. You paid good money for a coated or multi-coated objective lens because it reduces reflection and glare. Why blow that money by letting a layer of dust do the same thing?
And fingerprints? Bad boy. Very, very bad. Body oils, mustard, mayo and Snickers’ caramel can ruin expensive lens coatings. Pure rain water has been proven to leach molecules from lens glass and create permanent staining. So keep ’em clean. But not by sanding them!
Rubbing lenses is wrong. The idea is to remove damaging debris, not rub it in! Fine particles act like sandpaper grit on a lens. Here’s how to get them off.
1) Tip the lens upside down so you’re cleaning upward. Gravity pulls loosened gunk down.
2) Blow off what you can, preferably with a camera lens brush (Lens Pens are good) or blower bulb, but your own breath will work if it’s not contaminated with a barbecue pork sandwich or peanuts. Make a brush by twisting an oil-free tissue and fraying the end.
3) Moisten the glass with a drop of lens cleaning solution applied to a tissue or microfiber lens cleaning cloth. Lick or spit if no official solution is available. If you squirt the solution directly onto the glass, it could run between the cracks of a non-waterproof eyepiece. Swab the wet cloth over the lens. You may need to let it soak for stubborn chunks of old candy bars and the like. The idea is to soften gunk so you don’t have to scrape it off with a chisel and gouge the glass.
4) Sweep clean the moist glass with a dry tissue or cloth. Don’t press!
5) Repeat 3 and 4 as necessary. Two or three passes gently beat one high-pressure truck wash!
Those little swatches of microfiber lens cleaning cloths in the neoprene pouches that clip to your neck strap are perfect. They can be washed and reused many times.
Hang It Up
The solution to the lost binocular is a good leash. The basic neck strap can be too narrow (cuts into your flesh) or too large (gouges your upper neck, adds weight, interferes with rifle sling, etc.) It can also be too hard (the edge gouges your neck) or too soft (the material fuzzes, wears out and clings to your collar when you try to take it off).
A good compromise is a strap about an inch wide, slightly narrower for 8x32s and lighter units. One of those stretchy neoprene straps will ease the pull of the biggest, heaviest binocular.
Beware the elaborate strap with brass-or nickel-plated quick-release hooks or buckles. These can shine and clank to alert game. They can also scratch rifles and even the binocular itself when stuffed into a pack.
Nylon buckles are better. Keep them small. I shy from all quick releases because I’ve had them release too quickly, dropping my binocular to the ground. They also break.
Don’t use too long a strap. Your binocular will flap against your belly, belt buckle or worse. The binocular will either make noise, get knocked out of collimation or injure you.
It’s also slow to put to work from that level. You make a lot of arm movement lifting it, and that makes it easier for game to spot you. Instead, shorten the strap until the binocular hangs at your chest. There, it bounces less, doesn’t swing as much when you bend forward, and rises more quickly and easily to your eyes.
The harness, which you place your arms through so the straps hang off your shoulders, relieves neck strain, but positions the binocular at the belt line for the usual problems there. If you tighten it to ride higher, you fight against the stretch nylon when you lift to glass. A little tension here can help steady your shakes, but it’s so tiring that it discourages use, and that’s bad.
Tension in the straps also sets up a violent harmonic vibration in the wind, badly blurring your view. Harnesses interfere with rifle slings, pack straps and coat buttons. If you want to take off a jacket to cool, you’ll first have to remove the binocular harness.
Binoculars are expensive and fragile. All that glass! Protect it with the right covers. Forget the field case it came in. You’ll be using that binocular again and again for quick glimpses to check movement, that bit of suspicious brown color. You need the magnified view instantly. You don’t have time to be unsnapping cases. You carry the thing on your chest. How often does your chest get smashed while hunting?
You will want to protect the exposed eyepiece lenses, however. Since they perch like a shelf below your face, gravity brings to them unwelcome debris: sandwich crumbs, raindrops, falling leaves, etc. Get the tiniest spot on the ocular lens, and it’ll show in the view as a distracting gray blur or bright spot. Hold these at bay by keeping lens covers in place.
Most binoculars come with pretty decent eyepiece covers these days. There are one-piece, semi-rigid plastic covers that fit the eyepieces via friction and attach to one or both straps. Some stay well, others don’t. Then there are the single cups, sometimes fitting snugly, other times falling off the first 2 minutes in the field, never to be seen again.
If the covers that came with your binoculars aren’t functional, buy an aftermarket cover of some type. Some hunters merely run their slings through slots cut into a square of suede leather and flop this over the objectives. It falls out of the way easily. Whatever you use, it should pop free with a flick of your thumbs or one sweep of a hand.
As for the objective lenses, I leave them naked. They’re facing down and unlikely to catch anything except a limb snapping up from below. This rarely happens. Slip the unit under your jacket in heavy brush. The problem with objective caps that hang from the little tag of rubber secured by a band to the barrel is they’re hard to remove. Ninety percent of the time, they flop back on, especially when the binocular rides on your chest. In any breeze, they’ll shake and fly about, and that’s more trouble than they’re worth. Most fall off within an hour or two of real hunting. I usually throw them away before heading out the door.
Roof-prism binoculars are more durable than porro-prism models, but either can be whacked out of alignment by a solid thump or repeated vibration. Don’t store them on the dashboard where heat softens cements that hold lenses together and road bumps knock prisms out of collimation. The better you protect them from bumps and vibrations, the longer they’ll last.
This article was published in the October 2007 edition of Buckmasters GunHunter Magazine. Subscribe today to have GunHunter delivered to your home.