Welcome to the host site for outdoor writer Steve Sorensen’s “Everyday Hunter” columns. For a complete index of all columns, go to EverydayHunter.com.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Buying Binoculars On a Budget

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, March 20, 2010.)

As in every personal decision,
you have much to consider.
Repairing a car, woodworking, household chores – we’ve all had times when we’d like to have four hands. For hunters, two hands are usually enough, but four eyes would be nice.

The good news is that having a good pair of binoculars is like having four eyes – our natural peepers for looking near and optical assistance for looking far. But, with so many brands and so much fog to cut through, how does a person decide what to buy? What do hunters need to know when buying binoculars?

Some say that anything below top line is junk. If that’s true, most people will have to be satisfied with junk because few budgets include thousands of dollars for binos. Top end optics are essential in the hands of the professional hunter, the guide, or other specialists in the field. They use the principle that the more you use a set of optics, the better those optics need to be.

That’s the same principle you should use when shopping optics. There’s no shame in not buying the best European brand if you consider your purchase carefully and buy the best you can afford. Here’s a good starting point for choosing binoculars:

1. Decide your price range. Stretch a little, and you’ll be glad you did.
2. Decide what power you want – 7 through 10 is all most of us can hold steady without extra support.
3. Decide what size you want. You won’t use binoculars that are too small to let much light reach your eyes, or so large that they’re cumbersome.
4. Decide where you will use them. If you keep them in the car or look through the kitchen window you won’t need waterproof binos. For outdoor use, waterproof is a must.

Those four issues, price, power, size and waterproofing, are not matters of quality. But once you’ve made those decisions, it’s time to consider the quality issues.

The first quality issue is what the glass prisms inside are made from. Usually we have two choices: BK7 and BaK4. What you want is BaK4 glass. It’s denser, lets more light through, and produces less eyestrain.

Next, consider the lens coatings. Anti-reflective coatings prevent light from being reflected away from its path through the binoculars. But be warned. The term “coated” might mean only one glass surface has a single coating. “Fully coated” means all glass surfaces are coated. “Multi-coated” might mean only one surface has more than one coating. Don’t settle for those. You need every surface coated multiple times.

What you want is “fully multi-coated,” which means that every glass surface, inside and out, is coated multiple times. That’s important when you realize that some binos have 10 or 12 glass surfaces, and each surface reflects about 5 percent of the light striking it.

Now consider the numbers. Compact binos of 8 x 25 have 8-power magnification with a 25 mm objective lens. (The objectives are the lenses at the end of the binoculars opposite your eyes.) 8 x 25 is small, lightweight and handy, but might not serve you well.

Simple math tells you the size of the little round beam of light that will reach your eyes. It’s called the “exit pupil.” Divide the number 25 by 8. Those binoculars will deliver an exit pupil to your iris of just over 3mm, smaller than your iris in low light, so less than you need if you’re going to use them at the edges of darkness.

An 8 x 50 pair of binoculars will give you an exit pupil of more than 6mm, about all that most eyes can use. Every pair of binoculars between the compact 8 x 25 and the full size 8 x 50 will be a compromise of weight, size and optical brightness.

There is more to consider, including rubber armor coverings, a comfortable neck strap, adjustment for distance between your eyes, using with or without eyeglasses, and more. But those are the basics, and enough information to show that buying a pair of binoculars is a personal decision. It has a lot to do with comfort. That’s why Vickie Gardner, Vice President of Alpen Optics says, “When is buying binoculars like buying shoes? Always.”

Like shoes, binoculars come from many companies, and in many sizes, styles and price ranges. As in every personal decision, you have much to consider.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Deer Need Hunters

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, March 13, 2010.)

Deer management, for the sake of the deer,
must provide a future for lawful, regulated hunting.
When we call lions “king of beasts” and wolves “top dog,” we’re talking about predators. But when it comes to the hunting world in America, whitetail deer are the reigning kings and hunters are their top predator. So when hunters prey on deer we’re playing a natural and necessary role in wildlife management. That’s because properly managing deer is the key to managing most other forest species.

Hunters seldom discuss deer management today without bringing up the term “quality deer management.” It’s a term we bandy about, often without definition, and with varied concepts about what it is.

The definition the Quality Deer Management Association uses is as good as any: “Quality Deer Management (QDM) is a management philosophy and practice that unites landowners, hunters, and managers in a common goal of producing biologically and socially balanced deer herds within existing environmental, social, and legal constraints.”

That’s a broad definition, but it doesn’t mention one particular word people often use when discussing QDM. The word is “genetics” -- a word they use when talking about antler size, even though the average person knows little about genetics, and even less about the relationship between genetics and antlers. And it sidetracks too many discussions.

Management of a free ranging whitetail deer herd has nothing to do with antler genetics. Why not? Because genetics are virtually impossible to control in a free-ranging herd.

The reason? Breeding ecology is complex. Bucks with the most impressive antlers do not necessarily breed the most does. And females also make a contribution to antler genetics. The doe, according to one deer farmer I know, is responsible for 60% of her buck fawn’s genetic antler potential. We cannot identify the does that carry the best genes for antlers in their male fawns, and those mothers may not be the most prolific breeders or the best mothers anyway.

Simply put, management of a free ranging herd can never match up the “best” bucks with the “best” does. So, when managing free ranging whitetails, genetics is off the agenda.

That’s why the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s new draft proposal of the “Management and Biology of White-Tailed Deer 2009-2018” barely mentions genetics, and only to say it’s not relevant to their efforts.

Here’s the statement: “Given… the complexity of the white-tailed deer’s breeding ecology, and high genetic variation, large scale alteration to Pennsylvania’s deer herd’s genetics is unlikely.”

The confusion comes because quality deer management usually results in deer with larger antlers. That’s because a policy of population control allows the habitat to provide adequate nutrition for bucks and does alike, and because a harvest policy that takes the pressure off the younger bucks will allow them to get older. Antler size is a by-product of these policies, not genetics.

We all like big antlers, and even though big antlers are a way to measure some aspects of deer management, they’re not the goal of deer management. Other goals are far more important.

Deer management is often divisive, when it should unite all interested people around the goals of generating healthy habitat that supports healthy deer. In the modern world deer management should produce a socially balanced and biologically sound herd. It must consider human social needs, and address the various conflicts between deer and people. It must foster environmental health, including forest regeneration and the health of other species. And for the sake of the deer, it must provide a future for lawful, regulated hunting.

That’s a whole lot more than antlers.

While wildlife biologists develop deer management plans the deer debate will continue, but the challenge will be to keep hunters the top predator. Without them all wildlife species, not just deer, are in trouble. It’s ironic, but yes, deer need hunters.