Eye popping optics.
There have been continual improvements in firearms, cartridges, components and accessories, but if your can't see it, you can't hit it, That's why optical performance is now judged to be so critically important.
Plus the shooting community today is much better informed about optical performance and willing to pay for it. Even the most casual hunter probably has more money invested in a riflescope, spotting scope, binoculars and range finder than he does in Iris firearm. You could not have said that 10 years ago.
I ended the hunting season having used two of the most innovative products introduced in years, and they both cant the name of "Bushnell."
Bushnell's Rangefinding Binocular
Bushnell started a revolution with their introduction of the first affordable laser rangefinder. They have just done it again. In a bold move, Bushnell has successfully integrated a laser rangefinder with a quality 8x36 binocular at a price that's hard to believe. This remarkable new instrument is called the "Bushnell Yardage Pro Quest," and retails for approximately $599.
Until Bushnell's new unit hit the street, sportsmen had one option for a rangefinding binocular--Leica's impressive Geovid 7x42 with a price tag of $2,595. How does the Yardage Pro Quest stack up against the Geovid? At one fourth the cost, brilliantly!
The Yardage Pro Quest is made from one, solid, armored housing that is fully waterproof. In size, it's approximately 6x6x2 inches and weighs 2.25 pounds which is a half pound heavier than an average hunting binocular. There is a diopter adjustment on the right eye piece and an interpupillary adjustment on the left.
Choosing an 8x36 binocular as the platform was no accident. In terms of field of view and hand held steadiness, 8x is the most useful power there is for general field use, and combining it with a 36mm objective provides an exit pupil measuring 4.5mm. The size or our pupils ranges from approximately 2mm in bright daylight to 5mm at twilight, so 4.5mm is an ideal compromise for both broad daylight and dusky twilight viewing conditions. With an eye relief of 17mm, the Yardage Pro Quest is classified as a long eye relief binocular, enabling an eyeglass wearer to capture the full field of view when the rubber eyecups are rolled down.
The integrated laser is powered by a 9 volt battery and is rated for accuracy at plus or minus 1 yard from 20 to 999 yards or 18 to 913 meters. In short, this is an accurate 1,000 yard rangefinder if the target is sufficiently reflective and other conditions are ideal.
Wrapping your hands around the Yardage Pro Quest, you realize the little rubber ridges molded into the body place your fingers exactly over the controls that consist of a power switch, a mode switch, and a central focusing knob. The mode switch allows the user to toggle between yards and meters and between stationary ranging and scanning.
Looking through the binocular, one sees a central aiming crosshair. Punching the power button brings up a LCD readout window in the lower third of the field of view. Punching the power button again activates the laser. The readout window and the last distance ranged remain in view for 30 seconds.
I carried the Yardage Pro Quest on my annual Coues deer hunt in the mountains of southern Arizona. Because of the diminutive size of the Coues deer, the open, rugged mountainous terrain he inhabits, and the probability of a 300+ yard shot, good optics and rangefinders are essential. I normally carry a 10x40 Zeiss binocular and a first generation Bushnell Yardage Pro 400 rangefinder. Given the quality of the Bushnell multicoated lenses and their crisp resolution. I didn't miss those absent 2x's of power at all.
Having an integrated laser binocular is a joy. It saves precious time when game is spotted and reduces body movement in the field. It's also a great learning tool as you laser from point to point. On the last day of the season, I found my buck. Lasered him at 327 yards, and shooting a Harris bipod, took him with a 210 grain Nosier streaking out of a .338 Rem. Ultra Mag. at 3,260 fps.
Bushnell has always been an innovative company. I remember Dave Bushnell's early marketing programs in which the company would loan you a ScopeChief rifle scope for a 30 day trial period. The company's recently introduced "Rainguard" lens coating revolutionizes wet weather optics use. The Yardage Pro Quest continues that tradition.
Bushnell's new "legend"
Bushnell has successfully crammed a lot of rangefinding power in a true pocket sized model called the "Yardage Pro Legend." This petite unit measures only 1.75x3.9x3.1 inches; weighs 7.2 ounces; provides a magnification of 6X; and is 100-percent waterproof. It actually floats.
Now for the best part.
The Legend has an accuracy rating of plus or minus 1 yard from 15 to 930 yards.
Of course, accurate laser ranging depends upon a number of variables including the reflectivity, color, size and angle of the target. For example, shiny finishes reflect better than dull ones. Red reflects better than black. A house is easier to range than a deer. Dull days are better for ranging than sunny days. In tact, interestingly enough, Bushnell states that the maximum distance one can laser a deer is approximately 450 yards. On the other hand, that tree next to the deer can be lasered nut to 800 yards and used as a ranging reference point.
The little Legend is packed with features. The "Mode" button permits the user to toggle between yards and meters and to eliminate false readings from intervening brush and branches by activating a "greater than 150 yard" mode.
Powered by a 3-volt lithium battery, the Legend is activated by a power button under your fingers on top of the unit. Depressing it brings up a LCD digital crosshair, a range display and a battery condition reading. Pressing it again activates the laser and provides a distance-to-target readout. Holding the power button down flips the unit into a "scan" mode.
There's no reason to go afield any longer with a larger unit. In fact, the Legend is half the size and twice the power of my original Yardage Pro 400. The Legend retails for about $400.
SureFire's E2 outdoorsman
Why include a flashlight in an article on optics? Because the new, little SureFire Outdoorsman is a precision, multi-purpose, optical instrument.
When I'm hunting, weight--balanced against performance of the field gear I'm carrying is critically important. Until the new Outdoorsman became available, I carried a Mini-Maglite in my pack, and it saved my bacon on more than one occasion. The SureFire Outdoorsman is one inch shorter (4.5 inches) and one ounce lighter (4 ounces) than the Mini-Maglite, plus it's many times tougher and its light output is incomparable.
We recently hosted two South African professional hunters. What did they want to buy while in the U.S.? SureFire flashlights, so we ended up spending a morning at a local police supply store buying SureFires and batteries.
You've probably seen the ads that stress the blinding, self-defense qualities of the intense light emitted by a SureFire. The basic Outdoorsman can serve in that role. It projects a powerful, intensely focused beam of white light. What makes the Outdoorsman unique are the accessories that enhance its utility and value tenfold for the hunt.
First is a red filler that slips over the lens. Red light doesn't disturb most animals, and it also doesn't destroy one's night vision. In practice, a red beam is ideal for slipping into the field unobtrusively before dawn.
Second is a blue filter. In the dark, a blood trail under blue light appears black and distinctively shiny. When you need blue light, you really need it. Blue filtered light can save a hunt and salvage what might otherwise he lost game.
Third is a light emitting diode (LED) conversion head that extends battery life tremendously. The Outdoorsman is powered by two lithium batteries that power a blinding, high pressure Xenon tungsten lamp. Normal battery life is only 75 minutes, but with the LED replacement head installed, battery life is extended to 15 hours.
The body and sub-assemblies of the Outdoorsman are machined from solid pieces of aircraft grade aluminum that are then hard anodized. The threaded switch and lens assemblies are sealed to the body with waterproof, greased "O" rings. The lens assembly is machined with a hexagonal ring to insure that the Outdoorsman will not roll when put down. This model also features a large, stainless steel pocket clip. It's a marriage of great engineering and precision production.
The Surefire Outdoorsman is simply the most compact, versatile and powerful flashlight available to the sportsman.
Alpen optics at bargain prices
Like Japan of yore, China is rapidly becoming the optical center of the universe. Bushnell's Legend, for example, is made in China. A rather new optical company, Alpen Outdoor Corp., was formed in 1997 by two former executives of Bausch & Lomb. The company is currently manufacturing and importing from China an extensive line of binoculars and spotting scopes that carry very reasonable price lags.
This past hunting season I had an opportunity to examine both their 10x42 Pro SE binoculars and their 18-36x60 spotting scope. Both optics proved to be a lot of glass for the money and carried lifetime guarantees.
Alpen Pro SE 10x42 Binoculars
With a suggested retail price of $275, Alpen's SE binoculars come supplied with all the bells and whistles. The BAK4 prisms and lens are fully multi-coated. These are central focus binoculars with diopter adjustments being made with the right hand eyepiece. The lightweight housings are rubber armored, waterproof, shockproof and very comfortable in the hands. There is a strap-mounted rainguard for the eyepieces and permanently attached pop-off rainguards for the objective lenses. This is a long eye relief (21mm) binocular, and by rolling down the eyecups, eyeglass wearers can truly obtain a full field of view.
For performance, I compared the Alpen 10x42s to my Zeiss 10x40s. The Alpen image was a bit less bright and fell off slightly at the edges but overall image resolution was excellent for a glass in this price range. The "SE" roof prism series comes in 8x42, 10x42, 10x50 and 12x50.
Alpen 18-36x60 spotting scope
This spotting scope is the lightweight champ of the breed. Its housing is made from a carbon fiber filled polymer, and the scope plus its tripod weigh only 2.5 pounds. In contract, my 25 year-old Bushnell Spacemaster weighs 4.3 pounds; however, that old Spacemaster has survived two, 3 foot dives from a shooting bench onto a concrete floor and come up smiling. I don't think I'd want to try that with the polymer housed Alpen, although the company states that all their composite spotting scopes are nitrogen filled, waterproof, shock-resistant and carry lifetime guarantees.
This particular Alpen model features a 45-degree eyepiece that I favor when shooting off the bench or from a position. Ideally, a 45-degree eyepiece scope can be rotated directly in line with the user's eye so that one can glance through the scope without changing positions. The Alpen scope did not feature a rotating collar, but Alpen tells me they already have one at the prototype stage.
The variable power 18-36x eyepiece is protected with a screw-on dust cover while the objective lens features an integral, slide-out, sun shade and a snap-on dust cover. The scope is supplied with an attractive, functional, padded carrying case.
The light duty, swivel head, table top tripod is rudimentary and lacks any provision for adjusting the height of the scupe.
Optically, the scope performed very well on the range at all powers. Its light gathering 60mm objective was a real plus. The lens are fully coated. Without a rotating collar and a better tripod, however, the utility of this particular scope is marginal.
Suggested retail price is $209. See Alpen's selection of other spotting scopes and ordering information on their web site, including a big objective 20-60x77 scope.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Alpen Outdoor Corp.
Bushnell Performance Optics