During recent hunting seasons, I’ve been very satisfied with my backpack hunt gear list save for one item: my Pentax DCF LV 9×28 binoculars. They’re compact and light (just 12.9 oz), and they were reasonably priced ($225 MSRP), but they proved ill-suited for big game hunting in Colorado, lacking satisfactory:
- Low light performance;
- Field of view (only 5.6*), eye relief distance, and eyepiece lens diameter;
- Grip with gloved and/or cold hands; and,
- Optical clarity (e.g. annoying chromatic aberrations).
Last Saturday I had an unplanned opportunity to upgrade. While Amanda visited with a friend at The Shops of Northfield Stapleton — an overwhelmingly large and disappointingly characterless complex on Denver’s eastern outskirts — I wandered over to the flagship Bass Pro Shop.
Before investing several hundred dollars on any piece of outdoor gear, normally I would spend an hour (or six) researching online, and normally I would buy it online for the convenience and cost-savings, too. In this case, however, I feel like I got the best result, and saved money and time, by shopping local.
I went in open-minded, and exited with the Nikon Monarch 5 8×42.
Bass Pro had a half-dozen other models from Luepold, Vortex, and Steiner that were similarly priced and featured, and I chose the Monarch 5 for reasons that can’t be conveyed by an online review or spec chart.
I found the Monarch 5 to be the most comfortable and pleasant to use, in terms of its eyepiece fit, viewing stability, body texture and grip, and smoothness when adjusting the focus and interpupillary distance. Also, I could discern its performance benefits (and justify its extra cost) over less expensive models like the Monarch 3, but couldn’t do the same for more expensive series like the Monarch 7 and Vortex Viper.
I had previously thought that binocular shopping would be spec-driven. But, in fact, it’s very personal, more like test-driving a car or shouldering a loaded backpack. To find the best binoculars for me, I was well served by shopping local so that I could quickly try out and compare a dozen models. Handle them, hold them up to my eyes, and peer through them both out the window and into the darkest corners of the store.
Now I own exactly what I wanted — and I didn’t overspend for quality or features, and I didn’t have to ship back multiple pairs of binoculars that didn’t make the cut.
The magnification question
Once I had settled on the Monarch 5, the only other question was whether I should get the 8x or 10x magnification, or the 42 mm or 56 mm objective lens.
The 42 mm lens was an easy choice: the 8×56 model is about twice the weight as the 8×42.
And Bass Pro made the magnification decision easy as well: the 10×42 was out of stock, and the 8×42 was on sale for $245 (18 percent off its $300 retail price).
I think the 8×42 is the right choice for me anyway. Colorado has some expansive topography that warrants a 10x, but the wider viewing angle will be better for hunting dark timber (where the elk like to hide during hunting season) and is more consistent with the shot distance with which I’m currently comfortable (within about 200 yards).
Thoughts on binocular shopping? Leave a comment.
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