Whether you’re a hunter, bird-watcher, naturalist, or a combination of all three, optics play a big part in the activity.

Sure, wildlife can be spotted with the naked eye, but a device to magnify your vision is crucial if you want to see the creature in detail.

A hunter’s ability to distinguish the sex of an animal is important ethically and legally. Male and female caribou have antlers, so other parts of the anatomy must be seen to distinguish the sex.

To be legal, thinhorn sheep have to be at least eight-years-old, or a horn-tip must cross the line from the base of the horn to the nostril.

In either case, naked-eye viewing leads to mistakes. This is where the true benefits of quality optics become obvious. Binoculars are used to spot prey, and a tripod mounted spotting-scope of much higher power is used for detailed observation.

The most common binoculars are seven or eight power, increasing vision by seven or eight times. There are binoculars with higher magnification, such as 10 and 12 power, but they are heavy and difficult to focus.

The second number used to describe a binocular, such as 30, 35, 40 or 50 (for example: 7 x 35) is the diameter of the objective lens in millimeters. The larger numbers in the same level of quality optic usually work well and give clear images even during dawn or dusk. The smaller diameter objective lenses usually only work well in very bright conditions; but the larger numbers add to the size and weight of the binoculars. A good compromise is to choose seven or eight power by 35 or 40 mm.

An experienced hunter or naturalist uses binoculars more than any piece of equipment, except maybe their boots. Looking for and spotting wildlife involves many hours of being still and viewing.

With these points in mind the buyer should research and chat with people in the field about the optics they carry. Why did they chose them? Are they satisfied with them?

Sadly, advertising will have you believe that each company’s product is the best. A good rule of thumb is to spend as much money possible. If you only have a couple of hundred dollars, save it and double it before you make any purchase. The difference between reasonable quality and bad quality is often a headache or sore eyes after just a few hours of use.