I will always remember the advice I was given when I first started stalking: “Never compromise on your optics.” Naturally, as a younger man, I spent all my money on my first rifle and opted instead for a budget scope. I learned quickly the folly in my decision, and I’ve always ensured that my rig features quality glass.
The technology has evolved so much since then. There are many options.
I am lucky enough to handle and peer through a lot of scopes in the field, either viewing a client’s set-up or taking products for review, and I stand by my view that the quality of a scope cannot be compromised. Since my early lesson, I have used Swarovski optics – currently a Z6i 2-12×56 – which really take some beating. This one retails for around £2,200 but the clarity of the lenses, efficiency in low light and after-sales warranty is second to none.
After hearing that the quality of budget scopes had improved in the past 25 year, I was curious. This claim intrigued me and I decided to compare some of the options to my classic glass.
I tested a variety of optics, including those from Hawke GPO Vortex Steiner, in low- and poor-light conditions. I admit I was surprised by the overall performance of each one, especially the Hawke, GPO and Vortex, which all retail for well under £1,000.
I was very impressed with each of them and had no complaints about the quality. The next morning, I had to choose a favorite for a stalk. I chose the Steiner Ranger 8 based on its superior lightgathering abilities in low light. At £1,600, this scope sits nicely between some of the more entry-level optics and my own Swarovski, so it ought to deliver.
I mounted the Ranger onto my new Sako S20 rig, which was a brand new setup for me. Unfortunately, the moderator I ordered had not arrived. So, for the very first time in years, I was shooting with a rifle that wasn’t moderated. I felt almost naked. We are in the peak of roe season, so I went out hoping to get a reaction from at least one testosterone-fueled buck.
I parked at the gate of an estate near my home. It was only just getting light. In the rut, you can call bucks any time during the day. Going out later in daylight is also a good strategy. Deer can be hard to lure at dawn if they have been rutting all night.
This is a popular place for early morning dog-walkers. However, it was a beautiful morning with surprisingly cool temperatures for August. Not long after I entered the grounds, I noticed a few roe. I was able to see across the fields and river from my entry point.
Under the treeline, it was still dark. To make sure I was able to see clearly, I checked the scope. The quality of the traditional topend scope is noticeable, especially in low light. Deer are most active in the morning and evening, so stalkers have a great advantage by being able to see clearly.
Thermal spotting optics have made it possible for stalkers to see deer at night. We are often on the ground earlier than ever before. Before pulling the trigger, the stalker must be sure to identify and sex the deer. A quality lens will come in handy here.
The deer that were found to be females and with followers, when we looked closer, it was clear. The breeding was good and the youngsters are doing well. The fact that every doe had her kids with her, and no mad chasing buck was seen around the standing willows or crops, did not look good. I moved on a little to get a better view of my surroundings. I sat next to a beech tree, and called, first quietly and then using a range calls.
Face to face
After 20 minutes of no action, I moved again and repeated the procedure. In my third stand I immediately switched to the Nordic Roe and a buck appeared around 300 yards from me in some scrub. I gave another gentle ‘peep’ and he set off, charging straight at me. He ran onto the track, leaping up and stopping only a few yards from Zosia my German Shorthaired Pointer. Both dog and buck stared intensely at one another before the buck made a quick sidestep into a nearby barleyfield.
The buck turned to the right after a few steps. It was the end of him. The buck dropped in a flash of light where he stood. The thrill of a responding buck is still as thrilling to me even though I’ve been calling roebucks over the years. The image of the hound standing in front of the buck, only a few feet away, will remain with me for life.
How did the four scopes perform? Although I was impressed with all four scopes, the importance quality lenses have when stalking can’t be understated. This field test has demonstrated that a goodquality ‘budget’ scope will also work effectively in low light. Packing up a bit earlier is possible as the light fades. But what’s the point?
You should know
Talon Gear provided the GPO Hawke and Vortex optics. Talon Gear is run by stalkers who are able to provide advice on optics.
First-class Glass appeared first on ShootingUK.