TURKEY HUNTING: HOW TO STAY OUT OF TROUBLE WITH HENS

By Steve Sorensen

If you can’t beat the hens, here are three ways to join them.

It happens every season – too many hens for the gobblers to get lonely. Hunters complain year after year that gobblers are “henned-up” and won’t respond to a call.

That can be a problem, but it doesn’t need to be. Here are three scenarios that taught me a lot about how to deal with hens when you’re trying to take a tom fresh off his roost.

Scenario One: I was reeling in a nice gobbler just after daylight. He had been roosted about 80 yards away. When he had almost halved the distance a hen dropped from a tree and landed smack in front of him. “Nuts!” I thought. But he walked right by her and continued his full strut approach. Then another hen touched down in front of him, this time at 35 yards, and he walked by her, too. At 30 yards I introduced him to a load of Number 5.

Why would he bypass two hot, flesh-and-blood hens for a bird in the bush he couldn’t see? He probably wanted to round up all the hens, even the one he couldn’t see.

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When hens and gobblers are on the ground together, the gobblers usually stay pretty tight with the girls and it’s tough to pull him away. So get his attention before he devotes himself
to her. (Photo: Steve Sorensen)

Scenario Two: A gobbler sounded off at 5:40 AM, about 60 yards away. I waited for him to gobble the second time and quickly answered with a couple of quiet tree yelps. He gobbled right back and flew down. Then I heard a couple of hens as I called their suitor to shotgun range. One flew down from my left, walked by me at about 20 yards, and strolled into the field on my right. Then a second hen flew down a little farther away. When she was at 30 yards the gobbler was at 45 yards and coming to my call. I worried that the hen would enter the field too quickly, and he would follow her before coming into range. So I sent a couple of clucks her way, and she stopped.

She became a live decoy, and the big boy kept coming. He fanned out, then stepped behind a tree. That second hen entered the field and I raised the gun. He came out from behind that tree to follow her, and that’s when it turned into a bad day for him.

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This gobbler was roosted near my calling position with hens nearby, so I simply became one of those nearby hens. This gobbler was one of two mature birds that flew down and landed 22 yards away. (Photo: Steve Sorensen)

Scenario Three: Last year I was scouting a spot with almost three girls for every boy – 11 hens and four mature gobblers. I was expecting hen problems.

I got to the woods at 5:00 on opening day, found a tree to sit by, and settled in. The birds had to be somewhere close. I peered into the treetops and could see four turkeys. Gobblers? Nuisance hens? If they were gobblers, the hens couldn’t be far away.

At 5:35 a gobble shook the treetops and a hen answered with a lurid tree yelp. Once again, it was shaping up to be a contest between real live hens and me. As soon as I heard his next gobble I answered with the exact same call the hen made. A minute went by and he gave another shout-out. I answered simultaneously with the hen. Next gobble, same thing.

I didn’t want to act too committed and make him wait for hens to arrive under his tree where he could fly down to meet them, so I didn’t answer every gobble, but my invitations were good enough to get two gobblers to investigate this hypothetical hen in the bush. They flew down from trees about 60 yards away and landed 22 yards from me. A few minutes later I zip-tied my tag to the leg of a mature gobbler.

Is it always this easy? No, especially not if a gobbler hits the ground and immediately hooks up with a hen or two. Good luck prying him away because he’ll follow the girls anywhere, even if they don’t let him breed. Calling is one way you mimic a hen, but when real hens are ready and willing, calling by itself may not be enough.

The three scenarios I’ve described have taught me a lesson about dealing with hens. Be the hen.

“Isn’t ‘being the hen’ the whole idea behind calling?” you ask. You hear about hunters calling gobblers in from 200 or even 300 yards. Yes, and I’ve done it. But don’t settle for that distance. With every step he takes, something can go wrong. And four out of five times something will go wrong. A bobcat comes between you and him. I’ve seen it happen. A silent hen intercepts him. He stops at a barrier he doesn’t want to cross, or arrives at a strutting area where he frequently gathers hens. He hangs up and you sit there frustrated.

So sounding like a hen is one way to be the hen, but it probably isn’t enough. You need to make him think you really are a hen. How do you do that?

Think about it. Calling is only the first way you mimic a hen. Position is the second. Hens might not be roosted in the same tree he is in, but they probably won’t be far away and he knows it. So, you need to get close. 80 yards. 70 yards. 60 yards. Even 50 yards or less is sometimes possible. If you can get that close to a roosted gobbler, he will think you’re a hen not just because of the sounds you’re making, but because you’re right there with the others. To him, you’re a bird in the hand.

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Calling is only one way to “be the hen.” If you set up close to the roosting gobbler you can convince him he has a friendly hen nearby, and increase your chances of tying a tag to his leg. (Photo: Steve Sorensen)

Getting close is not easy. Suppose the gobbler is roosting in a tree at the edge of a field you must cross, and the moon is full and bright. Good luck with that because the moon will cast a strong shadow. Or suppose the path to the spot where you’d like to set up 60 yards from him is no path at all, but is littered with sticks and limbs and there’s no way you can be silent.

I have two pieces of advice to help you overcome these issues. First, get into the woods early. If you have to wait for an hour to hear that first gobble, it’s worth it. My second bit of advice is that if you lightly snap a stick or two in the darkness, you probably don’t need to worry about it. Turkeys hear animals on the ground all night long. Deer and raccoons can make a lot of noise with their nighttime activity. Light tan coyotes and white-striped skunks are visible if a gobbler wants to pull his head from under his wing, but most times they sit on a limb relaxed and without fear, knowing they’re safe.

Back to Scenario Three. Before the game began I had slowly worked my way toward the spot where I thought the turkeys—hens and gobblers—were roosted. I broke a stick or two and moved through the ground litter lightly crinkling the dry leaves until I found a tree where I could set up. I waited and watched the treetops. I became a hen among hens, and if I played this game well a gobbler would want me just as much as he would want a real one.

And I did play it well. I sounded like a hen, I was close enough for him to expect me to be a hen, and in his walnut-sized mind, I was a hen. That’s why he was headed for the freezer.

When hens and gobblers are on the ground together, the gobblers usually stay pretty tight with the girls. Sometimes they won’t even gobble, or just give you an occasional courtesy gobble. My only solution then is to wait them out. Around mid-morning the hens will escape the gobblers to go lay an egg. That’s when the advantage turns to you. The gobbler knows where you are, and he’ll probably come looking for you.


hunter outdoor writer steve sorensenSteve Sorensen is the author of Growing Up With Guns, and The Everyday Hunter Handbook Series. He also writes an award-winning newspaper column called The Everyday Hunter®, and edits content in the Havalon Nation. He has published articles in top magazines across the USA, and won the 2015 “Pinnacle” Award for magazine writing. Invite Steve to speak at your next sportsman’s event, and follow him at www.EverydayHunter.com.


 

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A Doe Is A Trophy

Four Reasons Why a Doe is a Trophy
Steve Sorensen

So you got skunked this year? You didn’t even get a doe? Your buddies are posting their grip-and-grin buck photos on Facebook, and you don’t even have meat for the freezer? One of them probably even gave you the business over it! It’s embarrassing, so you don’t want to talk about deer hunting. Maybe you even disappear from social media until a month after the season closes. By then everyone forgets you feasted on tag soup.

Many years ago in my state (Pennsylvania), a hunter could take one buck on his license. To take a doe he had to apply for an antlerless tag, allocated on a county-by-county basis. If he was successful getting a buck, his antlerless tag became void. Many hunters (though they couldn’t have been more wrong) considered filling a doe tag as a sort of consolation prize.

Times have changed. The deer population exploded — in many places enough to negatively impact the habitat. In Pennsylvania deer are no longer managed by county but by Wildlife Management Unit. We can still take one buck, but deer management tags (antlerless tags) have increased and with the proper tags we can take multiple does. Deer hunting has entered a new day, but getting a doe when firearms season finally rolls around isn’t always easy.

The last time I killed a doe in the regular Pennsylvania firearms season was 2011. It’s not that I don’t try. Most years I shoot a buck, but I usually walk out of the woods at the end the season with an antlerless tag in my wallet.

Since I live a few miles from New York’s southern border, I’ve been hunting deer in the New York firearms season for more than ten years, always with an antlerless tag. I’ve shot some good bucks, but I’ve yet to harvest a New York doe.

That lack of success on does has made me think long and hard about why shooting a doe can be harder than shooting a nice buck — especially a mature doe. Here are four reasons it can be easier to get a buck than a doe. Even though, a doe lacks antlers, she can be a real trophy.

1. Young and middle-aged bucks aren’t all that smart.
Although we think of mature bucks as loners, the truth is that all deer are social animals, When a buck is part of a bachelor group through the summer and early fall, his buddies “watch his six.” A bachelor buck relies on other eyes, ears and noses in his party to watch his back and catch signs of danger. He notes the reaction of other bucks when threats are near. And when he’s alone, he needs only to look out for himself. And when the rut comes, his behavior turns risky and reckless. Even stupid.

A 2½ or 3½ year old whitetail buck is not the smartest animal in the woods. It takes him longer to earn his advanced degree in survival than it takes the doe. In fact, as a fawn he learned from his mother that someone else will watch out for him, because that’s what Mama did for him. And Mama is never stupid.

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Mama’s little ones focus on Mama, while Mama focuses on every potential danger. (Steve Sorensen photo.)

2. A mature doe is one smart deer.
Once the shooting starts, taking a mature doe isn’t easy because a mature doe is one smart deer. What do I mean by a mature doe? I won’t deny that 5½ year old buck is cagy, but that’s about how long it takes for him to become as smart as the doe that has successfully raised fawns. Motherhood makes her a quick study. For the buck, fatherhood is irrelevant to his learning curve.

Sometimes we refer to certain parents as “helicopter parents.” That’s what a doe is. Otherwise deer would die out as a species. Immediately after birthing her fawns, she must put them where coyotes and bears are unlikely to find them. She leaves them alone for periods of time so that her scent doesn’t draw predators, but she’s ready to come to their rescue if she hears any disturbance. She must look for a safe place to nurse them where danger doesn’t lurk because during their first few weeks of life predators are transitioning their own young to a diet of meat. That’s when meat-eaters are most aggressive — and fawns are most vulnerable.

3. A mother’s work is never done.
We put a lot of responsibility on bucks for carrying on the species, but the truth is that his only responsibility is to make a quick genetic contribution during a short rutting period, and then he’s finished. Her responsibility is never finished. Give your mother her due — “A mother’s work is never done” is about more than dinner prep, household chores, and bedtime stories. Give the human dad credit too — his role is also vital. In a doe’s world, “A mother’s work is never done” is about 24/7 survival of her young. The buck has become irrelevant.

As the little ones begin to be weaned, she must lead them to feeding grounds while avoiding dangers that may lie in wait. Mama with her fawns in green pastures is never totally engaged in filling her stomach. She’s also on the lookout for any threat to her precious babies.

AlwaysOnTheLookout

Does make it a habit to notice everything. They’re usually in family groups, and they watch out for each other. Notice all the girls are watching out for the little guy. (Steve Sorensen photo.)

4. Motherhood responsibility leads to greater intelligence.
By firearms season the survival of a doe’s mini-me clones has been her top priority for six months. They’ve learned the lessons of trust and obey as Mama tested every breeze, watched every movement, and heard every unexpected sound. We think of deer as curious creatures, but a mother deer has little curiosity when she has babies. Her instinct puts more weight on safety than on curiosity — when fawns are with her she doesn’t stick around to figure out what that thing is that seems out of place. Survival means vamoose — get the kids outta there!

Back when I started hunting, old-timers told me the smart old bucks let the doe go first to make sure there wasn’t any danger. It was foolish speculation based on their own machismo. They assumed bucks were wiser in the ways of the woods than does — just as they assumed they themselves were wiser in the ways of the world than the women in their own homes. Balderdash… poppycock… call it whatever you want, but it has never been true.

Being keenly aware that bucks have reasons (or shall we say, urges?) to follow does, men should know better. The truth is that those old-timers were looking at does whose nature it was to worry about safety. They were looking at bucks whose nature it was to obey their raging hormones — to follow the doe until she stopped.

This past season I shot an eight-point on New York’s opening day. On several other days I hunted does without luck. In Pennsylvania I shot an eight point at the end of the first week, and spent the second week hunting for a doe. I was not successful.

OneSmartDoe

This doe tried to outsmart the author by circling around a big pine thicket to get behind him. That probably worked for her many times, until she became the author’s trophy. (Steve Sorensen photo.)

After more than 50 years of deer hunting, I’m convinced we should never underestimate Mama. Plenty of does are smarter than the bucks your buddies are so proud of. And that’s why a doe is a trophy.
***

When “The Everyday Hunter” isn’t hunting, he’s thinking about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, writing about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. If you want to tell Steve exactly where your favorite hunting spot is, contact him through his website, www.EverydayHunter.com. He writes for top outdoor magazines, and won the 2015 and 2018 national “Pinnacle Award” for outdoor writing.

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Why Doctors Who Hunt Prescribe Havalon Knives

Why Doctors Who Hunt Prescribe Havalon Knives (When it’s time for the post-mortem work…)

by Steve Sorensen

You’ve tied your tag on a deer and it’s time for field dressing. What will you use? A heavy, over sized survival knife? A cheap folder you got at the big-box store? An expensive fixed blade with Damascus steel?

If you’re a doctor or a taxidermist, I’m betting you’ll wield a surgical scalpel with skill and dexterity. To everyone else, my best advice is to follow the lead of those knife pros, and use a scalpel.

Why a scalpel makes sense.
The Havalon knife is actually a folding scalpel, and it makes sense for a number of reasons.
• First, a scalpel is the sharpest knife you’ll ever use. The medical profession can’t settle for inferior sharpness, and neither can taxidermists because time is money.
• Second, field dressing is post-mortem work, just like an autopsy. (Yes, so is taxidermy).
• Third, a surgical scalpel is inexpensive, readily available, and the right tool for gutting.
• Fourth, it’s the lightest, sharpest field dressing knife anywhere.
And you’re in luck. Havalon offers doctors, taxidermists, and you the best replaceable blade folding scalpel on the market.

TwoKnives

Pick one. Havalon offers a variety of folding knives featuring their #60A autopsy blade — it’s thicker, stronger, and does a better job than any other surgical scalpel. (Steve Sorensen photo.)

When I was a kid I saw a hunter with a giant Marine Corps fighting knife on his belt. The bottom of it was strapped, gunslinger style, to his thigh. I must have thought big game needed a big knife, or maybe I thought it looked cool, because I remember strapping my uncle’s World War 2 U.S. Navy K-Bar knife to my little prepubescent thigh. I guess I thought I was prepared for whatever cutting job (or fighting job) I’d face. My dad told me I’d never need such a big knife for hunting. Then he showed me his field dressing knife with a blade not much bigger than the blade on a Havalon knife — though the Havalon was still far into the future.

Small is beautiful.
Dad was right. All I needed was a small, lightweight knife with a razor sharp blade, but since the Havalon knife wasn’t invented yet Dad’s mission was to teach his young hunter to put a wicked-sharp edge on a knife. (I learned how, but in recent years I’ve noticed that sharpening knives is becoming a lost art — another good reason to buy a Havalon knife!)

Dad’s field dressing knife had a blade not much bigger than the Havalon surgical scalpel. Over the years, he sharpened his knife so many times he wore out the blade. As those same years rolled by I noticed hunting knives becoming smaller. A scalpel blade is the logical outcome of that downsizing trend. When it comes to field dressing knives, small is beautiful!

More benefits of the surgical scalpel.
When I first discovered the Havalon knife, I was amazed at how sharp it was, and how it made field dressing fast, easy and clean. I thought I’d be smart and clue in a couple of my doctor friends about what I had found. It didn’t occur to me that doctors who hunt already had it figured out — they were already using a scalpel as a hunting knife. Same with taxidermists.

DoctorJill

Neither medical school nor an operating room are prerequisites to using a scalpel, but whether you’re a doctor, a lawyer, an Indian chief, or an everyday hunter, your best tool for field dressing your deer is a surgical scalpel on a folding handle, and Havalon makes the best. (Jill Sorensen Motl photo.)

Scalpels come in many sizes, but the perfect size is the one the medical industry calls the autopsy blade, (#60A). If you’ve ever had surgery, and you’re reading this, that’s probably NOT the blade the doctor used on you. But there’s a good chance he did use a smaller scalpel from Havels, the parent company of Havalon Knives. That’s because Havels is the leading company in medical cutting tools.

Havels was in the perfect position to pioneer the folding surgical scalpel as a serious and effective field dressing knife. Their scalpel holds an edge (remember — surgeons depend on it), and even better, you never need to sharpen it (unlike the knife my dad wore out). When a blade gets dull, do like a doctor — just unwrap a new blade with a fresh, crazy-sharp edge and swap it out.

No stopping to sharpen. No rooting around in your pack for your second-string knife. No messing with inferior sharpness. And you’ll never need to spend the night before the deer season opener putting a last-minute edge on a knife you’ve neglected since last season.

Little knife, big value.
Because Havels blades are made in volume for the medical world they cost very little. Hunters are beneficiaries of this high-capacity manufacturing. So, when you’ve shot your deer and it’s time to do the post-mortem work, I recommend the Havalon knife, the most innovative folding knife with a super-sharp surgical scalpel.

Of course, good ideas are always copied, but no other replaceable blade knife measures up to the Havalon. No one makes a scalpel as sharp and as strong. Some offer replacement blades that are much more expensive, or are much harder to clean after the work is done.

Havalon makes several handle designs in different materials, plus some impressive two-bladed knives and a multi-tool. Whichever you choose, you’ll do your fastest, cleanest field dressing job ever, and you’ll see why Havalon knives are preferred by doctors and taxidermists.
***
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When “The Everyday Hunter” isn’t hunting, he’s thinking about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, writing about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. If you want to tell Steve exactly where your favorite hunting spot is, contact him through his website, www.EverydayHunter.com. He’s a frequent contributor to the Havalon website, writes for top outdoor magazines, and won the 2015 and 2018 national “Pinnacle Award” for outdoor writing.

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The Smartest Bucks That Have Ever Lived

The Smartest Bucks That Have Ever Lived
Steve Sorensen

Twenty years ago the deer population was high, bucks were everywhere, and it wasn’t hard to get one. Most were a year and a half old, with their first set of antlers. Spikes, 3-points, occasionally a 6-point or a small 8-point. All a hunter needed to do was station himself along a trail, especially an escape route, and wait. With a little luck he’d have a buck on the ground by mid-morning.

I used to call them pinball bucks. They were confused by the influx of hunters into their world, and bounced around until a hunter’s shot connected.

Hunting is different now. Most yearling bucks are off limits in states with antler restrictions, and in other states many hunters are voluntarily passing on them. Older bucks are smarter and more challenging, and hunting them isn’t the almost sure thing that hunting yearling bucks once was.

But what is a mature buck? A yearling has reached reproductive maturity, but he’s not fully mature. He’s equivalent to a boy in his early teens. A two-and-a-half year old buck has been through one season, and is considerably better educated. He’s more like a boy in his late teens.

Some people say a two had a half year old buck is twice as hard to hunt as a one and a half year old. That seems likely, given the difference between an eighth grader and a senior in high school. The senior has coped with more challenges and has begun to learn the ways of the world.

By the time a buck is three-and-a-half years old, hunting him is a serious challenge. He is the equivalent of a man who has been in the workforce for a few years, or perhaps a military veteran. He has enough experience with human scent to know when and where danger lurks. When these older bucks are in the herd, young bucks that play follow the leader wise up quickly.

That’s not to say a three and a half year old buck has reached the pinnacle of deer intelligence. That happens at around five and a half. That’s also when his body is fully mature and his attitude is more independent of other deer. He is, in a sense, above it all. He will do what other deer don’t do, go where hunters don’t go, and stay there for the duration of the season. He’ll tend to move at night, and won’t venture in front of trail cameras as often. He’s the buck hunters think has disappeared, only to show up again the next year.

Fully mature deer are exceptional. They are trophies not just because they may have big antlers (they don’t always), but because they are very hard to find.

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The author’s best “trophy” doesn’t have the biggest antlers (a 6-point, but a big one). He was probably four and a half years old and field dressed at 190 pounds. Judging by the slack skin around his jowls, he lost a lot of weight during the rut. (Steve Sorensen photo.)

Mature deer have learned to avoid humans even when in close proximity to them. If they know they are likely to run into another hunter, they will sneak away as though they were crawling. They will run like lightning if it’s safe to run. Or they will melt away into the trees by walking quietly, slowly and softly. They are masters at knowing how to escape man’s intrusion.

In the last half of the twentieth century, whitetail deer became the driving force of the entire hunting industry. They are hunted in 44 states, and the pursuit of them has led to more products, more taxidermy, more firearms, more money spent that any other game animal. They are the most accessible big game animal in the world. Hunters have chased them from time immemorial, and very aggressively the last two hundred years. They are conservation’s chief resource.

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The experienced hunter gets a sense of satisfaction from field dressing a buck that’s three and a half years old or more. (Steve Sorensen photo.)

The instincts of fully mature whitetails have been sharply honed, making them the most adaptable, intelligent, and cagey animals out there. It’s safe to say that today we’re hunting the smartest whitetails that have ever lived.
***

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When “The Everyday Hunter” isn’t hunting, he’s thinking about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, writing about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. If you want to tell Steve exactly where your favorite hunting spot is, contact him through his website, www.EverydayHunter.com. He’s a frequent contributor to the Havalon website, writes for top outdoor magazines, and won the 2015 and 2018 national “Pinnacle Award” for outdoor writing.

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Don’t Be A Rifle Scope Snob

An optics snob doesn’t need to know what he’s talking about, so if you want to be an optics snob, don’t bother reading this.

Don’t Be a Riflescope Snob
Steve Sorensen

A guy on the customer side of the counter at Tall Tales Sporting Goods muttered in a voice loud enough for everyone to hear, “It’s a Chinese scope—it’s junk.” The guy beside him added, “You better spend at least $300 or you’re wasting your money!” The truth is that neither of those statements is true. It’s possible to spend half that on a good scope sourced from Asia, and be very happy with it. So if you don’t want to be an optics snob, read on and find out seven basic things you need to know to make a smart scope purchase.

1. Affordability:
Spend all you can, but not more than you can, and don’t be embarrassed about spending less than your buddy did. He has a different income, different responsibilities, different priorities. No hunter needs to go broke on a scope, but stretch as much as you can and you won’t be sorry. The market is full of good, affordable scopes. It’s just a matter of finding the one for you.

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The number of riflescope brands keeps growing. Brand is important, but it’s not all-important. (Photo by Steve Sorensen.)

2. Name Brand:
Name brand is where lots of the debate happens, and it’s no wonder. Tasco, Leupold, Bushnell, Nikon, Trijicon, Weaver, Zeiss, Vortex… the list is long enough to muddle the mind of Stephen Hawking—but all you have to do is take the advice of Stephen Sorensen, and my advice is simple. Consider the brands you’ve heard of, or maybe what others have had good luck with. But don’t let brand names become a battleground. Plenty of brands not well known will give you very reliable service. It’s a world of tiers (not tears)—low, middle and high—and no brand name stands head and shoulders above the rest. (Do be aware that some brand name labels have been put on pirated scopes, so buy from a dealer you trust.)

3. Power:
Scope discussions turn quickly to how much power your scope should have, and whether you need a variable power scope. Those questions have easy answers. Unless you’re doing some kind of long-range specialty shooting, or tend to hunt only in the thick stuff, stick with magnification in the range of 4 to 6. More, and you’re likely have trouble finding your target in your field of view. What about variables? In the early days of variable scopes quality was inconsistent, but today most hunters will be perfectly happy with a variable power scope of 3 to 9, or 4 to 12. In most variable power scopes, the highest magnification is approximately three times the lowest power, though technology now gives us scopes where the power range is a multiple of five. (They’re more money, of course.)

4. Lens coatings:
It’s time to consider what most people overlook. The coatings on the glass lenses in your scope are important, and you should know why. Contrary to what many people think, lenses are not coated for protection. The function of coatings is far more important. Lens coatings are microscopically thin layers of metallic molecules that reduce the amount of light reflected off the glass, thereby increasing the amount of light transmitted through the glass. Lens coatings make a scope brighter, and that’s why coatings are critical.

You need to know three terms: coated, fully-coated, and fully multi-coated. These all sound good, but are very different. The cheapest scopes advertise “coated optics.” That designation requires only that a single lens in the scope have an anti-reflective coating. Let’s say the objective lens (the end of the scope farthest from your eye) is coated. That doesn’t help a lot when every surface of every lens inside and outside the scope reflects light, reducing the amount of light that gets to your eye. “coated optics” will not give you good light in dim conditions.

Next comes “fully coated.” That means every lens surface has an anti-reflective coating, but only a single coating, not enough to maximize the amount of light passing through. As you might guess by now, “fully coated” lenses are brighter than “coated” lenses.

Finally, you’ll see scopes advertised as having “fully multi-coated” lenses. That means each surface of every lens in the scope has more than one lens coating (usually at least three). That increases brightness dramatically, and you’ll notice it at dawn, dusk, on overcast days and in dark timber. You want a scope with “fully multi-coated” lenses. It’s an important feature that doesn’t break the bank.

The following chart explains that benefit. An uncoated lens allows about 96% of the light to pass through. That’s not much of an issue when you’re looking through the window at a squirrel in your back yard. But if you’re judging antlers on a buck in dim light through 10 lens surfaces, each one diminishing some of the light, only 66% of the light passing through uncoated lenses will ever reach your eye.

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The more layers of anti-reflective coatings a lens has, the more light passes through. If you have a line-up of lenses with no coatings, much of the light entering the scope will never reach your eye. (Photo by Steve Sorensen.)

On the other end of the spectrum, one multi-coated lens (usually at least three layers) allows 99.5% of the light to pass through. When that light passes through 10 multi-coated lens surfaces, approximately 95% of the light reaches your eye. You will never be sorry about that. The lesson is that all three words are important to the hunter:
1. Fully (both sides of all the lenses).
2. Multi (multiple layers of light-transmitting coatings).
3. Coated (what lets light pass through rather than being reflected away).
No good scope has less.

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The absence of adequate lens coatings can make a big difference in a scope’s brightness. (Photo by Steve Sorensen.)

So far you’re committed to spending all you can afford, you’re considering some reputable brands, you’ve decided to buy a scope with a power range you’re comfortable with, and you understand the benefit of fully multi-coated lenses. Now what?

5. Exit Pupil
Exit pupil is another technical term, but it’s easy to understand. The exit pupil is simply the small dot of light you see when you hold the scope away from your eye and look through it. It’s the product of simple math. Let’s say your scope has a 40mm objective lens, and a power of 4. Divide 4 into 40mm, and the product is 10mm. That is the size of the exit pupil on that scope.

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Simple math will tell you what the exit pupil is for any scope. Here’s a 3.5 to 10 power Leupold Vari-X III scope with a 40mm objective lens. It’s set on six power, so the exit pupil you see here is 40mm ÷ 6, or 6.66mm. Most hunters’ eyes can use all of it. (Photo by Steve Sorensen.)

That’s important because it relates to the pupil of your own eye. A normal eye opens to about 7mm (in older folks it’s less), so a scope with a smaller exit pupil will give you a dimmer view. For example, if your scope has a 40mm objective, and its magnification is 10 power, you have an exit pupil of only 4mm. No matter how wide your own pupil opens, only a 4mm dot of light will get to your eye. In a variable scope of 3 to 9 power with a 40mm objective, you will have a large exit pupil of 13.3 mm at 3 power and small exit pupil of 4.4 mm at 9 power. The general rule is that higher power scopes deliver less light to your eye. Lower power gives a brighter view.

6. Eye Relief:
Eye relief doesn’t mean “eye rest.” Eye relief is the distance your eye is from the ocular lens (the lens nearest your eye), and still give you a maximum field of view. On many rifles that’s not important, but when you get to the ones that punch like Muhammad Ali, you want that scope far from your eyebrow because it will cut you if it hits you. For me, that stopped being fun the fourth time. As a general rule, a hard-kicking rifle with a scope having under 4 inches of eye relief puts the guy behind the scope in a dangerous place.

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Don’t have an unfortunate experience with a scope having too little eye relief. (Photo by Steve Sorensen.)

7. Guarantee:
The riflescope business is very, very competitive. New names regularly enter the field. Competition forces many companies to back their scopes with strong guarantees. Even the best manufacturers are capable of producing a defective scope now and then, but that’s no problem if you get a scope with a good, no-questions-asked guarantee. Twice I’ve sent scopes back—in one a lens coating bubbled up and in the other a crosshair moved when I turned the power ring.

Conclusion:
Germany once manufactured the best optical products, but today almost nothing is made in one country, or even one factory. The digital age has enabled virtually every aspect of optical production to improve over the last 20 years. Thanks to computer-controlled manufacturing which reduces human error, a high quality scope can be made anywhere in the world.

The key today is quality control. Strong quality-control policies throughout the process of manufacturing make a big difference in producing very good riflescopes. You might have other reasons to reject a scope from a particular country—politics, labor, balance of trade, maybe even terrorism—but quality probably isn’t one of them.

The Bottom Line
If you can’t take it from Sorensen, take it from one of today’s leading experts in hunting optics. John Barsness said, “For decades, hunting writers have been stating that you get what you pay for in optics, implying that price is an absolute guide to quality.” That’s no longer true. (Source: https://www.24hourcampfire.com/binoculars.html.)

Or take it from Randy Wakeman, “There is no basis extant to automatically assume that quality of assembly of a scope is better (or worse) based on the nation in which a scope is assembled. It does not hold true in electronics, cars, cameras, video equipment, or computers.” In other words, no one is saying, “Chinese smartphones are junk,” so it doesn’t have to be true that “Chinese scopes are junk.”

There’s more to know. We could talk about parallax, adjustments, turrets, mounts, and many other topics, but if you know these seven things, you know enough to go out and get a good riflescope without overspending. Of course, if your pockets are deep enough you can spend a lot more than $150, but these things still apply.

Of course, all of this has one big downside. The more you know about buying a scope, the less you’ll be able to blame your scope when you miss that deer.
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Steve Sorensen has published articles in top hunting magazines across the USA, and won the prestigious “Pinnacle” Award for outdoor writing in 2015 and 2018. He writes an award-winning newspaper column called The Everyday Hunter®, and frequently contributes to the Havalon website. Invite Steve to speak at your next sportsman’s event, and follow him at www.EverydayHunter.com.

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