By Brad Fitzpatrick
Humans are visual predators, which is why good optics are so important to elk hunters. Whether they’re brand new to market or flagship models that proved themselves long ago, here is a rundown of some of the best optics for the 2023 elk season.
At its headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon, Leupold has around 80 full-time optical engineers. When you put that many great minds in one place, good things are bound to happen. Case in point: the new-for-2023 BX-4 Range HD TBR/W 10×42 rangefinding binocular.
“We began looking at this product four years ago,” says Eric Overstreet, Leupold’s technology product line manager. “It took that long to get the feature set we wanted.”
That starts with a sophisticated onboard laser rangefinding system with angle compensation. When I asked Overstreet what sets these binoculars apart, his answer was simple: True Ballistic Range/Wind technology, or TBR/W. You can select 25 profiles based on your rifle setup that provide real-time ballistic solutions on the BX-4’s red OLED display as you look through the lenses. Plus, it provides 10 mph full crosswind values that gives you a reference point for wind holds. Couple that with a CDS dial on your scope and you’ll have all the information you need to make adjustments in the field.
Leupold packs in all this technology without making these binos oversized or heavy. In fact, they measure just under six inches long and weigh 39 ounces, which isn’t bad considering they eliminate the need to carry a separate rangefinder.
Some rangefinding binoculars suffer from color aberration, but the BX-4 offers crisp, clear images in any light conditions thanks to precision lenses with Guard-ion coatings to prevent smudges. Like all Leupold glass, they’ve passed torture-testing that subjects them to temperatures ranging from -40o to +160o, water submersion and exposure to radical pressure changes. The BX-4s survived it all, and if by some chance they don’t, Leupold backs them with a lifetime warranty.
The unit runs on a widely available CR2 battery, and the ranging button is reversible for southpaws. Expect these binos to return accurate readings to an astounding 2,600 yards on reflective objects and 1,600 yards on trees. When Overstreet was asked just how far field optics needed to range objects, his answer was simple: “Can we range the moon?”
That should keep the engineers in Beaverton busy for a while.
It’s been 30 years since Leica pioneered rangefinding binocular technology when they released the original Geovid. The newest members to the family, the Geovid Pro 8×42 and Pro 10×42, continue to lead the pack. In addition to world-class glass, these binos incorporate Applied Ballistics technology that gives ballistic solutions based on measured range and atmospheric conditions to 800 yards. The Geovid Pro comes with 740 preset ballistic profiles, a compass and provides GPS coordinates in the field when paired with Google Maps or the Basemap app on your phone. Perhaps most impressive, the Geovid Pro can even lead you to where an animal was standing when you ranged it thanks to Leica ProTrack technology. Despite impressive ranging capabilities (2,950 meters for the 10x42s, 2,300 for the 8x42s), they weigh just 34 ounces. The image quality is excellent thanks to the Perger-Porro prisms and HD objective lenses. I tried these new optics in Las Vegas at the annual SHOT Show and was impressed by the advanced technology onboard and the minimal weight, but I was equally impressed by the color fidelity. Images are clear, crisp and accurate, even in bad light.
SIG keeps rolling out new products and reeling in military contracts, but one segment of the market where the company doesn’t get enough credit is its hunting optics division. The Whiskey6 3-18×44 is an all-purpose rifle scope with a 30mm main tube and a choice of either low-profile capped adjustment knobs or locking exposed turrets. A foot long and weighing around 23 ounces, it’s relatively compact yet still packs a long list of top-shelf features. The 3-18X magnification range allows for hunting in everything from dense forest to open canyons. I’m also a big fan of SIG’s MOA Milling Hunter 2.0 reticle available in this optic. It provides holdover and windage adjustment points, yet the reticle isn’t so cluttered that it impedes a hunter’s field of view.
The AccuPoint 3-18×50 has been Trijicon’s flagship rifle scope for years and remains a stalwart pick for elk hunters. The 6x 3-18 magnification range strikes the sweet spot for mixed terrain so you can adapt for varied distances. It weighs a manageable 27 ounces, and the edge-to-edge clarity of its glass is outstanding. A tritium/fiber optic lamp provides adjustable battery-free lighting in any conditions, and there are three reticles to choose from, including an MOA ranging reticle; standard duplex; or a BAC triangle/dot in amber, green or red triangle posts. A 30 MOA tube with 60 MOA of travel give you a ton of flexibility. I’ve shot long-range courses with AccuPoints and hunted with them from North America to Africa, and I always come away impressed. The two features that stand out most are the exceptional clarity (even in low light) and the precise adjustments for shooting at extended ranges.
The Razor HD 4000 GB rangefinder can grab readings off reflective objects out to 4,000 yards and game to 2,200 yards. If that sounds extreme for hunting, you’re right. But for elk hunters, that can also provide a verification tool to tell you the distance between point A and point B. This allows you to better plan stalks or, just as importantly, know when to call one off. Fooled by distance, I’ve attempted to go after elk I didn’t hold a prayer of reaching before nightfall. With the Razor I could have avoided starting such a long stalk so late.
This 10-ounce device measures less than two-inches wide to fit easily in your shirt pocket, and its premium XR Plus lens coatings protect against the elements. Yet it does more than tell you distance. It has in-display wind/drop solutions, and you can customize ballistic profiles via the GeoBallistics app or select from a trio of pre-loaded profiles. With two wind modes that include a patented Wind Bearing Capture Mode, the Razor can also pair with Kestrel wind meter devices.
The NX8 4-32×50 F1 FDE is a premium rifle scope, and while it certainly isn’t cheap, this front focal plane optic offers an impressive 8x zoom ratio. Despite offering 32x maximum magnification, the NX8 measures just over 13 inches long and weighs under 29 ounces. Its optics feature red or green Digillum illuminated reticles, a ZeroStop and side parallax adjustment. At trade shows I’ve watched the folks from Nightforce strike the objective bell of this scope against a table to display the durability of the bedding around the objective lens. It’s an impressive demonstration of just how rugged these scopes really are.
A heads-up display within the reticle of the Veracity PH 4-2-x50mm lists the distance at which the point of impact of the bullet aligns with the scope’s reticle. That means the hunter simply has to add load data to their BurrisConnect app and push that data to the scope. From there, it’s simply a matter of measuring the distance to target with a rangefinder, dialing to that distance and pulling the trigger. I tested this innovative front focal plane scope and found it works as advertised. The included technology does not require you to be super tech-savvy thanks to simple controls and great video tutorials on the website.
I’ve had very few scopes fail while I was in the field. However, I have had plenty of scope bases and rings loosen or break, and that’s why I only use mounting hardware that I know is up to the task. Designed and manufactured in Oregon, Warne’s new Vapor Horizontal scope rings are just that: rings you can rely on to make certain your optic’s point of impact doesn’t shift. Constructed of rugged 6061 aluminum alloy, they fit one-inch and 30mm main tube scopes in low, medium and high heights, and mesh perfectly with all Warne Vapor and Maxima/Weaver two-piece bases and Picatinny style rails.
German optics manufacturer Steiner has had great success with their Predator 4 series of optics, and this year the company is adding a line of Predator 8 rifle scopes that boast 8x zoom ratios. Perhaps the most versatile options for hunters are the 2-16×42 and 3-24×50 models with E3 second focal plane reticles. Both offer 30mm main tubes and provide 3.7-inches of eye relief. These precision scopes are illuminated with 11 different brightness settings and run on CR2032 batteries. Another worthy option: a 4-32×56 target-oriented version available with an SCR reticle.
MSRP: $2,069 (2-16×42) to $2,299 (3-24×50)
Spotting scopes are standard equipment for most western hunts, but do they always have to be large and burdensome? Swarovski doesn’t think so, and that’s why they made their new ATC (angled) and STC (straight) compact 17-40×56 spotting scope so light and portable. Now you can slip your premium spotter into a pack without adding a bunch of bulk. In fact, at 35 ounces these spotters might even weigh less than your binos or even your riflescope. They range from 10 to just over 11 inches in length and are compatible with the Variable Phone Adapter, AR-S adapters and Swarovski’s window mount. It should come as no great shock, but the optical clarity of the ATC and STC is exceptional.
When I’m in elk country I don’t want to carry any more weight than necessary, and that’s why I’ve been so impressed with Zeiss’ new SFL (Smart Focus and Lightweight) 10×30 and 8×30 binoculars. At 4.7-inches long and weighing barely a pound, these binos don’t require a harness because they can fit in your pocket or a pouch on the side of your pack. Color fidelity and low-light detail is outstanding thanks to Zeiss T* coatings and world-class glass lenses. The aggressive Smart Focus wheel is easy to rotate even with gloves or mittens, with just 1.5 turns to focus from close objects to infinity—much quicker than most competing optics.
Riton’s optics line received a refresh this year with new models that sport redesigned throw levers and knurling. The all-new 5 primal 2-12×44 is a great backcountry rifle scope that combines a broad magnification range suitable for hunting in timber or above timberline. This scope features a 30mm main tube and measures just over a foot in length. The new PHD reticle offers plenty of yardage-refence lines, yet the second focal plane reticle remains relatively uncluttered and won’t distract you when game is close and shots are fast. And with 90 MOA of adjustment, this scope is suitable a variety of different ranges.
MSRP: $ 779
Don’t let the Optika6 3-18×50 FFP’s modest price fool you: this rugged, durable rifle scope is an outstanding value built to withstand the toughest conditions an elk hunter can throw at it. The FFP (front focal plane) version comes with an exposed locking elevation turret that’s great for hunters who like to practice at long range in the off-season. Eye relief on this scope is exceptional (almost four inches), but what impresses me most are the Dichroic reticles. Initially used for U.S. military’s TOW missiles, DicroTech coatings on Meopta reticles make the crosshairs appear illuminated because they automatically adjust to color tone yet do not need a battery. I don’t pretend to fully understand the technology, but I appreciate what it offers.
Hawke is another brand offering up a laser rangefinding binocular this year. Known as the Frontier LRF, these binos are available in 8×42 and 10×42. The 8x can range objects from 11 to 1,968 yards while the 10x42s range items from 11 to 2,515 yards. Because the Frontier LRFs are capable of ranging objects at such close distances they’re an effective tool for both bow and rifle hunters and boast an accuracy of +/- 1 yard. The OLED red display offers six different brightness settings and there are six separate modes that allow you to achieve the most accurate range regardless of the surrounding conditions.
MSRP: $1,329 (8×42) to $1,439 (10×42)
The lightweight, portable XLR2000 rangefinder from Halo fits in a jacket pocket and provides rapid distance readings to 2,000 yards with accuracy of +/- a yard. The bright OLED display is easy to read and offers Angle Intelligence as well as a scan mode that allows you to range multiple items in rapid succession. It runs on an affordable and easy-to-find CR2 lithium battery, and its 6x magnification makes dialing in on your target for accurate readings a cinch. The new design features some avant-garde styling cues, but the ergonomics are excellent.