Binoculars - more than meets the eye


Although quite recent technological advancements such as thermal imaging will beat binoculars hands down when it comes to detecting game animals out in the field, even during the day, regular optics are still king when it comes to identification. Correctly identifying the quarry you are after is a key part of any successful hunt. Something you will no doubt struggle to achieve without a decent pair of binoculars. Not only will their razor-sharp image allow you to identify your target species but also help you to better appreciate the lie of the land, assess the terrain and environment in which they are residing and even keep an eye out for any problems to make sure you have a safe shot.


Although optical devices such as binoculars have been around longer than firearms, the latter seem to have been perfected quite a bit earlier. Some rifle designs are still as practical today as when they were invented over a century ago. Try finding someone who still swears by a pair of binoculars of the same age. Truth is, in the last century optical technology has made such huge leaps forward that most binoculars around today, from entry-level on up, are probably better than anything conceived a hundred years ago.


The performance of lenses, prisms and coatings has continually developed, reaching a point where even some lower-mid-level optics perform adequately. Meanwhile, the very best have got better too and in extreme conditions the reasons for spending as much as the hunter can afford on buying good optics will pay certain dividends. The key to making good binocular sales is understanding the features and benefits of particular product ranges, the difference between basic, mid-level and high-end products and exactly what a hunter will require out in the field. For example, there are huge differences between dedicated binoculars for low-light conditions and those for daytime use. Keeping abreast of the latest technology and the increasing ability of these products is vital if you want to give customers valuable advice on what to buy. Taking into account all the effort and cost involved in serious hunting and stalking trips, the case is easily made to enhance their experience with quality optics. 


As our survey shows, hunting is by far the most important reason why binoculars are purchased at firearms retailers. General outdoor pursuits come in second place. Although bird watching is an important market for optics companies, it makes up for a relatively small segment in the gun related retail market. Travel is also a reason to buy, although not that important in our industry.


Full-size models with an objective diameter of 40-42mm trump any other type. Even more so since they account for nearly half of all binocular sales according to our retailers. Not as bulky as the biggest models with 50mm or 56mm lenses, they are still easy to carry around all day. They are the true versatility kings. Midsize models with 30-32mm objective lenses are also on the up with some retailers even claiming over-size binoculars are their best-selling category.


Good optics can mean a real difference in the field. Great optics will change the way you see the world forever. You really get what you pay for with binoculars, and optics in general. Which might explain why optical quality beats price as a major reason for buying a certain pair of binoculars hands down. Size is another determining reason size, even more so than weight, make/name and build quality.


With sales of high-end binoculars stabilized and even down, according to our survey, it’s the entry level and especially the mid-end that really shines nowadays. Sales of mid-price models have charged forward. The popularity of mid-price models explains why premium brands from Germany and Austria have created mid-level and even entry-level products to break open new markets next to their traditional high-end territory. Although many hunters still want the very best, a big chunk of the market is clearly looking for great quality at a reasonable price.


It goes without saying that knowing the distance to your target is a vital part of shooting accurately. This is when binoculars equipped with a laser rangefinder shine. With the simple click of a button you know the distance between yourself and your quarry. As more and more hunters are travelling the world in search of game and adventure, rangefinders prove to be a wise investment. One quarter of retailers stated sales of this type of binoculars was up while another third said sales were stable. As a retailer you just cannot afford not to have rangefinder binoculars in stock.


Key to offering great service when selling optics is not only to have a sufficient stock of products but also a pile of spare parts and accessories at the ready. Eyepiece and objective covers get lost out in the field, neck straps become worn etcetera. Make sure you have an ample supply of all the brands and models you offer to immediately help your customers. What’s more, help your customers keep their optics in perfect shape by offering lens cleaning kits, cloths…


As with anything, you get what you pay for but often there is a trade-off between the amount a customer can afford and the quality of the optics available in any given price-segment. Budget is clearly an important issue as well. When selling binoculars, start by asking the right questions to your customers. For example, what type of hunting they intend to do, still hunting, stalking, safari… and when, in the light of day, in the twilight or at night. This combination of requirements and budget will help define choice, enabling you to offer valuable advice that will set you apart from your competitors and result in happy and trusting customers.