Skip to main content

At Last Light

At Last Light

The author takes back everything he's written about oversize optics.

In Europe, shooting hours generally means any time you can see to shoot, so hunters there prefer light-gathering optics, regardless of weight and bulk. On a chamois hunt in Macedonia I used Steiner 10x44 binoculars and a Schmidt & Bender variable with a 56mm objective.

Storm clouds blocked the western horizon, and dark would come early. It had been a blustery afternoon, and the coming storm promised to be a dandy. The deer knew this just as well as I did, and as a gray day grew dimmer they started to feed out of the woods. I had legal shooting light until about 5:30, and it was nearly 5:15 before a mature buck made an appearance--down in the far corner of the field at 300 yards and headed my way.

In the light remaining I could see antlers, but I couldn't tell enough about them to make the call. He vanished into some weeds and when he reappeared he was 90 yards from me with five minutes to go.


His body looked heavy and mature, but on that dark evening I just couldn't judge antlers, even through good 10x42 binoculars. I picked up the rifle. The crosshairs were faint against his dark body, but I could center him up just fine. What I couldn't do was tell what he was. So the clock ran out, and I let him drift away.


While I had one more day on a prized Kansas whitetail tag, that turned out to be my only chance. On a lot of deer hunts in a lot of places I would have taken the chance. But not there. It was an interesting lesson because I'd have sworn that couldn't happen--to run out of light with a good scope before running out of legal shooting time.

There are many places that do not share the common North American concept of legally mandated shooting hours. It isn't uncommon to hunt pigs and even red stag and roebuck well after dark in Europe, and the big scopes hunters over there favor help a lot, but moonlight and background also figure in heavily.




Now, on that Kansas hunt, the rifle was mounted with a Swarovski variable with 30mm tube and 44mm objective lens. This is a good scope that gathers a lot of light, but on that dark evening it wasn't enough. Previously I have written that I didn't care for the added weight and bulk of larger scopes because, for most applications, one-inch tubes and trim objective bells (say, 36 to 40mm) gather plenty of light.


This is not the first thing I've ever been wrong about, and as I tried so desperately to see more than a vague hint of antlers against yellow grass you can bet I was wishing for 56mm objectives on either my riflescope or my binoculars.

Of course, that may not have done it. That was simply a dark evening, and as we compared notes my campmates and I all agreed that the light was failing badly by legal sundown (there was no visible sundown), and we were pretty much finished just a few minutes later.

Actual judging--whether simply determining if it's a legal animal or evaluating trophy quality--is always best done with binoculars or spotting scope because it's a bad habit to wave a rifle in the general direction of anything until it has been properly evaluated and intent to shoot established.

Seeing well enough to shoot is not necessarily the same as seeing well enough to be totally sure of what you are shooting at. Again, I could have shot that buck, but I had no confidence that I'd be happy with the results.

I also have no certainty that any optics would have helped. I had a dark-bodied animal against yellow grass, but the grass made the antlers invisible in the fading light. I couldn't see the crosshairs on the body well, but the shot was close enough that I felt I could center them on the shoulder anyway--if I could tell how big a buck I was shooting at.

With a different background or greater distance, however, losing the black crosshairs against dark hide can be a deal-breaker. That's what lighted reticles are all about. I've used battery-powered lighted reticles for leopard and black bear, both classic low-light situations.

Recently I've done a lot of hunting with Trijicon's tritium-tipped post and newer tritium-centered reticle. These are essentially lighted reticles without batteries. I like them for close, fast work because the eye is naturally drawn to the bold center, and in low light it's quick and easy to establish an aiming point.

Of course, a lighted reticle doesn't help you see what you're shooting at, so I take it all back. Heavy optics with oversize objectives designed for maximum light gathering do indeed have their places--and not just outside the U.S.

I don't want to carry the biggest scopes or the heaviest binoculars up a sheep mountain because I'm probably going to have head back down that mountain ahead of last light. But we have quite a lot of hunting that might push the limit, including almost all whitetail deer hunting.

You have to see an animal properly before you can shoot it, and there are days when brighter optics might make a difference.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

New for 2021: Frankford Arsenal FX-10 Progressive Reloading Press

New for 2021: Frankford Arsenal FX-10 Progressive Reloading Press

Designed by reloaders for reloaders, the Frankford Arsenal FX-10 is a 10-station automatic-indexing reloading press purpose-built from the ground up to be the ultimate progressive reloading press.

New for 2021: Caldwell AR500 Steel Range Targets

New for 2021: Caldwell AR500 Steel Range Targets

The Caldwell AR500 steel targets are offered in seven sizes and various hanging solutions to fit your specific shooting range needs.

New for 2021: Nosler Reloading Guide 9

New for 2021: Nosler Reloading Guide 9

Reloading Guide #9 consists of load data for 101 rifle and handgun cartridges with hundreds of new powder additions throughout the book creating a comprehensive data set for today's reloader.

New for 2021: Caldwell E-MAX PRO Shadows, BT Link and BT Comms

New for 2021: Caldwell E-MAX PRO Shadows, BT Link and BT Comms

Three new products from Caldwell - E-MAX PRO Shadows, BT Link and BT Comms – for shooting range hearing production and communication.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

Some history and reloading recipes on five popular .17-caliber cartridges, including the .17 Ackley Hornet, .17 Hornady Hornet, .17 Mach IV, .17 Remington Fireball and .17 Remington..17-Caliber Reloading Data and History for 5 Cartridges Reloading

.17-Caliber Reloading Data and History for 5 Cartridges

Layne Simpson - June 05, 2019

Some history and reloading recipes on five popular .17-caliber cartridges, including the .17...

Hornady Subsonic Rifle ammo stays below the sound threshold while still providing the kind of terminal performance you want.Hornady Subsonic Rifle Ammo Review Ammo

Hornady Subsonic Rifle Ammo Review

Keith Wood - December 31, 2020

Hornady Subsonic Rifle ammo stays below the sound threshold while still providing the kind of...

The iconic Ruger 10/22 .22 semiauto is not only still going strong but getting better with new upgraded models.Ode to the Popular Ruger 10/22 Rimfire Rifle Rimfire

Ode to the Popular Ruger 10/22 Rimfire Rifle

J. Scott Rupp - February 02, 2021

The iconic Ruger 10/22 .22 semiauto is not only still going strong but getting better with new...

The road to the famous Remington 700 rifle was paved with classics like the models 725 and 30s.Before the Remington 700 Historical

Before the Remington 700

Payton Miller - August 20, 2020

The road to the famous Remington 700 rifle was paved with classics like the models 725 and 30s.

See More Trending Articles

More How-To

Your local gyms are closed and you aren't supposed to hit the running trails anymore, but that doesn't mean you have to retreat to your sofa. In this lesson Hollywood Weapons host and former Green Beret, Terry Schappert will talk about the importance of keeping your body fit and some tips on achieving that goal, even if you don't have the equipment already.Shelter in Place - Home Gym

Shelter in Place - Home Gym

Outdoor Channel Public Service Announcement - April 11, 2020

Your local gyms are closed and you aren't supposed to hit the running trails anymore, but that...

It's such a wonderful experience; picking out a new rifle can be as exciting as Christmas morning to an eight-year-old.The Art of Choosing a New Rifle How-To

The Art of Choosing a New Rifle

RifleShooter Online Staff - August 20, 2018

It's such a wonderful experience; picking out a new rifle can be as exciting as Christmas...

During those months without an open season, use that time to do some prep work with this to-do listTo-Do List for the Rifleman During the Offseason How-To

To-Do List for the Rifleman During the Offseason

Craig Boddington - March 10, 2015

During those months without an open season, use that time to do some prep work with this to-do...

When under shelter-in-place orders and not going anywhere, your vehicle should be fueled and ready to go in case things change. In this lesson, “Hollywood Weapons” host and former Green Beret Terry Schappert shares some tips on how to prepare your car or truck for the next time you might need it. Shelter in Place - Prepare Your Vehicle

Shelter in Place - Prepare Your Vehicle

Outdoor Channel Public Service Announcement - April 10, 2020

When under shelter-in-place orders and not going anywhere, your vehicle should be fueled and...

See More How-To

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE Arrow

Buy Digital Single Issues

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the RifleShooter App

Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All RifleShooter subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now