Vortex Optics Review – Re-Blogged – Sawtooth Rifles
Vortex Optics Review post from Matt Yore’s Blog at Sawtooth Rifles and our Master Gun Builder here in Hagerman, Idaho.
Matt is a custom rifle builder who is one a the four people in the world that actually enjoys reading those 1850 page ballistics books!
Oh if you need a rifle painted, cerakoated, or spruced up, he is actually quite the artist.
Saturday, April 11, 2015
Optics Review: Vortex Kaibab HD 15×56 Binocular “Big Eyes”
Below is a gear review we received from a customer on the Vortex Kaibab HD 15×56 Binoculars, known as “big eyes”. These binoculars are high priority on the gear list for the Coues Whitetail Deer hunters of New Mexico, Arizona, and Mexico. As our reviewer finds, perhaps they should be considered for hunting other species, such as Aoudad or Barbary sheep, or even for a big country Pronghorn, Mule Deer, or Elk hunt.
Vortex Kaibab HD 15×56 Binoculars
Worth the Weight?
As a backpacker and hunter, reduction of weight and bulk in my chosen kit is a never ending effort. Over the last 20 years, two times stand out where I remember actually adding weight to my pack from the previous season. The first was when I experienced the warmth of a Kifaru woodstove inside my tipi during a week-long hunt in western Washington. The second was when I discovered the benefit of truly good glass, finding a bedded muley in thick sagebrush at 800 yards. I subsequently added a pair of Swarovski 10×42 SLC binoculars to the “worn” column of my gear checklist. 2015 now marks the third time I’ve recognized performance outweighing reduction of weight.
I hadn’t even considered not using my trusty Swarovski’s on an upcoming DIY Barbary Sheep hunt in New Mexico, until Matt from Sawtooth Rifles offered up some loaner optics. As a new Vortex dealer, he was interested in getting feedback in multiple real-world field conditions. Although Matt is a straight shooter, I was skeptical to believing his claims of the difference these “big eyes” binos might make for me. Gasping at the advertised weight of 43.5oz, I remember thinking there is no way a little extra FOV and magnification is going to be worth such an increase in weight. Reluctantly, I told him to send them anyway.
|The Vortex Kaibab HD 15×56 along side the author’s “trusty” and well traveled Swarovski 10×42 SLC Binocular.|
The Vortex Kaibab HD 15×56 binoculars and Vortex Razor HD 11-33×50 angled spotting scope arrived well protected, with the factory packaging itself being impressively robust. I quickly got things put together and grabbed my 10x42s for an informal comparison out my kitchen window. I stared at our neighbor’s familiar barn, 400 yards across our pasture in the late afternoon light, first with the Swarovski’s, then the Kaibabs. With the Kaibabs, I could now see there were bolts holding some of the barn boards together that I hadn’t noticed before. I figured the difference was solely attributed to the extra magnification, so I packed everything up, not giving it too much consideration. On my scale, the Kaibabs weighed right at 3 pounds including the neck strap and tripod adapter. Although only 13.5 ounces heavier than my 10×42 SLCs, the additional 2.5 inches of length made them feel substantially larger.
Arriving in El Paso, I hopped into the rented Dodge Club Cab 4×4 with 3 miles on the clock. The rental agent told me to “please be careful, it’s brand new”, I just smiled, thinking to myself “noted”. I headed north towards the Lincoln National Forest, it was going to be a good trip.
I ended up backpacking into the same hunting area on two separate weekends, totaling 6 days of dawn-dusk use in a mixture of high desert cliffs, steep drainages and large ridges covered in sagebrush and cacti, i.e. Barbary Sheep country. The average viewing distance ranged from 500 to 1600 meters, and legal shooting hours were ½ hour before and after sunrise/set respectfully. My trips included over 30 miles of hiking, so this gave me a good overall appreciation for the performance of these binoculars under a variety of conditions. Truth in lending, I was only looking for a mature ram, not trying to decipher a true trophy class animal at any distance. As such, I didn’t spend a lot of time analyzing if the binoculars provided sufficient resolution for this at extended ranges. Anecdotally, I could easily pick a mature ram out of a group at one mile, and could clearly see a herd of elk grazing at over 2.2 miles 10 minutes before dark.
|Typical terrain in the homelands of the Barbary Sheep (we will call them that while roaming in New Mexico)|
I used two methods while glassing, the first was off my Slik Sprint Mini II tripod and the second using my Primos Trigger Stick monopod for support while quickly glassing areas on the move. I am an active hunter, and believe in finding the game where it is (especially in a new area), so I have a tendency to cover some ground. Due to this fact, I quickly began using the binoculars exclusively, leaving the spotting scope in the pack. When I did use the spotter, it was clear and easy to operate, but took me quite a bit more time to find the target, zoom in, then analyze. New target, rinse and repeat. If I was looking for a true trophy ram, this would be required, but since I just needed to discern a good set of horns inside of a mile or so, it became unnecessary. The spotter has both a coarse and fine focus adjustment, making it very useful at seeing “through” various vegetation in depth without moving the optic itself. The optical performance and usability it provides in such a small package is impressive.
|The author’s setup, with lightweight tripod.|
|Our author, comfortably glassing behind the tripod mounted Vortex Kaibab HD 15×56 Binocular.|
The Trigger Stick worked extremely well due to its quick height adjustments, where a bit of leaning on the binos provided a surprisingly steady stance. Nowhere near as stable as on the tripod, but for a quick “is there a sheep on that ridge?” check, it more than sufficed. Although not designed as a primary hiking pole, the Trigger Stick served handedly in that regard as well, as the immediate height adjustments were especially useful when descending rugged terrain with a relatively heavy pack.
Once in an area I wanted to explore in more detail, I broke out the tripod and started picking apart the landscape. Suffice to say, glassing off a tripod with binos was a unique experience, as I was able to instantly identify any movement in the landscape. The clarity of the glass allowed me to view from multiple angles, edge to edge, without moving. So steady, that if something moved in that field of view, there is no question you were going to see it. All of the sheep I saw were either standing, feeding or moving, so as soon as they entered my field of view, they literally popped out of the background at any range.
The optical performance of these 56mm binoculars extends a whole new “wow” factor as opposed to traditional sized glass, something about the combination of magnification and objective diameter was perfectly suited to the intended use for this hunt. Every time I “cleared” a section of terrain, I felt certain I would have seen a sheep if it had been there. The eyecups have three distinct settings, which came in handy during various light conditions and whether or not I was wearing sunglasses. Could be purely coincidental, but I never bumped a sheep off a piece of terrain I had previously glassed after moving through it. Again, every time I did see sheep (53 or so), they instantly jumped out to me in the binoculars. It became clearly evident these binos were my “primary weapon system” for this type of hunting, so I quickly lost any concern over the weight or lack of suitable carrying configuration.
|The author, and his new “primary weapon system” for finding Barbary Sheep.|
Speaking of carrying configuration, I explored a couple methods of transporting these big binoculars, but neither ended up completely satisfactory to me. My requirement was no burden on my neck, no flopping while climbing/moving quickly, protection for the optic, and rapid employment/deployment. I’ve become quite a fan of chest mounted packs, so I started out using the standard binocular neck strap and my Hill People Gear Kit Bag to protect/support the glass. Since the binos didn’t fit into the main pouch very well, that configuration failed the flopping, protection and deployment criteria. That pack is not designed for this, so I was not surprised. The second time I used a similar setup, but substituted the Kit Bag with my Kifaru Koala Lite with an organizer pouch on the front. This met all my requirements except the employment/deployment, since it required a bit of time to get them in/out and zipped up well enough to keep the pack from unzipping. Bottom line, I may have to give up on my current chest pack rigs and go with a larger dedicated binocular pack when using these.
The one issue I had was with the configuration of the diopter adjustment. Although the diopter adjustment on the right ocular lens has a locking feature, I found I was periodically getting it unlocked and out of adjustment. I’m pretty certain this had to do with how I was carrying them since it slides in and out to lock/unlock, and that is the same motion/direction of going in and out of my chest pouch. Since the fit was very tight in my pouches, the adjustment ring was always getting direct contact. Then again, there were also times I found my finger on the diopter adjustment instead of the focus knob, since they are closely located to each other. Good or bad, a slight change to the diopter setting is readily visible when viewing at range, so I knew immediately when an adjustment was in order.
Once the diopter was set, the image was extremely clear at all ranges. I found the most comfortable viewing range was from about 400 yards out to 1500 yards or so. Closer than that increased the workload a bit due to decreased FOV, and beyond that, loss of detail had the same effect. A few times I had to glass into the sun, and obviously the scene was a bit washed out, but the lens coatings made the image still very usable. During the heat of the day, mirages were easy to see using various focus adjustments, allowing me to estimate wind speed at a distance.
So what about all those sheep? I saw one group of 28 sheep at the same time from about 700 yards, and it was truly an impressive sight. They were moving through the area, and I just couldn’t catch up. Suffice to say, I had my chances, but only two of those were decent opportunities. I could’ve shot one ram any time over the course of an hour at 300 yards, but couldn’t be certain I’d be able to recover him from the cliff he was feeding on, so I passed. The second opportunity was a very nice ram at 501 yards. Although I felt comfortable with that shot, I felt certain I could get closer. But much like my initial speculations on the usefulness of a 3lb pair of binoculars, I was wrong.
|Motivation, for planning your own Barbary Sheep hunt.|
In summary, the fact that I never remember fussing about the extra weight or bulk over six days of hunting and 30 miles is testament itself to the usefulness of these binoculars. More simply put, if I had to boil it down to just one word, it would be confidence. I was confident that I didn’t miss a thing as I glassed the landscape with these binoculars. This was reinforced every time I immediately spotted sheep, deer, coyotes and birds at extended ranges. Over the same time, I kept thinking back to my antelope hunt last October in Wyoming, and just how useful these would have been for that application. All said and done, I sent the Razor spotting scope back to Matt, but sent him a check in place of the Kaibabs. I am truly excited thinking of the future opportunities I’ll get to use these binoculars to increase my effectiveness on upcoming open country hunts.
Review by: Spence Guida
Vortex Kaibab HD Binoculars: http://www.vortexoptics.com/category/kaibab_binoculars Purchase from Sawtooth Rifles: http://www.sawtoothrifles.com/ or come on into Hagerman Valley Sports and Merc: http://www.gunsandduns.com Interested in an Auodad (Barbary Sheep Hunt)? Hit up the guys at Gothunts.com for more info: http://gothunts.com/hunting/sheep-hunting/aoudad-hunting/