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Binocular Use 101.5

by Kevin Estela March 21, 2016

Binocular Use 101.5

Earlier this month, I presented some of the basic features of binoculars and what you should know about the numbers relating to magnification and objective lens size. I hinted at some basic techniques for using binoculars and in this edition of the Fiddleback Forge blog some of the more advance skills will be presented. If you haven’t gone out and purchased a set of binos by now, what are you waiting for? Grab and try these tactics out next time you venture afield.  Don’t forget your KE Bushie before you head out the door.

Minimize Signature

Binoculars allow you to see great distances rather than traveling to them to look up close. They also allow you to keep a subject at a distance and gaze into their world. Just don’t gaze at the wrong subject for too long or you’ll be arrested for stalking or invasion of privacy. When we use binoculars, we prevent the subject’s awareness of us from triggering a flight reaction. While we have all likely heard, “I can almost feel someone watching me”, the reality is, no one can. With binoculars even the sensation of being watched is minimized but there are steps you can take to minimize it even more. If we think about what a human being looks like when they are looking through binoculars, they have a particular structure or frame that is easily recognizable. We identify the outline of the body holding binoculars at eye level. Short of going into explaining all the “S’s” of camouflage (spacing, surface, sudden movt, etc. etc), we recognize the silhouette and shape of the body when using optics. It’s something we’ve seen before, we remember it and we know we’re being watched. Animals, if they’re the trophy type, likely have seen this too.

My good friend Big John describes using binoculars in an unorthodox way when he worked as a narcotics detective for the NYPD. Rather than hiding behind a tree and peering around it, he would stand directly in front of it while watching drug deals go down. At night, his clothing (navy blue)would blend in and under the shadows of the tree, his silhouette and shape was masked. Hiding in darkness (even during the day when you can find shade) where the exterior environment is brighter than your location, makes it harder to identify your location. My friend Bill wears an entirely black outfit hiding inside his hunting blind and utilizes this tactic. His nickname is “Lung Cutter” if that gives you an idea of how effective he is and how effective this strategy is. Let darkness and concealment hide your silhouette and shape.


Light Reflection on Objective lens

Glass can reflect a lot of light. Real glass signal mirrors cast a farther beam of reflected sunlight than plastic and the light reflecting off of a car windshield can be seen extremely far in daylight and moonlight at night. Some military firearms scopes have “kill flashes” that screw into the objective lense of the optic to cut down on flash to prevent the enemy from spotting them. Well, for the civilian, we may not have binoculars equipped with fancy “kill flash” devices but we can improvise when looking in the direction of the sun. Granted, quality binoculars will have multi-coated lenses designed to minimize reflection but why not take as much precaution as necessary to ensure success not being discovered?

If you’re out in the open and can’t use your optics from a shaded position, you can use a magazine, a small sheet of birch bark or anything flexible to create a sunshade. Just drape the flexible material over the body of the binoculars and use it like a visor in a car. It should not prevent light from coming in at an angle to reflect off the lens. Your binoculars may look “jacked up” but the result is less reflected light and reduced signature.


Scanning Technique

Look up from your computer screen across the room where you are. Take a mental note of what you’re looking at. Think of laying a grid over this image that is broken down into 4 quadrants. This is the same strategy you’ll apply when trying to locate a moving subject over a large area. When you’re using a pair of binoculars in a given environment, zoom all the way out and stare at the center of your bigger picture where the horizontal and vertical axes intersect. Stare at this point and let your peripheral vision (better suited for picking up movement) find the movement your direct focus would not normally see. When you see movement, you can use the zoom of your binoculars to focus in on this movement to verify if it is your subject. If it is not, you return to the intersection of the axes, zoom out and use your peripheral vision again.

For fixed objects, such as a ranger station, a trailhead or lean-to, you will use the 4 quadrants again. I’ve seen plenty of people scan back and forth left to right and right to left then up and down and down and up with no rhyme or reason. They scan aimlessly and hope they’ll land on what they’re looking for. Well, hope is not a plan. When looking for a fixed object, break your field of vision into quadrants and examine them individually. Come up with a scanning pattern that makes sense. If two people are scanning an area in a group effort, establish a “halfway” point to not cross over and maximize the space covered. If the search area is smaller and there are multiple people, sketch it on paper or snap a photo on your phone and discuss overarching search patterns to follow. No matter what you do, do it logically and stick to your plan. Don’t look like a bobble head looking left, right, up, down and over and over.

One thing I need to stress here even though this is an article about using binoculars is “glassing” with your rifle optic while hunting. If you accidentally sweep someone with your crosshairs, you break a cardinal rule of firearms safety. Use your binoculars instead and don’t become a headline or obituary for pointing a firearm at the wrong person.


At this point, you must be wondering, “Why should I read about cleaning my binoculars? I’ll just use my t-shirt if the lens gets dirty.” If you’ve been using a cotton t-shirt to clean your binos, it may already be too late and you may have caused some damage whether you know it or not. Cotton fabric from your t-shirt can pick up very fine particles that can scratch your lens. Generally, binoculars come with a microfiber cloth or bag for cleaning purposes. Don’t throw it away. THIS is your cleaning cloth; not your T-shirt, tuck it back in. Keep your microfiber close and if you really need to, spray a little water on the lens (if your binos are waterproof) or blow the dirt out of the objective lens if it accumulates there after falling in the mud. A good Lens Pen works wonders too and weighs next to nothing. Compressed air, purchased in computer stores, works best but if you have to blow dust or dirt off a lens, grab an extra straw stirrer for your coffee. You can even use a tent pole or part of a rifle cleaning rod.  You can use this to concentrate your breath out of the end. Just make sure to keep it far enough away to prevent your drool from dripping or shooting on the lens.

Go Explore

I don’t know about you, but there was always that kid growing up who walked around with binoculars around his neck thinking he was an explorer. I saw this kid everyday, it doesn’t matter if it was in the mirror, and I know he looked like a dork. Well, as an adult, you can run the risk of looking dorky again but with a good pair of binoculars, you have an advantage over the naked eye. These binoculars skills are part of a larger set of fieldcraft skills. Make yourself stronger through knowledge, preparation and skill. I challenge all of you to see the world like that binocular boy I just mentioned. Try observing something you’ve only experienced without optics for the first time with binoculars. Explore the world the way a kid would with your tools (and again don’t forget that Fiddleback KE Bushie) and see what you’ve been missing.

Kevin Estela
Kevin Estela


Kevin Estela is a Survival Instructor at Estela Wilderness Education. Kevin is a frequent contributing writer for publications such as RECOIL, Athlon Outdoors, and Beckett Media. He is a Sayoc Kali Associate Instructor Level 5, as well as a BJJ Purple Belt.

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