Selecting Binoculars

Binoculars are the most important tool available for garnering extra pleasure from just about any outdoor experience. Selecting a proper binocular is important but with the wide variety of choices these days, it can be a daunting and confusing task. With dozens of brands and models, prices that range from under $50 to almost $3,000, different shapes and sizes, where do you begin?

As I will soon be in the market for a new pair of binoculars, I checked the Cornell University All About Birds website ( for some advice. 

With so many excellent choices today, Cornell’s first recommendation was to decide on a price range. In general, the more you pay, the better the product will be. However, a binocular made by Swarovski or Zeiss just may not be in the budget. That doesn’t mean you can’t find a quality set of binoculars for under $500 or even under $300. But only you can decide how much you can afford.

Cornell’s next recommendation was to select the magnification. But first, a little education on what the numbers, such as, 7x32, 8x42 or 10x50 really mean.  The smaller number of the pair is the magnification or power. My current binoculars are a 12x42 meaning they are 12 power, which is more magnification than is generally recommended. More magnification does bring the object closer but the trade-offs include: a narrower field of view, making it harder to find your target, a slightly darker image in low light and increased perceived handshake. Eight power is the most commonly recommended magnification for birding use.

The second, larger number is the diameter of the objective lens. The bigger the number, the more light it gathers, improving performance at dawn and dusk. However, there are tradeoffs here as well. The bigger the objective end, the more expensive, heavier and bulky the binocular. Conversely, going small, such as with pocket-sized 7x21 binoculars, can make them difficult to use in low light. The majority of binoculars recommended for extended use have a 40-42mm objective lens.

Cornell’s third recommendation was to test a lot of different models in your price range. With so many choices, you might as well find one that really fits your hands and face. Other features to look for will include: High Definition or Low Dispersion glass (multicoated glass that dramatically improves performance) eyecups, weather proofing, shock protection, warranty and weight.

Cornell recommended that you pay close attention to the color, clarity and brightness of the image, testing binoculars in different light conditions inside the store. Look at colorful objects and determine how true the colors are. See if you can discern detail in backlit subjects and how crisp or sharp the lenses are. This step can be as technical as you want to make it, but be sure that you compare each binocular in the same way.

If you take the time to carefully choose your next pair of binoculars, it is very likely to be a purchase that will add immeasurably to every subsequent outdoor experience.

Wildlife License Plates

Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.

No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.

Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.

Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program.

I think it is time we let the Legislature know that Idahoan support wildlife funding and that we would like to see these generic plates come to fruition.

"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson

That is embarrassing, but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.

Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.

Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.

Readers Write:

"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman

"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.

To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version 


Copies are also available at:

Post Register

Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)

Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls

Harriman State Park, Island Park

Museum of Idaho

Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming

Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah

Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho