Almost every avid hunter I know has kicked around the idea of spending several hundred dollars—or even $1,000 or more—on top-notch binoculars. In trying to make this decision, they ponder the same questions: Is so-called "great glass" worth the price? What models are good values? What magnification is best for my hunting style, and should I get compact or full-sized binos?
Rather than skirt these questions with an overly simplified bit of advice like, "Buy the best optics you can afford," I'll be more specific and, hopefully, more helpful.
Like many of you, the majority of my hunting is for white-tailed deer and turkeys in areas other than the West. Because my scouting and hunting is done in and around woodlots, I prefer 8X magnification. Sure, 10X models provide more detail at long range, but they're also much more difficult to hold steady. In fact, I'd opt for 7X before I'd buy 10X. Both 7X and 8X binos provide a wider field-of-view than 10X binos.
Because deer are most active during low-light conditions, I prefer the light-gathering benefits of full-sized binoculars to compacts. By full-sized I mean those with objective lenses (the big end) measuring at least 30mm in diameter. As you shop, look for sizes such as 8X30mm, 8X32mm, 8X40mm and 8X42mm. Models with 40mm or 42mm objective lenses gather the most light, but are heavier than 30mm or 32mm models. When worn with a shoulder harness, binoculars weighing 15-25 ounces—most 8X30mm and 8X32mm binos fall into this range—aren't a burden to carry. Some 8X42mm optics, however, weigh 30 ounces or more and might be too heavy for you to comfortably tote all day in the field.
I believe 8X32mm models are a smart compromise. They do a good job in low light and are light enough that I've never left them behind, even when packing in a treestand and other heavy gear.
Do you need to spend $1,000 or more to get great glass? No, but in my opinion you need to avoid $100-$300 binos to get ones that won't give you a headache after only 30 minutes of glassing. For about $400, you can buy the very good 8X32mm Steiner Merlin, which is durable, guaranteed against fogging or leaking and in my field tests provided sharp, bright images in a variety of lighting conditions.
For hunters wanting fabulous optics without paying the highest price, look at Nikon's Premier LX series. You can buy the 8X32mm model for about $700, and their optical clarity is equal to that of binoculars costing hundreds more. This past summer I used these water-, fog- and shock-proof binos to scout for big bucks entering alfalfa fields after sunset and was able to count antler points from more than 400 yards.