I have been pushing for a decent pair of binoculars for some time, and finally struck lucky with a pair of heavily discounted Minox 8x43s at the Game Fair at Scone. Not being much of an optics buff, I had never heard of Minox, but these binoculars are absolutely exceptional. The salesman played a neat trick by allowing me to compare a Zeiss pair with a Minox pair, and just when I thought I had chosen between them, he produced a second Minox pair which were the best of the three by a long shot. There was no contest, and given that I was in “compare” mode, I couldn’t very well go back to the lesser binoculars which had seemed so bright and perfect a few moments before, but which now seemed like a child’s toy.
Swarowski always get the best write-ups, but something about those binoculars has never felt just perfect in the hand. Aside from anything, I would also suggest that a good percentage of the price is in the name. As in common with hill boots, they can only cost so much to make and the final difference in RRP is just branding and kudos.
To try them out, I headed up the hill to spy on some roe deer on Saturday. The crystalline clarity was immediately telling by comparison to my old Hawke pair, which I loved dearly but which were no longer pulling their weight. The lucid brilliance of the view was extraordinary, and I had no trouble picking up a young roe buck in the bracken at four hundred yards. Although the rifle was on my shoulder, I still had the best part of one and a half deer in the freezer, and I resolved to watch rather than participate.
As I lay down in the rushes, I noticed that I had intruded on his fitful pursuit of a doe, and the two of them ran tirelessly round in a small circle of sitka spruce trees and rank heather, he always holding his head forward and close to her rump. This was clearly one of the mythical roe rings in formation, and two hours later I stood on the spot and noted the trampled loop of grass left by the passing red shapes. How inexplicable that mark would have been to someone who stumbled upon it without having seen the sculptors or the context.
For a few minutes, the buck and doe vanished together behind a stack of granite, and in their absence I took the opportunity to get much closer. Sliding down through the long grass, I wriggled on until I was a hundred yards away from where I had first seen him.
As I moved, he came back from behind the granite, alone this time, and I watched him browsing around for half an hour. The rain came on a little, and I pulled my coat over my shoulders and shielded the binoculars with the brim of my bonnet. The dog stretched out behind me with a groan in the shelter of a sprawling bog myrtle plant, all set about with glowing asphodel. I looked away at a screeching jay, then turned back to see a much larger buck standing proudly up on some higher ground. He had materialised as if from nowhere and had clearly noticed the younger boy. With solemn pomp, he began to strut down to where this juvenile intruder was standing. The younger buck was very aware of the older, and he watched him warily at a distance of perhaps one hundred yards.
The old buck walked with a stiff-legged, grandiose swagger, and he paused after a few paces to thrash an old, rank heather plant with his antlers. He seemed to be rubbing his face as much as he was deliberately fraying, but he really went for it and it looked like he was trying to uproot the plant altogether. The rain came on heavier and the cloud started to close in as sprigs of myrtle and moss flew over his fevered brow.
At this display of ferocity, the younger buck lost his nerve and ran straight towards me, stopping when he was thirty yards away and looking back edgily. He had a very dark line down the back of his neck, and was made to look very small by comparison to the boss. Even despite his obvious youth, he had still been trying to get his way with the doe, but his slim, straight spikes looked decidedly insubstantial against the great dripping black pearls of the older. He had effectively been caught red handed, and he turned back with an apologetic gesture, handing back control of the arena without contest.
As the rain got heavier, the young buck curled up and lay down in the grass like a dog, and the older boy bounced off keenly as some new message was blown up on the wind. Every nuance and gesture had been brought into stunning clarity by the new binoculars, and after the actors had departed, I stood quietly in the cloud while the woodpigeons continued to boo and wheeze in the forest nearby. Although the rain had soaked my trousers, I found that I was rather enjoying the feeling of total immersion in the smirr. After half an hour, I turned and began the walk home again, splashing through the new puddles and marvelling at how hard the mud still was beneath the slopping water. It will take some time to soak in, and in the meantime all this soft, gentle rain is running off the bogs as if they were concrete.