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The need for clarity

A predawn stalk in damp, murky conditions is the ultimate test of your equipment — particularly the optics. ZEISS’s latest riflescope and binoculars get top marks, finds Chris Dalton

hunting deer

The ZEISS LRP S3 425-50 scope gives Chris Dalton a remarkable view of his quarry

Lessons are often best learned the hard way, something my father never tired of telling me. I think I may be morphing into him because I frequently hear myself offering the same advice to my own, now grown-up, children and my grandchildren.

Many years ago, having bought a rifle and paired it with a budget scope, I found myself in a tower in deepest West Sussex, having paid a not inconsiderable sum to be there, waiting for what would be my first fallow buck. Said buck duly obliged, emerging out of the trees in the half-light as fallow are prone to do. I eased the rifle to my shoulder for what should have been an easy shot, only to be confronted by blackness.

What followed was some serious head bobbing; I could look over the scope and see him with my naked eye but could not make out a thing through the scope. The lucky fallow continued to browse, totally unaware of the drama being played out in the shed on legs above him. He did finally run off at the none-too-subtle tirade of expletives that came from the heavens.

Lesson well and truly learned, I now only ever use high-quality optics in both scope and binoculars. Good lenses are an essential, particularly so in commercial forestry blocks when I am working on my winter doe and hind cull. Deer in this environment are often quite hard-pressed, especially on new replant and in forest creation schemes and — while I am against the general demonisation of deer that seems to be fashionable in many quarters just now — I do have a responsibility to owners to monitor and control deer numbers in these areas carefully.

With Zosia on alert, Chris needs to move even more carefully, glassing every few steps


An example of this is in Argyll, where two commercial forests I look after are in the early stages of crop rotation, with staged felling of selected coups and an immediate replant. Roe, red and sika are present, with significantly more reds than the others. Red-sika hybridisation is very advanced across much of Argyll, and this is also the case here. The ground is surrounded by open hill and so we have deer moving from the open ground at night and coming into the vulnerable areas of crop along with the residents sneaking out of the mature trees at last light to feed when they are unseen and rarely disturbed. The mature trees in both blocks are pretty much impenetrable, so it’s a haven during the day. The only way to control numbers is to get into the block early, before the night-time revellers have gone to bed, or sit out and try to catch them as they emerge just in darkness. (Read more on sika deer here.)

This methodology has proved to be quite effective, but you need good optics. If you can’t see the deer, you can’t shoot them. It’s all well and good having a thermal spotter, but you need to identify the deer through the binoculars to select the correct animal to cull and then clearly be able to see it through the riflescope. As I write, we are in the final few weeks of the season and at this late stage I prefer not to take the mature females; the sika and reds will be carrying well-developed young and so I will select calves, yearlings or old hinds, hence the need for clarity from the optics.

I have recently been testing ZEISS’s compact and lightweight SFL 8×30 binoculars, along with its LRP S3 425-50 riflescope. This German manufacturer needs no introduction; it has a reputation for producing high-end optics and I was looking forward to finding out how these latest models delivered in the field.

The ground lies slightly less than three hours’ drive from Garryloop and so I set off at daft o’clock as I wanted to be there for around 6.30am, allowing me time to get sorted and in position well before first light. Conditions were horrendous as an Atlantic storm hammered western Scotland, and my journey very nearly ended after a few miles when I approached, rather too quickly, a huge oak that had blown across the road. A backtrack and a detour were required. Fortunately, the rest of the journey went well, and I arrived in good time, grabbed a coffee at the local garage and enjoyed that while kitting up at the forest gate.

loading ammunition

Chris loads his chosen ammunition, Sellier & Bellot Blue 120-gr in 6.5 Creedmoor

The rain had eased a little, but I still decided my best plan in these conditions was to concentrate on the small glens and the forest track. Here, there would be shelter from the worst of the weather and I felt it would offer me the best chance of success. We would soon find out.

It wasn’t long before Zosia went into high-alert mode. I had been moving slowly anyway but now held back even more, constantly pausing to peer through the binoculars as each new bit of the track came into view. Even in this gloom, I was amazed at the clarity and light-gathering ability of these ergonomic binoculars.

Ahead was a sika hind, around 120 yards away, staring intently back in my direction. The wind was in my favour, so I doubted she could hear or see me, but that sixth sense deer have was evidently working. I froze, hissed at Zosia to sit, and we remained like that for what seemed an age but was no more than a few minutes. The hind took a half-pace forward and put her head down to feed again. Good.

I eased the rifle from my shoulder and rested it on my quad sticks while examining her through the binoculars; being able to operate them with one hand is a real bonus, allowing me to stabilise the rifle with the other. As I waited, a calf appeared behind the hind. Moving behind the rifle, I had a flashback to that fallow buck many moons ago. It was still quite dark and the lens would be spattered with raindrops — would I see well enough? I need not have worried. The image was crystal clear. ZEISS’s claim that the specially coated lenses offer a clear view in all conditions was confirmed.

looking through rifle scope

Despite the challenging environment, the specially coated ZEISS lenses produce an image that is clear and sharp


I eased the crosshairs down the crease behind her foreleg and she fell instantly to my shot. As I waited to move forward, I could not help but be mightily impressed with the ZEISS scope and binoculars. These murky and damp conditions, coupled with semi-darkness, would test any optics but the clarity delivered from both was exceptional.

I moved forward to inspect my sika. She looked in good condition despite being surprisingly small, but it made for an easy lift on to the lateral branch of a rowan for a suspended gralloch. My subsequent examination confirmed that, despite her stature, she was indeed in rude health and is destined for the Garryloop table.

It was still early. I continued towards a deep basin that is the most recently replanted area of the forest. Here, it meets the march fence over which is open hill and I knew deer could be moving into the young trees. I didn’t get that far. As I neared a dip in the track, where it follows the natural contour of a stream, Zosia went back into high-alert mode and as I peered over the bank down below me there was a small group of reds — among them were two calves. I selected the smaller of the two and shortly after it also lay quite still among the heather.

Things had indeed improved, and the lessons learned from the fallow all those years ago are certainly paying off now.

using binoculars for stalking

The compact and lightweight ZEISS SFL 8.30 binoculars allow Chris to identify the deer an select the right cull animal

Chris’s Kit Bag

  • Binoculars: ZEISS SFL 8×30 (
  • Scope: ZEISS LRP S3 425-50 ZF-MOAi (
  • Rifle: Tikka Anniversary Edition in 6.5 Creedmoor (
  • Ammo: Sellier & Bellot Blue 120-gr 6.5 Creedmoor (
  • Clothing: Deerhunter Avanti smock (
  • Boots: Brandecosse Brontolare 11in high lace-up (

In partnership with ZEISS

In the world of long-range shooting, the capabilities and performance of the riflescope are tested at the extreme — many lack the sufficient elevation travel. With a massive total elevation travel of up to 46.5 MRAD or 160 MOA, the ZEISS LRP S3 is more capable than your ammunition. This, along with the daylight-visible illuminated reticle and advanced optics that you would expect from ZEISS, the LRP S3 offers maximum precision for great achievements.