Hunting and Optics: should I feel guilty for where I shop?

It cannot have escaped your attention that, over the past few weeks, some optics companies (those who produce binoculars, scopes and cameras) have received a large amount of criticism due to their ties to the hunting industry. Indeed, following the publication of their first report in 2016, Ethical Consumer has published a second report highlighting the links between numerous optics companies and the sport. This latest report prompting a significant backlash on social media, and even inspiring criticism of conservation organisations which hold promotional ties to said companies. Ethical Consumer has since launched a campaign calling on optics manufacturers to increase their transparency regarding their association with hunting, and it is clear from the reactions of many, that this is not an issue that looks set to vanish anytime soon. Something particularly apparent from the polarised discussions I have held with friends.

Well, the recent furore over this issue has set me to thinking. Of the manufacturers listed by EC as supportive of hunting, how many of these have I done business with? And do I, as a result of these transactions, have blood on my hands, so to speak. I collected the various bits of kit I have lying around my partner’s house in order to find out…


To the left, you will see pictured a Swarovski scope disguised within a Kite Optics case, a pair of Opticron binoculars, a Nikon camera and two Sigma lenses. Items also owned (but not included here) are two Bushnell Trailcams and another camera made by Canon.

Well, based on the EC report, the items I own are largely associated with hunting. Swarovski and Nikon are listed as some of the worst offenders, with ties and promotional material linked to many forms ranging from trophy hunting to traditional, rough shoots. Opticron and Canon fare better, with no obvious ties to the practice; while Bushnell – unsurprisingly for a company that creates items primarily for hunting – is another bad egg. I could not find much information for cheaper brands such as Sigma and Kite, though I assume they also fall into the marginally more ethical category.

So, I, personally, possess a lot of gear from the companies mentioned in the Ethical Consumer report. Some of which – the scope, in particular – I treasure dearly, due to having saved for an awfully long time to purchase it. Does my ownership of these items mean that I am guilty of breaching animal rights, permitting environmental destruction and supporting myriad unsavoury practices? Well, no, not really. For one simple reason: I believe that tools cannot be blamed for the actions of their owners, and that producers are not necessarily to blame for the actions of their customers.

While many optics companies supply hunters with a steady stream of equipment, they also provide to birders, citizen scientists, ecologists, conservationists, rangers, wardens and academics. All of whom do a mighty fine job at highlighting the value of the natural world, as well as actively protecting and studying it. Binoculars and scopes – with some of the best produced by pro-hunting organisations such as Swarovski and Leica – are key to the observation and monitoring of wildlife, cameras document the wonders of nature, enthusing others and recording vital data, and miscellaneous items such as night scopes and trail cams  have been key to unravelling some of the greatest mysteries of the wild world around us. To me, it is not the brand that matters. It is the intent with which items are used and the personal decisions of those who wield them. I, for example, use all of the equipment shown above to study and, above all else, enjoy nature. As I am sure most others in my field do too.

The quality of the optics from many of the manufacturers condemned in the EC report are beyond reproach, despite their ties to hunting, and many make useful assets when it comes to the observation and study of wildlife. Not to say those listed as ethical do not – I, for example, love my Opticron bins. While it may be true, as Chris Packham states, that naturalists need not compromise on quality when selecting ethical optics – all companies have their merits – I do not feel that the majority of us, those who bare no ill-will towards the natural world nor its wildlife yet choose to use items linked, however remotely, to hunting should be chastised for it. This is similarly true for organisations such as the RSPB who use such equipment to amazing effect in defence of nature and openly state their neutrality to hunting practices which do not impact upon the conservation status of our wildlife. A view which very much mirrors my own.

On a side note, do we not have more important battles to fight? All of us, whether we pride ourselves on leading an ethical lifestyle or not, are guilty of environmental damage to some extent. We eat meat and arable products directly linked to the degradation of vulnerable ecosystems, we depend (far too heavily) on plastics and produce untold levels of carbon emissions while simply going about our daily lives. All of this, coupled with smaller, daily occurrences, contribute to a far greater level of destruction than our use of optics and cameras linked to companies such as Nikon and Swaro. If you do none of the above, I apologise; though for the majority who do, I do not see how who can pass judgement upon others? While certain forms are indeed, appalling and some present a serious threat to the very existence of certain species, hunting, by large, is far from the most pressing environmental issue. And, as such, I cannot bring myself to condemn optics companies for their ties to the hobby. There is just too much to focus on elsewhere.

I should add, however, that my view would likely change should I see optics companies actively promoting the forms which I find most harmful. It is possible that, upon the publication of new evidence surrounding issues such as trophy hunting, for example, I will have to revaluate.

Do I feel guilty for my use of equipment produced by companies listed as pro-hunting? No, and nor should you – providing, of course, you use them for the correct reasons. Will I be giving up these items in favour of more ethical ones? Not likely, they are far too expensive to be disregarded upon a whim. Has the Ethical Consumer report caused me to think harder about my choices? Yes, it has.

While I disagree with many commentators on the significance of the issue, I also agree fundamentally with EC in that companies should be transparent. Some already are (Bushnell springs to mind here) but it cannot hurt for others to follow their example and provide information that allows potential customers to make up their own minds based upon their own set of beliefs. I also agree, based on my own view of hunting, that endangered or threatened species should not be used in promotional material for hunting equipment. This is grievously irresponsible and, as a customer of some of the companies who do such, I will write to them to express my concerns. I will not, however, be filling a skip with my optics just yet.

Ultimately, your decision on where to shop is down to you. Some people abhor hunting in all forms, and that is perfectly acceptable. While I take a different view – despite having no interest in the practice myself – I commend Ethical Consumer for generating the debate necessary to inform people as to their choices. Whatever individuals choose to do – shop elsewhere or stay with their current provider – I do not, however, believe that those choosing to use the same equipment deployed elsewhere to harm should feel any sense of guilt for harnessing it for good. For study, personal enjoyment, enforcement, necessary management or science.

Will you be switching or staying? I’d be very interested to find out in the comments below. No judgements will be passed here.

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James Common
James is a nature writer, conservationist, blogger and birder; holding an MSc in Wildlife Management and working previously in the fields of ecology and practical conservation. He maintains a popular natural history blog at, writes regularly for Northumberland Wildlife Trust and, as its managing director, runs New Nature - the youth nature magazine.

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