Is criticism of optics suppliers justified?

Over the last few days I have noticed an increased focus on Optics suppliers and their links to the sporting industry. Murmurings of distaste regarding their role in supplying shooters with the gear necessary to spot, track and ultimately, kill wildlife. The issue has been touched upon by both Mark Avery and Chris Packham and, as such, is sure to linger on social media for a while but is one that puzzles me somewhat. If you oppose shooting, should you avoid organisations that support the practice, however indirectly? Perhaps – it is after all down to personal choice but despite this, I for one, as someone who prefers to observe wildlife alive as opposed to dead, will not be avoiding such brands.

Look in the bag pack of any naturalist, birder or conservationist you will almost always find a pair of binoculars, a scope or a camera. Some may even possess remote trail cams or thermal technology. These, the tools of our trade, make the study, observation and enjoyment of wildlife much easier. Looking at the equipment around myself at present; I see a Swarovski spotting scope, a Nikon camera and a Bushnell Trailcam. All brands irrefutable linked to the sporting industry but all brands that allow me to indulge my passion for natural history. Something for which I am entirely grateful.

The ties of many of these suppliers to shooting interests are their for all to see and they make no secret of them. Swarovski, Kowa and Nikon supply spotting scopes and binoculars to hunters to find and identify their quarry but are also some of the leading suppliers of equipment to birdwatchers. Similarly, Bushnell are predominately a shooting supplier, their remote cameras used to scout out game trails and assess the suitability of areas for hunting. Likewise they also allow naturalists a unique insight into the lives of many species they would not usually encounter and are readily used in scientific ventures. Is it hypocritical of a nature lover to oppose hunting, or in my case, the criminal acts committed by a small portion of hunters, while using equipment designed predominately for said people? I don’t think so.

If you oppose the killing of any animal for ethically purposes and live a squeaky clean existence maybe you ought to avoid all of the aforementioned companies and can do so with a clean conscience. I however feel it is wrong to suggest that companies such as Swarovski, Kowa and Bushnell are working to the detriment of our wildlife. Hunting/Shooting if done right, is perfectly sustainable and, in some cases, beneficial to conservation and I see no problem with such groups catering to another sector. Shooting wildlife is undoubtedly more popular (worldwide) than enjoying it, a sad fact but a true one and I personally find it hard to scorn these organisations for catering to their biggest consumer base. They need to make money after all, such is the nature of business.

Personally I detest some of the knock on side effects of hunting, illegal persecution et al, but would never boycott a company that allows me to indulge my passion because they also sell to the opposing side. Glass may allow you to find wildlife but ultimately it is up to personal choice whether or not to commit crimes. Many hunters do not commit crimes and their optics are used for perfectly legal purposes, as are our own. Given that most companies undoubtedly cater to more hunters than naturalists, thus making more income from them, we should probably be grateful they choose to deal with us at all. Many however do more than just “deal with us” and do go an extra mile.

Many of the suppliers listed above do more than just supply us with top quality products. They sponsor our events, fund charitable ventures and occasionally donate money to conservation. This to me signifies a sense of neutrality that should be respected and as such I will not be returning/selling my fantastic yet duel-purpose equipment. Obviously it all comes down to personal choice (and your own sense of ethics) and people are free to buy from whom they like. Turning down top of the range equipment that could, ultimately, better your enjoyment of nature, based on a vague tie to another industry is however an alien notion to me. If we are worried about the impact our optics are having on nature we should probably take a look around our homes and assess the worldly implications of our other possessions. Smart phones? They’re incredibly bad. Plastic, that’s damaging. I bet most people have at least one palm oil product in their cupboard and that goes without mentioning micro-plastics in soap. Intensively farmed meat, aerosols, holiday tickets to Malta, all could be criticized. In my opinion, optics are the least of our worries if we are concerned about our purchases harming the environment.

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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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2 Responses

  1. Interesting thoughts James and I respect the position you’ve taken and that you’ve given it much consideration.

    I think it’s important that consumers know what they are buying, so I think it’s positive that information is passed around on social media. We can then look into it further, and make our own decisions on our purchases. I’m sure no sane person would suggest we sell current equipment, but we can make better informed choices in future. I don’t think hypocrisy comes into it. After all, the only person we have to answer to is ourself.

    Regarding looking around our homes – I think you’re right to suggest we should question other choices. We can look at the impact we have on wildlife and the environment and make choices we are comfortable with.

    I don’t have a problem with Mark Avery and Chris Packham alerting us to an optic supplier situation we may not be comfortable with. I’m against hunting for sport, regardless of how much trophy hunting and hunting equipment suppliers contribute to conservation.

  2. Rather than being offended by the optics companies supplying hunters, I can’t see how they could a) avoid it or b) want to; what I do find a little galling (if not down right hypocritical) is that many of these optics companies will sponsor hunts/hunters/hunting groups etc. while still promoting wildlife conservation. Personally I don’t think the two make easy bedfellows.

    Am I going to ditch my Swarovski gear? No, but next time I can afford (or want/need) an upgrade I might look elsewhere, at one of the companies (there are not many) who do not actively seek to support hunting.

    You are right that there probably are better fights out there but let’s be honest living ethically isn’t easy with so many things doing harm to so much, along with our own internal contradictions, so when we do make a choice based on morals/ethics it can only be a good thing.

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