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You are here: Home > Published Articles > Selecting a Spotting Scope II

Last issue, we talked about spotting scopes, their usefulness, and size considerations.  Let’s carry on from there…


Price is always a concern with optics, as it should be, and with spotting scopes, we get to dodge a few bullets without even trying.  Unlike riflescopes, there are no reticles or their adjustment mechanisms to build, nor do spotting scopes have to absorb recoil and live through it.  And unlike binoculars, there aren’t two barrels, and they don’t have to be hinged perfectly so they point to the same place and focused precisely together.  In both cases, there is a significant cost savings in the manufacturing process.  This gets us through the door into the “good stuff” category for much less than binoculars or riflescopes. 


Your optics can never be “too good”, but how good is good enough?  If you’re an avid birder and you’ve traveled to the Texas Hill Country from the East to see a Vermillion Flycatcher in all its vermillion grandeur, color quality and edge-to-edge clarity are very important.  If, however, you’re sitting next to me and we’re trying to tell bull elk from cows at three miles, exact color rendition isn’t critical and a surprisingly affordable scope can distinguish antlers at an amazing distance.  To quantify this, I have a 15-45x60 scope I sell for about $150.  To demonstrate its ability, I rely on an old scope peddler’s technique:  when I’m at a hunting show like our annual convention, I tape my business card to a wall or post 50-70 yards from my booth.  Now, if you can read my name on the card at that distance, could you tell if a buck is an 8 or 10 pointer at 400 yards (the type on my business card is 1/8th of an inch tall)?  The best spotting scope around?  No chance.  A darned handy hunting tool?  You Bet!


I have several friends in the DSC that have top notch German spotting scopes, but have purchased this scope from me as a “truck scope”.  They figure “if it falls out of the truck or gets stolen, oh, well, but if that happens to my Jaegerspyer, I’m crushed!”


Of course, the more you spend, the better your tool, but outstanding spotting scopes are well within the budget of almost any hunter.


Finally, how are you going to support that scope – you certainly can’t handhold it?  The standard answer has always been a camera tripod.  Other methods include bolting your scope to a rifle stock, window mounts, there is a device that straps to a tree that functions much like your arm from the shoulder out, and my little gem – the Scope Clamp (please pardon the biased plug, but I think it’s the best).  They all have their places and all have good and bad points.  And you don’t have to have just one.  The important thing is that it holds your scope steady so you can actually see through it. 


A few more practical thoughts on spotting scopes:


Always locate your target using the lowest power.  You’ll find it much quicker and easier.  Then zoom in to the desired magnification.


Wind and mirage are a spotting scope’s enemies.  A really solid mount is needed to hold any spotting scope steady on a windy day.  Just the wind on the body of the scope can cause image-robbing vibration.  Mirage can occur whenever you are viewing just above the land (not much of a problem across canyons and such, but a real booger in South Texas).  If wind or mirage is ruining your view, reduce the magnification on the scope.  This will help.  Generally, magnification much above 45x is hard to utilize in most hunting situations.  Consequently, I don’t often use 20-60x scopes with the extra “baggage” involved.  “Baggage” being weight and size.  However, if you’re trying to make a long shot, reading the mirage in the scope can help determine wind drift and help you place the shot correctly.


If you’re inclined to purchase a top end scope ($1,000 on up), they are truly impressive.  Properly cared for, they will give you outstanding service for the rest of your life.  The more affordable scopes ($150 to $1,000) will give you a whole new look on life while providing very acceptable image quality.  Think of it this way – Star Wars is awesome in an IMAX theater, but it’s still amazing on a regular theater screen.


If you’re a bit of a star-gazer, learn the locations of Jupiter, Saturn and a few star clusters before hunting season.  I’ve delighted many a young hunter, and a few old ones too, by showing them our moon up close, 4 moons of Jupiter, or the rings of Saturn through nothing more than a 12-36x scope, and a high end 20-60x is even better.  Just think what Galileo could have done with one of these numbers!


Spotting scopes certainly aren’t on the “mandatory gear” list, but they are a whole bunch of fun and can be very easy on the pocketbook.  Check them out.