At the Texas Trophy Hunters Extravaganza last summer an older gentleman stopped by my booth to look at my Scope Clamps. He told me he needed something to help him hold his binocular steady while hunting. If you looked, you could notice a bit of a tremor in his hands that sometimes just comes with age. We talked abut the Clamps for awhile, when I asked what size binocular he had. “Oh, it’s a 12x50 – brings ‘em in close.” I reached down and handed him an 8x42 and asked him to take a look. “Man! These don’t shake at all!” He bought the binos, and a Scope Clamp with a bino adapter for the 12x50’s.
Some of you may remember my First Law of Optics – There is No Free Lunch. What this gentleman gained in magnification was destroyed by that same magnification. While the object (deer) appeared bigger, he couldn’t make it out clearly because of the magnified body shake – and if you are alive, you have body shake. The 8x42 allowed him to see what he looked at without his natural tremors, albeit relatively strong tremors, wiping out the benefits of reasonable magnification. This is why most marine binos are 6x and lower. Wave action on the boat makes using high power binos difficult.
My first spotting scope was of standard size for the early ‘80s – a 12x-36x. I happily used that scope for many years, using it out to around 3 miles while elk hunting (I have witnesses). When I became an optics dealer, my first acquisition was a 15x-45x scope, and I was even happier. In the last 5 or so years, the latest rage in scopes is 20x-60x with an 80mm objective lens. These scopes are dynamite for judging trophy quality from afar, often saving hours of laborious stalking on animals that don’t quite make the cut when viewed from shooting range, but let your guide carry it for you. These scopes are big and heavy (No Free Lunch). On trophy hunts, they can make all the difference, but for general use, quite often a 15x-45x is a more suitable choice.
A 15-45x60 (or even 20-60x60) scope will be several inches shorter and about half the weight of a 20-60x80 scope, making it much easier to tote around, especially at elevation or all day long. Here’s the real benefit to the smaller scope – often, it is difficult to use more than 40x-50x in the field. Mirage and wind vibration (kinda like body shake) can destroy the benefits of the higher magnifications, negating their use, so you end up cranking it down to 40x or so, but carrying around all that extra size and weight. If mirage isn’t a problem and you utilize a solid mounting system, such as a stout tripod or sandbags, the 20-60x80’s are wonderful for getting the best view (if your guide doesn’t complain too much about carrying it for you).
User Tip #1: Don’t touch your spotting scope when viewing through it. If you’re touching it, you’re transmitting that ever-present body shake to it and that will make it hard to use – especially at higher magnifications. “But I have to focus!” Yes, use what I call the Bump-N-Go method: get your focus close to correct, then just nudge the focus knob with your finger and let go, then bump it again, and again until it’s right.
User Tip #2: Always locate your target on the lowest magnification, lock down your tripod, then zoom in. You’ll get on target a whole lot faster.
User Tip #3: Most of the quality 20-60x80 scopes offer a fixed 25x or 30x eyepiece that will replace the 20x-60x unit. If you are glassing less than 1000-1500 yards or so, they have plenty of magnification, yet have a larger field of view and generally provide a sharper image.
This all gets back to using the proper tool for the job. For general big game hunting, I recommend an 8x42 or 10x42 binocular, a 3-9x40 or 3.5-10x50 riflescope, and a 15-45x60 spotter. For specialty hunts, by all means use the proper tools there, too. For prairie dogging, a 20x and up riflescope is quite at home, but put a 1-4x scope on your buffalo gun. If you are glassing all day for Coues deer, sheep, goats, bears, etc, a 15x bino, mounted on a tripod, can be a wonderful tool, but a compact 7x bino might be called on for a timber bow hunt. As mentioned earlier, glassing a trophy on the next mountain might call for a 20-60x80 spotter, but at a 100 or 200 yard shooting range, an economical fixed 20x spotter might just be the ticket.