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Last Updated: June 28, 2020
Spotting scopes are highly underrated by hunters that haven't actually used one while out in the field. If you've selected the right one and you know how to use it in the most efficient way, it can be of more importance than your binoculars, can be a supplement to your rifle scope, and it can work in tandem with a laser rangefinder.
If you're a long distance hunter, having a spotting scope can change the way you play the field. And, if it's your first time hunting the market for one, be prepared for a little push-back from some well-meaning but uninformed buddies. But here, we've got your back and we'll help you keep your commitments to the long range approach.
To completely up the ante on filling your deer tag this season, I'll give you all the info you need about how useful they can be in your hunt. You will never go without one again, and you might end up on bent knee.
Telescopes vs Spotting Scopes
Spotting scopes are technically mini telescopes. But, even with that being said, they are different in many ways.
Telescopes are made much larger and heavier for astronomical viewing or celestial viewing. The prism system inside a telescope is mirrored, back-wards facing, and usually upside down.
When looking at the stars, reflector telescopes actually produce an image that's upside-down - not very convenient for hunting.
A refracting telescope produces images that are backwards, from left to right, essentially a mirror image - again, inconvenient for hunting in my opinion.
Telescopes have interchangeable eyepiece systems, but they're limited to fixed eyepieces. They're also very fragile and high-maintenance when needing to transport them.
Spotting scopes are made to be more portable than telescopes and they're typically limited to terrestrial viewing, although there are some spotting scopes that do exceptionally well for celestial viewing.
The terrestrial viewing spotting scopes are optical tools that birders, nature enthusiasts, wildlife observers, sea men, and hunters incorporate in their outdoor activities.
The image-erecting prisms in spotting scopes is another key aspect that separates them from telescopes. The prisms ensure the images are forward facing from right to left and the right way up.
Spotting scopes are known for their zoom magnification which actually cuts down on the number of eyepieces needed for a spotter.
Spotting scopes are built to be element-proof by being waterproof and fog-proof, even to withstand submersion. They're rugged, more portable, and are more forgiving for transportation.
Spotting Scopes vs Binoculars
Many hunters tend to sit on one or the other side of the fence when it comes to spotting scopes and binoculars. But, I say, why not have the best of each world and have both?
Optimizing your hunt means maximizing your optical strengths. In other words, don't limit yourself if you can conveniently use them both.
Of course you'll need to evaluate your hunting style and where your hunting grounds are. Here are just a few generic scenarios:
What's Your Hunting Style?
"I'm mostly in a tree stand in the woods."
If you're in thick, wooded hunting grounds, you're probably going to want optics with low power - perhaps red dot sights and the such. But, in this case, you're obviously going to lean more towards the binocular side of the fence.
But, if you can see above tree canopies to other areas of the woods or open glades where you can spot for herds or other targets outside of your immediate range, you could still benefit from a spotting scope. The straight design will be more convenient to use when looking at angles below your level.
"I hike, climb, and trail a lot in mountainous terrain."
Although binoculars would be great optical instruments here, a spotting scope would be very appropriate too. It can reach extremely long distances to save you time, climbing, and trailing in areas that would prove to be fruitless, and instead it can help you to see the right direction.
If you're worried about weight and set up, consider a compact and lightweight spotting scope that can be used freehand quite comfortably. Or, you can purchase a spotting scope that is robustly-built and well-balanced. Make sure you have a very high quality, adjustable tripod to match.
"I hunt mostly in plain, open fields."
If you know where game is going to be during feeding time, this could be an excellent opportunity to get yourself set up with a full-size spotting scope and tripod.
A typical scenario would be to pull out the binoculars for their much wider field of view to scan for movement. Once you've found it, use the spotter to get more details like sex, antler size, and points, and to efficiently determine if a long shot can be made. Use your laser rangefinder to get a distance, then move to your rifle scope, make your turret adjustments to take the shot or get closer.
7 Reasons to Choose a Spotting Scope Over Binoculars
1. Zoom Power
Yes, binoculars have zoom power too, but show me a revered brand that makes zoom powered binoculars and you'll find yourself in the dark.
Binoculars are technically two individual, mini telescopes that are mechanically impossible to be on the exact same power range to maintain perfect synchronization because of moving parts that need to be in the exact same place.
Due to the most commonly-used linking bands that connects each zoom mechanism of both mini telescopes, there's always going to be some lag and slop to each side when using the zoom. So, they'll never really be on the same magnification level as you expect them to be.
Since a spotting scope is just a high-powered monocular, you're not going to have this issue. So, having the zoom power is a major advantage a spotting scope provides.
2. Long Distance Glassing
Spotting scope magnification levels start where binoculars leave off. Binoculars are typically somewhere within the 8-16X range, whereas spotters start at around 15X and can get up to as high as 100X and more for celestial-viewing spotting scopes.
This is what makes spotting scopes excellent tools for identification.
Yes, you might be able to see the herd from two miles away with your binoculars, but to be able to discern elk from those black blobs, never mind being able to count points, you'll need a spotter to do that.
On top of that, a spotting scope can give you that extra detail to single out the lucky pick of the herd, to spot the undetected predator approaching them (and risking your once-in-a-lifetime shot), and predicting potential escape routes your spooked target is going to leap towards.
Spotting scopes will be able to give you those details you need to determine if its a trophy, if you want to get closer, and if you've hit the bullseye on the range from hundreds of yards away.
3. When It's Not Safe to Approach
Let's face it, hunting, birding, and nature-observing wouldn't be as fun if wildlife just sat there as you approached it, and it's far from the reality.
Ground hogs can hear you coming from over 70 yards away, deer will disappear in graceful panic within seconds, and most importantly, a grizzly can be on top of you before you even have a chance to pull out the .375 H&H.
With a spotting scope, you can get that much closer without physically putting yourself in danger of injury or fatality and without giving yourself and your position away.
Just remember, that with such high magnification levels, you can be fooled into thinking you can take the shot when conditions aren't right or if you don't have the appropriate equipment.
Just as important as it is to have a quality spotting scope, you need to have a just as good or better rifle scope and the right rifle and caliber to do it effectively and ethically. Long distance hunting is no joke.
4. Quit Walking to Your Target
At the range, there's nothing more tedious, time-consuming, and inefficient when you're spotting for yourself or for another shooter when you have to walk to the target after every round has been popped off.
The only time you should be doing this, is when you're changing it out.
Binoculars just won't get you that stunning clarity and sharpness you need when you're trying to confirm .30 caliber bullet strikes in the black at 200 yards plus, or even just bullet holes at 100 yards with the favorite 10X42 platform.
Okay, some spotting scopes are just gigantic gizmos that don't have any business tagging along with you on a hunt, and leaving a spotter in the truck is just as bad as not having one at all.
But, optics manufacturers are coming out with more and more convenient ways for you to lug around your spotting scope ally. You can attach it to shoulder straps to be easily toted and mounted in a matter of seconds.
Stay-on covers give it protection in a back-pack as well as from the elements while in use. The exposed controls, eyepiece, and objective lens makes it quick to use in a jiffy.
But, the iconic thing about spotting scopes is their use with a tripod which can limit portability. If you're not a hunter who knows where game is going to be or coming through, and you don't have the time to set-up, wait, and glass, then it might be set-back - or so you'd think.
If your style is on-the-go in extreme and unpredictable terrain, there's still hope for you yet. You can still opt for a spotter, a compact, well-balanced, and lightweight one with a quality tripod.
The thing about quality tripods are, legs should be adjustable, feet should be non-slip, they should be lightweight to tote but heavy enough to remain sturdy in the wind, and it should be versatile and robust enough to use it from the flat plains of the field to the cliff-sides of a steep mountain.
Along with portability comes compactness. There are some compact spotting scopes that are excellent alternatives to high powered binoculars. They're about as small and lightweight as a pair of standard binoculars, even some compact binoculars, but just with the super high magnification of a spotting scope.
You can also use compact and low power spotting scopes free-hand for most applications when you're out in the field.
This is a huge benefit for hunters that are constantly on the go when all they need is a quick scan for target acquisition, hone in for some detail gathering, and then move on closer to set up for a shot.
So, if you're worried about weight, portability, mobility, and ease of use, I won't deny that they're not legitimate concerns, but, spotters have come a long way.
7. Low Light Strength
Thanks to the much larger objective lenses spotting scopes have over binoculars, you're going to have the ability to collect as much light as possible when you really need it most.
And, when you're out after hours during those times that prey are moving from their sleeping areas to their feeding spots, you'll need high performance light transmittance for these low light hours.
If the large objective lens and prism glass surfaces have been treated with quality coatings to enhance light transmission, a spotting scope can help you to see clearer, brighter images with sharpness that is difficult for many optics to maintain at low light. When binoculars end, spotting scopes are just beginning.
Remember, spotting scopes are technically telescopes - just the mini versions.
Benefits & Drawbacks of Spotting Scopes
Benefits of Spotting Scopes:
- Zoom power and higher magnification levels
- Further distance viewing
- Aids in determining the best conditions and set-up for long distance shots
- Observe prey and wildlife from safe and undetected distances
- Spot more efficiently at the shooting range
- View bullet holes clearly at long distance targets at the shooting range
- Camera adaptable spotting scopes allow for digiscoping and telephotography on the fly
- High-end spotting scope features eliminate time-consuming set-up
- Compact and freehand spotting scopes don't require set-up
- Compact spotting scopes are comparable to standard binoculars in size
Drawbacks of Spotting Scopes:
- Quality spotting scopes are very expensive
- More cost involved for the necessary, extra accessories
- Extra accessories can be mandatory, such as a tripod
- Can be too heavy and difficult to carry in a hunt
- Set-up can be tedious and time-consuming
- Most spotting scopes require set-up
Other Reasons to Use a Spotting Scope
Hunting isn't the only activity that makes perfect use of a spotting scope. Other popular reasons to use a spotter are:
- To observe wildlife and birds
- To identify specific details between species of wildlife and birds
- When it's not safe to approach wildlife, predators, and things like hornet nests etc
- Surveillance - properties, buildings, cattle, and people from afar
- Casual astronomy
- Event viewing from afar - mountain climbing, yacht/boat races, et
Spotting scopes can be of great import to be able to determine vital info about your target through positive identification - thanks to a spotting scope's primary functions.
And, those primary functions are going to get you much further reach with much more details than binoculars can get you. But, you don't have to be on just one side of the fence.
Use your binocular with its wide field of view to scan, use your spotter to hone in on vital details like sex, points, and antler size, and to decide whether or not you can commit to the long shot. Enter here - the rifle scope to get dead on and take the shot.
You know, getting a good spotting scope is like landing a good wife. You didn't realize how much life could be better until you snagged the best of the best, and now that you have it, you can't go without it on another hunt again. A great starter is the Gosky 20-60X80 Spotting Scope, its good quality at an affordable price.
So, if you're going to use spotting scopes to determine your commitment to a long range shot approach, you'd be wise to do it on bent knee.