How to Pick the Best Hunting or Long Range Spotting Scope – Firearms News


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Whether you’re a long-range shooter, avid birdwatcher, hunter or simply enjoy getting an up close and personal look at the wildlife and landscapes that make up our world, a good spotting scope is an invaluable tool for observing distant objects with clarity and detail. These optics are designed to provide high magnification and exceptional image quality, making them an essential companion for various outdoor activities. Moving forward, we’ll explore key features to look for as well as provide guidance on how to choose the best one for your needs.

Key Features of Spotting Scopes

Here are several spotting scope examples from Bushnell, Vortex and Leupold.

Magnification & Field of View
When it comes to magnification, bigger isn’t always better. Clarity and quality of glass have a much larger impact than you may realize on how well you can see distant objects, and having higher quality glass will often result in your needs being satisfied by a smaller magnification range. This, in turn, results in a wider field of view, which is essential in spotting a shooter’s misses in the dirt or wild game traversing the mountainside. Just as with riflescopes, magnification range and objective lens diameter are depicted in the same manner, 20-60×80 for example. While higher magnification is beneficial for detailed observation, it can also result in a narrower field of view and a potential reduction in brightness.


Lenses, Coatings, and Prisms
The objective lens is a crucial component influencing light-gathering capabilities. A larger objective lens diameter allows more light to pass through a spotting scope, resulting in a brighter image. However, larger lenses also contribute to increased weight and bulkiness. It’s essential to strike a balance based on your specific needs to ensure what you ultimately purchase isn’t overkill for the task at hand. High-quality spotting scopes feature special coatings on their lenses to enhance image clarity, brightness and color fidelity. Look for options with fully multi-coated or fully coated lenses, as these coatings reduce glare, improve contrast and transmit more light. Coated optics contribute to a superior viewing experience, especially in challenging lighting conditions. Spotting scopes commonly use two types of prisms—porro prisms and roof prisms. Porro prisms are bulkier but often provide better image quality, while roof prisms result in a more compact and streamlined design.

Quality & Durability
Anyone who finds themselves enjoying a multitude of outdoor activities are often presented with adverse weather conditions, so a spotting scope with weather-resistant features is crucial. Look for scopes with waterproof and fogproof construction, as these qualities protect the optics from moisture and ensure a clear view, even in challenging environments. The build quality of a spotting scope is a key factor in its durability and longevity. Robust and durable construction, when combined with a strong yet lightweight chassis, are key things to look for as you shop around. Additional layers of protection are often available, such as aftermarket covers to aid in the protection of your spotter.

Choosing the Right Spotting Scope

A spotting scope is often better than a pair of binos when glassing for animals out west. (melissamn/Shutterstock)

The first step in choosing a spotting scope is to determine its primary use. Different activities, such as birdwatching, astronomy, hunting or target shooting have distinct requirements. Certain activities may require a straight-bodied spotter while others are more conducive to an angled spotter. The main difference between these two options is the orientation of the eyepiece. On a straight-bodied spotting scope, the eyepiece is directly in line with the main portion of the body. This type of orientation is ideal when whatever it is that you are viewing is on the same focal plane. Some may also find this setup lends to quicker target acquisition. With an angled-bodied spotting scope, the eyepiece is typically 45 or 90 degrees offset from the main portion of the body. This option is more ideal for viewing objects at an array of elevations. Hunters and others who find themselves glassing for extended periods of time typically find angled options more comfortable, especially from various positions. Consider the distance you’ll be observing, the level of detail you need and whether you’ll be carrying the scope over long distances. Another item to consider is the weight of the spotting scope. Hunters and backpackers traveling long distances value weight reduction, while this isn’t necessarily a concern for those taking part in stationary activities such as punching steel at long range or general target shooting. 

Consider Your Budget
Spotting scopes come in a wide range of prices, and while it can be tempting to go for the most feature-packed model, it’s essential to consider your budget. Determine the features that are crucial for your needs and find a scope that offers the best combination of performance and affordability. If possible, try out different spotting scopes before making a purchase. Visit a local optics store or participate in outdoor events where vendors showcase their products. Testing scopes in real-world conditions allows you to assess factors like ease of use, image quality and overall comfort. Remember, if you settle for a poor-quality optic, you’ll always spend more in the long run as you find yourself replacing it for a higher-quality option.

Your Role as a Spotter
A shooter and spotter form a symbiotic partnership crucial for achieving precision in marksmanship. The shooter focuses on executing the shot, while the spotter plays a pivotal role in enhancing accuracy. As a spotter, you meticulously observe the impact of each shot through your spotting scope, providing immediate feedback on the point of impact, adjustments needed, and environmental conditions affecting the shot. Clear and concise communication between the two is paramount, with the spotter relaying information about windage, elevation, and any deviations from the target. The shooter, in turn, trusts the spotter’s observations and incorporates real-time adjustments to improve subsequent shots. This partnership extends beyond technical details, involving an understanding of each other’s strengths, preferences and the ability to anticipate the next move. Through shared experience and effective communication, the shooter and spotter create a seamless, synchronized team, maximizing the potential for precision and success in various shooting scenarios. Spotting scopes only serve to enhance the communication efforts of a shooter/spotter duo, with some spotting scopes offering reticles within their eyepieces that match up with the reticle in the shooter’s riflescope. While not completely necessary, this option takes ease of communication and information relay to a whole new level.

Reading Mirage and Wind

When shooting over a long range, a spotting scope will help you read the wind and mirage.

Reading mirage is a crucial skill for precision shooters as it provides valuable information about atmospheric conditions that can significantly impact bullet trajectory. To effectively interpret mirage while shooting, one must focus on the heat waves rising from the ground and their direction. Additionally, mirage can reveal variations in air density, which affect bullet flight. Observing mirage through a spotting scope with a magnification that matches the rifle scope can enhance the shooter’s ability to discern subtle details. By carefully analyzing mirage patterns, shooters can make informed decisions on windage and elevation adjustments, leading to improved precision and consistency in long-range shooting scenarios. Regular practice and experience are essential to mastering the art of reading mirage and becoming a proficient marksman.
Reading the wind is an invaluable skill to learn for precision shooters seeking accuracy at varying distances.

To adeptly interpret wind conditions while shooting, one must first observe the surrounding environment for indicators such as rustling leaves, flags or grass movement. Pay attention to the wind’s speed, direction and any shifts in its patterns. Mirroring these observations, dust or debris kicked up on the range can serve as additional cues. Understand the impact of wind at different altitudes and how it may affect the bullet’s trajectory. Developing a keen awareness of wind’s subtleties, both near and far, enables shooters to make informed adjustments to their windage, ensuring greater accuracy and success, particularly in long-range marksmanship scenarios. Regular practice in diverse wind conditions contributes significantly to honing this skill and enhancing overall shooting proficiency.

How Being a Spotter Can Make You a Better Shooter

A shooter/spotter team in action. (Josiah_S/Shutterstock)

Assuming the role of a spotter can significantly enhance one’s skills as a shooter by fostering a deeper understanding of the intricacies involved in long-range marksmanship. As a spotter, individuals develop a heightened sensitivity to environmental factors such as wind, mirage and lighting conditions, crucial elements that directly impact shot placement. Analyzing each shot’s impact through a spotting scope hones one’s ability to interpret subtle details and make precise assessments. The responsibility of communicating these observations effectively to the shooter cultivates a disciplined and analytical mindset. The experience gained as a spotter instills a greater appreciation for the collaborative aspects of marksmanship, emphasizing the importance of clear communication and trust within a team. This dual role not only refines technical skills but also provides a more well-rounded understanding of everything involved in shooting.

Spotting scopes offer a view not only into nature but into the unseen intricacies when it comes to long-range shooting. Choosing the right optic involves navigating features, quality and budget considerations. The role of a spotter emerges as pivotal, emphasizing the importance of communication and teamwork between a shooter and a spotter duo. Enhancing your wind and mirage reading skills further develops one’s capabilities in the world of marksmanship. Determine what you need to succeed, choose an optic that compliments those requirements, and you’ll be well on your way to many productive range sessions.

Here are several spotting scope examples from Burris, Hi-Lux and Sightmark.

If you have any thoughts or comments on this article, we’d love to hear them. Email us at [email protected].

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