Do you enjoy hunting or target shooting in your spare time? If either of these activities strikes a tone of familiarity with you, then not only are you comfortable with being outdoors, you’ve also probably entertained thoughts about outdoor optic devices.

After all, it’d almost be unthinkable trying to undertake either of these activities without a pair of binoculars. But in spite of their range, portability, and reasonable price tags, they’re hardly the end-all if steady-handed, long-distance viewing is what you’re after.

Telescopes, on the other hand, are incredible optic devices, but lack any semblance of the versatility, portability, and reasonable pricing that would justify bringing one along on a short- or medium-length excursion. There is, however, an option that’s positioned perfectly between binoculars and telescopes that’s compact and rugged enough to take hunting or camping, but still packs all the visual acuity of larger, typically stationary optical devices. And their price belies their performance. Yes, it’s scopes.

The focus on scopes

Hunter looking through spottinc scope
Source: rangefindernow.com

When crystal clarity at long distance is what you need, whether it’s tracking a boar at 500 yards at twilight, or reading targets downrange at 800 yards in broad daylight, you can count on a spotting scope to bring everything into focus.

These waterproof, shockproof, HD optic devices are easy to recognize from their angle-shaped bodies – but don’t let their less-than-comfortable looks fool you. They’re manufactured with straight bodies too, and yet it’s their classic, unconventional shape that provides the perfect ergonomic adaptation for how they’re most commonly deployed. For prone or low-lying positions (where the natural inclination is to hold one’s head down over long periods), and for viewing at upward angles as opposed to straight ahead.     

Regardless of the body style though, there’s no change in the characteristic low-light performance, image sharpness, and wide field of viewing traits that scopes are known for. It’s their ability to instantly allow either extra coarse or superfine viewing adjustments that makes them ideal for any outdoor activity where high magnification, steadiness, and portability matter.

It’s these points, in fact, that relate most directly to the questions that need to be asked when an individual’s considering which type of spotting scope to buy:

  • How much magnification do I need?
  • How can I mount the device?
  • How much of a factor is the device’s size?

Let’s take a moment and address each of these questions.

Magnification

Close-up of setting up spotting scope
Source: solidlandingsbehavioralhealth.com

Magnifications of 20-60x or better is what you’d expect from a high-end scope. It means the scope will magnify an object between 20 and 60 times its actual size. A scope’s objective lens, i.e. the lens at the very front, determines the amount of light the scope is allowing in to power the magnification. Large objective lenses are what gives scopes their tremendous low-light viewing capability and they go hand in hand with superior magnification for making spotting scopes superior to any binocular, as well as most telescopes.

Mounting

A stable support platform is mandatory to take full advantage of a scope’s superior magnification. Supporting one by hand will get tiring after a few minutes, outright undoable if you’re spotting game for hours, which is why a scope would typically be mounted on a tripod if the user is on foot, or on a window mount if spotting from a vehicle. Low-standing tripods are a particular preference of game hunters because it allows them to stay in their prone position, unexposed, and without any movement, reflections, or commotion that’s bound to alert prey.     

Portability

Weight and mass matter when you’re on the trail, and although scopes don’t carry or stow away as conveniently as binoculars, they’re infinitely more portable than telescopes. A compact, angled 20-40x spotting scope for hunting with a 60mm objective lens is 239mm long and weighs only 400gr, while a robust 20-60x model with an 85mm objective lens is 400mm long and weighs almost 1730gr. The difference is noticeable, and the difference in performance is going to be even more noticeable. All factors regarding the scope’s size, including whether a tall or short tripod is preferable, have to be considered in conjunction with how you’ll transport them.

Going beyond hunting

Because of their excellent light transmission and field of view, scopes have been the optic device of choice for hunters and target shooters for a long time. The credit, however, really goes to their distortion-free, no-glare magnification. This makes them ideal for attracting an even broader segment of outdoor users who want durable, larger-lensed optics that can perform all kinds of tasks with the right accessories, but won’t cost an arm and a leg.

  • With a camera attachment, a scope becomes a tool for outdoor photographers (called digiscoping).
  • With a phone attachment, a scope becomes an instrument of discovery for bird and even offshore ship watchers.
  • With a reticle attachment, a scope becomes a position finder for amateur astronomers or geodesists.  
Close-up of 4 different tyoes if Vortex scpotting scopes
Source: thefirearmblog.com

The final word

With all things considered, there’s no topping a spotting scope when it comes to getting the highest magnification possible in the toughest package possible.

From hunting and shooting, to ship and bird spotting scopes are an affordable, long-term way to make outdoor activities more interesting and appealing without substantial cost.

If you’re considering spending more time camping, hiking, or just enjoying the beauty of nature on a regular basis, a scope’s the ideal device to help you do it.