There are few things that are as exciting as getting a close up of the game you’re after in the wild before you move into position and make your shot. While binoculars are still the most common device used to get a close-up look, spotting scopes have become more popular among experienced hunters, simply because they pack greater magnification, are simple to use and come in a lightweight package that’s durable to use in harsh environments. If you’re a hunter who’s looking to take their big game hunting to the next level, then you should definitely consider investing in a spotting scope. But with so many different models available, how do you pick the most suitable model?
Consider the Design/Type
The most popular spotting scope models are the ones featuring a prismatic refractor. They are rugged and can withstand vigorous use in the field. Catadioptric and Newtonian designs are also available, but the majority of hunting spotting scopes are refractive. The main reasons for that are their durability and low cost. That being said, henceforth, I’ll refer to refractive scopes exclusively. There are two main refractive scope designs – straight and angled at 45 degrees.
Straight refractive scopes are easy to use and locate subjects and to view them from a hidden position, such as behind a tree or out of a vehicle. Straight scopes also put less strain on your neck, and they have a lower chance of the eyepiece collecting rain and dust. On the downside, using a straight scope can be inconvenient, as you’d have to set the eye-level to the shortest person in your hunting party.
Angled scopes, on the other hand, give you the ability to share the spotting scope within your hunting party without having to change the eye-level constantly (if the scope is mounted on a tripod). Furthermore, it enables the use of a lighter and shorter tripod to be used, but that can take some getting used to and can be awkward to use if you have accessories such as a camera, window mount or shoulder stock. Angled scopes are best for hunting or watching birds.
Consider the Magnification
The magnification of spotter scopes can vary between 15x-250x. This refers to how many times the image will appear larger through the scope lens than if you were to look at it without any optical enhancement. The magnification of the scope is determined by its eyepiece. Eyepieces come in a variety of formats, and they can either be fixed or zoom, removable or non-removable. Removable eyepieces provide you with the choice of zoom or fixed magnification and are interchangeable for maximum efficiency and practicality. The most common types of fixed magnification eyepieces are 30x, 25x and 20x. Zoom eyepieces, on the other hand, feature variable magnification that can be adjusted by hand within their set range. Nowadays, zoom scopes are the preferred option by most hunters, as they allow you to locate an object at low magnification, then zoom in on the object for as much as you need.
If you wear glasses, you’ll also have to consider the eye-relief of the eyepiece. Some scope models are more suitable for people who wear glasses. The eye-relief refers to the distance between the lens and the point at which the pupil should be positioned in order to get a full field of view.
Consider the Lens Diameter
The lens located at the front of the scope is known as the objective lens. The objective lens diameter is referred to as the scope’s aperture and is specified in millimetres. Larger lenses are capable of gathering more light and thus produce brighter images. On the flip side, they’re heavier and larger. The diameter of the objective lens generally ranges between 50mm-80mm. When deciding on the most suitable lens diameter, get the biggest you’re willing to carry. A larger lens will provide a superior image, at the cost of weight and size.
Consider the Lens Coating
Scope lenses are often chemical-coated in order to maximise available light and reduce the amount of glare. There are a few different types of coated lens – coated with a single layer on at least one lens surface, fully-coated with a single layer on all surfaces, multi-coated with multiple layers on at least one lens surface, and fully multi-coated with multiple layers on all lens surfaces. The more coating layers applied to the lens – the more expensive the scope will be, but the better the image quality.
Consider the Focusing Mechanism
There are three basic focusing mechanisms: single-knob, double-knob and helical. Single-knob scopes are the most common, and the knob is typically located at the side or top of the scope, near the eyepiece. Focusing with a single-knob is slower, but more precise when compared to other mechanisms. Double-knob mechanisms are used on Leica scopes and feature 2 knobs that are connected to the same mechanism, but with different drive ratios. The slow knob is used for maximum precision, whereas the fast one allows for quick focusing. Lastly, helical focusing mechanisms are used on Canon and Swarovski scopes, and it consists of a collar that’s around the body of the scope, allowing for changing the focus quickly.