I'm planning my first ever elk and mule deer hunt in Idaho. and have received conflicting advice on optics. Is a spotting scope a necessity, or would I be best served spending my money on a really good pair of binoculars?
Are you going with a guide? They should have a spotting scope if they deem it necessary for their style of hunting. If that's the case then I wouldn't think you need to bring one as well.
Are you packing in? Walking a lot every day? Or sleeping in a lodge and being transported out to a hunting spot each day? This will dictate what you want to carry. Are there any weight limits?
Obviously a pair of binoculars will be heavily outweighed by a spotting scope and tripod combo.
I can at least give you this much from experience. You can get away with a good set of binoculars. 10X, 12x or even better 15X, but then you're getting up into spotting scope weights anyways. You will be majorly disappointed if you bring a spotting scope only. They take time to set up and are often too powerful for a quick glance at something in close ranges. That's where your 8x binos come in handy. I'd say a set of 8x's will need to be included if you choose to use a spotter. So figure a set of medium range binos in the weight carried if you decide to get a tripod and spotting scope for this trip.
Sounds like you're on the path to put a spotting scope to good use then.
A good one will weigh a few pounds, no way around that.
But the tripod and head on the other hand is where major size and weight can be saved. Of course you gotta pay to play. Carbon fiber legs save a lot of weight, twist locks save space, but flip locks save a lot of time when setting up. I cannot stress enough the benefits of a good fluid head.
One thing nice about a spotter and good tripod setup is that you can at least entertain yourself at night looking at the stars, planets and satellites. I keep mine set up on my back porch year round for this.
I use my spotting scope mainly at the range. I no longer bring a spotting scope on a long hike. I always bring a good 7X or 8X binocular and keep it in a chest pack while hiking. I use a 30 mm objective bino to save weight, or a 40-42 mm objective if I'm hunting in low light.
If the terrain suggests that I'll have long distance views and the terrain is hikeable off trail, I will also bring a 15X bino and compact tripod. I've found that I can glass much longer with a bino than with a spotting scope. I can glass with a bino for hours, but with a spotting scope fatigue starts in after about 30 min.
In my experience, binocular vision collects more information about the scene than monocular vision. I find that a 15X bino is roughly equivalent to a 20X spotting scope. The 15X bino has a wider field of view, so the glassing goes faster.
I pack 10x32 el for main glassing,had the 42 and went for handier to me size.My rifle scope goes to 20 if I need to look at trophy quality or see if I have to cross canyon.Some of which are 2-3 mile across and I can tell a good bull this way.If I only have a muley tag left much the same but like to have a spotter,Ihave real small10-20 Leo,12-45Leo and rig 20-60x77 Kowa
I only carried my 15x Vortex Kaibabs on all of my hunts this year. I just have a cheap Sunpak tripod that needs to be upgraded but it was amazing how many animals I saw using that combination. My buddy bought a set of Minox 15x56 after using my Kaibabs and that's the only optic he took as well.
Together we spotted more game than we have ever seen before. They really shined when glassing cross canyon at ranges from 600-1300 yards. Having his 15x binos on a tripod allowed him to pick out a nice 4 point buck that was 400 yards away and almost completely hidden in the bushes it was bedded down in. We would never have been able to find and kill that buck in years past and it took quite a while to find the buck in my 24x riflescope even though we could see him fairly easily in the binos.
The only time I'll complain about the 15x binos is when you're trying to quickly glass anything inside of 400 yards or when you're trying to put details on antlers over 1200 yards.