Which optics for long range spotting


Well-Known Member
Jan 20, 2004
Blackfoot, Idaho
Don't want to ask the question in a way that will limit the answer.

Going to be doing much more "glassing" than ever before. What optics do I want? 20X Binocs, spoting scope? Been doing most glassing w/the LRF-1200 but its time to get a bit more serious. My bean counter says I have to spend some $ on something that I can justify, if you catch my drift. So, folks your recommendations. I don't want to make a purchase then regret it every time I use the thing...............
For walking ease in the hills in SW Idaho, I have been using 12x50 Minolta binoculars. They work well for spotting rockchucks, coyotes, and big game at much farther ranges than I can shoot right now. A spotting scope would give you more detail, like if you wanted to count points on a rack at a distance much greater than binoculars. If you are going to glass in low light, the spotting scope would have its advantages there as well. The binocs usually stay in the truck though when it is deer season and I carry the Leica 1200.
You will never regret buying a top quality spotting scope. My choice would be a Nikon 85mm ED Feildscope or a similar HD model from Swarovski. These things are so sharp and bright that they burn your eyes /ubbthreads/images/graemlins/smirk.gif
Don't go with a super high zoom lens, most of your spotting will be at 20-25 power. Finding a really good tripod for the scope can be a headache - no sweat for standing since there are lots of good camera tripods but good ground level tripods are not common and they are spendy.
Really depends on how far you are glassing. My gear includes a Nikon ATB 8x42, Nikon XL 16X45 spotter, and if it ever arrives a Nikon EX Extreme 12X50. yes, I do like Nikon.

The ATB are wonderful for general glassing and I use it out to 1000yds or for walking about. The 12X50 will be used for cut block and specific area glassing for ranges 500 to 1500yds. This will be used from a window mount or tripod. The spotting scope is used to verify whether the game 'found' by the binos is worth pursuing.

Glassing with a spotting scope is the best way to get a B&C headache.

Some here have made binos from two spotting scopes (contact Darryl Cassel for ideas on that). That would be very useful for glassing at the 2km mark. Further then I presently want to go.

At extended ranges, quality of glass is much more important then big magnification. you need to be able to resolve things not just have a big blur.

I choose Nikon because it is excellent quality for the money. The mega buck brands will provide a superior image but for ranges inside 1000yds, the difference is not that great.

I agree that you should look at the ED or Pcoated lenses if possible. They make a distinct difference with light transmission and distortion. The cost is coming way down.

For general glassing inside 1000yds, you may be best suited with a 10X42ATB and a good spotting scope. Depending on your budget the Leica 'variable' bino may just solve all you needs.

Buying good glass is always money well spent. For better value, porro prism binos will be cheaper for the same optical quality as a roof prism. Who ever you buy from should allow you a viewing period. The only way to know if something will work for you is to look through them in the field.

Hi Roy,

Unless you go image stabilized a tripod is a must, cheap tripods are a waste of time. It is hard to beat a Manfrotto 055 NAT 3 with 141RC head.

Binos offer easier viewing on the eyes and can be used for longer periods. The 15 x 60 Swarovski SLC`s are nice and have a tripod attachment thing, but a friend found it a problem to close the oculars close enough together to use the things, apparently it is a bit worse with the tripod adaptor. Zeiss did a 15x60 porro prism bino which should be good and spendy but seem to have stopped making them. Also leica do the duovids in 10+15 x 50. A report in PS magazine had only very good things to say about them.

If you go with a scope Leica, Swarovski or Optolyth are all reasuringly expensive. I went with a big Optolyth and like it, I also just sent it in for a service to Germany and have had very good service from the company. I dont think any would dissapoint but the new Swarovskis seem a bit lighter and more fragile than the others. Leica have now got rubber armour on at least one model. Also I think if you are going for a top class scope it is worth getting the more expensive APO / HD version.


Ideal magnification depends alot on the distance you'll be glassing or spotting. Not really knowing that, I'll say that my range is usually 300-500 yards up to 1500-2000 yards for the most part. I use a set of 10x42 Lieca binos and a 12-40x60 Leupold spotter, this combo works well. Also the Bushnell YP1000 LRF has worked very well too.

Ideally, I'd jump into the angled eyepiece Swarovski 20-60x65HD spotter and the new 8x42 Lieca Geovid bino/LRF.
It really does depend on your style of hunting.
I have been glassing and scouting for some years and I have settled on a pair of Zeiss 10x40 Classic's for most everyting I do. For glassing you want a good quality binocular that eases eye strain, is comfortable to hold while glassing and for me easy to carry.
Glassing is a bit of an art form that requires practice and some patience. You will find with a good pair of 10x binocs you can spot elk, deer and sheep sized critters within a couple of miles if the conditions are right. You may be able to see more detail at much higher magnification, but typically your field of view is cut so it is not really practical and you certainly don't usually see more. Practice glassing. Plan your glassing so you won't have to be looking into the sun. Get comfortable - sit and rest the binocs on your chest or knees or find a rest that makes nothing get tired. Do the same thing every time. I start by glassing quickly and checking obvious and easy to see places like skyline, edges of timber and nearby areas where animals are likely to be and easy to see. I then begin a pattern either up down or back and forth. Look an area over while holding still with the binocs then move them to the next area - repeat. All it takes is one tree, bush or boulder to hide a critter and all it takes is one opening to find them. You can tell when you are doing well if you see small animals, marmots, birds, squirrels etc.
I also have a Zeiss 20-45x60 spotting scope I use when I am hunting where I will need detail (like sheep, goat or trophy hunts) or when I am guiding. Typically I only break out the spotting scope when I need more detail on what I have already seen when glassing.
These items fit my style of hunting which is a little more portable than many long range hunters.

For those who hunt strictly long range and don't do as much hiking, larger optics (Big eyes) on tripods can be more helpful.
I know a guide who carries Zeiss 10x40 when walking and has a pair of Leica 12x50 for the truck. The Leica is very nice but I would not want to carry them more than needed.

Wish I had a bean counter that said I needed to spend more money on optics.
Thanks folks for the input. Really appreciated the broad range of experience of those who responded.

I already have decent, well kinda ok, 10X binocs but with my right eye problems I find myself using the Leica 1200 more often.

From what cha'll said I really don't need a spotter for my walk and stalk methods but will need something in the near future.

Think I'll go with the Nikon Spotter XL w/16-48X. Looks good, feels good, is light and uses only my left eye.

As far as the bean counter goes....... spending a dollar to keep 60 cents from going to the gov't, or is it 40 cents. The way he said it, it sounded good. But looking at it, sounds more like a trip to Vegas. /ubbthreads/images/graemlins/blush.gif Better not tell the Mrs. /ubbthreads/images/graemlins/smirk.gif

I too usually have probs using binos. Then I got some 12X Burris Signatures. I can adjust them perfectly. I carry them weekly on the desert when out looking for 'yotes. The Burris coupled with my Leica 1200s have proven to be the perfect combo for me. Just my experience.

Good luck and happy hunting.
Just went into information overload.

JL, good information. Just a titch late though. My next scope looks like its gonna be an IOR. Some pretty good stuff was hidden behind that curtain.

IDWBummer, what part of ID?

Everyone. Thanks for all of the info! /ubbthreads/images/graemlins/smile.gif
Roy, i hunt big game as a backpack hunter, and spot and stalk for coyotes. I usually carry the 10-20X Leupold compact spotting scope, but i wish i'd have waited a yr. or 2-- Leupold just put out a 15-30X compact job that i've heard is great. I also use a pair of Zeiss 8X30'2 for general glassing, altho i often wish i had a little more mag. for that purpose. The compact spotting scopes provide a good degree of portability that i need in my hunting method.
Best guy to contact for the Big eyes spotting scope systems is Jerry Phillips in PA. (215) 757-5037

He makes and sells all types, sizes and quality glass, from little mini spotters to the large high quality systems. Those are the best and easiest on eyes to glass over a wide area.

I also have a set of Burris Signature 12x50's that I use mainly in WY. For the money, I think their great and rival most of the ultra expensive European models. Of course I'd rather have Leicas, but at half the cost, these are VERY GOOD binocs.
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