How to Use Spotting Scopes for Hunting

How to Use Spotting Scopes for Hunting

Spotting scopes are vital for hunting open country where they have several important functions.

When I’m glassing big spaces with my 10x binoculars, I’ll make a mental note of any areas that I couldn’t quite pick apart to my satisfaction. These might include thick patches of cover, shaded areas beneath rocky overhangs or downed trees, or just interesting shapes that are hard to discern with my binoculars.

When I’m done with my initial scan, I’ll bust out my spotter and give these areas a careful, up-close examination. The second great benefit of having a spotting scope is that you can analyze critters that you’ve already located. This is especially important when you’re dealing with legal size and sex restrictions.

When I’m hunting for does, either at the request of a landowner who doesn’t want to kill his young bucks or because I have an antlerless-only deer tag, I use my spotting scopes to make sure that I’m not mistaking a small spike horn buck for a doe.  When it comes to hunting mountain sheep and moose, a spotter is great for determining whether or not an animal is of legal size.

In much of the West, bighorn sheep need to reach ¾ curl size in order to be legal. In Alaska, moose usually need to have either 3 or 4 brow tines , or a 50-inch overall spread to be legal. In these situations, you want all the eye-power you can get. The difference between having a spotting scope or not can be the difference between having a dead animal or going home empty-handed.

When selecting a spotting scope, you should weigh your concerns about image quality against your concerns about portability. If you’re strictly a long-range backpack hunter who humps into the Brooks Range, get a spotting scope that weighs around two or three pounds with an objective lens not greater than 60mm and variable magnification of approximately 10x-30x.

If you’re a truck hunter who prowls the wide-open expanses of the Texas Panhandle, an 85mm scope weighing seven pounds with variable magnification of 20x – 60 x will suit you just fine. If you’re looking for a single scope that can do it all, it’s hard to beat a 65mm spotting scope with variable magnification of about 15x – 45 x. In truth, most spotting scopes, even the highest quality ones, have a distorted image at their highest magnification settings.

Feature image by Matt Jones Photography.

Solitude Vest (40% Off!)
Save this product
First Lite

Dead silent and feature-rich, the Men's Solitude Insulated Vest is a versatile option for the dedicated tree stand hunter in the first half of the season.

Dirtbag Duffle
Save this product
First Lite

Whether you toss it in the back of a pickup, strap it to an ATV, pack it in a floatplane, or carry it through an airport, the First Lite Dirtbag Duffle is your new favorite travel companion.

Flex Field Belt
Save this product
First Lite

This is not your standard nylon webbing belt. Heavy-duty stretch is woven into the durable nylon webbing, allowing the belt to flex with you while crouching on a hillside or stepping over deadfall. 

Moonlite Reclining Camp Chair
Save this product

An ultralight reclining chair built for the backcountry with oversized tubes and forged aluminum hubs for exceptional strength and stability.

Get the latest in your inbox
Subscribe to our newsletters to receive regular emails with hand-picked content, gear recommendations, and special deals.
Our picks for the week's best content and gear
For the whitetail obsessed, with Mark Kenyon
Redefining our connection to food, with Danielle Prewett
Your one-stop for everything waterfowl, with Sean Weaver
Get out on the water with the MeatEater Fishing crew
Technical hunting apparel
Purpose-built accessories for hunting and fishing
Quality elk, turkey, waterfowl, and deer calls
Save this article