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Hunting Spotting Scopes: What you need to know

Hunting Spotting Scopes: What you need to know

When it comes to making an optics purchase, there’s nobody better to consult than the pros at Outdoorsmans. With decades of experience and thorough knowledge of every product that leaves the shop, you won’t find better information anywhere related to riflescopes, binoculars, spotting scopes, tripod systems, or any other hunting gear. 

In this article, we’ll walk through both the broad and fine points of buying a spotting scope (or spotter) to help you make the most informed decision possible for your hunting season.

You Might Not Need One Now, but You Likely Will Soon.

The first, most obvious question related to buying a spotting scope is whether or not you need one. Most hunters start with a set of binoculars, which you can learn all about here. Typically, a hunter can get by without a spotting scope when they start out because one, they can be expensive, and two, a newer hunter generally isn’t field-judging as harshly as a seasoned hunter.

There comes a point, though, for nearly all of us, when our mentality shifts from “happy to kill something” to a strong desire to find a mature, representative example of whatever game animal we are chasing. Whether that point is a few years off or a few decades back for you, Mark Denham will walk you through every question you might have when deciding whether to spend your hard-earned dollars on a big optic.

How to Choose a Spotting Scope

The number of choices available when it comes to spotting scopes can seem staggering. Without in-field use, finding the right optic for your needs can be a tough task. Many characteristics make up a quality spotting scope, such as durability and lens coatings (or whether the optic has coated lenses at all!)

One of the most important factors that come into play with this decision is the terrain in which you will be hunting. This generally dictates the answers to all of the following points:

  1. The distances you will be traveling while carrying your optics (ie: weight)
  2. Whether digiscoping is an option or a necessity for you (trust us, it’s worth it)
  3. Whether the tripod you have can support a spotting scope (and whether you need to upgrade or consider a more compact optic)
  4. The decision between an angled or straight spotting scope (based on your preference and comfort) More on this below.
  5. How much magnification you need to glass efficiently
  6. The objective lens diameter that makes sense based on the above points
  7. Durability requirements (various styles of rubber armor coating and hardware quality)

Dan Hall has outlined the process for answering these questions in the article “How to Choose a Spotting Scope”

Angled vs. Straight, the Age-Old Debate

This topic will always be debated until the advent of contact-lens-spotting-scopes. Die-hards on both sides of this argument make great points related to comfort, target acquisition, maneuverability, and the capabilities of one or the other. In truth, the glass within either style of the same optic is identical. The rest comes down to personal preference.

The list of pros and cons related to the orientation of optics is, unfortunately, growing every day thanks to nit-picking, but luckily for you, Douglas Morales has laid out every argument for using either style in his article, “Angled vs. Straight Spotting Scopes.” We also asked everyone who works at Outdoorsmans/Wilderness Athlete/Western Hunter HQ their preferences and got some… interesting answers. The folks we talked to are a healthy mix of backpack hunters, road hunters, and everything in between. Check out the video of that scientific research to hear some eloquent opinions on the subject.

Swarovski BTX

One Eye or Two?

This is a relatively new question that a spotting scope buyer must answer, given the advent of the Swarovski BTX. There have been dual spotter rigs and massive sets of binoculars used in the past, but there has never been a true dual-eyepiece spotting scope until just a few years ago. 

An easy way to see the benefit of this setup is to look through your binoculars with one eye closed, then open both eyes. Which one seems more comfortable and practical? It’s an easy answer. For more details on the advantages of the Swarovski BTX, check out our article about it.


Nearly as important as the optic itself are the tools that we use to make it more effective. There are a few obvious necessities and some that may not be apparent right away but can drastically improve your glassing, or hunting, experience.

Modular Systems

One of our bestselling spotter ecosystems is the modular Swarovski STX/ATX/BTX. This is a set of four high-quality objective lenses and three eyepieces that are interchangeable with each other. Each eyepiece has its own pros and cons, such as weight, field of view, light transmission, and more.

Some folks may want the brightest, clearest picture possible and opt for the 95 mm or 115 mm objective lenses, and others may choose the 65 mm objective lens to sacrifice a touch of brightness to gain a wider field of view and reduce weight. Although it can get expensive, for hunters that cross state lines and operate in various conditions, the value is tremendous compared to purchasing several entire spotting scopes.

A popular combo is the ATX with a 95 mm objective lens paired with an additional BTX eyepiece. Each eyepiece offers different benefits, and the ability to quickly swap between them is invaluable. Read more on Swarovski’s modular system in Ben Britton’s article.

Spotting Scopes Tripods


A spotting scope without a tripod is like a hot rod car without an engine – expensive and nice to look at, but really not that useful. No matter what your final choice of spotting scope is, you absolutely, unconditionally, must have a tripod to mount it on. Many factors come into play, and your choice of tripod should be based on your choice of optics.

Our main advice is to settle on your optics first, then buy the tripod that will fit your style of hunting. You may want an ultra-light tripod to save weight, but when you set up a Swarovski BTX with a 115 mm objective lens on it, the experience may be less than satisfactory. 

On the same note, if you were to pack a Kowa TSN-553 15-45x55, you probably wouldn’t need a stout tripod and a giant fluid head, as it weighs around the same as a set of 15x binoculars.

We’re biased, but we would be remiss to not mention that we make our own tripods, heads, and accessories in the USA, and we can help you build a system that fits your style, no matter what it is. Give us a call at 1-800-291-8065 or chat with us online, and we’ll answer any questions you have.

Magnification Extenders

Some optics are variable, and some optics zoom within a set range. Luckily for us, optics manufacturers don’t want us to be stuck within the limits of our spotting scopes and have created extender fittings that allow higher magnifications and can be easily installed on many models. There are pros and cons to extending your magnification beyond the intended range, so make sure to read about the benefits and compatibility of magnification extenders in Joe Maninno’s article on the topic.


Many optics companies provide a lifetime warranty with their products under normal use conditions. These generally cover manufacturer defects and failures. Some companies have become widely known for their extraordinary coverage without fault to the buyer. While this can seem like a major selling point, take the time to consider the circumstances in which you may use that warranty.

If you are in the field and your optic fails, you can’t replace it until you get home. If you are getting ready to go into the field and you run over your spotting scope with your truck, you’ll probably get a new one, but not in time. The two major points to keep in mind are:

  1. It is better to buy an optic that is built to withstand and perform in extreme (or even normal) conditions (ie: fog-proof coatings, solid build, quality of coated lenses, etc) than to buy based on the fact that it can be replaced when it fails.
  2. If a company is bold enough to offer an unconditional lifetime warranty, it is either so confident in its product that it believes you will not need to use the warranty OR it expects you to use the warranty and the cost of the product is low enough to justify replacing products frequently.

Outdoorsmans offers a warranty program on many products that we sell through Extend. We want our customers to feel confident when they spend their money with us and know we have their back, even in the most unlikely or unfortunate of circumstances.

The Best Spotting Scopes on the Market Today

As hunters, most of us hate to admit that we are obsessed with gear research; obsessed to unhealthy levels. We don’t want to take away the pleasure of finding the perfect piece of gear from anyone, but if you don’t have time to scour the darkest reaches of outdated internet forums for bits and pieces of information related to spotting scopes, we’ve got you covered.

We’ve done the research, tested the products extensively, and know them more intimately than the keyboards we type these blog posts on.

We’ve compiled the master list of the best spotting scopes on the market, taking into consideration budget, hunting styles, preferences, and more, and Dan Hall has graciously compiled it into a one-stop article. The optics listed meet the Outdoorsmans criteria for “things that are worth spending your money on” and no matter your situation, you should be able to find the piece that will change the game for you.

While we’re here, here are some highlights from that list:

Best Overall: Swarovski BTX 85mm Modular Spotting Scope

For the hunter that spends their days wearing a backpack and nights at a permanent campsite, there is no better balance than the Swarovski BTX with an 85mm objective lens. Right, smack in the Goldilocks zone of weight vs. performance, this piece will arguably be the best tool for the dedicated-but-not-too-extreme hunter.

Best value: Zeiss Conquest Gavia 85

Any optic in the Conquest line from Zeiss could be considered the best value in its category. The Gavia 85 is one of the first that comes to mind. At a fraction (half) of the cost of many eyepiece or lens-only options on the market, it competes with them all when it comes to optical clarity, durability, and weight. We cannot recommend this scope enough and are looking forward to seeing more hunters take advantage of this spectacular value in the near future.

Your Source for All Things Glassing

As always, we hope this article has narrowed down your choice of optics, and look forward to talking and or dealing with you. We genuinely want to help hunters be as successful as they can and believe that the right gear often makes a huge difference. 

Again, if you have ANY questions related to hunting, optics, tripod systems, or, like some of our favorite customers, just want to shoot the shit about coues deer, do not hesitate to give us a call at 1-800-291-8065 or reach out to us online via
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