So much of western spot and stalk bowhunting is about optics. In the wide open spaces we are so fortunate to have out here, sitting back and utilizing our glass pays off huge. It lets us look at a massive amount of country without having to walk it all. On top of that, we can watch animals from afar without disturbing them. This is highly beneficial for planning a stalk and closing the distance. For the most part, I’d say the majority of folks out there are running a set of binoculars on their chest and that’s it. I did that for years and it worked out fine. However, with this bigger country, sometimes I’d suffer when it came to identifying bucks in dense cover or at a long distance. This ultimately drove me towards getting a spotting scope for my hunts. Going through the process of picking one that’s right for you can be tricky. Here are some details to ponder over when trying to pick a spotting scope for your next archery hunt.
The first thing that you need to ask yourself when trying to choose a spotting scope is what your goals are. What are you trying to accomplish by adding a spotting scope to the arsenal? Are you looking to glass for hours on end through this spotter? Is counting inches of antler on your radar? Or maybe you’re just trying to get enough of a look to tell if the buck is something you’d like to pursue? No matter what it is, there is a spotting scope that will fit your needs. Once you’ve established what it is you are looking to achieve, you’re ready to dive into the wide world of spotting scopes.
The first area most folks turn to when trying to decide what spotting scope to use is magnification. This makes sense since it’s the reason for wanting one in the first place! Hunters want to get that extra boost through the glass and a spotting scope can appease that need. Don’t think that you need the biggest and the baddest scope for the job, though. If a hunter is just looking to simply identify bucks, a smaller magnification is going to do just fine. I used an 11-33×50 for years and was quite happy. For a backpack hunter, it’s a dream in terms of size and weight. Take into consideration, though, that I wasn’t actively glassing with that spotter. I’d locate a buck with my binoculars, then throw the spotter on for a closer look. For actual glassing, I prefer a 65 mm. While the field-of-view is fairly similar between the two, I find it is much easier to glass through the bigger eye piece on the 65 mm. This makes watching big velvet bucks for hours on end much more pleasurable.
Now, if you’re really trying to scan thick country or count inches of antler, I wouldn’t bother too much with the smaller magnifications. More power is the name of the game for you, so go with more optic. Be aware that there are consequences to higher magnifications. From there, it’s all about if you’re willing to deal with those consequences or not. Your magnification is also going to be a reflection of the country you’re hunting. Big country on a high altitude mule deer hunt is probably going to warrant bigger glass. While you could get away with a smaller spotter or no spotter at all during an early archery elk season, in dense timber, there’s just no reason for it.
With more optic comes an increase in both size and weight. Depending on your hunting style, this could be something to take into consideration. I’m mainly referring to backpack hunting. While the bigger optics are money when it comes to actually glassing, they are also going to take up more room in your backpack and weigh much more. More weight on a backcountry hunt is never something folks tend to strive for — unless we’re talking about packing meat of course! For some, the bigger optics is what they live and die by, so it’s non-negotiable. For others, though? It’s definitely something to think about.
Another huge question that is asked in this area is “angled or straight?” Both of them have their pros and cons and both of them will work just fine as well. This is a totally personal preference. Target acquisition is a big one here. Straight spotters make it much easier to find the game out in front of you. You know pretty much exactly what you’re going to see when you look through a straight spotter. An angled spotter does take some getting used to. For an angled one, I think it is especially important to have your magnification set to the lowest setting when trying to locate an animal. The wider field-of-view will help one see the bigger picture. Pay attention to the direction of the objective lens on an angled spotter more than the eye piece when trying to relocate something. Straight spotters are also much easier to get set up quickly. Unless you can change the angle to the eye piece, you’ll have to lower your tripod to use the angled spotting scope in relation to your binoculars. Putting a straight spotting scope in a backpack is also a lot easier, too. They just fit better in the bigger side pouches that many packs have.
So, is there anything good about angled spotters? Yes. They, too, have their advantages. For instance, when looking straight uphill in steep country, it’s much easier to use an angled spotter instead of contorting yourself to get low and look through the straight one. If something happens to be downhill, not to worry. Just adjust the eyepiece to the side and you’re in business. Another plus for angled spotters is that I truly feel like they are easier to look through once they’re all set up. My neck doesn’t get as sore as it does when looking through a straight one. When it comes to longer glassing sessions, it just feels more comfortable for me to be looking down into the spotter.
In my early years of bowhunting, I never even considered using a spotting scope. Looking back on those times makes me realize how much I was missing out on. A good spotting scope is such a great tool for spot and stalk bowhunting and they are tailor made for the big country that we get to play in. There have been quite a few times when I have found stuff with a spotter that I would have never seen with only my binoculars. So, with that being said, they could ultimately mean the difference between success and no success. The difference between spotting that antler that looks so much like a branch or not seeing it at all. On top of seeing animals, I also find myself using a spotter to better understand the route I am planning for a stalk. Paying attention to those little folds that one might not see with just binoculars. Or that path that's hidden behind the trees and leads right to the bedded buck. In the end, the best spotting scope for you is going to be determined by your personal goals, your hunting style and the country that you hunt in. From there, just sit back and enjoy the view.