I spend a lot of time on the range testing new loads and new guns while working on my long-range precision shooting skills. One of my pet peeves is the downtime I experience waiting between shot strings for the range to go cold so I can trudge downrange to get a good look at my target. If you are experiencing the same wasted time, I have a solution.
It is time to find a good spotting scope!
Best Spotting Scopes for Target Shooting:
Spotting scopes are compact, powerful telescopes designed for a variety of uses. Many birdwatchers and wildlife observers depend on spotting scopes.
For my purposes, a spotting scope is used while target shooting or sighting in a rifle to observe my targets as I verify my shot placement. Spotting scope typically over higher magnification than binoculars.
When supported by a solid tripod, a spotting scope is stable and offers a clear and immediate view of a target without much movement or readjusting of your shooting position.
On the range, a good spotting scope is an essential part of your range kit. Using a spotting scope cuts down the number of time-consuming trips up and down the range to check your target.
If you routinely shoot out to 200, 300, or even 500 yards, these trips up and down the range can be both time wasters and tiring.
Why Should You Have a Spotting Scope in your Range Kit?
For me, convenience is the key factor.
For years I struggled with seeing my shooting results with a pair of binoculars or through the scope I was trying to zero on my rifle. The binoculars were ok at 100 yards but past that, they didn’t have enough magnification, and I had trouble holding them steady.
Forget trying to see target punches at 300 yards with your rifle scope.
Adding a spotting scope to the bench next to my rifle was like night and day. I could adjust the spotting scope so that with a twist of my head, I could see the target clearly.
The much more powerful spotting scope brought the target much closer and made it easy to identify my last string of shots precisely. I was no longer confined to squinting through shaky binoculars or waiting for the range to go cold so I could hike downrange to take a quick look.
What Should I Look for in a Spotting Scope?
What you should look for in a spotting scope are the same things I look at when ranking spotting scopes during a review like this.
Optical equipment, whether it be binoculars, thermal monoculars, rifle scopes, or spotting scopes, all share some common points.
Typically, what I look for in any optical equipment is the quality of the optical glass, clarity of the image, light transmittal, and color.
When you start talking about optical equipment, the most important feature to remember is the quality of the glass used in the lenses. What you will be able to see, the clarity of the images and the details transmitted to your eye are all directly related to the glass used in the lenses.
The best mechanics of a spotting scope won’t improve the image quality of poor glass.
To me, image clarity is as much a function of the optical glass as it is the design of the spotting scope. High-quality optical glass typically delivers very high clarity.
With cheaper glass, you start to see things like blurring or fading of the image around the periphery, a lack of image sharpness at higher magnifications, color shifting in the glass, or even impurities or imperfections in the glass itself.
A spotting scope, or any optical equipment for that matter, works by gathering ambient light and transmitting it to the eye of the person behind the spotting scope.
In general, the better the quality of the optical glass, the better the scope is at gathering light. During daylight hours, this may not be a big issue, but in marginal light conditions, it can be huge.
If you shoot or hunt early in the morning or late in the evening, you will learn to appreciate a spotting scope with great light gathering and transmittal properties.
One thing I have noticed about cheaper optical glass is the color shifting that can occur. The cheaper glass may impart a tinge of color to the image you see.
This can be caused by impurities in the glass. I have seen some glass that gives the entire image a blue hue that can make some targets harder to see.
Quality optical glass won’t distort or impart colors to the light that passes through the lens.
Other Important Features to Consider When Choosing a Spotting Scope
Once you get past the quality and clarity of the optical glass, there are some other important features to consider before you buy a spotting scope.
Many of these features are not standard equipment and may be accessory items that you must purchase separately from the spotting scope.
However, I consider many of them essential to get the most out of your spotting scope on the range.
Remember that the object of having a spotting scope it to make it easier to see your targets downrange. This means that magnification is a key factor.
In general, I want a spotting scope that has a magnification range between 20 and 60X. Dialing down the scope to 20X is still useful in the 100 to 200-yard range.
If you routinely shoot out to 400 yards or more, a 60X scope is a must to be able to identify bullet strikes on a target easily. I
If your only use of a spotting scope is on a range where you are limited to distances of 200 yards or less, it may make more sense to spend your money on a spotting scope with higher quality glass in the 15 to 45X magnification range.
Design – Bent vs. Straight
Most spotting scopes come in two flavors, bent or straight tubes. Straight tubes are still popular with some shooters who prefer the more traditional look and operation. Straight tube spotting scopes are typically a bit less complicated than a bent tube model and can be somewhat cheaper.
On the other hand, a bent tube provides you with a lot more options.
The spotting scope I normally carry to the range is a bent tube model. This design allows me to arrange my shooting position to aim my rifle, take a shoot, and look through the spotting scope to see the result without major changes to my shooting position.
For many years spotting scopes didn’t have reticles. However, it is becoming more popular to put a reticle in a spotting scope. My advice is to choose a reticle design that matches the reticle of your rifle scope.
This adds a level of consistency to repeatability to your shooting. If nothing else, your rifle scope and spotting scope should be calibrated to the same measurements. If you shoot a scope with MOA hash marks, your spotting scope should use MOA markings as well.
Most of your better spotting scopes have detachable eyepieces. This allows you to customize your spotting scope to your needs and current situations.
A detachable eyepiece can add versatility to your spotting scope by increasing magnification ranges, allowing you to compensate for your eyesight and make changes for varying light conditions.
Many people think that lens coatings are just for protecting the glass surfaces that are exposed to the air. Nothing could be further from the actuality. Lens coatings perform many other functions.
Proper lens coatings can improve light transmittal and the clarity of the image you see. Some lens coatings can aid in low-light transmission. Most manufacturers have their proprietary lens coating materials and techniques so judging one from the other may be difficult.
Mounts and Tripods
The higher the magnification you tend to use with your spotting scope, the more the image is subject to vibration. At higher magnifications, holding a spotting scope steady enough to get a good image is almost impossible.
You must have a good solid base for your spotting scope to make it usable. Unfortunately, most of the tripod’s packages with mid-range spotting scopes are unsuitable, in my opinion.
Expect to spend some extra money to purchase a solidly built and heavy tripod to hold your spotting scope steady enough for precise work.
Objective Lens Size
The size of the objective lens on your spotting scope is a big factor in how well the scope gathers light in less-than-perfect conditions. The objective lens also determines the field of view in your spotting scope.
When possible, I always try to get the largest objective lens possible to ensure that I get the best performance from the spotting scope, especially at higher magnifications.
Cost is always a factor. None of us has all the money we wish to spend on our gear and equipment. The challenge is always to find the best combination of features and performance that fits into our budget. Optics and spotting scopes are no different in this respect than most other products.
Target Shooting or Field and Hunting Use
Choosing a spotting scope also needs to take its intended use into consideration.
If you routinely shoot at distant targets from a bench rest, your choice of spotting scope may need different features. Bench rest shooters tend to be more concerned with stability, clarity, and fine focus ability.
An angled scope is usually more efficient on a bench rest to help minimize the amount of movement you make from your rifle scope to your spotting scope.
For hunting, weight, durability, and field of view are often the defining characteristics of a good spotting scope. Lugging a heavy scope, no matter how good it is, over mountains all day can turn a pleasurable hunt into an ordeal. Tracking a moving elk at a long distance requires a wider field of view and quick-focus features not found on some spotting scopes.
Unfortunately, only a few of us can afford a good spotting scope for every situation, so we must make compromises. You must take the real-world uses of your spotting scope into consideration as you make your selection to get the best combination of features.
My Selections and How They Made the List
I tried to look at all the factors listed above and find those spotting scopes that were the best value and provided what I consider to be the best performance in each category on my list.
These are the spotting scopes that I feel best represent the market in each category listed and are the scopes that I recommend.
I always try to be objective, but there are some optics that I favor over others, and that may creep into my decisions and reviews.
Best Overall Spotting Scope for Target and Range Use – Vortex Diamond Back HD Spotting Scope
- The redesigned Diamondback HD spotting scope has all the optical horsepower the western hunter...
- HD optical system delivers exceptional resolution, cuts chromatic aberration and provides...
- Adjustable eyecups twist up and down for comfortable viewing with or without eyeglasses. The...
In this price range, I don’t think you can do much better than the Vortex Optics Diamondback HD Spotting Scope. Vortex has built a reputation for quality optical products that are reasonably priced.
That philosophy shows in the Diamondback HD scope. When you compare the features, performance, and customer service you get with Vortex products, the value skyrockets.
You won’t be disappointed in the standard features of the Vortex Diamondback HD spotting scope. You can choose from a variety of magnifications, objective lens sizes, and either a straight or angled tube.
- Available in magnifications that include 16-48X and 20-60X
- Objective lens choices of a 65mm or 85mm opening
- Streamlined, smooth exterior doesn’t pose a snag hazard and carries easily either on the range or in the field
- The HD optical system is known for exceptional resolution, very little chromatic aberration, and excellent light transmission
- Adjustable eyecups mean comfortable viewing with or without glasses or shades.
- Built-in adjustable sunshade on the objective lens reduces glare
- Compatible with tripods mounts or a car-window mount
- O-ring sealed and Argon gas purged to ensure waterproof and fog-proof operation
- Vortex Armorteck lens coatings protect the lenses while the rubber armored exterior enhances durability and grip
- One of the most durable spotting scopes on the market.
- Above average optical glass for the price
- Comes with the Vortex Optics No Questions Asked Lifetime Warranty
- Great out to about 300 yards. Beyond that, it may be hard to focus on the target
- The zoom feature can be stiff to operate
My Final Take
For the average shooter who rarely sees targets beyond 300 or 400 yards, this is my choice of a spotting scope, range, or field. This is my go-to spotting scope that stays in my range bag. The weight is enough to help keep the glass steady but no so heavy that it becomes a burden to pack or carry. Invest in a decent tripod to use at the range and this spotting scope will take care of business.
Best Budget Spotting Scope – Bushnell Trophy Extreme Spotting Scope
- 1/4 inch -20 tripod mounting shoe/tabletop tripod with window mount
For some of us, justifying spending more on our spotting scope than we did on our rifle scope is a hard argument to make. With my best overall pick, Vortex scope coming in at just under $500, that may even push your budget to the breaking point.
Never fear, there is an alternative that will serve you well.
The Bushnell Trophy Extreme spotting scope is an amazing value at just under $300. You won’t have to sacrifice image clarity, power, or durability with this Bushnell spotting scope. In truth, this may be the best spotting scope for the money on my list. You won’t find yourself lacking in features with the scope.
- Porro Prizm design
- Fully multi-coated optics
- Magnification up to 60X
- 100 percent waterproof construction
- Rubber armor exterior for a durable and tough finish
- Comes complete with a tripod and a window mount
- Includes a hard-side case and a soft side case for convenience
- 50 mm objective lens
- Extremely lightweight and smaller than some other spotting scopes in this class
- Great image quality and good low light gathering ability
- The hard case and soft case are nice features
- Can be a little lacking in the magnification for longer ranges
- The smaller 50 mm objective lens keeps the field of view at high magnifications a little narrow
Bushnell builds good optics for the money. If you are on a tight budget and you are looking for a spotting scope to make your life easier at the range when you are target shooting or sighting in your rifle and scope, this is a great piece of kit. I am not sure I would take it on an elk hunt where distances over 200 yards would be the norm.
Best Entry Level Spotting Scope – Athlon Optics Talos 20-60X80 Spotting Scope
- K9 glass prisms with silver coating reflect great mount of lights to your eyes which will give you...
- Fully Multi-Coated lenses gives you great light transmission and bring bright images to your eyes.
- Nitrogen Purging uses the inertia gas to purge moisture out of the tube giving you better...
You may not be convinced that you need a spotting scope in your range kit and spending 300+ dollars for something you may not use doesn’t quite sit right. In that case, I would urge you to take a look at the Athlon Optics Talos spotting scopes.
These are decent optical equipment that can be had for just over $100. It is a good way to give a spotting scope a try without breaking the bank.
Athlos builds some relatively good optical equipment, and some of their high-end scopes fair well with others on the market.
The Athlon Talos spotting scope allows you to decide if you need to upgrade or keep the cheaper alternative for the few times you have a need. These spotting scopes give you all the features you need without a lot of frills or overkill.
- K9 glass prisms with silver coating to transmit maximum light with little distortion or color aberrations.
- Multi-coated lenses provide excellent protection and light transmittal for good low light operation
- Nitrogen purging ensures fog free operation in the most extreme weather conditions.
- Waterproof construction
- A rotating adjustment ring allows you to get the perfect placement on the tripod for your shooting position
- Built-in extendable sunshade to help prevent glare
- Clear crisp images
- Lightweight and easy to transport
- For the price, you won’t find a spotting scope that performs this well
- This is a great budget spotting scope for use on the range where distances are usually under 200 yards.
- There is some question about the durability of these spotting scopes
- Useable out to about 300 yards. After than the image quality begins to suffer.
If I were limited to only spending a hundred dollars on a spotting scope, this would be my choice. There are cheaper alternatives but the glass quality on the others is questionable. Athlon uses very decent glass while keeping the price low. You won’t get a tripod or a carrying case.
Best Extreme Range Spotting Scope – KOWA TSN-99A Prominar
- 99mm PROMINAR angled spotting scope with 30-70x zoom eyepiece
- Uses Both Pure Fluorite and XD Lenses
- Magnesium Body and Barrel Body is Strong and Lightweight
If you are a long-range precision shooter who often finds your targets well beyond 1,000 yards, you are well aware of the problems you can encounter with some spotting scopes at this distance.
Fuzzy images around the periphery of image, image jitter caused by vibration, and image color distortion at very high magnification are some of the most common problems.
The KOWA TSN-99A offers extreme range shooters an option to end those types of problems. The gargantuan 99mm Objective lens takes light gathering and transmittal to a new level and offers images that remain clear and precise even at the full 70X magnification. Among the other features that make this a standout spotting scope are the following.
- 99mm objective lens for maximum light gathering and transmittal
- Fluorite crystal lenses offer the highest clarity and purest color images available
- A magnesium scope body and barrel provide increased strength of other materials with lighter weight
- Waterproof and fog proof construction
- Dual focus technology allows quick target acquisition and pin-point fine focus for precise image adjustments
- For its lens sizes this is one of the lightest spotting scopes on the market
- The clarity and sharpness of the images is unbeatable even at the highest magnifications
- Smooth and easy magnification adjustments that don’t wander over time
- The images are clear and sharp even at the edges of the field of view
- The finish on the exterior of the scope scuffs easily and could be a little better
- The cost is a factor for many hunters and target shooters
If you need a scope that will let you see the x on a bullseye from 1500 yards, you should definitely be considering the KOWA TSN-99A. With a 99mm objective lens and 70X magnification, you can reach out to the limits of your rifle with ease.
Long Distance Budget Option Spotting Scope – Vanguard Endeavor HD 82A Spotting Scope
- Extra-low Dispersion glass (ED) for accurate color rendition & minimal fringing and Bak4...
- Rubber armored magnesium body with built in sunshield to eliminate glare in direct sunlight. Dual...
- Detachable angled eyepiece with soft, comfortable rubber eyecup and long eye relief
If distance is your goal but your budget is lacking, take a look at the Vanguard Endeavor HD 82A. This spotting scope gets a place on my list as an intermediate option for extreme distance shooting without dropping a huge bundle of cash.
Despite the low prices, you get many of the features you expect only on a spotting scope costing 3 or 4 times as much money.
The 82mm objective lends gives you plenty of field of view even at the highest magnification. A wider field of view is handy if you are trying to track a moving target over rough terrain.
Vanguard has included an impressive list of other features that make this a great buy for anyone that shoots past 1,000 yards on a regular basis.
- Low dispersion glass renders color accurately and keeps edge fringing to a minimum.
- Fully multicoated lenses and a BAK4 Phase-coated prism gives impressive light transmission
- Rubber armored magnesium body with a built-in sunshield make this a tough and durable scope for use in the field
- Detachable angled eyepiece allows you to customize your spotting scope for use in the field or on the range
- Waterproof and fog proof construction
- 20 – 60X magnification
- This scope has a solid well-made feel that gives the impression of craftsmanship and attention to detail
- Extremely crisp and clear images at lower magnifications that maintain detail and contrast
- Dual focus controls make target acquisition quick and easy
- Large field of view helps when tracking moving target at long distances or when searching for targets
- At high magnifications, the images tend to soften a bit around the edges of the field of view
- The eyepiece zoom is initially stiff to use
If you need a spotting scope that is above par from 500 to 1500 yards and you are on a budget, the Vanguard HD 82A is a great choice. If you routinely need to use the highest magnifications to see your targets, you may be a bit disappointed in the image clarity. Plan on using this scope for mid to long range conditions.
The Ultimate Spotting Scope Choice – Swarovski Optik BTX Spotting Scope System
- Bundle Includes: Swarovski BTX 30x/35x Eyepiece Module for ATX/STX Spotting Scopes with Swarovski...
- Crystal Clear Optics: Crucial subtleties can be seen with the crystal clear optics, with every...
- Compatible with ATX/STX Range of Objective Lenses: The benefits of binoculars and spotting scopes...
When I win the lottery and have all the money I want to spend, one thing that is on my ultimate shopping list is the Swarovski Optik BTX spotting scope system. If you know optical glass, you know that Swarovski in unmatched and the BTX spotting scope system brings features that you can’t get anywhere else in a spotting scope.
The most standout feature is the binocular eyepiece that is standard with this particular spotting scope system. No more squinting through a single eye piece. The Swarovski binocular system gives you the best possible image quality and a set of features that make this the dream spotting scope for many shooters.
- Binocular eyepiece with changeable power eyepieces to fully customize the power and clarity of this spotting scope
- A built-in forehead rest and angled view keeps your neck and shoulders relaxed even after hours of use.
- Changeable objective lenses offer even more customization depending on your needs and uses
- 65mm through 110 mm objective lens diameters available
- Up to 35X magnification
- Waterproof to 4 meters
- Probably the finest optical glass you can buy delivers the true color and extremely sharp image clarity
- Built to last. These scopes will truly become heirloom items
- Versatility is the hallmark with changeable objective lenses and eye pieces to provide an almost unlimited range of uses
- Austrian engineering at its finest means tight tolerances, sturdy and durable construction, and the finest materials available.
- The only one I could find is the price.
If you want to get me something for Christmas, I will not complain if you put a Swarovski BTX spotting scope system under the tree with my name on it. Most of the time you get exactly what you pay for and in this case, you get the best spotting scope on the market. I can’t justify spending this kind of money on a piece of kit, but I wish I could. If you can, then by all means treat yourself and enjoy the results.