Quality Hunting Optics Don’t have to Break the Bank | Your Guide to Buying Affordable Spotting Scopes
What makes a hunt a success? For some, it’s harvesting an animal of a certain class. For others, it’s about the knowledge gained and memories made while afield with friends or family, or on a first solo venture. But, regardless of which side of the fence you fall on, most hunters would agree that first and foremost, success rests with being able to locate and at least lay eyes on whatever game you’re pursuing. That’s where success really begins.
One of the best ways to get eyes on your quarry and familiarize yourself with the land you’re hunting before really getting serious with boots on the ground is by spending some solid time glassing. This requires you to add one handy piece of equipment to your big-game hunting arsenal – a spotting scope.
Why invest in a spotting scope?
As we mentioned, spotting scopes take a lot of physical work out of locating game, allowing hunters to home in on target animals and plan approaches from great distances. They ensure you see more of the big picture and are better prepared to plan a thoughtful stalk. Especially if you’re hunting a new location, unfamiliar terrain or have physical limitations that might make long, exhaustive treks far from the best plan of attack, these optics are a must-have.
While these tools can easily set you back thousands of dollars, there are also plenty of more affordable options, delivering the quality and value you’re after, but at a fraction of the cost. First, you need to know what features/benefits you value most and keep your budget top-of-mind because just like the definition of a successful hunt varies from hunter to hunter, the definition of the perfect glassing unit does too.
Lucky for you, we’re here to make the decision-making process a little less complicated and help you use your new spotting scope like a pro.
Size and weight
Be honest, when you’re hiking in and out of ravines, dodging tree limbs, hopping fences and covering miles of unforgiving terrain in who-knows-what kind of weather conditions, the last thing you want is to lug around an unnecessary pound or two in that already loaded down pack you’re carrying. In fact, what you’re probably after is something lightweight, compact and simple to stow so you can keep your hunt moving and cover as much ground as possible. And while high-powered optics are great, they tend to come with added bulk and weight (not to mention steeper price tags).
Our easy-to-carry ENDEAVOR Spotting Scopes are more than just a line of affordable optics, they’re also extremely lightweight and compatible with all Vanguard tripod heads, including the equally affordable ESPOD CX 233AP Compact Tabletop Tripod with 2-Way Pan Head – making them the perfect addition to any avid outdoorsman’s most-used-and-abused hunting pack. Not only that, these compact units come with a few great extras that make transport even more convenient, like padded rain covers with built-in slings.
Straight or angled?
This age-old question has no right or wrong answer, but rather boils down to a hunter’s preference, experience level and yes, budget. For example, while straight scopes tend to be more user-friendly and intuitive, allowing for more rapid target acquisition and much simpler adjustments when glassing, angled scopes generally offer more comfort for users who are sitting or laying down and are more effective when viewing animals at upward angles. Angled scopes are also more convenient if you plan to take turns scanning with your hunting buddies since no adjustments are necessary when swapping between people of varying heights.
On the other hand, straight scopes tend to require less experience and offer more protection when used in inclement weather but are also a bit more inconvenient to share with fellow hunters and can be uncomfortable when used to view angles above where the user is located. However, they also tend to be the more affordable option when compared to their angled counterparts and offer easier glassing when using a window mount from the comfort of your vehicle.
So, which option is best for you?
While we’re happy to guide you through the process of selecting a spotting scope, the only way to really answer this question is to try each style out for yourself.
Inside 100 yards, spotting scopes really aren’t necessary – binoculars do the job just fine, so break out your go-to pair instead. For distances out to 200 yards, you’ll want to look for higher power options, offering something in the 20-40X or 20-60X range. For distances out to 300 yards, 20-60X power works just fine, delivering the magnification you need, along with the clarity required to make out what it is you’re looking at over there on that next ridge.
When glassing distances of 500 yards and beyond, lean into spotting scopes with that same 20-60X power, but that also come paired with a 60 to 80mm objective lens. You’ll also want to consider the other features listed at the top of your must-have list since any additional bells and whistles – like high-quality glass – can make these high-powered units pretty pricey.
While magnification matters, spotting scope power means little without quality glass lenses. High definition (HD) and extra-low dispersion (ED) glass deliver clear, sharp images with ample contrast and resolution, making them ideal when it comes to optical lens selection. For example, the BaK4 prisms and extra-low dispersion glass used to construct our ENDEAVOR spotting scopes combine to deliver accurate color rendition and virtually eliminate color fringing. And, when a quality coating is added to that glass, not only are light transmission and clarity improved, but glare and eye fatigue are reduced as well.
Coatings are added to scope lenses to improve light transmission and minimize light lost via reflection. This ultimately results in a clearer, more detailed image free from blurriness and washed out colors.
Long story short, when it comes to coatings, more is always better.
Spotting scopes will feature one of the following common lens coating applications, each providing a different level of light transmission:
- Coated: Lenses have thin, antireflective coatings on one or more of their surfaces.
- Fully coated: Lenses all have a minimum of one thin, antireflective coating on each side.
- Multi-coated: Lens surfaces have multiple layers of thin, antireflective coatings on at least one side.
- Fully multi-coated: Lenses have multiple thin, antireflective coatings on all sides/surfaces.
Because your spotting scope is likely to see it all – from gorgeous sunshiny days to wind, rain, sleet and everything else in between – you’ll want to make sure you go with the most durable unit available within your budget. You’ll want to look for a scope that’s waterproof, fog proof and features a rugged armored exterior capable of withstanding a few tumbles and many miles worth of jostling around inside your hunting pack.
Along those same lines, you’ll also want to make sure whatever you end up purchasing has a solid warranty backing it up. All of Vanguard’s optics include an industry leading Premium Lifetime Warranty, meaning if we’re not able to fix your buggered-up binoculars, spotting scope, rifle scope, or other optics, we'll replace them – guaranteed.
All things considered, quality hunting optics are a serious investment, even if you’re after a more cost-effective option. For those in the market for an affordable spotting scope built to withstand years of use in conditions ranging from the glaring sun and oppressive heat of the summer scouting season, to the driving snow and rough handling that is sure to come during the hunts you’ve planned for this fall – take a breath. Focus on what’s most conducive to your current needs afield and do your best to keep your expectations and budget aligned.