How to Use a Spotting Scope for Hunting

You’d think using a spotting scope would be simple, right? Just look through the lens and see the animals – no different than with a rifle scope. While the general premise behind spotting scopes is familiar, using one for the first time can be a bit of a challenge. You’ll be seeing your surroundings through very high magnification, and if you’re not careful, it’s possible to lose sense of where the scope is pointed. However, in the hands of an experienced user, spotting scopes are a helpful tool that can help you to your hunting grounds in a whole new light. The tips below will teach you how to hunt with a spotting scope and hopefully prevent some of the rookie mistakes that come with using one for the first time.

Stability is Key

Unlike binoculars, a spotting scope requires a tripod. Their powerful magnification amplifies even the slightest movement in your hands and can make everything blurry. There’s a lot of tripods on the market and only some of them are designed specifically for spotting scopes. When buying a tripod for your spotting scope, consider these points:

  • Look for one with a panning head; these are common with tripods designed for videography. A smooth panning motion will keep the image clear and allow you to spot animals more effectively.
  • Find a model with adjustable legs. You’re unlikely to be positioning the spotting scope on level ground, so find one that’s easily leveled.
  • Be sure it can take some abuse. Professional photographers can keep their tripods in rigid case, but yours is likely to spend time in a backpack and will need to more rugged than the typical DSLR tripod.

Finding Your Spot

Pick a position your comfortable staying in, because once the spotting scope is deployed, it’s going to take some time to pack up and move to another location. You want to be somewhere with good views in multiple directions. If one area gets too boring, you can just turn the scope and start searching a new one. Also look for high ground with few obstructions, if you can.

Besides the views, it also needs to comfortable enough for you to sit for a few hours. You don’t want to be tied up like a pretzel trying to get your eye to the scope so find somewhere that has enough space for you to set up the tripod and sit in a relaxed position behind it.

Many hunters like to place a sleeping pad, like the kind you would use for camping, as a cushion to sit on behind the tripod. Then they place they hunting pack behind them as a backrest to create a makeshift chair. This will relieve some of the post-hunt back pain that’s associated with using a spotting scope.

Start with the Binoculars

You thought this was all about spotting scopes didn’t you? Binoculars are the best way to start searching an area because they have lower magnification and are simpler to use. Start by scanning your area of interest, and then once you’ve identified an animal or at least a herd of them, it’s time to pull out the spotting scope.

Zoom out all the way on the spotting scope so you have a similar magnification to the binoculars and then point them in the direction you saw the animals. Now slowly increase the magnification, but not too quickly. As you do this, adjust the focus knobs until you have a crystal clear image.

Avoid the Heat

This will surprise many hunters, but even a moderate amount of heat can lead to distortion in your spotting scope. Heat waves create mirages and the magnification of a spotting scope can make them exponentially worse. If you notice a heat wave, zoom out until you have a clear image again. Hopefully, a cloud will pass over the area and cause the heat wave to dissipate so you can zoom back in.

Take a Break

Looking through a spotting scope can be exhausting for your eyes. Take a five minute break every so often to give them a rest. You’ll feel better and be more likely to catch those minute movement that weary eyes would miss. If you don’t, you’ll wind up with a pounding headache.

Practice Makes Perfect

If you’ve never used a spotting scope before, it’s not a bad idea to go for a hike and try scoping out a few stationary object. Just getting in the habit of deploying the scope and practicing with the magnification controls will improve your skills to where they’ll be second nature. You want to reduce the shakiness that comes with first time use so when the big buck comes into view you’re ready to track him.

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Justin Archer
Hi, I'm Justin Archer a family man with 2 boys and a wife. I'm an outdoorsman who loves hunting, fishing, hiking and lots of other outdoor activities. I love testing new outdoor gear, learning new things and passing on the knowledge I have gained. Feel free to contact me anytime -

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