Target shooting training and long-range shooting itself are pretty challenging tasks without any sort of magnifying device that would allow you to see the point of impact and make adjustments if needed. A spotting scope is a frequent companion of many target shooters, hunters, and even bird watchers, in short, everyone who needs a decent magnification.
When trying to find the best spotting scope for target shooting, it’s easy to fall into the “the higher the magnification range, the better” trap. Indeed, the zooming ability sounds like the determining factor of an optical device, but in reality, things are a bit more complicated.
First things first, some features influence any shooting spotting scope’s performance, ignoring the purposes it is used for. Those are things like objective lens diameter, the field of view, eye relief, and light transmission.
Objective Lens Diameter
That is usually the last number in the scope’s name, determining how big the objective lens is. It is not the question of size only, as bigger lenses take in more light and thus make the image brighter. The size also determines the weight, so scopes with bigger lenses are also heavier unless those were made with high-quality glass.
Field of View
The field of view is a figure that shows how wide your viewing field is. It narrows down when magnification goes up, but it is also important to consider the starting FOV of a scope.
These are not the only factors that affect the scope’s performance but are the most crucial.
If we talk about the peculiarities of spotting scopes for target shooting, the first thing you need to do is determine the yardage. Naturally, shooting within 100 yards and over 300 yards will require different equipment.
Under 100 Yards
For close-range shooting, a spotting scope with a smaller lens objective diameter and moderate magnification range will do nicely. Aim for around 15-40x magnification and 50mm lens diameter. Spotting scopes with bigger lenses will also prove themselves useful, but if you value lightness over additional brightness, there is no need to go after one. Another thing to consider is a close or minimum focus. This figure shows at what minimal distance you will get a focused image.
Over 100 Yards
Things get more complex over 100 yards. As a matter of fact, the image clarity differs immensely on various magnification points: a 60x image will never be as sharp as a 20x one. That is why prices for spotting scopes with the same magnification ranges can vary so much. Luckily, the situation is not that critical if we talk about a 200-yard shooting. Scopes with a lens diameter of 60mm or 80mm should give you the needed image clarity and brightness. Such scopes usually come at 20-60x magnification, which will probably leave you some room not to use their full zooming potential. But don’t take the bait of low prices, you won’t buy a good spotting scope for 200 yards shooting for less than 200$.
Over 300 Yards
This is the place where optical quality starts running the show. One could say that a 40x or a 60x is an optimal scope magnification for 300 yards shooting, but at this point, it’s all about the image quality you will get at this range. What’s the point of getting a cheap 20-60x scope if all you can see at maximum magnification is some blurry semblance of a tree? If you want a 20x image quality at 60x magnification, be ready to pay for it. Or get closer, this is still an option.
If we talk about characteristics of spotting scopes, lenses with a diameter smaller than 80mm will be of little help if you plan on discerning something as far as 300 yards away. Together with lens size, the price also goes up. For that sort of distance, be ready to part with no less than 600$.
Over 400 Yards
Here begins the territory of premium-grade spotting scopes. You are looking four times as far as 100 yards, and if you want a sharp image at this range, the ticket price starts at a thousand. You don’t need to know double-digits to count all scopes that can manage this sort of distance.
Over 500 Yards
Abandon all hope, ye who enter here. We are not in Hell by any means. The thing is, there are only a handful of scopes that can assist you at this point, and even they need aid. The weather conditions become a real adversary, and only a tagger on the target can help you find the place where you are supposed to shoot. Best scopes for 500 yards shooting cost a small fortune,
Now that we’ve dealt with the range problem, let’s talk about comfort. You are a shooter, and you hold your rifle when shooting. Getting a tripod for your spotting scope is not even a question. Taking this and putting that over and over again, after every single shot sounds terrifying. But even when mounted, spotting scopes with a straight body give in to angled ones. Their distinctive feature is the eyepiece, angled at 45o. Such a construction provides several advantages over straight-body spotters. Such a device can be mounted lower to make the whole tripod more stable and prevent the potential knock-over in windy weather. Angled scopes are also more comfortable to use in sitting and lying positions. Such a configuration, however, makes the eyepiece more susceptible to rain and snow and calls for additional measures to protect it.
To sum it up, the requirements for spotting scopes vary depending on the distance you plan on shooting from. The longer the distance, the higher the demands. Beginning from 300 yards, the optical quality becomes the primary factor to consider. Higher magnification doesn’t mean better quality, and low magnification is sometimes enough.