If you have to track game at a long distance, a spotting scope is a critical piece of hunting equipment. More a telescope than a rifle scope, it can tell you whether that herd of animals you see on the next ridge over is worth the investment of your time.
Because of that, it’s an important investment. So, we can understand that you’d want to make the right choice when buying one. We looked at some of the top models in the market and wrote reviews of them.
We’re leery of just telling you which scope to buy because that kind of choice is one you ought to make on your own. So, we’ve compiled a buyer’s guide and put it at the end of our reviews to provide you with both recommendations of specific models and also information that will be useful for you in selecting the right spotting scope. We hope you find all of it useful and hope you get the best bang for your buck… literally.
|Bushnell Legend Ultra HD 20-60 x80|
|Vortex Optics Viper HD||7 lbs||4.8/5|
|Celestron 52250 80mm Ultima Zoom|
(Best for the Money)
|Redfield Rampage 20-60x60mm 67600||6 lbs||4.4/5|
|BARSKA 30-90×90 with Tripod||10 lbs||4.1/5|
The Bushnell Legend Ultra is our Top Pick as the best spotting scope for hunting for a really basic reason. It does the best job at a reasonable price. It gets no more complicated than that.
We’ll start with the advanced optics, designed not just to deliver a high magnification at a great distance, but also to minimize the various factors that contribute to image distortion the further out you get and the more your magnification increases. It incorporates multi-layered coatings, low-dispersion glass, and an advanced prism to create a crisp, sharp image full of color. Unlike some of the other competing models, there’s also little drop-off in quality at higher magnifications, where atmospheric interference tends to have the greatest effect. Its weatherproof design also helps maintain internal integrity so that if you’re using it in heavy rain you don’t get condensation on the inside. We also like the angled body for user comfort.
It’s expensive, for sure, and if you’re on a budget it might be prohibitive. If you’re not, we couldn’t recommend it enough.
A worthy runner-up to the Bushnell, the Vortex Optics Viper holds its ground in most respects. We even like its design a little more. But it fell short in a couple of pretty important places.
The Viper comes with high-end lens coatings and an advanced prism that reduces light energy lost through reflection and channels it into a sharp, crisp image. It’s also got a weatherproof design that will prevent rain from ruining the image while you scope. We also like its sleeker build as it’s simpler to set up and breakdown.
However, it doesn’t appear to maintain a super clear, sharp image at higher magnifications. We think that it’s because it lacks the low dispersion glass that the Bushnell has. At a distance, it just loses some of its detail. It’s also more expensive than the Bushnell. That, combined with diminished detail at high magnification, knocked it down to runner-up status.
Our “Best for the Money” rank goes to the Celestron 52250 because it delivers the best for-dollar value. It isn’t the greatest scope we reviewed, but if your purchase decision is primarily motivated by getting the most bang for your buck, this is an ideal model for you.
We like its angled body as it’s easy for novices and old hands alike to use. It’s got a BAK-4 prism and coated lenses to help sharpen images and create vibrant color. It delivers this at maximum value. There’s not a lot of fluff in this purchase.
It’s largely a budget model. The eyepiece offers very little eye relief, so wearing glasses while using this requires a lot more effort. It also doesn’t have great range or a field of view, and there is a marked drop-off in quality at greater magnifications. It’s great for birding, and great for hunting if you operate in confined spaces with limited visibility, but anything more than that and you’ll want to spend extra dollars on something better.
The Redfield Rampage was a close candidate for our “Best for the Money” ranking. For what you pay, it’s not a bad scope. Under limited circumstances, it’s perfectly suited for hunting and doesn’t cost a lot of money.
We dropped it into this slot because, while it’s a good value, it’s more expensive than the Celestron without delivering the Celestron’s return on investment.
It’s pretty heavy, which is okay if you’re at a shooting range, but not so okay if you’re out hunting. Despite its weight, it’s got a pretty small objective lens. A really good scope could compensate with superior optics, but the Rampage doesn’t have them. That reduces the amount of light it allows in, which makes it not very good in low-light conditions. That also means a pretty steep drop-off in quality at longer ranges.
As a scope, it’s better suited to shooting ranges, where it’s easier for users to account for its drawbacks. Out in the field, however, it’s bulky and doesn’t deliver much image quality. As a hunting scope, it’s a pretty good lock for fourth place.
The Barska 30-90×90 is another scope that is better suited to a shooting range than for use in the field. It’s even better if you stick to pretty limited ranges.
Here’s what we like about it. It’s inexpensive, so if you’re on a very strict budget this is a model you’d want to consider. It’s also pretty lightweight, so if you need to buy an inexpensive hunting scope it won’t break your back.
With the Barska, you get what you pay for. It’s not well-built, which means that you always run a risk of breaking it and not having a scope available while you’re out in the field. It’s also got a really bad eye relief (the maximum distance between your eye and the eyepiece before image quality degrades), so if you wear glasses you’ll have to remove them every single time you want to use this.
It’s also got a really limited range. If you need to see anything beyond 100 yards with any clarity, you’ll just have to bite the bullet and get a better scope.
Okay, so you’ve read our reviews and, while you find them interesting, you think you really want more generalized information on how to buy the right scope. We understand that and we actually agree. The market is filled with spotting scopes and you really owe it to yourself to get the right one rather than whatever one a website recommends.
We put together this buyer’s guide to help you sort out what you ought to look for in a scope. Hopefully, you find it useful in paring down the options available until you find the right one that fits your budget.
We’re going to assume that you’ve already decided that you need something more powerful than binoculars.
For many applications, a pair of binoculars is perfectly acceptable. They’re compact, handier, and usually more comfortable on the eyes. Unlike a scope which can see miles away, however, binoculars are better to use if your view is regularly hemmed in by trees. If you’ve opted for a spotting scope, you’ve opted for something that is bigger and more expensive, but that provides much greater detail for objects you’re looking at in the distance.
While it might seem intuitive that you go for the biggest lens possible to get the greatest magnification possible, it’s really more important to get a high-quality objective lens constructed from high-grade glass. A smaller lens designed to see at greater distances and made of high-quality materials is superior to a big lens of mediocre quality but with high magnification. Further, a large lens out front—called an objective lens—permits more light to pass through, which is good for low-light conditions like an overcast day.
One trend is to construct objective lenses out of extra-low dispersion glass. This helps manage the times that the different color light waves in the visible spectrum arrive at the prism to reduce false color images. That’s a really technical way to describe a lens that helps keep images sharp at a distance. These kinds of scopes tend to be a bit more front-heavy, and spotting scopes already tend to run large and heavy.
When light waves hit a lens, some of it reflects back off the glass. In some cases, the loss of light can be pretty dramatic. To counter this, most spotting scopes these days come with coated lenses to maximize the amount of light that enters. This helps keep images sharp.
There are different levels of coating that vary from application to only one side of the lens to a multi-layered coating on both sides. Each level of coating reduces the amount of light lost and increases the sharpness of the image you see through the eyepiece. The highest-end scopes have the greatest number of coating layers on both sides. Most coatings are a basic magnesium fluoride, but some manufacturers use proprietary coating formulas to maximize light capture.
Magnification might not be a primary consideration when it comes to a scope, but it’s not something you can overlook entirely. It’s a baseline quality for scopes. Higher magnifications tend to mean better imaging at greater distances, although a high-quality objective lens can more than compensate for a lower magnification.
In general, 15x to 20x is a basic magnification with lots of spotting taking place in the 30x-40x range. Above 60x, you’ll start to see an increased loss of quality from atmospheric conditions like dust, mirages, humidity, and glare.
Once you’ve figured out what your scope needs to manufacture a high-quality image, you’ll need to decide how to put that information to use. That means figuring out whether you want a straight body or an angled-body scope, eye relief, and what kind of eyepiece is best for you.
Eye relief is the distance between your eye and the eyepiece before you start to lose image quality. This is especially important if you wear glasses because you’ll already have a natural barrier between your eye and the eyepiece. If this describes your situation, look for a scope with at least 14mm in eye relief.
The shape of the scope and eyepiece are mostly a matter of personal taste. Some scopes don’t even come with eyepieces because it’s assumed that you’ll want to use one that best fits you. We recommend that you take a trip to a sporting goods store to find out what kind of scope body and eyepiece are best for you.
Once you’ve decided on the basic features you need in a spotting scope, you can start shopping with your budget in mind.
Other hunting gear we’ve reviewed:
It was a close contest for our top pick between the Bushnell Legend Ultra and the Vortex Optics Viper. We went with the Bushnell because of its superior magnification at longer ranges and its slightly lower price. The Celestron 52250 delivered the best budget purchase, beating out the Redfield Rampage because it represents the best return on investment. We didn’t much care for the Barska, which is only a good choice if you have very little money.
We hope our reviews provided you with useful information in making your choice, and that we gave you ideas to think over with our buyers’ guide. We wish you the best in choosing the right scope, and the best of luck using it in the field.
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