What Is A Spotting Scope Used For? (Pros & Cons)

We all know that a spotting scope is basically a more portable telescope. But what is a spotting scope used for? Spotting scopes are very popular for hunters and nature lovers alike. In fact, I haven’t gone on a hunt in the last 15 years without bringing a spotting scope with me. In this post, I’ll go over 5 of the most popular spotting scope use cases as well as tips on how to buy your own.

Spotting Scope Use Cases

When you think of a spotting scope, most people think of an activity that involves shooting. However, that is not always the case. There are many reasons why someone would use a spotting scope. Here are 5 main use cases for a spotting scope.

  1. Range & Target Shooting
  2. Hunting Wild Game
  3. Animal Observation
  4. Basic Astronomy
  5. Hiking

pictre of a man using a spotting scope out on a hunt

1) Range & Target Shooting

Spotting scopes are great to use in more than just a tactical or hunting setting. It can also be used for sighting long-distance targets on a range.

Spotting scopes usually have a zoom feature, which allows you to magnify the image and get a closer look. They also typically have a tripod mount, so you can set them up and use them hands-free. Shooters can see their cardboard and paper targets from hundreds of yards away depending on the magnification power.

2) Hunting Wild Game

For the hunter, a spotting scope is an essential piece of equipment. It allows you to see wild game from a distance, and make sure that you’re on target before you take the shot.


If you have ever gone on a trip hunting large game, then you know just how hard it can be to get close. Deer, elk, and other animals have senses that put humans to shame. They can often smell us far before we’re within distance to make a shot.

This is where spotting scopes come into play. You can track your animal from hundreds of yards away. Just like we saw in our post on what magnification scope for 100 yards, you need about 1-3x in most situations! A hunter can determine the species, age, and gender of the animal from a long distance away before wasting hours hiking in the wrong direction.

3) Animal Observation

Although our HuntersHalt community is full of hunters…it’s not for everyone. That doesn’t mean spotting scopes aren’t for you. Spotting scopes are great for animal observation.

Spotting scopes are very popular with bird watchers. High-magnification scopes are needed for bird watching. The large objective lens, such as a 50mm objective lens, gives nature observers a wide field of view so they can track and watch animals from over 100 yards away. You can even buy a car window mount to be able to observe nature when you’re on the move.

4) Basic Astronomy

When comparing a telescope vs spotting scope for astronomy, telescopes are the clear winner. The high magnification power, bigger objective lenses, & angled zoom eyepiece allows users to get a clear image of the planets & stars in the night sky.

However, spotting scopes can still be used for basic astronomy. Don’t expect a crystal clear image when viewing faraway planets. However, it can still be used for viewing distant objects in the night sky. If you are going to use your spotting scope for astronomy, use an angled eyepiece to make looking high up in the sky much easier.

Spotting scopes are basically portable telescopes with less magnification power. Although it is mainly a terrestrial scope, beginner astronomers can use either a spotting scope or a telescope for viewing night viewing.

5) Hiking

Hikers also have a need for spotting scopes. If you are just going for walks in your local park, a scope with interchangeable eyepieces is probably overkill. However, if you are a serious hiker who scales mountainous terrain, a spotting scope can come in handy.

The magnification power of spotting scopes gives hikers the ability to scan the landscape and determine their hiking route. It is not optimal to hike for hours just to run into rocks you cannot climb over. With a scope, you can see from a distance the terrain out in front of you.

They are also small, compact, and lightweight. This makes them easy to pack into a backpack and carry on a hike.

How To Buy

picture of different spotting scopes with a green background

If you’re sold that a spotting scope is right for you, then it’s time to shop. Luck for you, we have a list of the Best Spotting Scopes for Long Distances. There are scopes that fit all price ranges and use cases. Pick the scope that works best for your specific use case.

How To Pick A Spotting Scope

There are a few main things to look for when buying a spotting scope. Remember, we all have different buying criteria and use cases. Look at each scope through the perspective of how it can help your specific needs.

  • What Are Your Needs – What are you trying to accomplish with your spotting scope? Are you a hunter? Target shooter? Bird watcher? Pick a scope that is best for your use case.
  • Price – Pick a scope that is within your budget range. Premium spotter scopes may be more expensive. Oftentimes, they are priced north of $1,000. However, if you do not need a fancy scope with a fully multi-coated objective lens with a roof prism…then don’t waste your money.
  • Lens Size – Lens diameter is one of the most important specifications on a spotting scope. The lens diameter will impact the sight picture and overall field of view.
  • Magnification Power – How far away are the targets you are going to observe with your spotting scope? Are they 100 yards away? Are they 1000 yards away? Pick a magnification that fits your needs. Generally speaking, the higher magnification scopes will be more expensive.

Angled vs Straight Spotting Scopes

There are two main types of scopes: angled vs straight spotting scopes. Both types have their pros and cons.

  • Angled Scope – Uses an angled eyepiece to make looking at elevated targets easier. It is also easier to share with multiple people of different sizes.
  • Straight Scope – Straight scopes have a straight eyepiece that is mounted on the same axis as the scope body. They are best used for observing objects at lower elevations. They are generally easier to use and allow for faster target acquisition.

When Is It Best To Use An Angled Spotting Scope?

An angled spotting scope is best to use when observing an object or animal a varying angles or elevations. For example, a hunter tracking a mountain goat up a cliff side should elect to use an angled spotting scope. This is because he can sit in a more comfortable position and make angled adjustments to track the game.

When Is It Best To Use A Straight Spotting Scope?

A straight spotting scope is most effective when rapid target acquisition and precise aiming are required. For example, in target shooting competitions, a straight spotting scope allows shooters to quickly locate their shots on the target without the need for adjusting viewing angles. It is also much easier to use a straight spotting scope when viewing animals or objects at lower elevations.


Now you know what spotting scopes are good for, but how do you take care of a spotting scope?

  • Clean Lenses – Keep your objective lenses clean. I make it a habit to clean off my lens and eyepiece after each use or hunting trip. It is very easy for debris to build up over time and impact the quality of your sight picture.
  • Avoid The Sun – Do not aim your spotting scope directly into the sun or very bright lights. Not only is this bad for the objective lens, but it can damage your eyes.
  • Carry Case – I recommend using a carry case. They are relatively inexpensive and can prevent your scope from getting damaged when you’re on the move. I personally use a soft carrying case.

Downside of Spotting Scopes

Spotting scopes are great for a variety of purposes. They are great for viewing objects from various different magnifications out in nature or on a shooting range. However, they are not perfect. Here are some drawbacks to using a spotting scope.

  • Price – Not everyone has a few hundred dollars to spend on a scope. If you have a limited budget, try getting your hands on secondhand equipment for a discounted rate.
  • Setup Time – It takes time to set up a spotting scope with a tripod. You have to unpack your scope, unpack your tripod, and find suitable footing to place it down. If you are out on the move in nature, you do not always have 10 minutes to spare.
  • Requires Skill – It takes time to get good at using spotting scopes. You need to practice time and time again to get it right. Generally speaking, angled spotting scopes are harder to use than straight scopes.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between a spotting scope and telescope?

A spotting scope is a handheld telescope that is designed for terrestrial daytime viewing. It has a shorter focal length and a wider field of view than a traditional telescope, which makes it ideal for viewing objects such as birds, wildlife, or sporting events. A telescope is a larger, more expensive device that is typically used for astronomical viewing.

How far can you see with a spotting scope?

It really depends on the quality of your specific spotting scope. Cheaper spotting scopes are normally good for 100-300 yards. However, more expensive scopes can provide clear image quality up to 1000 yards away!

What planets can you see with a spotting scope?

From my experience, you should be able to see Saturn's rings with a strong spotting scope. You need 25x magnification to see Saturn and other planets out in space. However, it will not be as clear and crisp as with a telescope.

The Bottom Line

Now you know the top 5 main use cases for spotting scopes. Depending on your budget & desired magnification range, there is a scope for everyone. Find a scope that works best for your specific needs and uses cases! Let us know what you use your spotting scope for.

About the author

Patrick Howard

I have been working as a gunsmith for 20 years. Rain, fog, moisture, high temperature, or even snow are all the things a product must withstand in order to be recommended by me.

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