My hunting career was launched in thick
eastern woods where shots were usually this side of 100 yards, consequently binoculars and
telescopic sights were regarded as superfluous, to say nothing of being expensive, in my
crowd. To boot, neither I nor any of my buddies had ever heard of a spotting scope, let
alone seen one. Later, my first western hunt altered those attitudes. In short order,
receiver sights were replaced by 2 1/2x scopes, and heading afield without a binocular
hanging from a neckstrap would have been unthinkable.
As far as spotting scopes were concerned, I
saw a few in action, but they were too big, too cumbersome to hold any appeal,
regardless of their obvious advantages, especially when sheep hunting. Although they could
reach way out there to see whether a trophy was hiding in the midst of a small herd of
mulies or antelope, my early training had conditioned me to regard the use of
high-magnification glass as akin to unsporting. I had been taught that it was part of the
hunters challenge to try and get in as close as possible, to out-deer the deer and
out-elk the elk, so to speak. To do otherwise, to identify a particular animal from afar
wasnt really playing the game. It was an old-fashioned attitude, obviously, but
converted in childhood, I was stuck with it.
Like everything else in life, hunting
conditions, techniques and attitudes change over time. Today, for instance, hunting from
stands is becoming more common in almost every part of the country. Stand hunting can be
much more effective than stalking or tracking, but it imposes a whole new set of
challenges. For starters, the hunter must remain alert, truly alert and almost
totally immobilized every minute hes on that stand. Since he cant go to
the game, he must depend on his eyes and ears to do his hunting for him. That means
its imperative to spot the quarry well before it sees or scents him. Depending on
just where the stand is situated and what the visibility limits are, he will probably have
to depend on a powerful binocular or spotting scope.
Anyone in the market for one of the latter
will do himself or herself a favor by taking a long, hard look (no pun
intended) at one of Leupolds new compact models, a 10-20x variable. Only 7 1/2
inches long and weighing slightly less than a pound, the little scope can be held in one
hand, is quick-focusing, easy to adjust, waterproof, nitrogen filled, fully rubber-armored
and its lenses are multicoated to reduce glare. When not in use, the mini-scope can either
be hung from a padded neck strap and left hanging at the users side or carried in a
padded nylon case worn on the users belt. Both strap and case are supplied with the
A collapsible rubber eyecup is fitted to the
scopes eyepiece. Eyeglass wearers can place their eye closer to the lens simply by
pushing their hand against the end of the eyecup. That will force the end of the eyecup to
curl over on itself.
To adjust the magnification level, the
eyepiece can be twisted clockwise to increase it or counterclockwise to reduce it.
Theres a large (1 1/4 inch diameter)
serrated focusing knob mounted on the right side of the scope. It turns easily, making
focusing changes both effortless and speedy.
I have no means of determining exact depth of
field, but a borrowed electric rangefinder has proved to be very accurate out to 1,000
yards. According to its readings, when the Leupold scope was set on 10x, everything from
15 yards to 1,000 (and beyond for a considerable distance) was perfectly clear. When the
magnification was increased to 20x, everything from around 500 yards to 1,000 yards and
beyond was in focus. Admittedly, thats not particularly definitive, but from my
experience afield with the scope, Id say it will prove to be more than adequate for
conditions the average hunter will face.
As a final touch, a tripod adapter designed to
accept the standard 1/4x20 thread mounting screw found on most photographic tripods is
located on the base of the scope. When the scope accompanied me down to the Sonoran
desert, it was mounted on a Slik adjustable camera monopod. Made of aluminum and weighing
only a few ounces, the pod spans 4 1/2 feet from tiltable head to rubber-tipped foot when
fully extended. Once pod and tripod mount were joined, the entire rig was carried over my
right shoulder where it rode easily and was out of the way until needed. When the time
came to put the scope to work, the pods rubber toe was thrust into the sand while my
hands controlled the scope, pointing it at various targets, periodically changing
magnification and focus. The additional support offered by the monopod made the scope
rock-steady, even when magnification was cranked up to 20x.
Optically, I couldnt find anything to
criticize. The sky that day was cloudless with the sun almost directly overhead,
minimizing shadows but increasing glare. Regardless, distortion, no matter what the range,
was noticeably absent.
If theres a better place to test color
transmission than saguaro country, I havent found it. The low desert boasts
vegetation, rocks and sands of every shade and hue known to man plus one or two that
probably havent been cataloged yet. Whether under the suns merciless eye or
the nearby shadowy smudges, regardless of distance or magnification, colors seen through
those lenses were true as far as I could tell.
A few days later a storm rolled in from the
Pacific. It was a fast-moving blow, filling the skies with low-lying clouds the color of
charcoal dust. The nearby ponderosa forest was so gloomy the trees seemed engulfed in one
vast shadow. Again, the little Leupold variable was given a thorough workout, peering
through thick underbrush, under low branches to see what, if anything, was visible beyond,
across wide arroyos at opposite slopes to see if those tracks in the slush were human or
animal (they were deer) and finally, to count the number of crows roosting in a tree about
200 yards away.
That may not sound like much of a test
and it wouldnt have been on a sunny day but under these dim conditions, the
birds feathers didnt flicker, their usual shiny glint was missing. As a
result, those crows were nothing more than small dark shadows against a sooty backdrop.
Nonetheless, in time, with the scope set on 16x, I was able to pick out 22 of those sullen
scavengers huddled in those branches.
Leupolds 10-20x variable is an
impressive performer by any standard. Although it isnt exactly a pocket model, it
doesnt weigh much, take up a lot of space or demand many muscles to pack around. Its
retail price is $399.99.
Oh, almost forgot: My attitude toward spotting
scopes and their role in hunting finally changed. Not only am I a fan, but I asked Santa
to put one of these new compacts in my stocking this past year . . . and he did.