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Blackhorn Powder
Rifle Magazine
May - June 2004
Volume 36, Number 3
ISSN: 0162-3583
Number 213
On the cover...
The custom Weatherby Vanguard is chambered for a variety of popular hunting cartridges and features a hand laminated stock. The Cooper Model 57 LVT .22 rimfire is outfitted with a Bushnell Elite Model 4200 2.5-10x Scope in Leupold rings. Pronghorn photo b
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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, bu¬≠t 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 hunter’s 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 wasn’t 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 he’s on that stand. Since he can’t go to the game, he must depend on his eyes and ears to do his hunting for him. That means it’s 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 Leupold’s 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 user’s side or carried in a padded nylon case worn on the user’s belt. Both strap and case are supplied with the scope.

A collapsible rubber eyecup is fitted to the scope’s 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.

There’s 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 magni¬≠fication was increased to 20x, everything from around 500 yards to 1,000 yards and beyond was in focus. Admittedly, that’s not particularly definitive, but from my experience afield with the scope, I’d 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 pod’s 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 couldn’t 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 there’s a better place to test color transmission than saguaro country, I haven’t found it. The low desert boasts vegetation, rocks and sands of every shade and hue known to man plus one or two that probably haven’t been cataloged yet. Whether under the sun’s 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 wouldn’t have been on a sunny day – but under these dim conditions, the birds’ feathers didn’t 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.

Leupold’s 10-20x variable is an impressive performer by any standard. Although it isn’t exactly a pocket model, it doesn’t 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.

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