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Rifle Magazine
November - December 2004
Volume 36, Number 6
ISSN: 0162-3583
Number 216
On the cover...
The new Nosler Custom Rifle features a Leupold 3.5-10X VX-III scope and is chambered for the .300 WSM. Mule deer photo by Donald M. Jones.
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Lately some TV ads promote a certain pickup truck as professional grade. Professional pickup buyers here in Montana slide under any used truck and look for particles of weeds, alfalfa and wheat stuffed in crevices of the frame. This means it’s a professional grade pickup that’s had the snot beaten out of it by a farmer or rancher.

Maybe the “new” professional pickups have little shields to keep wheat chaff out of the frame. That would be one way to differentiate professional grade from amateur. Otherwise the concept is rather confusing. But there is a sure a way to tell a professional grade hunter, even if the hunter in question doesn’t make a living at it: the possession of a spotting scope.

The fact that most hunters don’t own spotting scopes can probably be traced to a couple of image problems. Number One is that spotting scopes are perceived as useful only in big country Out West or Up North, where guides use ‘em to judge trophies for rich clients.

Number Two is an assumption that the only other use for spotting scopes is finding bullet holes in paper targets. But these days most hunters have 3-9x scopes mounted on their deer rifles, making hole-chasing pretty easy at 100 yards.

So what use does the semi-mythical “average hunter” (who according to one demographic study is 44 years old, lives in Ohio, has 2.37 children, makes $42,700 a year and hunts whitetails within 100 miles of home) have for another expensive piece of optics? He’s already semi-mythically broke, after buying the $500 riflescope all his buddies said was must-have for shooting whitetails at the edge of legal light, plus the $900 binocular the same buddies claimed he needed to find those same whitetails.

Well, here’s the deal. A spotting scope is one of the finest whitetail scouting devices yet invented by mankind, far more useful than a waist-high pile of trail timers, motion-sensing cameras and scent-free boots. A spotting scope is especially effective in farm country like Ohio, but can be used anywhere outside a true swamp.

You just cruise country roads toward evening, anytime from late summer through early winter (even during hunting season), glassing anywhere you might see a deer. This is primarily along woods edges, of course, but can also be along an overgrown fence line.

When bucks still have velvet antlers you’re even more likely to find them in the open, because they don’t like bumping those tender antler tips. I’ve spotted as many as 14 bucks in one August hay field. But I’ve also spotted lone bucks cruising wood-lot edges in November and found them bedded in tall fence-line grass in December - all this without setting a smelly boot on the ground itself or otherwise disturbing their peace. The same technique works on elk, mule deer, pronghorns or indeed almost any big game.

You can also use a spotting scope to look at the moon (your 2.37 kids will like this) or Out West on that semi-annual pronghorn hunt. You might even find a spotter more useful for finding bullet holes than your 3-9x riflescope.

With spotting scopes it’s far easier to work your way up the economic ladder than with binoculars or riflescopes. Even the cheapest spotter, say something in the $100 range, will do the jobs described above, while $100 binoculars often go out of alignment, and $100 scopes can come unglued atop a .30-06. This is because spotting scopes are simpler than binoculars or riflescopes, since they don’t feature two “barrels” or an adjustable reticle. They’re just a telescope.

Top-dollar scopes do tend to be more rugged, but their biggest advantage is optical. When magnification runs much above 15x, keeping the colors in the spectrum together turns extra-tough. The view through cheap scopes is often marred by “fringing” of objects by a halo of yellow, green or purple. When you spend more for a really good scope, fringing goes away, especially in scopes featuring specialized glass (generally known as ED) that prevents such color scatter. But you can easily start with an “affordable” scope.

In more expensive scopes, you may have to buy the eyepiece separately. Some models have several available, including ED-glass versions, fixed magnification or different ranges of variable magnification. (You can even buy scopes that have eyepieces coming straight out of the scope or at a 45-degree angle. Buy the straight one.) I’d advise the best variable eyepiece you can afford. With variable scopes, you can turn power up or down to compensate for low light or heat waves. By the way, either causes any eyepiece above 45x to be fairly useless for most hunting.

You’ll also need a tripod and window mount. The tripod rule is that higher tripods fuzz the view, because of vibration. The handiest hunting tripod is one that telescopes from one to two feet, so can be used either lying down or sitting up. A window mount is particularly handy when scouting those velvet-antlered August bucks.

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