More on spotting scopes

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Posted by Ballpark Frank ( on 09:14:13 02/19/16

In Reply to: scope? posted by Erin K


Spotting scopes are like small telescopes, typically used with a tripod to support them. Historically, their primary users were birders and hunters, but over time, wildlife watchers started adopting their use to enhance viewing at great distances.

I have used my scopes for activities as diverse as whale watching, observing climbers summiting on numerous peaks in the Tetons, and checking trail conditions below from the rim of the Grand Canyon. That is in addition to the primary use, which is for observing bears, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, and wolves in places like Denali, Rocky Mountain, and Yellowstone National Parks.

To see a variety of scopes in person, I would suggest checking out a Cabella's or Bass Pro Shops store, if you have one in your area. Otherwise, you can also find them at high end photography stores. You might even find a few of the low end (price and quality) scopes at a Target or WalMart.

In the interest of full disclosure, know that there is quite a spread in the quality, and the price, of spotting scopes. Some of the cheapest ones are available for $100 - $200. At the high end, you can spend $3,000 - $4,000 easily. Then there is the tripod and tripod head. Traveling with this type of gear can be challenging. It took me a number of years before I finally found the ideal carry-on luggage and lightweight, but sturdy tripod and head for air travel. It was pricey, but worth it.

Unless you have plenty of uncommitted funds to throw around, I would suggest you do some quick research locally, just to familiarize yourself with scopes in general, then consider either going cheap for this first go-round, or renting higher quality gear after arriving in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

With your family's penchant for hitting the trails, and all the non-wildlife attractions in Yellowstone, your likely use of a scope on this trip would probably be minimal.

I started out with a non-fancy glass Nikon Fieldscope (60 mm objective) and a 20-45x zoom eyepiece back in 1991. With a decent tripod and head, the entire rig cost somewhere between $500 and $1,000. That worked fine for vehicle trips to Yellowstone from Colorado until sometime around 2000, after I moved to Yellowstone, and finally invested in a much more expensive Nikon scope, with fancy ED glass. There are quite a few quality manufacturers cranking out spotting scopes, so I would advise anyone considering buying a medium or high-priced scope to try as many different manufacturer's products as possible, before making a purchasing decision.

One of our favorite behaviors with our scopes is to turn them to the sky, looking at the moon or planets, once it gets too dark to continue watching wildlife. I should also mention that one of the principal benefits of spending lots of dollars on high-end glass is for the much improved viewing in low light conditions. This almost takes you into nerd or wonky world, when it comes to bear and wolf-watching, but us hard core types judge it worthwhile.

One other source of a look at spotting scopes and potentially, good intel, is any store that caters to birders, like Wild Birds Unlimited.


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