Binoculars vs. Spotting Scopes

Benjamin David | February 22, 2021
Glassing a bull elk and some bedded cows with the Vortex Razor HD 27-60×85 angled spotting scope.

If you are new to hunting or shooting this year, and are wondering if a pair of binoculars or a spotting scope is the best investment for you, then you are in the right spot. Most hunting requires lots of scouting and glassing, but that can be in one area, or a larger area that requires a lot of travel, whereas target shooting is a little more stationary. Your intended use, magnification, field of view, portability, and weight will determine whats best for you! We’ll help you evaluate the pros and cons of each, and provide a few great recommendations.



Vortex 10 42 Binoculars

Vortex 10×42 Binoculars

  • Pros
  • Portable
  • Less Eye Strain
  • Cost
  • Lightweight
  • Wider Field of View
  • Cons
  • Lower Magnification
  • Smaller Objective Lens

A good pair of binoculars are easy to carry, durable, not too heavy, have magnification appropriate for the type of hunting you will be doing, have an appropriate field of view, fog resistance, are aberration free, have clear glass, and fit into your budget.

If you plan on using your binoculars while squirrel hunting, you won’t need the same magnification as you would while hunting mountain goats. Glassing goats at 800 or 1000 yards, from ridge to ridge, is a much different requirement than spotting squirrels in tree tops at 150 to 200 yards.

With greater magnification, you may be able to see every hair on a squirrel’s hind, but it’s just not necessary. Greater magnification, a larger field of view, and a much more expensive price tag, won’t help bag more squirrels, than a more appropriate pair of binos would. Similarly, an under-powered pair of binoculars won’t help you determine points on a mule deer at 400 to 500 yards, nor will it help count the annuli on a bighorn sheep high up above a scree field.

The best binoculars aren’t necessarily the ones with the greatest magnification, the steepest price tag, or even the best glass. The best pair of binoculars are the pair that you will get the most use out of, are appropriate for the hunting you do, and will help you be successful on your hunts.

There are a lot of great options when it comes to binoculars. It’s my opinion that some of the greater values are being offered by some of the younger companies to join the industry. Maven started offering clean simple optics, direct to consumer in 2014, and Vortex has been at it since the late 80’s. Both companies offer a wide range of products, at different tiers of performance and price points, and both companies back their products with lifetime warranties.

Binoculars We Recommend


Spotting Scopes

Vortex Razor HD 27 60 85 Angled Spotting Scope

Glassing through a Vortex Razor HD 27-60×85 Angled Spotting Scope.

  • Pros
  • Greater Magnification
  • Larger Objective Lens
  • Cons
  • Narrower Field of View
  • Large Size
  • More Weight
  • Tripod Requirement
  • Cost

Spotting scopes offer high power magnification and an outstanding picture. They are offered in a variety of sizes and form factors, but are larger than binoculars, aren’t as portable, and are almost always intended to be used with a tripod. What you get in magnification, clarity and size, you will pay for. The price point for a good spotting scope typically exceeds the price point for a good pair of binoculars.

If you are a target shooter, and need optics to see target paper at 1000 or more yards, a spotting scope is a great choice. If you are planning on doing an unsupported hunt in the backcountry, a spotting scope and tripod may not be something you want to pack in.

Hiring a packing service to get in and out of a base camp, is a situation where a spotting scope may be more appropriate. Glassing high country ridges for your quarry, without having to lug optics very far from a camp, makes good use of the higher power magnification of a spotting scope. However, once you venture away from camp, you’ll want more portable optics, and a pair of binoculars makes good sense.

Some states have done an incredible job providing hunting opportunities and road access to remote places. Hunting in those states may mean a lot of driving on dirt roads, and a lot of glassing from a stationary point. Spotting distant game while glassing from the roadside is more easily and comfortably done from a chair, looking through a spotting scope, than it is holding binoculars up to one’s face for hours.

Spotting Scopes We Recommend


So which option is best for you?

Binoculars, in almost all normal hunting situations, will be much more portable and versatile than a spotting scope. If you don’t have any optics, and intend to hunt, start with a high quality pair of binoculars. A good pair of binos will serve you well for decades. Start with a good level of magnification, and you will never have regrets. If you need optics for the range, a spotting scope may serve you better.

A few other things to consider, beyond size and magnification, when considering binoculars or a spotting scope, are eye strain and logistics. Binoculars utilize both eyes, and are less strain on the eyes than focusing for long periods of time through the single lens of a spotting scope.

Logistically speaking, pretending the moon had herds of Elk, it wouldn’t matter if you had an Elk tag and could see them with a telescope. Even with SpaceX’s latest endeavors it’s impractical and improbable to think you’d get to the moon within shooting distance. Likewise, just because you can see a distant critter with a spotting scope, it doesn’t mean you’ll be able to get close enough to pursue that animal and take a shot. In that situation it doesn’t matter how powerful the magnification is on your optics.

You can add a tripod to your binoculars! A tripod mount for binoculars, will make long hours of glassing more comfortable, without adding too much more to what you need to lug around. You still won’t have the magnification of a spotting scope, but the trade off for comfortability and image stability seems well worth it. Checkout these tripod mounts.

While we did specifically mention Vortex and Maven as great companies, offering great optics and affordable price points. That doesn’t mean we don’t recognize the plethora of other options from companies like Swarovski and Zeiss, offering mainly premium options at premium prices, or companies like Leupold, Bushnell, and Nikon that offer a vast range of products at an equally vast range of prices.

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Written By Benjamin David
Benjamin is an avid outdoorsman with a wide range of experience hunting, fishing, climbing, and backacking. He brings his knowledge and experience, to Sportsman's Magazine, and is a major content contributor. Leave Ben a comment or question.

A Tweener!

Many modern binoculars will accept a tripod mount, making all day glassing in the field or spotting at the range more comfortable.

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