5 Best Spotting Scopes [Guide by a Professional Shooter]

top rated spotting scopes

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My favorite type of article.  For the money, the reviews and buyers guide.

This subject is very close to my world, as a lifelong Yellowstone junkie, and love the ability to reach way out and see invisible (or kind of hidden) from the road.

My wife and I talked about buying one of the overpriced super scopes to see the once in a lifetime spot, and then we took a course or tour with the Yellowstone Association, and the guide used some Nikon scopes, and that helped get us over the love of things too expensive.

The scopes the guide used were small enough to move around, easy to find the "target" and follow it through the wilds, and most importantly, the price was under 500 bucks!

So, we looked in the paper, scoured the ads around the big Christmas sales.  Then like a parting of the waves, Cabela's (Cabela's in house brand as well) of all places had some on sale for 100 bucks, so we bought two of them, and have been very happy every time we use them to look way off in the distance, and even at the night sky, they are just awesome.




Vortex Optics Viper HD Spotting Scopes

Vortex Optics Viper

Vortex Optics Viper HD Spotting Scopes

  • Magnification: 15-45x
  • Eye Relief:17.8– 19.6 mm
  • Weight:5.4 Pounds

Cabela's Intensity HD Spotting Scope

Cabela's Intensity HD 20-60x80

Cabela's Intensity HD Spotting Scope

  • Magnification: 20x -60x
  • Eye Relief: 19.5-18mm
  • Weight:11.5" ; 48 oz.

Leupold SX-1 Ventana 2 Spotting Scope

Leupold SX-1 Ventana 2 Spotting Scope

Leupold SX-1 Ventana 2 Spotting Scope

  • Magnification: 20-60 x
  • Eye Relief:24-26.4 mm
  • Weight:37 oz

Pursuit Compact Spotting Scope

Pursuit Compact Spotting Scope

Pursuit Compact Spotting Scope

  • Magnification: 25x-75x
  • Size:10" ; 38 oz.
  • Color: Black

Bushnell Trophy Xtreme Spotting Scope

Bushnell Trophy Xtreme Spotting Scope

Bushnell Trophy Xtreme Spotting Scope

  • Magnification: 20-60x
  • Eye Relief: 18 mm
  • Weight:36.5 oz / 1.0 kg

We took our budget-friendly scopes to look at some wolves and grizzly bears, and as we stood in a vast group of idiot humans freezing parts right off in the rain and cold, only Yellowstone National Park can offer in May.  As we were shivering, we watched another wolf junkie's 3200 dollar Swavovski super scope blow over in the wind and made a costly breaking noise as it hit the pavement in the parking area.  So now my 100 dollar scope is worth more than 3200 bucks of shattered glass, and if my scope hits the floor and dies, I will not have a stroke followed by a heart seizure, just some cussing, maybe some kicking of tires for good measure.

OK, let's have a look at these options for your trips, hunting scouting, range work, sky parties, or whatever you find a need for a high magnification optic on a tripod (this is not an option.  You need a tripod).

The first general aspect of spotting scopes to consider is getting the straight eyepiece or angled eyepiece.  In my folly and arrogance, I thought the straight eyepiece was better, making finding the target more manageable, maybe so.  Still, the angled eyepiece and especially if it has an adjustable angled eyepiece will be much more comfortable to stand and view for long periods, and harder to locate the target, yes, and your neck will get rather achy after a while.  To stop the neck crank issue, take an adjustable chair or stool, so you can make your head level with the eyepiece or get the angled eyepiece.

spotting scope reviews

Also, take into consideration how far away will the target be?  I took my spotting scope to Capitol Reef National Park, 22 miles from our cabin, to look closely at the Fremont People's Petroglyphs.  I could not get far enough away to use the scope, so out came the binoculars, and that was the answer.  If I had taken the little Winchester spotting scope made to check targets on the shooting range, we could have stood and spent more time looking and not had the shakey arms from binoculars.  So, think about the uses of this optic.

One last super cool thing, I promise, is the phone scope attachment.  It holds your cellphone camera in the eyepiece, and you can take a picture or view the scope, or 4 of your group can use the scope simultaneously and get a picture of a grizzly bear 2500 yards away, somewhat fuzzy, but still have the picture!

1. Vortex Viper HD 15-45x65 Spotting Scope


For a true in the field, hard use and hard to beat value is the Vortex brand.  As usual, they build optics to be used and keep on working forever.  The best way I know to put that statement into real and practical applications is to say, "your great-grandkids will still be using that scope," I think that says it all.

Solid as a tank, and heavy as well.  I don't know how far you will want to carry this scope in a knapsack, especially if you will haul in a bunch of camera gear and lunch, damn sure don't forget the food.  If you plan to use this spotting scope on the mountainside to glass for game, you need to consider the weight and size of the scope and the tripod in your gear selections

The Vortex Viper HD is precise in that the lenses are made from HD glass, sporting extra-low dispersion optics.  The lenses are full multicoated at all glass to air surfaces.  Vortex also coats the lens glass with ArmorTek* ultra-hard scratch resistance.  They also (yeah, I know, but its Vortex after all) coat the glass with multi-layered, prism coating to allow precise and accurate color light through the scope, makes everything you look at crystal clear, with no distortion.


The eye relief is .7 - .73 inches or 17.8 – 19.6mm, so you will be up close and personal with this scope, but there is zero recoil.  The field of view is 136.5 to 67.8 feet at 1000 yards.  The close distance focus is 23 feet; it seemed a bit blurry that close to me, but maybe I was not looking 23 feet, and it was closer.

The Viper HD is made from aircraft-grade aluminum and is not a small compact unit by any means.  It is 14" long and weighs in at 59 ounces, so that is 3.7 pounds!  The eyepiece is adjustable and angled (YES!) O-ring sealed, and Argon purged.  The eyecups are screw up adjustable.  The focus is helical, or along the body, and does not have a fine-focus, so light and practiced touch is needed.

Included with the scope is a built-in sunshade that pulls out, lens cap and eyepiece cover, also comes with a neoprene cover, like a rain cover.

Vortex Optics Viper

Vortex Optics Viper HD Spotting Scopes

The price of Vortex Optics Viper HD Spotting Scopes varies, so check the latest price at

2. Cabela's Intensity HD 20-60x80 Spotting Scope

spotting scope review

Cabelas stepped up their game on these, and now I want one.  Also, not a petite and easy to pack scope.  Please keep reading, wait until you read about this, and with that, please read on.

Cabelas has use ED glass in the lens offerings.  ED glass is the highest quality glass available outside of NASA (not verified, but sounded good).  Extra low dispersion glass nearly eliminates any radical light deflections, and in the construction of ED glass, it becomes more resistant to temperature and weather changes.

The glass is fully multicoated with Ultra High Band coating to help with reflected light, making the best possible light transmission, again throwing the heat in the spotting scope department.

The Intensity HD is about the same length as the Vortex Viper and weighs in at 69.8 ounces, so it needs a good pack to keep from overloading it and tearing along the path.  The body is O-ring sealed, and Nitrogen purged.  The focus is helical again, and no fine focus adjustment.  The eye-relief is 19.5 – 18mm or .77 to .70 inches.  The Field of View is fantastic at 102 to 48 feet at 1000 yards.

Cabela's also includes a lense cover and neoprene stretch cover, sound somewhat familiar?

As you have read two very similar descriptions, look at the price differences, and remember the warranty coverage.  What do I mean by that?  If you offer a lifetime no questions asked warranty compared to a 90-day return, who has more faith in their products?  I will leave that right there for you to consider.

Cabela's Intensity HD Spotting Scope

Cabela's Intensity HD Spotting Scope

The price of Cabela's Intensity HD Spotting Scope varies, so check the latest price at

3. Leupold SX1 Ventana 2 20-60x80mm Spotting Scope

tactical spotting scope

I can hear it now, "Are you kidding me?  Leupold ranks behind Cabela's?" The short answer is:  yes.  The long answer is:  read this part, and you will understand.

The SX1 Ventana 2 body is made from High Strength Polycarbon Fiber!  So what does that mean, its freaking lightweight to oversimplify it.  The SX1 Ventana 2 is wrapped or covered in a rubberized armor, so it should take some hits.  The SX1 is 17 inches long and weighs in at, get ready for it – 37 ounces!  That is correct, super-potent 20x to 80x magnification and a honkin huge 80mm objective lens.

This example I used is a straight eyepiece, with an eye relief of 24 – 26.4mm or .94 – 1.03 inches, best of this field to keep your face off the eyepiece.  The field of view is 47 – 89 feet at 1000 yards.

As with anything made by Leupold, it is sealed and filled with Nitrogen as they were the first optics manufacturer to do so, way back when, and continue to this day.  The lenses are multicoated as the industry standard and include Leupold's proprietary coating called Guard-ion (see what they did there?).  This coating and lens system gives an additional 10 minutes of useable light at dusk and dawn.

compact spotting scopes

The focusing knobs are smooth and well built, including the fine adjustment knob, making exact fine-tuning available.  The body of the SX1 has a built-in shade cover, like the rest of the pack.  Leupold also included an eyepiece cover with each scope.

If you buy it in a kit, the kit will include a hard case, a soft side carrying case, and a small tripod.  Make sure you check that you are ordering the correct thing.

Now for a bit of tough love regarding the Leupold, this polycarbonate body feels cheap, and I don't know if this does take some hits.  Will the lenses loosen, or will the whole thing flex and then lose the Nitrogen?  I don't know, and I am not going to spend the money on this scope, then smack it on a tree and see what happens.

I may spend the money on this scope and be able to carry it easier; hell, it's the same weight as three cans of beer, leaving three more cans of beer weight available to carry, or one bottle of bourbon, for medical needs and uses, as we all know.

Leupold SX-1 Ventana 2 Spotting Scope

Leupold SX-1 Ventana 2 Spotting Scope

The price of Leupold SX-1 Ventana 2 Spotting Scope varies, so check the latest price at

4. Pursuit 25-75x70mm Spotting Scope

spotting scopes for hunting

The Pursuit line of scopes is the in-house brand for Bass Pro Shop.  This scope is built differently than all the rest, and it has quite a bit to offer in compactness and its lightweight as well.  The Pursuit brings a lot of magnification or 25x to 75x and a serious objective lens at 70mm.  So let's have a closer look.

The body of the Pursuit is made of Polycarbonate and covered with rubberized armor, like the Leupold, but that is about the only similarity, making this lightweight at 38 ounces and only 10 inches long.  It is a bit more bulk, as it uses a Cassegrain mirror system to accomplish what other scopes sue the length of the main tube.  The lenses are fully multicoated; the body is Nitrogen filled as the industry-standard demands.

The eyepiece is an angled unit.  It has focus and fine focus knobs.   Clean, clear, and exact sight pictures can be achieved quickly.  Another great point regarding this optic, the close focus range is 15 feet, in case you really, really want to see a butterfly.  The field of view is 89 – 47 feet at 1000 yards.

sniper spotting scope

The scope comes with a table tripod, a padded case, and a shoulder strap to haul it all over the countryside, and at that compact size and weight, why would you not carry it everywhere?

Again, the same critique for the Pursuit as for the Leupold, the polycarbonate body feels cheap.  I don't know how they will stand up to, shall we say – rigorous use, but this unit brings a lot to the table, and for vehicle bound folks looking at nature, it will fit on a window mount easy and maneuver around inside the car or truck cab very easily.

Pursuit Compact Spotting Scope

Pursuit Compact Spotting Scope

The price of Pursuit Compact Spotting Scope varies, so check the latest price at

5. Bushnell Trophy Extreme 20-60x65mm


When it comes to value for the money, Bushnell has stepped up and offers some high-quality optics at an affordable price tag.  In the past, the name Bushnell took on the veil of cheap in price and quality, and then they jumped up their game and have a take no bull**** approach to the optics market, and I like it.

The Bushnell Trophy Extreme is built like the others, aluminum body and nitrogen purged, fully multicoated lenses.  The lenses are ED glass, which is extra-low dispersion glass (how is that for the budget scope), and the body has a waterproof rating of IPX7.  No one else claims a submersible rating.  The Bushnell also uses a Porro prism design.

The eye relief is 18mm or .70 inches.  With twist-up eyecups, those wearing glasses have an easier time when we are not trying to get that rubber eyering thing to stop flipping back up.  The field of view is 35 meters to 17 meters or 115 to 56 feet at 1000 yards.  The close focus is 30 feet.

The focus for the Bushnell is on the side as a large knob, not in the middle or on top, so there should be much less picture disruption when adjusting the focus.  The scope is not a tiny offering, at 15 inches long, and weighs in at 36.5 ounces.

The kit comes with a waterproof hard case, a soft side carrying case, and a compact tripod, and with nearly all spotting scopes, it has a built-in sunshade at the objective lens.

Bushnell Trophy Xtreme Spotting Scope

Bushnell Trophy Xtreme Spotting Scope

The price of Bushnell Trophy Xtreme Spotting Scope varies, so check the latest price at

In Parting And Happy Trails

When it comes to spotting scopes, having one is much better than wanting one.  Affording one is better than wanting one.  So get the best quality scope you can honestly afford, take good care of them, and treat them like a piece of expensive optical gear because that is precisely what they are.  You will enjoy the ability to view things, critters, and even heavenly bodies like never before.  Worried about your scope breaking, and the choice you can afford does not come with a hard-sided case?  Get one or make one.  The hard case does not have to be made by the manufacturer of the spotting scope.  Go to the hardware store, get a toolbox that will fit, add some foam, and make it safe and cozy.

Most likely, that scope will last forever, or just short of that; either way looking at a grizzly bear farther away than most folk can even make out a dark spot is pretty damn cool.

Take care and happy viewing.

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