Should you choose a spotting scope or binoculars for target shooting?
I have heard this perplexing question asked often. To decide what is the most useful and practical tool for the job, let’s look at some important points before I announce my personal pick. Let’s examine this question together with the facts about both binoculars and spotting scopes.
Spotting Scope or Binoculars for Target Shooting? 6 Things to Consider
When staring at a target 100, 200, 300, or more yards away looking for small holes, high magnification is the rule.
Standard power binoculars most often have low power compared to a spotting scope. It is nearly impossible to see a .22 caliber hole in a standard target with a pair of 8 power binoculars. A tiny hole in the target is quite different than spotting a big whitetail deer buck out in a field.
What you need is a high magnification scope that will differentiate between a fly and a bullet impact. This is where high magnification reigns supreme.
What provides high magnification and variable magnification the best? That would be the spotting scope (+1).
The spotting scope has won this first bout for the title of king of the target range. Can it keep up the wins? Let’s continue and find out how the odds are on the next top points of requirements.
You need a stable mount to see a static target from a long distance. Frankly, a pair of binoculars with just a neck strap and your two hands makes a poor platform for stable anti-movement viewing. And while some higher power models may have mounts for tripods, this is not common.
For bench rest shooting, it is imperative your high magnification shot impact imaging tool be mounted to a non-moving platform. It should also allow for small adjustments as necessary. This will ultimately save time between shots and keep you up to date where your bullets are landing downrange.
So which, a spotting scope or binoculars have the best stabilty and fine-adjustments? The spotting scope, of course (+1).
For more info on picking good, compatible tripods for your spotting scope, click here to read our guide.
Wide FOV or Directly on Target?
Target shooting requires an optic device that can zoom-in on a specific, small target, instead of showing a wide FOV (field of view).
For precision long-distance shooting, the wide FOV of binoculars just won’t perform well. Sure, the wide FOV is great for scanning a hillside or valley for big game. It’s a known fact that having a device with a wide FOV is quite an asset to hunting success. However, the wide FOV of binoculars doesn’t adapt to target shooting. In fact, if you can’t zoom in on your target like a spotting scope can, you might even score someone else’s target on accident.
Unless you have the eyesight of a superhuman, the spotting scope is the obvious winner of this part of the debate (+1).
Speed of Use
Binoculars are indeed the kings of speed of use on most occasions…
With them slung around your neck they can be employed as quickly as you can lift them. This efficiency would be handy for short range shooting on, say, a pistol range. For bench rest shooting, however, a pair of binoculars around your neck can simply be a nuance. It’s a lose-lose for bench rest shooting with binoculars, because if they are sitting on the table next to you, each shot is newly found.
A mounted spotting scope pointed at your target is ready for your eye after each shot. Less movements while working on precision shooting equates to better groupings.
So our conclusion is, it depends (+0). If you’re doing short-range shooting, binoculars could be a fine choice, but if you’re doing long-range, go with a spotter.
Binoculars are almost always more portable than spotting scopes.
You’re pretty much anchored down if you want to use a spotting scope, but a pair of binoculars can be carried by a neck strap, carrying case, or better yet, a chest harness.
Here’s the (slow) process of setting up a spotting scope: Spotting scopes are carried in a dedicated case. When needed, the user must attach the separately carried tripod for wobble-free, long distance viewing. Pull the tripod from the bag. Deploy the legs and stand it on a sturdy platform. Mount the spotting scope and finally find, through trial and error, your target.
I have found handheld use of a spotting scope, especially on a higher magnification setting, to be problematic.
So binoculars win big in this category (+0.5). However, you must remember that portability isn’t all that important when you’re shooting at targets from a static position.
Quality of Optics
The best optics for target shooting are ones that will allow high magnification with as little distortion as possible.
Picture watching for groups while your buddies shoot at long distance. Instead of quickly announcing “12 o’clock in the 10 ring” you are buying time. The heat waves and just plain poor optics have left you high and dry.
This is reality. Those little bullet holes are very hard to see way out there at long distances with bad optics. Spend extra cash on good optics that will save your legs from constantly walking downrange to see where your bullets hit. It will also save you time and allow you to spend more time doing what you need to be doing, which is shooting, of course. There are no deals with bargain optics.
Remember there is shame in always borrowing your shooting buddy’s quality spotting scope because yours is the bargain bin model. He or she might not like having to find their target again in their spotting scope after it watches yours.
In the quality of optics department, I’d say binoculars and spotting scopes are about equal. But, spotting scopes are simply better at focusing on one point than binoculars, so the spotting scope wins (+0.5).
Spotting Scope or Binoculars for Target Shooting – Conclusion
And the winner is: The Spotting Scope!
SPOTTING SCOPES (3.5) win over BINOCULARS (0.5).
Read our guide on the best spotting scopes for target shooting!
The spotting scope is my pick for the winner over binoculars for longer distance target shooting. While for shorter ranges a quality pair of binoculars might work well, for longer range you can find nothing better than the tripod-mounted spotting scope. Even if some miracles happened in the binocular industry, the spotting scope still would not be replaced by binoculars, by anyone from beginners to professional marksmen.
Next time you are at your local shooting range, check out what the experienced shooters use for their eagle eyes. It will always be the quality made spotting scope mounted to a proper tripod for their long distance shooting needs. Your eyes and bullet groups will thank you.
I hope this article has helped you with the age-old debate – spotting scope or binoculars for target shooting.
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