Using a Spotting Scope
The day was slightly overcast and very humid. It was July in the sweltering Tennessee summer. Thankfully, I had the range to myself and my spotter, Dakota. My 8mm sporterized K98 rested on my lead sled topped with a 3-9x Leupold Rifleman Scope, with myself on the rifle. Dakota had his Leupold SX-1 Ventana Spotting Scope to my left set up on the adjacent table.
The first shot cracked from my rifle.
‘You’re low, 2 inches at seven O’clock”
I cranked up the adjustment a few clicks and positioned myself for the next shot. I fired again. I could see that I had struck bull’s eye; the Shoot NC target’s center had a nice neat hole through it.
Dakota didn’t say anything, and so I looked over to see a smile and the thumbs up sign from my buddy.
“That was beautiful; let me take a look through the scope”.
Dakota got up from the table, “Have at it”.
I arose from the table, and sat down behind the spotting scope and zoomed up to 12 power, sure enough, my round had struck dead of center creating a picture perfect hole. Sighting in a rifle with 2 shots is truly a thing of beauty, and it was made possible by a seasoned spotter and a good spotting scope.
The Shooters Other Optic
Spotting scopes have been around for decades now, and have been used by all sorts of outdoor enthusiasts, shooters, and the military. They come in all different powers, and brands, not unlike the scopes we mount on our favorite long arms. They can cost less than $50, or can be worth north of $2000.
Perhaps the greatest use for these magnificent tools is helping trigger pullers put their bullets on target and the follow up involved after the smoke clears. Shooting competitions employ spotters and scopes in the scoring of targets, and shooters use them to aid in adjusting windage and elevation. If you head to Camp Perry, you will see many onlookers employing spotter scopes to follow the action.
Now there is a great difference between how a hunter is going to use a spotting scope as opposed to how a shooter is going to employ one. As a hunter, the most common use I have for a spotter is the location of game animals during a hunt in wide open space. A spotting scope is next to useless in the thick woods that dominate my home in the Appalachian Mountains. But put yourself over cornfields, in prairies or in the Rocky Mountains where wide open vistas are plentiful and the spotting scope comes into its own. If you want to know how many points a Buck has at 1000 yards away, you’ll want a good spotter. Want to know the best way to approach an elk? Use a spotting scope. Want the best way to spot your Mother in Law before she sees you? You get the picture.
When we are shooting target or competition, that spotting scope is not going to be used to acquire a buck, but to sight in, follow our shots, score our hits, coach our buddies, etc. Every rifle and long-range shooting competition I have ever been to employs spotting scopes for scoring shooters. Every long range competition shooter I have ever known uses a spotting scope to determine their bullet placement and to follow up after every round expended. Spotting scopes are much more powerful than almost any rifle scope, and being able to see just where your round hit can be the difference between winning a competition and buying your buddies beer.
Recreational target shooters use a scope almost the same way as the folks that shoot at Camp Perry, only we can stay fat and happy behind our rifles and nobody is going to care how lousy shots we are. Sighting in, as I mentioned above, is made that much easier with the aid of a spotting scope. Having a buddy sitting next to you behind a quality optic can help you make effective and accurate adjustments to your rifle scope.
Employing the Spotting Scope
Using a spotting scope is not complicated. Just as you would set up your rifle before taking a shot, make sure your spotting scope is on a stable platform. Personally, If I am shooting a higher powered rifle (over .308), with a heavier report and shockwave, I don’t set up the spotting scope right next to my rifle. Reason being, when I have a scope zoomed all the way in on the target and set up just right, I don’t want a big bore recoil to throw my adjustments to the spotter off the mark. I will (a) set up on an adjacent table, or (b) set up a tripod to the rear and direct left of me (I shoot right handed).
Once you have set up your optic, zoom in on your target. This is where having a nice stable platform really makes life easy, as it can be a big pain in the neck to have to re-sight your scope after every round. After every shot you take, you will no longer have to rely on your rifle scope (if you are using one), or unstable binoculars.
As a final thought, if you are shooting at and well beyond 500 yards, you are going to need to invest in a good optic. Finding a spotter that has little chromatic aberration at long range and high magnification is key. Don’t for the love of all that is good and holy in this world, settle on a cheap scope. If you are shooting at 1000 yards, and actually want to see where your rounds are landing buy a high-end Leupold, Leica, Pentax or Swarovski. If you can’t afford these optics, save up to purchase one. In the meantime, buddy up with the rich member of your gun club, the one who drives the Porsche, sips 50-year-old scotch and shoots custom built rifles made by companies whose names you can’t pronounce.
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