Spotting Holes

I can see two, maybe three camps of thought on what a spotting scope is for but first I’ll point out that we all probably agree it’s a good tool for getting your sights lined up. But once that’s accomplished, the divergence of opinion begins.

Specifically, once your sights are lined up, do you still need a spotting scope?

The three camps of thought I have in mind diverge when you call your shot but it lands elsewhere. The scope is where you’ll see that this has happened, and it’s this recognition that takes the next step where things begin to diverge.

In other words, once you see that you’ve messed up, now what?

One camp would say you obviously didn’t follow your shot plan. That is, the shooter’s shot plan is developed to the point where, if followed, the shot always goes to the right place. Hence, the value of the spotting scope to those in this camp is as a tell-tale. It says that the shooter is not mentally focused and following his/her shot plan. The banner slogan in this camp might be, “All Hail the Mighty Shot Plan!”

Just down the road is the second camp. When the scope reveals that a shot landed somewhere different than the call, occupants of this camp would say that the shooter did something wrong and — here’s the difference — now’s the time to analyze and correct. In this camp, the shot plan isn’t yet bullet-proof (sorry, couldn’t resist). It is still being developed. In this camp, every shot remains an opportunity for a learning experience and the spotting scope is the tool that tells the shooter, “Oh boy, look at this. There’s something to learn here!”

The third camp — I hosted some beginner-relatives at the range a while back and they come to mind — is the group where, after each shot they would look in the scope, were generally mystified (and annoyed) at the results but, on rare occasion, they would suddenly shout, “Bullseye!” For them, the spotting scope was a source of entertainment.

They grin at the mysterious bullseye and say, “Hey, I’m gettin’ pretty good!”

And then resume blasting away at the berm and the target frame.

As we ascend the Bullseye ladder, we experience all three camps, some longer than others. And over a long competition, I sometimes find that my tent has been moved because although I’d like to say my shot plan is perfect, in reality it’s still a work in progress.

I kidded John Zurek one evening about his targets all being so boring with all those Xs and 10s.

“Don’t you get bored?” I asked only half in jest.

He just smiled.

Is bored is a good thing?

Inexpensive Spotting Scope

If you are looking for a low $ spotting scope, you may want to consider the Meade 60AZ-T Compact Refracting Telescope. Although “telescopes” are generally not acceptable as spotting scopes (because they reverse and/or invert the image depending on the type), the 45 degree viewer that came with this instrument leaves the view of the target right-side up and left-to-right correct. It fits on the standard Hebard mount and into the standard gun box I’m using, and costs a whole lot less than a traditional spotting scope.

Here are the technical specifications:

  • Model#: Meade 60AZ-T
  • Aperture: 60 mm (2.4″)
  • Focal length: 350 mm, f/5.8
  • Lense #1: 17.5 mm, 1.25″ diameter (20X)
  • Lense #2: 9 mm, 1.25″ diameter (39X)
  • Barlow lense: 2X, 1.25″ diameter
  • Mount: standard tripod
  • Tripod: Tabletop
  • Includes erecting 45 degree prism diagonal
  • Soft carry bag
  • Price: I paid $38, on sale from the marked $49.99 price at Kit Camera in the shopping mall (Fashion Square, Scottsdale AZ, 03/10/2005).

Yeah, I was astonished at the price and immediately thought, “This can’t work — it’s just too cheap.” I had been looking at Bushnells and so forth and was preparing to spend from $125 to $300 to get the 60 mm aperture and 45 degree eyepiece, and then wait for the UPS truck, when I happened across this one from Meade that was ready to be carried out of the store “now.”

It is now mounted on my (borrowed) range box with the standard Hebard scope mount. I had to remove the large “dew shield” from the 60 mm end to make it fit without being snug (the dew shield slips right off and can be replaced just as easily) but that was the only “adjustment” needed to adapt it from looking at stars to looking at targets.

Standing on the line with targets at 50 yards, the 20X magnification is sufficient for me to see 22LR holes and all of the paper in the B-6 standard target (and a little of the dirt mound behind). I tried the 38X eyepiece at that distance but didn’t really need the extra magnification, nor the extra jiggle transmitted through the shooting table. And at 25 yards, I can see all of the scoring area of the standard B-8. For my (not-so-occasional) “flyers” I only have to move my head around a little to see the edges of the target. Minimum focusing distance is stated as 30 feet so it should be fine on an indoor 50 foot range.

The 45 degree angle “roof prism” fits between the focus tube and the eyepiece and corrects the image as well as turning it for convenient viewing. I can stand in typical Bullseye fashion, release a round and then turn my head and be looking directly into the eyepiece without leaning (table, gun box and body height permitting, of course).

Because of the large 60mm aperture (front lense diameter), the image is bright and clear. At the indoor range I sometimes use, the lighting is less than ideal but the target and my 22LR holes are still sharp and easy to see.

If you want to buy additional eyepieces, the 1.25″ diameter is the standard size for telescopes. You’ll have lots to choose from and some are quite expensive but there’s an enormous variety of magnifications and other features available. Meade, Celestron and Pentax are big-name eyepiece manufacturers but there are many smaller companies, many of them at very reasonable prices. For example, Celestron has a 8-24mm (15-45X) Zoom eyepiece that is advertised by one retailer for $55.95 who was taking “future orders” for this new apparently brand new eyepiece.

But there are a couple of potential disadvantages to this ‘scope. For some the problem will be appearance. It looks like a small telescope, not a spotting scope, and if you want “that look” then you’ll be disappointed. Secondly, the focus knobs look like toy truck wheels with fancy chrome hubcaps. And third, many of the pieces are plastic and, undoubtedly, the unit is much less rough-and-tumble as compared to a mostly all-metal spotting scope.

But with reasonable care the plastic parts should last, the focus rail has almost no “slop” in spite of the toy-truck wheels and, when my granddaughter comes over to the house, we can look at the moon (until she’s old enough to look at the bull).

And for $38 or even the stamped $49.99 price, I can go through a couple of these before equalling the cost of what I would have paid for one of the traditional spotting scopes.

Now if I could just convince my wife to let me use that saved $250 toward that 1911 I’ve been drooling over on each visit to the gun store. What are the chances of that?

Six Month Update

(September 10, 2005) I’ve been using this ‘scope on my gun box in Bullseye competitions for six months now. The paint has a few dings and scrapes from the rare occasions when I’ve shoved the gun box closed on something instead of re-opening it to figure out the problem but, other than that, it continues to work just great: targets are still crystal clear, 22 holes at 50 yards continue to be easy to see, and the focus knob and tube are just as tight and reliable as ever.

I choose to shoot my money down range to improve my ability rather than having it sitting around on the box looking pretty.

What’s your money for?

Twenty-One Month Update

(December 23, 2006) I used the above spotting scope on my gun box for a few months shy of two years. It worked great, never failed and survived a lot of abuse.

I travel a lot and, of necessity, I’ve had to pare down my travelling gun box. For that, I needed a much smaller spotting scope so recently I bought an NG 20×33 scope from Pilk Guns ( Although it cost several times what I paid for the Meade, it was also a far cry from what others have paid for much pricier scopes.

The little NG is tiny in comparison to any other spotting scope. But the magnification is the same as that of my older Meade and works fine at 50 yards. And the NG has a 45 degree viewing angle that can be rotated for convenience. The only negative comment I can make is that I have to move my eye a little closer to the scope now: with the Meade, I could position it so a simple turn of the head would allow me to see the target. With the NG, however, I have to get my eye closer to the eyepiece to see the same area.

Nothing wrong with the Meade, mind you. It just took up too much room in my travelling gun box (a Pelican case).