Two years ago we made a cross-country move and had professional movers do all the heavy lifting (pun intended). While the job they did was outstanding, we believe we lost something along the way. Not in a metaphysical sense, but really… we lost something. My wife had a small statue in our old house, and I had a couple spotting scopes as well. Unfortunately, neither of these has surfaced and we’ve been through every box (twice). As these were in the same general area in our old house, and having been through the gyrations of cross-country moves a couple times before, we can only guess a box was lost in the moving process. While its contents is known to only God and the moving company, we are fairly certain at least one statue and a couple spotting scopes were part of the package. The last time I went to sight in a rifle off the bench without my spotting scope was a painful process, so vowing not to repeat this I started shopping for a replacement optic.
Fortunately for me, my missing scopes were not high end. One was a smaller, old Bushnell around 30 years old that had seen better days, and another was a low end Barska unit I had impulse purchased for $28 during the holiday season a few years back. Bound and determined to find a suitable replacement, I began a Google search of “best spotting scopes under $100.” What came back were pages upon pages that basically told me to expect something akin to a paper towel tube for that price. I quickly found that it’s very, very easy to spend a few hundred dollars on a quality scope, and really good ones can cost as much as a mortgage payment or two. After finding myself getting sucked into the research, I backed up a bit and re-centered on the thought that I don’t need to pick out enemy insurgents a mile out with this thing. I need to see little holes in stationary pieces of paper 100 yards away. This narrowed my search quite a bit, and to spare you with the details I bought three units to test (all were 20-60×60 units under $100): a Simmons Prosport from Cabela’s ($59 on sale, normally $119), a Simmons Blazer ($59 at Wal-Mart), and a Celestron Upclose ($79 on Walmart.com).
Testing included setting these theee little gems up in my back yard, each taking a turn on a Slik brand tripod used for photography. The Slik tripod is a very stout unit and a good base for seeing what these budget scopes could really do. Why the back yard? Because I have a high fence on all sides and it would limit the chance nieghbors and casual passer-bys in my little neck of suburbia might mistake me for some creeper or peeping Tom. I found a few stacks and vents on roofs ranging from around 100 – 300 yards out and focused on them at 20, 40, and 60x magnification with each unit. The Simmons Prosport from Cabelas was the nicest scope, exhibiting the best build quality and clearest picture. I liked everything about it except one thing: it has a straight view eyepiece. Meaning, it’s basically straight like a rifle scope. While this may not seem like a detracting element, it is for me as I’ll be using this off the bench most times and the straight view is not nearly as comfortable to use as an angled eyepiece. On an angled spotting scope, the eyepiece is normally 45 degrees upright, which makes viewing off a bench much, much more comfortable. Anyway, as much as I liked the Prosport I remembered how uncomfortble my old Bushnell was and vowed not to repeat that. On to the Simmons Blazer. It isn’t quite as nice as the Prosport, and the optics on it cranked up to 60x aren’t quite as clear. However, I had to switch back and forth between the two multiple times to really see the difference, so obviously it wasn’t so dramatic as to likely impact my needs. The angled eyepiece is much more comfortable, and the scope seems pretty decent for the $59 price tag. Finally, the Celestron was a big disappointment. I had hoped that, even with a low end optic, this well-known manufacturer of telescopes and amateur astronomy equipment would deliver a diamond in the rough, but this scope was clearly not constructed as well as the others and the optics through it were not as clear as either Simmons.
In the end, I kept the Simmons Blazer. Between the three of those, it was the best mix of features and performance for what I need. And, while not nearly as clear as the Zeiss and Swarovski models the Cabelas staff showed me while I was shopping, the Simmons won’t cost me as much as a tropical vacation and will still show bullet holes at the 100 yard mark clear enough for my needs.