Interesting statement isn’t it? Spotting Scopes Make Better Shooters! It’s a true statement believe it or not. When you read articles written about precision shooting the focus is almost entirely upon the shooter, the act of shooting, or how to shoot more accurately. Why so little attention granted to the role of Spotter? Partly because it’s a less sexy job than being the shooter. Partly because if you are shooting correctly, you don’t need a spotter. However, that isn’t to say that taking on the role of Spotter is useless. Or that there’s no place in the modern precision markman’s toolkit for a spotting scope. This article is going to look at some of the benefits to owning a quality spotting scope and actually performing in the role of Spotter!
Historical Foundation of the Spotter
The origins of the spotter come from Military and Sport Shooting sources. There’s an old axiom, “Two sets of Eyes are better than One!” It’s a very profound statement that I doubt few would argue with. So why the movement away from the Spotter role? In modern military engagements it makes more sense to train shooters to be able to spot and correct their own shots than to wait for the corrections to be given by a second person. It also makes more sense, militarily, to have two skilled marksman behind rifles each capable of shooting and correcting on their own, than to have one shooting and one correcting. Double the firepower and double the effectiveness of the team against the enemy, right?
In recreational sports the spotter was employed mainly to call corrections. High magnification rifle scopes were harder to come by and breaking the shooter’s position to consult a better magnified optic means having to rebuild the position and compromise the repeatability of the shooter. Every time you lift your head you introduce some variation into your position and the consistency of your shots. A lot of times the spotter was often an older shooter, with more experience, but maybe without the youth and vigor to be on their bellies doing the shooting. They would function as both a coach and a spotter by watching the wind conditions and helping the shooter walk their shots in on the target.
Modern Utility of the Spotter and Spotting Scope
So I just got done saying the modern tactical marksman needs to be able to spot his own shots and make his own corrections, why have a spotter or spotting scope at all? The simple answer is training. By taking on the role of spotter your plate is a lot leaner. You don’t have to focus on anything but what the wind conditions are and what the adjustment should be for your shooter, right? When you aren’t worried about your breathing, your position, manipulating the weapon to load it, your trigger press and the fundamentals of marksmanship, that frees up some brain power! Now you can really start to observe what’s happening in front of you and calibrate your senses to what your equipment is telling you.
As a spotter you can observe wind effects on terrain and vegetation and really calibrate your senses to what it all means. If you sees trees whipping around at 500 yards, feel it on your face, and hear it whipping in your ears, you have a great training opportunity. Ask yourself what you think the wind speed and direction is based on what you see, hear, and feel. Then consult your Kestrel and begin building a mental library of conditions. The next time you are behind the gun and you see, hear, and feel the wind you will have a more educated, calibrated, guess as to what the wind is doing based on your experience.
Another obvious advantage to a spotting scope is that with greater magnification, more detail of the target and surround area can be observed. By using the focus on the scope you can focus on what the wind and mirage are doing at the target, or anywhere between the firing position and the target. Be wary of one thing, if you focus the spotting scope on mirage behind the target it can give you a false indication of what you are seeing. Be careful you don’t focus beyond what you are shooting at, or observing. A common rule of thumb is to focus on the target, and then dial the focus knob back a quarter turn to get a good fix on mirage approximately 3/4ths the distance between the firing position and target.
Ancillary Uses of the Spotting Scope
Everybody watches the movies and thinks that Snipers are always out shooting terrorists. In reality a lot of what Military and Law Enforcement Marksman do is surveillance and reconnaissance. They gather information and disseminate it to the appropriate groups of people. This is especially true in Law Enforcement where a precision rifle shot is fairly rare. However the deployment of a precision marksman team is widely accepted and utilized for the ancillary benefits we just mentioned. While all our readers don’t fall into Military or Law Enforcement categories, consider that the same ancillary benefits may be beneficial to the recreational shooter!
I have plenty of buddies that hunt a lot. Where else can you think of a better use of a spotting scope than a long range hunting trip? Often hunters have to glass large swaths of wilderness to look for game trails, water sources, and areas where the animals they are pursuing are likely to congregate and traverse. Consider that time spent even on a square range observing how the wind behaves on that range can be advantageous to the Benchrest or F Class competitive shooter. Information gathering benefits almost everyone that bothers to do it, so don’t write off the use of a spotting scope simply because you can spot your own shots through the rifle’s optic!
Perhaps one of the best uses of a Spotting Scope I’ve found is teaching! I’ve brought many a smile to several faces I know in my personal life by allowing people to shoot one of my rifles at a target they never expected to be able to hit. There’s something very rewarding about helping a novice shooter walk his shots onto a steel target at 1000 yards. The smile on their face is not soon forgotten! It’s a rewarding experience both for the novice shooter to ring steel for the first time, and for the person in the spotting role because it was their experience that enabled the experience to happen!
Just because the Military, Law Enforcement, and Tactical Competitive Marksmen have all moved away from needing a spotter doesn’t diminish the benefits of knowing how to perform in the role of spotter. It doesn’t mean there’s no benefit to owning a spotting scope. It doesn’t mean that there’s nothing to be learned from time behind a spotting scope. I look at the spotting scope the same way I look at a Kestrel. While you shouldn’t have to have one handy in order to shoot, they can make shooting easier, and they allow you to train yourself and attune your senses to what you are seeing and feeling in the field.