Spotting Alaskan Game

Photo of a man looking through a pair of binoculars Game animals are most commonly active in the low light of early morning and late evening. Quality optics in the form of binoculars and spotting scopes are essential for the hunter to see into the shadows and pick out a deer or a moose from alder or willow branches. In more open country such as tundra and mountain meadows, optics are useful to find game before it sees you.

Binoculars and spotting scopes help you determine whether you are looking at a legal animal and to examine the landscape between you and game. You have a better chance of planning a successful stalk if you can see the ridges, depressions, and brush between you and your quarry.

Tips: Selecting Binoculars

Spend as much money on a pair of binoculars as you do on your rifle. Quality binoculars are expensive but will last a lifetime. Expect to pay $300 to $400 dollars for a pair of quality binoculars by Leupold®. Leica® and Swarovski® binoculars average $800 to $1000.

Make sure the binoculars you purchase are water and fog proof — not just water or fog resistant. Hunting may become extremely challenging and frustrating if you are left with a pair of leaky or foggy binoculars in the field.

Do not try to save ounces by buying a small, compact binocular such as the 7x21 or 8x20. These small binoculars may be light and handy, but they are not bright enough for poor light conditions, and the image may not be as crisp and clear as a pair of binoculars with larger front lens.

Know the amount of magnification you will need. Binoculars help find game at long distances, but remember you also need them to pick out a moose’s ear in a willow thicket at 30 yards. You may spend hours supporting a pair of binoculars to find game. It will be difficult to hold binoculars steady for long periods of time if they have more than 10 power. If you need more than 7 or 8 power for long distances, use a spotting scope. The high quality 8x32, 8x40, or 8x42 binoculars will serve you well. If you really want more magnification the 10x42 or 10x50’s will do the job.


One of the most important decisions you will make as a hunter is the selection of binoculars. Binoculars are described by two numbers such as 8x32, 7x20, or 10x50. The first number is the magnification. An 8-power binocular will magnify an animal or object 8 times the size you see with the unaided eye. The second number is the size of the front (objective) lens in millimeters.

The more light a binocular allows to reach the eye, the easier it is for you to see well in low light conditions. You can estimate the amount of light a binocular allows to reach the eye by dividing the size of the front lens by the magnification. The higher the number, the more light that will reach the eye. For example, a pair of 7x21 binoculars has a brightness factor of 3 (21 divided by 7); for a pair of 8x32’s the brightness factor is 4 and for a pair of 10x50’s, it is 5. If all the binoculars in this example are of the same quality, the 10x50 pair will be "brighter." You don’t need a "brightness" number greater than 5, because the human eye cannot use any more light.

Spotting Scopes

Spotting scopes are specialized optics for finding game at extremely long ranges or for looking at a specific animal in great detail. Quality spotting scopes are large, heavy, and expensive. They are most useful for sheep, mountain goat or brown bear hunting. They can help you determine the sex of mountain goats, estimate the size of the horns on rams, and the sex and size of brown bears.

Spotting scopes are described in the same way as binoculars; i.e., with two numbers. The first number is the magnification, and the second number is the size of the front lens in millimeters. An example would be a 20x60 or a 15x45 scope. Many spotting scopes are made with variable power lens. As an example, these are described as 15-45x60, which means the magnification is from 15 power to 45 power, and the front lens is 60 millimeters in diameter.

Tips: Selecting
Spotting Scopes

A good pair of binoculars is better than a poor quality spotting scope. If you really need a spotting scope, then expect to spend over $500 for quality optics.

The more power a scope has does not necessarily mean it is better. Because of heat wave mirage (yes, even in Alaska), it is difficult to see a clear image at long distances above 20- to 30-power magnification.

You need more brightness than you think. Remember the brightness equation for binoculars? The same holds true for spotting scopes. To see in poor light, you need a brightness factor of 4 or 5. These spotting scopes would do the job: 15x60 or 20x80. If you choose smaller, more compact spotting scopes, you will lose detail and brightness.

Choose a spotting scope that is fog proof and waterproof.

Tips: Selecting Riflescopes

Be careful not to purchase too much magnification. Too much power can lead you to believe an animal is within range when, in fact, it is too far away for a responsible shot. High magnification scopes are heavier and, because of their large front lens diameter, they must be mounted higher on the rifle. The higher the magnification, the smaller the area that you can see through the scope (field of view). This can lead to an embarrassing situation if you leave the scope on high magnification when hunting. You may be so close to an animal that at high power all you see is hair.

You don't need a variable scope. A fixed 4-power scope will help you place the shot in the vital zone. Fixed power riflescopes are less expensive than variable scopes and often more reliable. If you want a variable scope, select one with 6- to 8-power for the high end of magnification. Variables such as 1.5-6 or 1-8 have a wide fields of view that allow for quick and accurate shots at close range.

Use of Riflescopes

A responsible hunter never uses a riflescope like a pair of binoculars or a spotting scope. If you use riflescopes as binoculars, you are violating one of the essential rules of firearm safety by pointing a loaded firearm at objects or people.

Never use a riflescope for spotting animals. The riflescope is used to help a hunter precisely place the shot in the vital zone and assist the hunter to determine if objects are between the hunter and their quarry. Always carry a variable riflescope on the lowest power setting. If the animal is near, you will be able to make a quick and precise shot.

Riflescopes are described like binoculars, with the magnification first and the front lens size second.