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Wildlife Viewing - Spotting Scope vs. Binoculars

Sturgis, Michigan...
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Wildlife Viewing - Spotting Scope vs. Binoculars

My wife and I will be visiting Yellowstone, Grand Teton National Park, and Theodore Roosevelt National Park in mid-September, and we're eagerly anticipating the wildlife viewing opportunities that these three National Parks offer. We're most looking forward to viewing moose, bears, wolves, elk, and mountain goats. We've planned the Yellowstone portion of our itinerary in such a way that we'll be traversing the Lamar and Hayden Valleys during both dawn and dusk. We have plans to camp at Pebble Creek and Norris, and will be spending a few nights in Jackson Hole as well. To give you some background, we live in the countryside of southwest MI and are accustomed to seeing wildlife such as white-tail deer, turkey, raccoons, opossums, and woodchucks. We also enjoy recreational bird watching when we have the time. We don't currently own a spotting scope, but do have several sets of binoculars.

I'd like to know whether an average pair of binoculars would return a satisfactory wildlife viewing experience in the front country of Yellowstone and GTNP. If consensus is that they will not and that a scope is required, what specs would be considered optimal? Our price range is going to be quite low, likely in the $50-60 range. I've read that scopes can be rented locally at a rate of approximately $30/day, but at that price I'd rather just buy our own cheap scope, assuming binoculars won't cut it.

We don't want to soak a bunch of money into a really nice scope, since our opportunities to use one after the trip would be fairly limited. Any money we do throw into a scope would be coming from our vacation budget, and would entail a few less meals at local restaurants and such while on our trip. I'd rather not make that trade-off unless it's absolutely essential to a good wildlife viewing experience.

West Yellowstone...
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for Flagstaff, West Yellowstone
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1. Re: Wildlife Viewing - Spotting Scope vs. Binoculars

Most casual visitors to Yellowstone and Grand Teton bring with them (at best) a pair of good binoculars. I've visited many, many times, and do not (yet) own a scope. Binoculars will get you a better view of most animals that can be seen with the naked eye from the roadway. If there is something truly exciting (a bear or wolves off in the distance), there is usually a congregation of wildlife watchers already pulled off the road. Many of the avid watchers with their own scopes are quite friendly and willing to share the view. Generally, all you have to do is ask politely "What are we looking at?" and they'll let you know, then offer to have you view through their scope. I'd say save your funds for other things and just remember to be respectful (i.e. don't slam your doors when exiting your car, talk quietly, be polite and friendly) and you will find the wildlife watchers more than happy to share their scope and knowledge with you.

Enjoy your visit!

Albany, New York
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2. Re: Wildlife Viewing - Spotting Scope vs. Binoculars

We had only binoculars, and not very good ones at that!! We rarely needed to use them, most of what we saw was perfectly viewable with the naked eye. Most up pretty darn close!! And as stated above the spotters are so welcoming at letting you view what they are looking at, we found them all to be super generous!!! I think if you have a set of binoculars you would be good to go! ENJOY!!

hudson valley
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3. Re: Wildlife Viewing - Spotting Scope vs. Binoculars

"I'd rather just buy our own cheap scope"

I think that's a bit like going to McDonald's because you want to go out for dinner but only have $4. You'll probably be disappointed with what you get.

You may get high magnification cheaply, but you won't get good optics without spending a fair amount. I don't see much advantage to making something look bigger it that also makes it look blurry, out of focus, or dark. Given your budget I'd just bring the binoculars you've already got and hope for a few chances to look through somebody else's expensive scope.

Other than high magnification I think the big advantage of a scope is being able to mount it on a tripod. Anything that will help keep your binoculars steady will help make them more satisfactory.

Cinnaminson, New...
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4. Re: Wildlife Viewing - Spotting Scope vs. Binoculars

I'll give my recommendations. My wife and I primarily go to Yellowstone for the wildlife. The animals you wish to see, especially wolves and bears, will be far from the road. We were able to see 4 different wolf packs, with puppies, and all usually between 1-2 miles from the road. We did have a couple of good encounters at binocular distance, and even a couple bears that didn't require any glass at all, but for the most part, you will want good magnification. Here's what I have:

We brought 2 pair of binoculars, both made by Bushnell. 12x50 and 16x50. The 12x50's were the best. I also have a new spotting scope for this year, a Celestron 20-60x80mm which was amazing. Very clear and bright. I got it for around $150 from B&H.

My first scope I brought with us in 2010 and 2012 was a Simmons 20-60x60mm that I got from Walmart for $60. As far as I know, this scope is still available and around the same price. It even comes with a tripod, albeit a little small. It worked great for being so cheap. I still have it and use it for birding.

All in all, if you can spend a little more, It would really come in handy to have your own scope if you want to focus on wildlife. I used it for bears, wolves, watching the mountain goats on Baronette and The Thunderer.

Finally, if you don't get a scope, look for those with scopes set up, and if you ask politely, most will happily let you look through it. Some of my favorite experiences in the park are letting tourists look through my scope and see their first wild grizzly, wolf, etc. Some were even brought to tears. I love it!

Iowa
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5. Re: Wildlife Viewing - Spotting Scope vs. Binoculars

Our last trip to Yellowstone was with binoculars and for our upcoming trip, my husband has invested in a spotting scope. After going with him on MULTIPLE trips looking for a scope, I would say your price range won't get you much of a scope. I also agree with others who say that if you come across a congregation of animal observers and someone has a scope, they are usually more than willing to let you look. In fact, I found that to be one of the best aspects of our last trip; meeting new people. When we were in the Tetons, we spent almost an hour watching pair of moose with a wonderful group of people. I would save your $50-$60 and spend it on your vacation.

Yellowstone Nat...
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for Yellowstone National Park
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6. Re: Wildlife Viewing - Spotting Scope vs. Binoculars

<< Our price range is going to be quite low, likely in the $50-60 range. >>

That won't even get you started on a scope. Fortunately, binoculars are fine for YNP and those you have will probably do.

BTW, have a back-up plan for the nights you plan for Pebble Creek campground. Pebble Creek (and Slough Creek) are generally full and may stay full for more than several days on end.

ENJOY!

New York City, New...
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7. Re: Wildlife Viewing - Spotting Scope vs. Binoculars

The only time we needed a scope was at Barronette Peak for the Mountain Goats there (tried to take a picture, but they were too far away), and that was supplied by the guide on our Wake Up to Wildlife tour. Unless you intend some hardcore stakeouts of Hayden or Lamar valleys, I think you'll be fine with two pairs of good binoculars as casual tourists. Indeed, the only time I actually remember needing my binoculars was in Grand Teton to scan the Willow Flats. Alot of the megafauna appear along the road (or in the case of Mammoth's Elk actually in the concession district!) . Indeed, you can never be completely certain what might show up where.

P.S. - in my opinion, even more important than binoculars are cameras with good zoom lenses for great closeups of the wildlife, which you should not approach closely.

Harlingen,TX
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8. Re: Wildlife Viewing - Spotting Scope vs. Binoculars

We're regular optics users (birders) and my husband was very glad he had his scope with him on the last couple trips, even though our binoculars are several hundred $s. For a good deal on spotting scopes, may be used, we'd recommend checking Eagle Optics. Our first spotting scope was from there.

Wilmington, Delaware
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9. Re: Wildlife Viewing - Spotting Scope vs. Binoculars

We made out great with binoculars. Everyone was so nice about offering a look through their scopes.

Sturgis, Michigan...
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10. Re: Wildlife Viewing - Spotting Scope vs. Binoculars

Thanks all for the feedback! I had been considering a highly-rated Barska 20-60x60mm scope from Amazon for $75, and I was also able to locate the Simmons Blazer 20-60x60mm which Tom K mentioned as being available at Wal-Mart. Ultimately, while it would certainly be optimal to have a scope for our visit, I think we'll save the $60-70 for the time being and spend it elsewhere while on our vacation. Our binoculars will have to cut it!

We look forward to meeting new people and making new friends on our trip who are also seeking to enjoy the beauty of Yellowstone's wildlife. Perhaps we'll be fortunate enough to happen upon a group of wildlife viewers who will offer us a chance to look through their scopes, as many of the above posters did!