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Spotting Scope worthwhile for casual wildlife viewing?

Chicago, Illinois
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196 posts
Spotting Scope worthwhile for casual wildlife viewing?
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Hi -

I've looked through the old spotting scope posts and would like to revisit this topic. Have people who brought a spotting scope felt it was not worthwhile if animal viewing was just a small part of your trip? If you didn't have a spotting scope, did you feel like you missed out? We have decent quality binoculars and will have a high end tripod (for mainly photography use).

The consensus seems that its worthwhile for wildlife viewing in Lamar and Hayden. We will spend 2 days around Lamar and drive through Hayden on a third day. If we aren't there at dawn or sunset maybe there won't be much wildlife to look for? Do people find spotting scopes useful elsewhere in YNP or GTNP?

We would rent from Lensrental and pick up at a Fedex in Bozeman and then drop off at end of the trip in Jackson at another Fedex - so we'd be paying for many days where the spotting scope might just be sitting in the trunk. Though maybe we could drop it at a fedex in West Yellowstone prior to heading to grand teton. Rental including shipping and insurance is about $100 so not much in the scheme of things for a new experience.

8 replies to this topic
Dayton, Ohio
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1. Re: Spotting Scope worthwhile for casual wildlife viewing?
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For casual wildlife viewing, I would say no. You have to be willing to sit in one spot for possibly hours to make a spotting scope worth it in my opinion.

Billings, Montana
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for Yellowstone National Park
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2. Re: Spotting Scope worthwhile for casual wildlife viewing?
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If you're just into casual wildlife watching, I would opt for a really good pair of binoculars over renting a spotting scope. Remember, if you rent a spotting scope, you also need to rent a good sturdy tripod to go with it.

I go to Yellowstone Park multiple times each year. I have two spotting scopes and while we take them on every trip, with the exception of a brief 15 minutes on one of our trips this June, we haven't the scopes for over 2 years. And the focus of our trips has always been wildlife watching.

If you see people with scopes, most of them are more than willing to let you peak through their scopes if you strike up a genuine conversation with them and politely ask if you can look through their scopes.

Deb

N. Idaho
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for Yellowstone National Park, Senior Travel
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3. Re: Spotting Scope worthwhile for casual wildlife viewing?
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Actually I’m not much of a standing in one spot kind of person with the bigger animals but I do use the scope to scan the distant hills and move on if I don’t see anything. I do wind up spending time at some of the bodies of water looking for birds and a scope is really helpful. Absolutely amazing how you can see nothing at a lake until you scope the edges and mudflats.

If you think this is something you’d enjoy I’d go for it.

OTOH if you think it will be a pain, then skip it.

Since you have a good tripod, if you’ve got a good camera many just use that instead of a scope.

Pam

Billings, Montana
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for Yellowstone National Park
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4. Re: Spotting Scope worthwhile for casual wildlife viewing?
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>>>Since you have a good tripod, if you’ve got a good camera many just use that instead of a scope.<<<

Oops......I missed the part where the OP already had a high-end tripod.🙂

Deb

Virginia
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5. Re: Spotting Scope worthwhile for casual wildlife viewing?
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A spotting scope will certainly allow you to see things far away much better than regular binoculars. Maybe a pair of 12 power binoculars on a tripod would work pretty well. You will most likely see mostly buffalo in Hayden and Lamar Valleys. I was there a couple of weeks ago and saw 5 wolves in Lamar. Unfortunately, the wolves have pushed the elk and deer (or eaten them) away from most areas. The only elk we saw were at Mammoth Hot Springs near all the buildings. We did see a grizzly bear and two cubs randomly near a marshy area one afternoon.

Billings, Montana
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for Yellowstone National Park
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6. Re: Spotting Scope worthwhile for casual wildlife viewing?
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>>>Unfortunately, the wolves have pushed the elk and deer (or eaten them) away from most areas. <<<

While the reintroduction of wolves in the park has definitely changed the day-to-day behaviors of ungulates in the park, there are still a lot of elk and deer in the park. One behavior change that we noticed over the last 10-15 years, is elk will generally hang out in the tree line during the day and come out in early evenings to graze.

We were just in the park on August 3 and 4th. We saw lots of elk by Fishing Bridge, out on the hill by Lake Butte Overlook, and east of Mammoth Hot Springs. In previous trips this summer, we've seen quite a few in Hayden Valley and Lamar Valley. I keep a wildlife sighting journal and I don't even try to keep track of them because we see so many.

Because we see so many elk, we usually don't stop anymore and take pictures of them, but I did take this video of a group of elk in Little America (between Yellowstone Picnic Area and Lamar River Bridge) in June 2020 because it was an area where we've never seen them before.

https://www.facebook.com/deb.roesler/videos/3420981871253477/

Video of a nice sized herd of elk in Hayden Valley from June 2018. While I've haven't seen a herd this size since then, I've seen a lot of smaller groups of around 10-50 elk throughout Hayden Valley in morning and evening drives through the area every summer.

https://www.facebook.com/deb.roesler/videos/1985285084823170/

Deb

Edited: August 10, 2021, 11:52 pm
N. Idaho
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for Yellowstone National Park, Senior Travel
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7. Re: Spotting Scope worthwhile for casual wildlife viewing?
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I'd agree with Deb about the numbers of Elk and Deer. In fact I see elk everywhere including Lamar and Hayden. Was this your first trip GreggB?

While this is referring to the Upper Basin around Old Faithful and not Hayden or Lamar, here is a post this AM from GeyserTimes at 843: "Two cow elk in the meadow at the base of Geyser Hill. More in the woods by Castle"

Pam

Dana Point...
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8. Re: Spotting Scope worthwhile for casual wildlife viewing?
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We just returned from Yellowstone yesterday. Unless you’re the type to set up in one place for an hour or two then I’d stick to binoculars. If there’s something to see then you’ll see crowds with spotting scopes and most are very happy to allow you take a peek. They were all in Lamar and Hayden Valleys. In the other areas, the elk, bison, coyotes and bears were all close enough that we didn’t need binoculars.

Edited: August 23, 2021, 5:51 am
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