Spotting Scopes or Trail Cameras?

For years now I’ve relied heavily on trail cameras both mine and the neighbors to gather an inventory of both the bucks and does in the area. For the most part I’ve found this to be quite an effective method of gathering information. Up until this summer I’ve always considered cameras as my only true option to have a visual record of the deer in the area. I’ve consistently used a Luepold spotting scope during the summer months, but never quite taken it to the next level. This summer I turned the spotting scope into the ultimate trail camera. From this day forward I’ll continue to use the spotting scope as the primary method to gather information on the bucks and does in our area.

Whether you use a trail camera or a spotting scope during the summer; most hunters are using them to identify the mature bucks in the area. Some also use them to inventory all the bucks and does in the area.

150 Class Buck in Bean Field
150 Class Buck in Bean Field

Why this Method Works so Well for Me 

Before I convince you to drop $1000 plus dollars on a high end spotting scope let me explain why spotting scopes work so well for me. The timber I hunt butts up to a large agricultural area. Every year the farmers rotate between primarily corn and beans. Every other year when there is mostly beans the roadside scouting with a spotting scope is dynamite. During these summers there is roughly 471.5 acres of beans and alfalfa that the deer feed in all summer long. The summers with mostly corn limit me to only 275.5 acres of beans and alfalfa to scout. Regardless of what the rotation is there is still good scouting to be found. Due to heavy amount of agriculture in our area I can drive around just about any night and spot at least 1 if not all of our mature bucks in the area.

If you do not have agriculture in your area this method of scouting is not really for you. Beans and alfalfa or large food plots allow this type of scouting to be quite effective.

Deer hunting is my favorite hobby and passion, so I invest evenings in the summer to scouting deer. If I have time during late July, all of August, and good chunks of September I will be scouting deer with the spotting scope from my car.

Cameras Vs. Spotting Scopes 

My biggest issue with cameras is they’re stationary. Yes they work 24-7 and they also work well at night, but they only cover a certain amount of ground. I currently have 9 trail cameras, so I’m able to cover a good amount of turf with them. In my specific case the land I hunt and run cameras on is primarily timber, so the deer aren’t as present during the summer months in my area as they are near the bean fields. So while I have alot of cameras if it wasn’t for minerals or a water hole they don’t have as much of a reason to come into my area during the summer scouting season. My state and some states regulate mineral use during the summer and that limits my ability to effectively inventory deer that way. So while I can often get decent pictures in the area I hunt I for a fact I’m still missing alot of the deer in the area with the cameras I do have out.

If you have well placed trail cameras alongside of bean and alfalfa fields with mineral licks in front of them chances are you are going to get a great inventory of bucks in your area. However if you have the itch to check those cameras too much this could decrease your odds of getting all those pictures you’re hoping to get. If you spend more days checking trail cameras then letting them rest, you may actually bump that mature buck out of the area if there are other good food sources around with ideal bedding and water near them.

Spotting scopes offer mobility that not even the 360 degree wildgame innovations camera can provide. With properly timed scouting (during the arrival of rain or a cold front), you may be able to drive around with a spotting scope and see all of the mature bucks in your area within a night or two.

Big 8 Point in a Bean Field
Big 8 Point in a Bean Field

Why I’d Pick A Spotting Scope Over a Few Cameras for Summer Scouting/Inventory

  • Using a smart phone at the eye of a spotting scope you can record video or pictures of all of the deer you want while out scouting
  • You don’t spook deer out of the area or leave scent around the area by driving around with a spotting scope in your car which allows you to scout each and every night, try checking your trail cameras every day, probably won’t be too effective at getting good pictures 
  • You can now scout deer that are just off your farm likely to spend time on your land during the hunting season
  • You can capture not just deer that spend time right around your area/farm but you can also look for deer that live further away that may venture through during the rut
  • Sometimes there’s big bucks out there that your cameras are missing, if I had to bet that buck is visible at some point during the summer and the spotting scope with give you valuable details about that ghostly deer that your cameras constantly struggle too
  • You can do scouting with buddies using multiple spotting scopes allowing for both a good time and more effective videos/pictures
  • If you still run cameras you have far less of an inclination to visit them likely leading to much better deer activity when you finally do check your cards
  • You have something awesome to do any summer evening that keeps you around deer during a time when you can’t be hunting them and you get to see the final progress of their racks during the last month and a half of the velvet season
  • You can never have enough trail cameras (which need memory cards and batteries) while you only need one spotting scope (downside you do spend gas money driving around)
  • Mature bucks can be the weariest animals there are, if you can stay out of an area by simply locating them during the summer with a spotting scope and then stay out of the area except during the hunting season this should aid in your success of tagging that animal 

Exceptions as to Why a Trail Camera is a Better Option for Buck Inventory 

  • You don’t live in the area you hunt, then go with a camera for sure (use minerals if legal) 
  • You have no agriculture or food plots in your area to scout with a spotting scope
  • You have unlimited resources (money) and can afford wireless trail cameras which negate the need to check your cameras on a regular basis
  • You don’t want to save up for an invest of over $1000 to buy a good spotting scope (and car mount) and would rather just buy cheaper cameras
  • You have kids in summer baseball, or other reasons that would prevent you from having much time at all to scout in the evenings with a spotting scope 
  • You value using trail cameras not just during the summer, but during the season, and after season to monitor deer (spotting scopes are most effective during the summer)


Obviously the are some pros and cons to both. If you’re like me and already have 9 cameras and live in an area with agriculture it’s time to make the switch. Save up for a good spotting scope and mark your calendar to spend summer evenings driving back roads. For a long time I always wanted another camera and always had the itch to check them. Now I just want to be scouting mature bucks during the summer evenings. I’ve begun to enjoy this time of year just as much as I do the hunting season itself. What other time of year can you drive around and see every mature buck on his feet during daylight? Maybe during the late winter over standing bean field, but not many bean fields are left standing. I think the strategy of staying out of my hunting area and checking cameras months apart will pay off. Deer really don’t like people. Deer like to feel safe. By spending more time roadside scouting and less time in their bedroom checking cameras I think this is a win win for both.

Before you make the switch weigh all the options and consider what makes the most sense for you. If you do make the switch to spending time and money using a spotting scope I promise you won’t regret it. Also realize that I’m not saying by any means to not use trail cameras. Please use them, I believe in them, but also seriously consider the value of adding a quality spotting scope to your arsenal of deer gear.