Up until about a decade ago, I had a spotting scope that I used when hunting rock chucks, at long range, in Montana and Wyoming. A buddy and I, would stop on our way to hunt prairie dogs in eastern Wyoming, or South Dakota, and shoot rock chucks at 500/600 yards in the Absaroka-Beartooth mountains. My spotting scope was an indispensable tool.
The model that I had at the time, was the Leica Televid 77, and as you would expect, coming from Leica, the optics were beyond excellent. For a variety of reasons, we stopped making those trips, and about ten years ago, I sold off the spotting scope.
Fast forward to today, and now, living in Northern Arizona, I have found several reasons to need another spotting scope. There is a lot of wildlife here available to view, but I mainly want to use it to optically recon potential ground squirrel hunting sites.
If you've been following my blog, you know that the ground squirrels that we have up here live in the surrounding Ponderosa Pine forest, and have a very specific set of habitat requirements for them to populate an area.
I've covered those requirements before, so won't go over all of it again, but will say, that the number one need, is a goodly number of 80 to 100 year old rotting stumps, left from when the area was logged, many decades ago.
The attraction to those old stumps, is the fact that they have started to rot in the centers, and around the edges, leaving openings that lead down into the ground under the stumps. That gives the ground squirrels the perfect place to build their underground dens. They climb up through the holes in the stumps, sit on the top viewing their territory, and/or eating seeds and nuts.
The holes at nine o'clock, and eleven o'clock, drop straight down into chambers beneath the stump. The holes make great escape hatches for when danger is near. The ground squirrel that inhabits this particular stump, has been feeding on the readily available pine cones, and that pile of debris, is one of the things I'm looking for when glassing areas for squirrels.
I'm always searching for new squirrel habitat. Because these guys do not populate any given area of the forest in great numbers, I prefer not to hunt the same spot more than twice in any given year.
Finding new spots involves covering a lot of ground. Sometimes I drive right into an area that has ground squirrels. Other times I see an area three or four hundred plus yards away, across a park/meadow, that looks like it might have potential, but my eight power binoculars just don't give me enough detail to really tell much.
That far tree line is a good 400+ yards away. There is no vehicle access to that area, and it is highly illegal to drive across that park. The only option is to hike into the area, and check it out. Not a big deal, unless it's the sixth hike that day, and when my squirrel habitat success rate is about one in every six hikes, then it gets old real quick. My solution to the issue, is to get a spotting scope, and where possible, recon the areas optically, from a distance.
The Leica scopes are first rate, but the reality is, I don't need a $3000 spotting scope to do what I want to do. After spending some time researching spotting scopes, and talking to a few guys here locally, I settled on the Celestron Ultima 100 with the 45 degree viewing angle. I picked it up from Amazon for $280 bucks. I know, I know, it's made in China, so how good can this thing be for that kind of money.
Well, the guys that I talked to about them, were real happy with the performance, so I figured I would give one a shot. First impression, it's big, well made, and heavy. That 100mm objective lens, also helps to give nice bright images, and my aging eyes like bright images.
As I said, it's a big heavy scope. It does need to be mounted on a good sturdy tripod. I already have one of those, with ball head, for my DSLR camera. The Ultima 100 comes with a zoom eyepiece, that goes from 22 up to 66 power. For my application, I'm finding that from about 35 power to 40 power is the most useful. At that power range I can readily see back into the trees, and it's easy to spot the types of stumps, and squirrel sign that I'm looking for, if it's there.
Sometimes, because of the high magnification, it can be a challenge to find, in the scope, what you want to look at. This model has a clever fix for that problem. There is a peep sight tube, moulded into the left side of the housing. You look through that tube, move the scope until you locate your subject in it, and when you then look through the scope itself, you will be very close to being on.
Okay, so is this thing going to work for my application or not? Well, for starters, on my way out to the area where I wanted to test it, I could see a large herd of three or four hundred elk, feeding in a very large open area. They were a good 1000 yards away, so I decided to stop and check them out with the new scope.
With the Ultima 100, set at 35 power, it was very easy to pick out the big bulls, small yearling bulls, and the cows with calves. Geez, I would hope so. Some of the big bulls are the size of a small car. It was a fun stop, but didn't really tell me much about how the scope would work for my needs.
Next, I headed into the forest, so that I could set up my target frame, and view a target that had .177, and .22 caliber pellet holes in it. I was curious if I would be able to see those holes at 300 yards. I figured that If I could see those, I would be able to clearly see ground squirrels, and stumps at much, much greater ranges.
Truthfully, I didn't expect much, but when the air was calm, and the heat waves were quiet, I could see the .177 pellet holes. The half inch orange dots were easy, and of course the Shoot-N-C targets looked huge in comparison.
I'm very satisfied with the purchase. If you want a scope where you can tell the 12 different shades of blue and grey, on a mountain bluebird, at 500 yards, I think you would be better served with the Leica, but for my purpose, this scope is going to work out great.
So how does it perform for my application? Well, I took it back to that park/meadow area that I posted a picture of earlier, and used it to check out that spot. So how did it work out? It was great, that picture of the stump up above, with the squirrel cuttings on it, was one of the things I saw when I scoped the area back in the trees.
That's all I needed to know. I got out my RWS Rapier, the rest of my hunting gear, and hiked on over there for a short hunt. How did that go? Well, that's a different blog story, but below is a hint.
So, is the Ultima 100 the equivalent of, or even close to the current Leica Televid 82, or even the older Televid 77? Well, no. I was a Leica sporting optics dealer for ten years, and the tight tolerances held, materials used, and processes those folks apply in the manufacture of their optics are second to none, and are borderline fanatical. All of that definitely shows up in their finished products.
However, having said that, for my application, the Celestron Ultima 100, is going to work out great. Now, I'm going to head back out into the forest, and check out some of the likely looking areas that I originally let pass, because it was either to hot and humid, or I just didn't have the energy to get out and cover the ground, to see what those areas might have to offer.
Stay tuned, Lots more to come.