As I looked through my guide’s spotting scope at a chamois buck 900m across the steep mountain valley, the decision was made to stalk him. Until I hunted the Southern Alps of New Zealand I never really grasped the importance of a good-quality spotting scope. With a beautiful trophy chamois to take home after a successful stalk, it became clear that if I hadn’t have been able to assess the buck through the eyes of a premium spotting scope and with bad weather bearing down on us, we may have had to call things off. A good set of binoculars is a must for target finding but for a closer look at your potential trophy, a spotting scope is essential.
More than 10 years ago I owned a cheap one and became frustrated ‘battling’ to gain a clear picture on full zoom. Due to the low quality of lens coatings, the effects of mirage and poor lowlight transmission became apparent. Before too long I didn’t take the spotting scope with me as it seemed more of a burden than a help.
As soon as I came home from my New Zealand trip I began homework on various spotting scope brands and their pros and cons. After some serious thought I settled on the Swarovski ATS 65. The ATS range of spotting scopes has been setting the standard for years and are available in 65, 80 and 90mm lenses. The ATS is reference to the ‘Angle’ configuration of the eyepiece and the STS model for ‘straight’. The angle eyepiece of 40 degrees and objective lens of 65mm was the combination I felt would best suit me as a versatile spotting scope to take on future New Zealand and Victorian alpine pack hunts and for all types of range target shooting.
Not to be confused with the Swarovski Optic ATX and STX line-up of spotting scopes, the ATS is a one-piece design with only the eyepieces being interchangeable. The Swarovski ATX and STX are a modular spotting scope.
Comfortable with my configuration of scope, I ordered the ATS 65 with 25-50W (wide angle) eyepiece through my local supplier and with a backlog of ammunition test loading to be carried out, I was keen to put it to use. I opened the box to find the spotting scope body, lens cleaning cloth, objective lens cover and instruction manual. Eyepieces are boxed separately. Those available for the ATS 65 are the 20-60 for a field of view of 36-20m and the 25-50W (wide angle) for 42-27m field of view.
The scope body is covered in the distinct Swarovski Optik green durable rubber protective coating and the housing manufactured from a high-grade alloy. Just forward of the eyepiece housing is a radial focus adjustment ring integral to the scope body. This has a generous grip area and although easy to turn, is designed that way so focus can be achieved quickly while wearing gloves and without impacting the critical target acquisition, zoomed in at long range.
Moving forward of the focus adjustment ring is the tripod ring, also with a full revolution turn so the scope can be positioned on the tripod and moved around until a comfortable viewing platform is achieved. The tripod ring has turn segments and once you’re happy with the position you just tighten the locking screw on the tripod ring. The tripod mount on the tripod ring has a female ¼^ UNC thread to attach the screw of most quality tripod heads - in my case I use a Manfrotto tripod. The 65mm objective lens is recessed back from the end of the housing which is threaded for additional accessories. The objective housing doubles as an extendable sunshade by way of pulling and screwing out anticlockwise and vice versa to return.
My chosen eyepiece of 25-50W (wide angle) is attached to the scope body by first removing the protective cover, pushing the eyepiece locking button downwards while turning the protective cover anticlockwise. This process also applies to removal of the eyepiece from the body. To attach the eyepiece to the scope body, remove its cover and place on the body and turn clockwise until it clicks into place. All up with eyepiece attached the spotting scope is 370mm long and weighs about 1.36 kg.
With the eyepiece attached I won’t be in the habit of taking it on and off, especially out in the field where there’s a risk of foreign bodies entering the sensitive lens area. The scope comes supplied with a small tubular aiming aid to the right of the eyepiece housing and can be removed if not required, a small plastic insert available to install when the aid is removed. Swarovski Optik claims the ATS 65 is submersion proof to 4m and able to operate in sub-zero temperatures to -25C and extreme heat in excess of 55C.
At the range
For those who love a round of paper punching, the Swarovski ATS 65 is right at home beside the benchrest or mat. I’m a keen handloader and now I own a spotting scope can’t imagine how I went so long without one. From targets set up at anywhere from 100m to 300m, gone are the days of walking to and from the target to check a group size or straining at 12-power on the riflescope to pick up that cursed ‘flier’.
With the ATS 65 mounted on a sturdy tripod, just rotate the tripod ring until you have the correct angle and trajectory and lock in place. You can locate the target area with the aiming aid but I prefer to find it with the eyepiece on the lowest magnification. Tighten the tripod locking mount and proceed to zoom into the target on maximum magnification, a quick turn of the focus ring and you’re dialled in. If glare is an issue, extend the sunshade to help reduce it. Shot after shot and group after group, a quick glance sideways through the spotting scope eyepiece and you can track your shots with ease.
In the field
I was invited to hunt on a property with a deer problem. Along with my Tikka T3x in 300 WSM, the Swarovski spotter was an important part of my kit, the compact design perfect for stowing along with the tripod in a day pack.
The large property consisted of lightly timbered native grass valleys bordered by dense forestry and cropping country, perfect deer habitat for feeding and hiding. It didn’t take long to find deer to stalk though the red stags had cast their antlers so it wasn’t a good time of year for assessing trophy potential.
The ATS 65 was set up quickly and I enjoyed being able to watch them in close view without the hassles experienced with cheap lenses. In late afternoon we picked up a pair of figures in the middle of an oats paddock, the binos confirming two fallow bucks still with headgear though too far away for my mate’s Swarovski RF binos to range them. The ATS 65 was set up to assess their trophy potential and in fading light with the zoom wound out to 50x we discovered they were decent bucks but not trophy animals, though it was a pleasure to watch them so far away with them unaware of our presence.
Early next morning we arrived at the same place. The bucks were nowhere to be seen but we spotted deer on the other side of a hill feeding their way along a ridge and heading towards us. With the aid of the Swarovski ATS 65 we identified a young fallow spiker worth taking for the freezer.
I tracked him as he walked closer until my mate and his son were able to take the youngster in a classic ambush hunt. I was just thrilled to be able to watch him in crystal-clear view as he went about his business.
As with all high-end European optics the decision to buy the Swarovski ATS 65 wasn’t taken lightly and I made the purchase knowing this would be part of my hunting kit for years to come. For $2760 including spotter and eyepiece I feel it’s superb value for money considering the quality of Austrian-made optical equipment. Whether target shooter or keen mountain hunter, you’ll benefit from a Swarovski ATS 65 as part of your kit and wonder how you ever got by without it.