Leupold Golden Ring® HD Spotting Scope Review
Author: Mark Mazour
When going on an open-country hunt for pronghorn, mule deer or even elk, I used to consider quality binoculars as the only optics that I needed. However, as I learned more about how easily these animals can hide in open terrain and how tough they are to judge at a distance where they have not yet spotted you, I began to understand the importance of spotting scopes.
At first, I tried more affordable options but was disappointed in the image quality. As I tested many of the high-end models, I really saw the benefits a scope can bring out, even though they were often bulky to pack along.
Leupold entered the high-end spotting scope market with a fairly compact, but powerful scope - the Golden Ring®12-40X60mm. This unit incorporated their efficient Folded Light Path lens and mirror optical system to give you an effective optical path of a scope nearly twice as long - translated, mirrors reflect the light twice and you get great optical quality in a scope that is short enough to easily fit in your daypack and even a fanny pack. At only 12.4" long, this scope is smaller than most all of the competition in its class.
Now, Leupold has taken this proven design and added a new High Definition (HD) fluoride-based glass objective lens system. While complicated to explain, the end result was exceptionally clear and bright images. After looking through it, I noticed that the real difference was in the color differentiation. This makes a difference in spotting bedded mule deer. These deer bed in the shade for most of the day, and their silver/gray hides blend in almost perfectly with the brush.
I had an opportunity to test this new HD spotting scope from Leupold on a mule deer hunt in southeast Wyoming. The hunt was a unique opportunity, being taped for a future episode of the Cabela's Outfitter Journal Television Show. With the challenges of getting a spot and stalk hunt on camera, we were going to rely on our optics to spot deer and try to execute a stalk that would allow a guide, me and a cameraman with a tripod to all make an approach.
Our main tactic would be to watch feeding areas in the morning and evenings from distant vantage points. We would use spotting scopes to spot a quality buck and watch where he would bed. After he would bed, we would plan the day's stalk - minimizing disruption in the deer's comfort zone and trying to not blow deer off the property. The only way we were going to walk into the canyons was if we had spotted the big buck we were after.
The spotting scope would also be used to plan our approach; we not only had to find a quality buck, but we had to have a route that would allow all three of us to get there. If we did not find a buck in the morning, the day would be spent glassing and searching for bucks bedded in brush.
We spent literally hours scanning canyons and draws for bedded bucks, using the 20- to 30-power setting on the HD spotting scope. And we were not looking for entire deer either - just parts of a deer - a glint off an antler, a white face patch or a black nose. Then, we would dial in to 40-power to see if we could make out the rest of the deer out and determine if it was a buck we wanted to target. When you are using a spotting scope to not only find deer, but to judge whether they are worth a stalk, the kind of clarity provided by the new HD system is a must. Otherwise, you are just seeing deer and left not knowing whether they are does, small bucks or the big bucks you are after. On a week-long hunt with a lot of open country, you have to pick your stalks, or you will quickly run out of time.
Besides the clarity, the thing I really liked about this scope was the compact size and light weight. For a quality 40-power spotting scope with a 60mm objective lens, this scope was extremely compact and easy to pack. In the field that means you will be sure to have it with you when you need it. On a previous hunt for antelope in Colorado, I had been using a European-make spotting scope with an 85mm objective lens, and while it was exceptionally clear, it was also exceptionally large. So large that it was a pain to put in my pack, and I left it behind on many stalks when I really needed it to judge the quality of a distant pronghorn.
One of the neatest things I found about the Leupold scope was the field carrying case that it came in. The soft-sided case is lightly padded and constructed of a rugged nylon that is designed for field use. If you believe in quality optics enough to spend $1000 or more on them, then you want to protect them to ensure they will be with you for many seasons to come. In a spotting scope, protecting the lens and the coatings is most important. You want to ensure that your image stays bright, and with most other brands of scopes you have to fiddle with lens caps in the field. And if you're like me, you eventually lose the lens caps or get tired of dropping them and just leave them in the truck and risk scratching your expensive optics.
Leupold's handy soft-side field case actually incorporates lens protection without having easy-to-lose caps. The precious objective lens and its coatings are covered by a hinged piece of padded fabric that is held in place by a Velcro® tab, and the rest of the case zips around the eyepiece. When you are ready to use it, just unzip the back half of the case (side Velcro® tabs hold the case out of the way), flip down the objective cover, and you are seeing clear. After glassing a canyon and finding it empty, it was easy to quickly flip the covers back on and move to the next vantage point, knowing that everything was protected.
The only change that I would wish for is the addition of an extendable sunshade. In late afternoons, we often glassed westward to find deer that were hidden in shady draws. When pointed at an angle toward the sun, I experienced some lens glare that deteriorated the image quality. I was able to correct for this, by using my hand as a shade, but an extendable sunshade would be a nice addition to this quality scope.
At a bit over $1000, this scope is far from entry-level. However, if you compare it to the $300-$500 models on the market, the clear images are well worth the increase in price. With many inferior scopes, you just can't get detail through the entire power range - once you get past 20X, the image falls apart.
On a few evenings of glassing, I was also able to compare this scope side-by-side with the guide's European-make scope that had basically the same objective size and power range, but it retails for over $400 more. I will admit that in very low light conditions, the European model did offer some additional clarity, but the difference was very, very slim - not enough to make a difference in the deer we were judging. Some of the additional clarity may have been due the slightly larger objective, and refined coatings, making up the $400 price difference.
If you are looking for an easy-to-pack scope with exceptional clarity, the Leupold Golden Ring® HD makes a new level in the marketplace that outclasses the entry-level scopes and offers almost all the quality of the upper-end European models, at a price that may be more attainable. Plus, the compact size makes it perfect for packing along - whether you use it for scouting, birding or judging distant game, the Leupold Golden Ring® HD scope is a great fit designed for serious performance.
Click here to purchase Leupold 12-40X60 Golden Ring® HD Spotting Scope