By Jeff Warren, July 2014
How to articles on glassing up critters that the tag in your pocket is good for have been done to death over the years. With that being said, I have been asked to write an article about that very thing. I’m not sure that I can come up with any new insights, but I can give you an idea of what has worked for me.
As far as I am concerned there are no secrets to successful glassing. What I do believe is that you need top-end equipment and extreme patience. I am borderline ADD according to my wife because I race around all day long doing this and that and never landing in one spot for very long, but when it comes to glassing I can sit in one place for hours, picking apart the landscape.
The first thing I do in any area that I am hunting is locate the best vantage points and the best access to those areas. I try to do this pre-season, if possible, so that hunting time is not wasted. The farther I can see from these points the better, I don’t care if I am glassing country that is miles away. Locating the animal that you are after is a lot more than half the battle, in my opinion. It is amazing what you can make yourself go through if the carrot that is dangled in front of you is desirable enough. I killed a buck in Utah a few years back that a number of other hunters were targeting. I hiked for 2 hours up a brutally steep mountain in the opposite direction of where the buck lived just to get a vantage point into the buck’s home range. I found him through my mounted 15 power binoculars at about 8:00 am at what I guessed to be 3-4 miles across a huge drainage. After picking his head gear apart through my 20X60 Kowa spotting scope I put my plan into motion, knowing that what I had in front of me would test my stamina. I ended up killing him at 4:00 pm that afternoon after hiking steady in extreme terrain for 7 hours. I was absolutely physically spent by the time I shot the buck, and I would have never even considered going through the pain required to hunt that area if I had not watched the buck paw out a bed in the snow and settle in for the day. Knowing exactly where he was bedded was the key to killing the big non-typical. I always give my optics a chance to do their work before investing any flesh into the actual stalk.
The equipment that I use is top-end, and at the time that I made the purchase it was a very big financial sacrifice for me. I know the investment was big because my wife’s eyes narrowed as I explained the purchase. I have never regretted those purchases. I use a Bogen Neotec Pro tripod with a good fluid Manfrotto head with a removable handle. I have abused this tripod and head for years, but they are still working flawlessly. This combo is a bit heavy, but I take it everywhere as lighter models have not impressed me in the wind. If you want to be frustrated to the point of anger, try using a wobbly tripod with your spotting scope on high power when you are trying to pick apart a World Class animal that is about to disappear into the landscape! I have a pair of 10 power Swarovskis around my neck for quick access and a pair of 15 power Swarovskis in my pack for mounting on my tripod for serious glassing. My spotting scope sits beside me with the correct plate for my tripod already attached so that changing from binoculars to spotting scope is smooth and quick. I pack this equipment absolutely everywhere I go. If you can’t afford or won’t pack two sets of binoculars, simply mount your 10’s on your tripod instead of hand holding them; it makes a huge difference. If I was forced to make a choice, my weapons would stay home before my optics.
As far as glassing techniques go, comfort is the name of the game. Comfort to me means staying warm, dry, and out of the wind as much as possible. If you do these three things, it will make being patient much easier. For me it is essential that my butt is warm, dry, and on some kind of padding if I want to be efficient when glassing. I don’t pack pads or cushions to sit on, but I will usually use my pack to sit on for padding and as a moisture barrier because it goes everywhere with me and I don’t have to pack extra stuff. It can be hard on a pack, but that’s my method, right or wrong.
When glassing close or far, remember to slow down and take it easy. Slow and methodical glassing has paid off many times for me. Once you have covered the area, cover it again, and again, and again. Critters live where they live for a reason. Unless the animal has been blown out by extreme circumstances, he is usually somewhere in your field of view, so don’t get antsy and start wandering around as it is usually a mistake. Moving around a bit just to change your glassing angle can be good, but try not to completely change areas. Boredom is the kiss of death when glassing, so you have to stay mentally positive, which can be difficult!
Snow cover is your best friend when glassing because it can double or triple the distance that can be glassed and the white contrast makes picking up abnormal lines easier. When glassing mountainous country, you are basically looking into a vertical world and horizontal lines tend to catch your eye. Backlines and belly lines are horizontal, if you catch my drift. When and if a snowstorm hits your area, be on the best vantage point possible when the storm clears or the first few days after the storm; you might be amazed at what you turn up. Remember the buck mentioned at the beginning of this article? I would have had no chance of seeing him at such a great distance if it hadn’t been for a storm that dumped 6" of snow during the previous night. I would have never even considered climbing to the particular vantage point I chose without the help of that storm. The glassing distance would have been too extreme without the white background. The vantage point I chose was literally the only place I could find that would allow a view of the buck’s entire living area and it ultimately allowed me to locate and watch him paw out his bed for the day. I was certain that he would stay bedded until he got up to feed in the evening.
There is not one big secret for successful glassing, in my opinion. The right mindset, equipment, and effort is what I believe you need to possibly turn up that special target you are looking for!