Western big game hunting is many things—hiking and climbing, riding horses, using an ATV to access backcountry hotspots. It can involve calling, using a blind over a waterhole or setting an ambush along a well-used trail. The majority of the time, however, a successful Western hunt begins with glassing.
You've all heard about and know the basics of good glassing, but before delving into some advanced tricks let's briefly review six key building blocks of successful Western glassing. After all, they're the foundation upon which the house is built.
You get what you pay for. Paying $1,000 for binoculars or a spotting scope is a ton of money to us working folks, but if you do lots of glassing they're well worth the price. And considering they'll last you a lifetime, if you divide the cost over 20 years of use it's a good investment.
Stabilize it. Long glassing sessions can be tedious and tiresome. That's why you need to stabilize your spotter with a sturdy, lightweight tripod and your standard binos by resting them over something—your packframe, a log or rock or by sitting down and resting your elbows on the insides of your knees.
Keep the sun at your back. You can't spot game while looking into the sun. Smart glassers set up so the rising and setting sun is at their back or off one shoulder.
Watch the wind. It might not seem important when rifle hunting, but you always need the wind in your favor when glassing—even when looking for animals a mile away.
Be a stealth bomber. Always sneak into glassing position as quietly as possible. Don't skyline yourself, and set up so you're at least partially hidden.
Stay high. It's always much easier to glass from above than below. That's why successful glassers do whatever it takes to climb high above game animals before first light so they can glass down into game-holding bowls or across canyons.
The Grid System
When glassing, it's important to be methodical and follow a system. That way you'll be sure to cover every square inch of country, lessening the chances of missing an animal. The best system to use is the grid system.
Here you simply divide the country into grid squares. To begin, slip into position and get settled in. That means getting yourself comfortable, setting up your spotting scope and getting your binos ready. As soon as you can see through your binoculars, begin by glassing the skyline, holding the glasses securely in position and letting your eyes move throughout the field of vision. Be patient and give animals time to move around. Not seeing anything? Then move your glasses to the right so the very left hand edge of your field of view slightly overlaps what was the far right hand edge, and repeat. Once you've scanned the horizon, drop your binos a bit so the field of view that was previously your lower edge is now the top edge, and look hard. If you still don't spot anything, move them left as you did above.
The mistakes most amateurs make with this system are four-fold. First, they move their glasses around too quickly. Second, they don't use a tripod or other solid object to stabilize their binos so fatigue doesn't become an issue. Third, they look for the entire deer or elk, and not pieces of the animal moving through the brush. And finally, they make one sweep of the area and assume nothing is there. If you don't see anything the first time, glass the entire place again—and again. After all, you're here because you believe game animals are here. Keep looking until you find them, or until you're absolutely sure nothing is present.
Your eyes are naturally drawn to open and bright sunlit areas. After all, that's where it's easiest to look. Often, though, game animals are found in the brush or shade. You have to force yourself to meticulously check these places. If a deer, elk or bear is standing in the wide open, your eyes will pick it up easily. It takes hard work and concentration to see them in the shade.
A Bagful Of Glass
This might seem like overkill, but my friend DuWane Adams—a fantastic outfitter who pioneered using tripod-mounted oversized 15X binoculars to find trophy-class Coues' deer, mule deer and elk ((520) 385-4995)—showed me how carrying a bag full of optics can oftentimes pay big dividends.
Hunting Coues' deer, we were glassing up to 2 miles away using tripod-mounted 15X60mm binoculars. We also had 15-45X spotting scopes, which required their own tripod. But to make sure we could quickly spot deer that were close—by that I mean deer anywhere from 100-300 yards away—we also had our 10X40mm binoculars along. These gave us enough of a field of view at the closer ranges that we could use them quickly and efficiently.
I remember thinking DuWane looked like a one-man band, constantly switching from his 15X60s to his 10X40s and back again. But by the end of the first morning he'd glassed all kinds of deer with both, and I was hooked. On day hunts, I now often follow the same system.
Glassing is the foundation upon which much of the West's successful hunting is built. The key is patience. Glassing is a chess game that requires the hunter to take his or her time and meticulously comb the countryside searching for game. Sure, there are times when you spot a good buck or bull right off the bat and then can go after him. More often than not, however, what's required is a never-say-die mentality that keeps you glued to your optics for hours at a time, searching for your dream animal. You must have patience, confidence and a bulldog tenacity that never gives up. Do that and you'll see your success rate improve dramatically. I guarantee it.