I've taught numerous "Glassing for Big Game" seminars. I've written numerous articles on the topic. I'm sponsored by multiple hunting optic companies, and I am still constantly amazed at how much game I see when I glass.
To be an effective hunter out West you have to learn how to glass. In 1988 I was bow hunting in Northern Colorado with Dennis Buhlke and we topped a hill. He said, "Let's glass a minute, a lot of times I'll see one." In less than five minutes we spotted a deer. And then another one. I don't want to exaggerate but nearly every hill we crested that day, if we glassed long enough we'd see deer. I became a believer after that.
Years ago I took a kid deer hunting here in Idaho. We hit a wet heavy snow. It was tough duty. We finally made it back to the truck, and I told him we'd go spotting and stalking we just needed to find a spot where we could glass.
At our first spot I looked about one minute and said, "There's a deer and another one," until there were three. He said, "Wow, you're pretty good." I said yeah, but I didn't tell him I was surprised too. We snuck up and got a buck.
I could tell story after story but let me tell one more. Just last year some buddies drew the coveted elk tags down in the Owyhees. They were older gentlemen so a few of us young bucks went with them to help out. John Pascoe, who is one of the best I know at glassing went as well.
One day he spotted some bucks lying in the buck brush 600 yards off the trail. I bet 20 trucks and 4-wheelers drove by while we glassed them. Anytime someone came by we looked the other way. Everyone drove right by them except for John, because he glassed a likely looking pocket of buck brush.
Don't just look in the open. Glass the brush. You usually aren't lucky enough to spot a whole elk. Look for legs mixed in with the tree trunks, an ear twitching or something that is off color.
If You're Glassing Hills do so in Zones
Here's what I mean by that. Move from side to side all the way across the mountain and then drop down 50 feet and do it again. When you're done do it again. Animals move in and out of cover.
If You're Hunting in a Ground Blind
After a few days in a ground blind you learn all the weird objects and what is new and doesn't belong. Also as the sun changes, objects look different throughout the day. Dad always said for every seven things you thought were a deer, one would be.
Years ago Ed Sweet, the host of "Kid Outdoors," Gary Kirkpatrick and I took a kid on a spotting/stalking bear hunt. In two afternoons we spotted 10 bears. Out of 10 I only saw one first. That's because they had top quality glass. I had a low-grade set of Burris binoculars. I quickly learned the importance of good glass.
When You're Shopping for Hunting Optics
Buy good quality spotting scopes, scope, rangefinder or binoculars. I realize that everyone is on a budget but on this purchase, don't leave any change in your pocket. Figure out what you can afford and go compare everything in that price range for the best deal.
Buy hunting optics that have a lifetime warranty. If you use cheap glass, after a day of glassing your eyes will be wobbly and out of focus. It will be hard to go to sleep, as you'll be hallucinating.
When shopping for optics ask the salesmen which ones have the least returns? How is their customer service? Of the ones that I've dealt with, Leupold has been super. Bushnell will return your money even if you decide you don't like the color! Both of these companies will take care of you.
Many optics have great clarity in the store but are they waterproof? Will they hold up to the shock of a .338 Winchester Mag ripping off a string of shots? Will they fog up in the brutal cold? We don't hunt in the city park on Sunday afternoon after church. We're sliding down mountains and getting pounded by rain, sleet and snow.
Years ago I flipped off of an icy log while crossing a river. My rifle hit in the river. I dug it out, poured water out of the barrel and kept hunting. No problem, I had a good Burris scope, it held up.
For walking I used to always say don't buy over 8x binocs as anything higher wobbles too bad when you're huffing and puffing, but I've decided that I just miss too much game so I've gone to 10x. For real spotting I have a Leupold 15x30 Golden Ring spotting scope and if you're hunting sheep in Alaska you'll want a lot larger.
If you see an animal then you need to plan your stalk. How's the wind? Is the cover OK for you to sneak up? Do you have enough daylight left? Will you have to sleep on the mountainside after you make your kill?
What if you see three bears at once an hour before dark and only have time to put the sneak on one? You need to be able to tell which one is the biggest. You'll need a good spotting scope to tell.
Sometimes you see game but when you try to sneak up on them you can't seem to locate them. A few things may help you out here. First, check the general direction that they're feeding. Next, notice a landmark. That way when you get up close you'll be able to zero in on them. Use scent cover.
I don't like 8x25 binocs as their aperture is too small and won't let in enough light to be able to see at daybreak/dusk. But if I buy full sized ones I'll die carrying them all day so I always get medium sized ones since I hike all day in bad country. If you're setting in a blind or only walking a few miles per day then you'll want some full sized ones.
You'll Want at Least Four Times Your Power in Binoculars
Here's what I mean by that. If you get some 8 power binocs then you'll want at least an 8x32. If you don't, they won't let in enough daylight when the sun is low thereby preventing you from seeing at primo hunting times. So you can see why the little compact 8x25's may look great during the middle of the day but 15 minutes before dark they're useless.
And lastly, let's talk about binocular straps. Even medium sized binocs will be a killer to carry if you have a leather neck strap. I remember 30 years ago my neck would be killing me after a hard day of elk hunting. No wonder, I'd be jumping off logs, sliding down mountains and so forth all day with my binocs dangling and bouncing on my neck.
I finally bought a pair of the Uncle Mike's elastic binocular straps (they fit on something like a bra — not that I've ever wore a bra). You will not believe how comfortable that they are. You will forget that you have them on. Instead of slamming against your neck all day they'll gently bounce, or as they advertise, recoil. And out of all of my bow hunting I've never hung them while shooting. They're pulled back out of the way while shooting.
Well, as we close, I guarantee you, the more time you spend glassing, the more game you'll start seeing.