Practical Tips for Glassing the West | Great Days Outdoors

One of the greatest feelings we can ever have as hunters is the feeling when we first spy our quarry.  The magic moment when all the work and effort finally pays dividends and there he stands antlers gleaming in the sun.  Much delight is added to the magic moment when you pick out an animal through your glass.  The sudden realization that a buck or bull is there when with the naked eye nothing existed, is truly a thrill.  With a few pointers and tips for glassing, you techniques can become a serious tool for overcoming slow days in the field and coming home successful.


Practical tips for glassing elk in the west.


Tips for Glassing #1: Go High.  In mountain terrain the daytime thermals are heading up, that’s where you need to be too.  By going high you are not just gaining an obvious vantage point for glassing, but also keeping your scent above the area you are glassing.  When your glassing from high you can also move around a small amount to dramatically change the angles and expose micro areas in a different way.  The higher you are the more area you are going to be able to cover with your glass.


Tips for Glassing #2: Have a Plan.  When I glass I rarely just look for animals moving.  I like to glass in conjunction with what I know about animal behavior, and the terrain I’m in.  I can focus my glassing into areas that are transition zones between bedding and feeding areas in the early morning, bedding areas in the midday, and bedding/feeding edges and ones in the evening.  It’s best to focus on areas where the animals typically would be found during that time of year and that time of day.  When glassing, it is wise to concentrate on what you can get to that day.  It can be tempting to glass a slope or ridge several miles away, but if you can’t get there to get a shot, you are wasting time.  Additionally, it is good to glass “close in” as the evening starts to turn to dark.  The darker it gets, the closer you should glass and concentrate on an area you can make a shot in at last light.  When guiding clients on bear hunts, we always plan to glass above a small canyon where we can get a shot at last light.  We start glassing farther off, then slowly move in and concentrate on just that small canyon as the light begins to fade.  The last half hour of light is critical in bear hunting and I am constantly planning approaches and how long it will take to get to an area as I glass.  I eliminate areas one at a time as it gets darker and darker.

Tips for Glassing #3: Use a tripod for good technique.  A tripod is essential for sustained long-term glassing.  A pair of binoculars on a tripod is steady, helps with grid patterns, and allows you to stay on the spot when looking away.  When glassing you always look for a piece of an animal, not the whole animal.  Also, look at trees to establish vertical contrast for horizontal critters. It is good to familiarize yourself with the terrain through the glass and looks for anything out of place, small movement, horizontal back, strange color etc.  With a tripod you can grid an area for observation, breaking a slope up into sections and thoroughly examining a section before moving on to the next.  A tripod allows you to pause your glassing and remain on the spot while you look off.  Looking off is important for eye relief.  Studies have indicated the color green offers relief to eyes that are strained.  Staring off for a minute or two into some green color will allow you to spend more time behind the glass.  It’s also a good idea to just look in an area for awhile and do a general scan to detect movement.  I like to break up my glassing sections and scan an area over with the naked eye.  Avoid the temptation of glassing into wide open spaces.  Glass the edges of those spaces, into the cover, and into the shadows around bushes, trees, and other vegetation.

Tips for Glassing #4: Use weather and terrain to your advantage.  Animals are really no different then humans in that they want to be out of the elements.  Small fir trees can really provide good shelter during rain, snow and immediately after, so focus on these areas in those conditions.  Heavy westerly winds will find animals piling up out of the wind, that means eastern slopes and creek bottoms.  Heavy snowfall will find many animals bedding closer to feeding areas, and that offers some good glassing opportunities. Factor the weather and terrain on each day you are glassing and zero in on the areas the best provide relief from the weather conditions.

Tips for Glassing #5: Have the right frame of Mind.  A tip for glassing, when in an area assume that the animals are in there, and you just need to find them.  Don’t glass wondering if they are there.  This changes your approach dramatically.  Once you discover one of those honey holes and know the critters are in there somewhere, you will find it much easier to be patient.  Patience is imperative for successful glassing. It is not uncommon to spend hours behind glass at one canyon, and part of being patient is to be comfortable.  A tripod, some water, food, and warm clothes will all allow you to be comfortable enough to sit there all day if necessary.  I even light a small campfire to keep me warm and entertained when I am working the tripod.

Glassing is a superb way to cover ground with eyes rather than boot leather.  With a little patience, knowledge, and quality gear, it can greatly enhance your outdoor experience and increase your odds of spying game.  I always recommend you buy the best possible binoculars and spotting scopes that you can afford. Glassing can and should be an enjoyable component in your arsenal of hunting tactics.

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