To be a consistently successful western big-game hunter, you will need to become a competent glasser. That means you’ll need to do much more with your binocular than randomly scan the horizon from time to time looking for game.
I was introduced decades ago to the fine art of glassing by my friend and Arizona native DuWane Adams, a guide and outfitter who pioneered the art of long-range glassing back in the 1980s by employing the then-radical Zeiss 15×60 binocular paired with a large tripod designed for photographers. I bought that pairing as well—still have it, in fact—and became hooked on how well this system helped me locate and identify big game at distances approaching a mile.
The secret to using this setup? Here are DuWane’s 10 keys of glassing to become a more successful western big game hunter.
- Hunt the Right Spot—Seems basic, doesn’t it? But as DuWane likes to say, “You can’t shoot one if there isn’t one there.” That means you must do your homework and scout as much as possible prior to the season. “I hunt a specific spot for a long time, even if I don’t see anything right away, because I know it’s a good spot and that sooner or later I’ll find him,” DuWane said.
- Spend the Money—The best optics are expensive, but with distant western big game you need the best. You’ll need a minimum 15X binocular for long-distance glassing. There are many good ones out there, including the Swarovski SLC 15×56 W B, Vortex Optics’ Viper Vulture HD 15×56, Nikon’s Aculon A211 16×50, the Zeiss 15×56 Conquest HD, Leupold’s 15×56 BX-5 Santiam HD, the Meopta MeoStar B1 15×56 HD and Styrka’s 15×56 S9. It’s a serious investment, with the glass costing well over a grand and quality tripods a couple hundred bucks each, but it’s worth it. (Note: Optics companies blow through models faster than the an Indy 500 car circles the track, so if a model hyperlinked here is no longer available, rest assured a “new and improved” version surely is.)
- Versatility—The tripod not only has to be beefy enough to keep the optic steady in the wind, it also must allow you glass sitting down, but also while standing as you’ll need to be able to see over vegetation and also stretch your back. A good tripod and head will set you back well over a hundred bucks.
- Stay Comfortable—I use either a small chair or padded cushion to stay comfy when glassing for hours. You also have to dress warm enough so you can keep at it for hours in nasty weather.
- The Sunrise Waits For No Man—You must do whatever it takes to get to your glassing station in the morning before it breaks light, and keep glassing until you can’t see after sundown. Game generally moves best on the cusp of daylight, and you need to use every available lumen.
- Where To Look—“I glass the southeast sides of ridges early in the morning,” Adams said. “That’s where all the high-quality food grows, so that’s where the deer and elk will be in the early morning. Try and set up so you have the rising sun at your back or off one shoulder, with the wind right. Then, about 9:00 a.m. I start glassing the northeast sides of the mountain, which is where the most common bedding areas are. This is when the deer and elk will begin filtering into to bed down. I stick with glassing these areas the rest of the day. Finally, I want to be in a place where I can glass both the southeast and northeast sides of the ridges, hoping to catch animals as they transition from bedding to feeding areas during the last two hours of the day.”
- By The Numbers—A methodical approach is much better than glassing willy nilly, Adams said. “I start at the top of the ridge and move my glasses slowly left to right. When I get to the end of the ridge, I drop the lenses down a bit, then slowly go right to left. When I get to the bottom, I start all over again. By repeating this until the mountain has been covered, I make sure I see everything there is to see.”
- Bits and Pieces—Don’t look for an animal standing out in the wide open (though sometimes you’ll find one that way). Instead, look for horizontal lines, like backlines, set in a sea of vertical lines, like trees. When you see something that just seems out of place, slow down and give it extra scrutiny.
- Step by Step—“There have been many, many times when my guides or I have spotted a big buck so far away that getting on him for a shot right then is an impossibility,” Adams said. “When that happens, we focus all our efforts on watching where he goes to bed. We then have the rest of the day to maneuver into position to try and get a shot in the evening when he gets up again.”
- Buddy Up—When glassing long distances, it can pay big dividends to have a buddy along. That way, when you spot the animal you want, one hunter can make a move to get the shot while the other keeps their eyes on the animal and gives the shooter directions as he makes the final stalk.
“I promise you this: Once you start seriously glassing, you’ll be amazed at what you see,” Adams said. “By sitting in one place you don’t disturb the area, and animals will act naturally and relatively unafraid. By letting them do the moving, their chances of seeing you sitting still are virtually none. It’s a deadly way to hunt mature animals.”
Bob Robb is one of the most well-respected voices in outdoor media, with more than 40 years of columns and essays in print recounting his exploits in the field. A renowned archery expert, Robb has hunted on five continents and also lived 15 years in Alaska, where he held an assistant hunting guide’s license. His work has appeared in titles small and large, from American Hunter and American Rifleman to Whitetail Journal, Field & Stream, Petersen’s Hunting, Deer & Deer Hunting, and many others. He recently retired as Editorial Director from Grand View Media Group, where he oversaw the content for eight publications, including Bowhunting World, Predator Xtreme and Waterfowl & Retriever. Still, retirement is rather an ugly word to Robb, and so he continues to contribute to a variety of publications, just as he continues to hunt around the world.